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With No Sports To Call, Announcers Turn To The Mundane11:46
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Colin Cosell in the Citi Field booth. (Julie Jacobson/AP)
Colin Cosell in the Citi Field booth. (Julie Jacobson/AP)

Joe Buck calls the Super Bowl, the U.S. Open golf tournament and the World Series. But recently, he was heard calling …

… feeding time at a Twitter follower’s chicken coop.

Scroll through Twitter these days, and you’ll find some serious professional announcers offering play-by-play of incredibly silly things. So how did this all get started?

The Rugby Commentator From Tooting

Nick Heath is a play-by-play announcer — or, as the Brits say, a "commentator" — who calls international rugby matches.

Nick Heath calling a match between France and Italy in the Women’s 6 Nations rugby tournament in February 2020. (Courtesy of Rugby Media)
Nick Heath calling a match between France and Italy in the Women’s 6 Nations rugby tournament in February 2020. (Courtesy of Rugby Media)

Or, at least that’s what he did before the pandemic.

"You know, my social following was about 15,000 on something like Twitter," Heath says. "And my content would be interviews with rugby players, and rugby news, and updates and bits and pieces of promoting where I'm at and what I'm doing

"Obviously, as we saw the spread of COVID-19 beginning to hit across the world, then the sporting fixtures started disappearing from the calendar," Heath says. "And I was left with my livelihood disappearing in front of me."

For Heath and many professional broadcasters, no games has meant no income. But Heath says he didn’t panic.

"I ended up getting a little bit inventive," he says. "Took myself off for a walk, and saw a couple of guys hopelessly kicking a football around a park and just thought, 'Well, maybe while I'm ... here in the sunshine, I can just film a bit of them doing what they're doing and put a silly voice over the top.' "

"And, well, that's when the trouble started," Heath says with a chuckle.

On March 17, Heath posted the video on Twitter.

"And, a few hours later, I noticed that it had had 60,000 views, which is more than I would expect," Heath says. "And, yeah, so when I saw that was going on, I thought, 'Well, this obviously tapped into a few other people who are entertained by a slightly inane, silly thing,' and didn't think an awful lot more of it than that.

"But I woke up the next morning and was getting messages from friends who'd heard the clips played out on the BBC Radio 1 Radio Breakfast show, which is a big show. And I thought, 'Maybe I should just go out and film a few more of these while people are enjoying them.' "

Heath has shared nearly 30 of what he calls his #LifeCommentary videos, shot in and around Tooting, the neighborhood in London where he lives. They feature real-life scenarios, ranging from the utterly mundane to the slightly more exciting.

Like two dogs playing in a park.

That clip has been viewed about 900,000 times.

"I've tried, where possible, not to kind of film people's faces, that kind of thing," Heath says. "Because, you know, the joke is in this guy who's just a commentator. He's almost just excited to be out of the house. And his day is happy as a result."

Nowhere is that more evident than in Heath’s description of pedestrians navigating a crosswalk outside the Tooting Broadway tube station.

How similar, or dissimilar, are Heath's approach to commentary as a sports broadcaster, and his approach to commentary during a pandemic?

"Hopefully remarkably different," Heath says with a laugh. "But, perhaps, my employers can tell you they're closer than I wish they were.

"Yeah, I mean, when I'm commentating on a rugby match, the important thing for me is to make a key observation, to try and paint a picture — if it's on radio — that really resonates with somebody and has an authenticity to it. In broadcasting, for me, it’s important to be authentic. And the voice of the character I do in all of this [#LifeCommentary] is certainly not that."

Heath doesn’t know how long it will be before he draws his next commentating paycheck. In the meantime, he’s licensed an ever-growing collection of "#Life Commentary"- inspired merchandise, including Spaniel Speedway T-shirts and coasters, and throw pillows celebrating a snail named "Les Cargot"'s epic 1500mm "race" across a sidewalk.

Just after Heath began posting his videos on Twitter, he was contacted by legendary Scottish sports broadcaster Andrew Cotter.

"He said to me, 'Well, it's funny you put out your #LifeCommentary clips at about the same time I just filmed my two dogs having dinner. But I couldn't very well put them out because I would have looked exactly like I was copying you.' But, knowing Andrew, knowing how much more established he is as a broadcaster over here, I sort of said, 'You've got to put it out.' "

Cotter’s play-by-play of his two dogs, Olive and Mabel, strategizing over a rubber bone has racked up about 19 million views on Twitter.

"That's way more than a big Rugby international would get on views here in the UK," Heath says.

(Courtesy Altitude Sports)
(Courtesy Altitude Sports)

Cat Fights And Human Rehab

Back on this side of the pond, and a couple thousand miles inland, Conor McGahey is a radio and television play-by-play guy for the Colorado Avalanche. He’s also the P.A. announcer at Denver Broncos home games … when there are games.

"Every single thing about calling the games, about doing them, I miss," McGahey says.

When he saw the videos by Heath, Cotter and Buck, he thought it would be cool to try some of his own.

"A family locally here in Denver, sent a tweet and said, 'Hey, we miss hearing the Avalanche on the radio. Would you mind doing play-by-play for this altercation?' "

But it wasn’t between hulking ice warriors.

"And that turned into five and six and seven and eight pet videos that people would send in," McGahey says.

And a disclaimer: all the videos are playful, not actual, fights. And the reviews have been positive.

"Very positive," McGahey says. "People say, 'You know, I don't really care about the hockey, which we would usually get on this Twitter feed, but I'll stay for the cats.' "

They stay for the humans, too. One of McGahey’s followers presented him with the opportunity to extend his artistic range.

"Her mother had just got out of surgery and needed to to keep moving and get back to health. So she said, 'You know, it would be really nice to have some play-by-play to this to get her motivated to come back,' " McGahey says.

The woman set up a mini obstacle course in a hallway.

"With different, you know, toy cars and stuff in the way down a hallway."

"After calling all those catfights, it must have been a relief to have as your subject at least one human," I observe.

"Yep," McGahey says. "And she did a marvelous job."

King Of the Walk-Ups

Colin Cosell is also taking requests. He’s the P.A. announcer at New York Mets home games.

He’s also the grandson of Howard Cosell. In the absence of pay he’d be earning for that work, Cosell has been recording walk-ups. That’s the quick announcement as a batter approaches home plate, often accompanied by music.

Cosell has been doing them for anyone who asks. Many of the requests are the kind you’d expect, from heartbroken fans and kids with big league dreams. But his best work stems from the more unusual requests.

Ladies and gentleman, your attention, please. John and Michelle are thrilled to announce the birth of their twins, Malios and Murray!

He got one from a synchronized swimmer …

Now swimming for the New Canaan Aquianas, sweet 16 Alexandra Matthews!

… and he even got one from a radio producer who still can’t get over the fact that he never made it to the Major Leagues.

The 3rd baseman, #15, Gary Waleik!

Cosell says he prioritizes walk-up requests from medical workers and children. When I talked with him in late April, he said he had produced 600 of them. That’s about 100 hours of work. Since then, Cosell has gotten another 200 requests. He expects at least a couple hundred more. 

Has he been tempted to charge money for these?

"You know, no one's working right now," Cosell says. "Or very few people are. The unemployment rate is through the roof. And the last thing people need to be doing is spending money on someone just saying their name into a microphone. So I decided against it."

"When sports comes back again, it'll just be that much sweeter."

Colin Cosell

Cosell’s wife is still working from home, so there is income. And Cosell says he’s happy to be doing something — anything — for now. But he really misses his day job.

"I miss every aspect of it," Cosell says. "I miss the excitement of going to the ballpark to call a game. You know, being in the booth, being at Citi Field, opening my window and high-fiving fans as they're leaving. And just that shared joy. And I miss that escape, you know?

"Now what do we have to root for? That the numbers plummet? The deaths plummet? Those admitted to hospitals plummet? It's a pretty dark way to go through your day. Not to say that I'm not rooting for those things. But I can't focus on that darkness, because it will consume you."

Looking Forward

So here we are in Week 7, or maybe it’s Week 8 or Week 29, of the Almost-No-Sports Era. Cat fight play-by-play guy Conor McGahey can't wait to get back to calling Colorado Avalanche games.

"No matter what we've been dealing with in this country over time, we've really had sports to sort of default to and get us through," McGahey says. "And that has not been the case this time. And, when we get back to it as broadcasters or fans, I think we'll rejoice and appreciate it even more."

Colin Cosell in the P.A. booth at a Mets home game. (MJ Lupton)
Colin Cosell in the P.A. booth at a Mets home game. (MJ Lupton)

Colin Cosell says he’ll be among those rejoicing after all the hardships, the dwindling bank accounts and the sadness.

"We are human beings. We adapt. We move on," Cosell says. "And, when sports comes back again, it'll just be that much sweeter.

"And you're looking forward to that, I'm sure," I say.

"You have no idea," Cosell says without any hesitation.

Actually … I kinda do.

This segment aired on May 9, 2020.

Related:

Gary Waleik Producer, Only A Game
Gary Waleik is a producer for Only A Game.

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