Jim Nantz is back in town to broadcast Saturday's BYU-San Diego State game, but the CBS sportscaster is hoping things go a bit smoother than the last time he was at the mike for a Cougar-Aztec contest.
Back in 1984, the then-KSL sportscaster found himself stuck in a malfunctioning elevator at Cougar Stadium for the first quarter of the game.Nantz and Steve Young, who was doing color for KSL, taped a segment down on the field at about 11:15 a.m. Then he rushed for the elevator to make it to the booth for the 11:30 a.m. opening of the broadcast.
"At the last second it seemed like about 20 people got on," he said. "Sure enough, the doors wouldn't open. And we couldn't communicate with anyone to let them know what happened."
So the KSL broadcast began without commentators. And no one knew where Nantz and Young were. Ch. 5 ran a crawl across the bottom of the screen explaining that they were experiencing "audio difficulties."
When they finally got out of the elevator, Nantz and Young ran to the broadcast booth to discover Spence Kinard, KSL's news director, at the mike.
"Spence looked over at me and said, `I got it,' " Nantz said. "He didn't want to give me the headset."
Fortunately, the score was only 3-0 in San Diego State's favor. And BYU went on to win 34-3.
But despite the panic of Nov. 10, 1984, Nantz looks back on the day with fondness.
"That is my favorite day in my career," he said. "It was a harrowing experience when it happened, but it's turned into a great banquet story. And I figured if I could make it through that, anything else would be easy."
Of course, the end of that BYU game wasn't the end of Nantz's day. As soon as the football game ended, Nantz was dashing up to the Cougar baseball field to jump in a helicopter.
From there it was off to Salt Lake International for a 4:30 p.m. flight to Denver. At 5:30, he was in a cab to McNichols Arena, and less than an hour later he was doing the sportscast on KSL's 6 p.m. news.
About an hour after that, Nantz was doing color commentary for a Jazz-Nuggets game.
But the story of Nov. 10, 1984 doesn't end there. Nine months later, Nantz was in New York to audition for the job as studio host of CBS' college football broadcasts.
He was told he'd have two minutes to prepare to tape a one-shot audition, using scores from an actual Saturday during the 1984 season handed to him on a set of blue index cards.
"The first card was Oklahoma beating Nebraska, the second was second-ranked Texas upset by Houston . . . ," he said. "The third card was BYU-San Diego State. It really eased the tension for me.
"I thought, `Hey, they're bringing that date back again. This has got to be a good omen for me.' As I was talking about BYU-San Diego State I think I had a pretty big smile on my face."
Since then, Nantz has moved out of the studio and is CBS' lead college football announcer. But up until a week ago, he wasn't scheduled to be in Provo for Saturday's game - the Georgia-Alabama game was to be seen in most of the country, leaving just 18 percent of the nation to BYU-SDSU. But then 'Bama and Georgia both lost last Saturday.
Suddenly, the entire picture had changed. But what clinched the deal were calls to CBS affiliates in major markets like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
"They all said they would rather have BYU come into their market," Nantz said. "With the way that BYU won last week, that only added to the luster for the team.
"And, of course, I had done some major campaigning at CBS."
About 70 percent of the country will see the Cougars Saturday.
Nantz, based in New York, said he already sees a major difference in the way BYU is perceived this year and the way they were perceived in that national championship season in 1984.
"Yes, it's definitely different, just because they beat Miami," he said.
He was in Detroit preparing for an NFL telecast when the Cougars beat the Hurricanes. And he was watching the game with a bunch of other CBS Sports staffers.
"At halftime, only two of us actually thought BYU still had a good chance of winning," Nantz said. "It was all anyone could talk about after it was over."
He definitely sees it as BYU's biggest win ever, because "It was so exposed. When they beat Pitt back in '84 . . . that was an ESPN game too, but it had nowhere near the impact of that Miami game. I think there's a little different feeling about BYU now. That they're a legitimate contender."
Although he's not anticipating getting stuck in any elevators Saturday, Nantz is still somewhat nervous about what might happen - the football game will be preceded by a baseball game on CBS.
"With my luck they'll probably have a 15-inning game," he said. "I'll miss calling the first quarter again."