I think Kevin Harlan is an American treasure. Who else does the play-by-play of the black cat on the field hustling toward the end zone in the Cowboys-Giants Monday-nighter last week, while doing the play-by-play of the game too, with Westwood One radio partner Kurt Warner playing along? Who else? I’ve got a feeling that most announcers, vet and neophyte, would have said something like,There’s a cat on the field. We’re delayed here at the Meadowlands. Now a word from Toyota. Right? Here’s Harlan’s call, from the middle of the second quarter Monday night.
I mean, the guy read the ad copy. “The cat is in the CDW Red Zone. CDW, people who get it.” Imagine being so in the moment you remember to read the ad copy when the cat enters the Red Zone.
I talked to Harlan, a do-everything announcer, after he did Celtics-Hornets on Thursday night.
“So the Giants, before that play, were about to enter the CDW Red Zone,” said Harlan. CDW is an IT security company. “Howard Deneroff, who is producing the game, hands me the card, reminding me about the CDW read when the Giants are in the Red Zone. You’re so focused, you’re so into it, you know you’ve got to get the read in, so here comes the cat, and he’s in the Red Zone, and you notice nothing else. The pacing was in sync, and there was the cat. That’s the whole read: ‘CDW, people who get it.’ So I got it in.”
The commercial read—that’s number two on the significance list of Harlan’s call. The man called a black cat coming out of nowhere running, walking, stopping, starting, scoring a touchdown.
“When you’re doing radio,” Harlan said. “you’re describing everything you see, from the wind direction of the orange tell-tale flags on top of goalposts, to the grass stains on the pants, to the moon rising over the edge of the stadium. So the game’s going on. On one end of the field the Giants, who are still very much in this game, are driving to score a touchdown. On the other end is this cat, darting down the field. So there’s the cat, and then there’s a catch-and-run, and the cat running. I remember three years ago when we had the drunk on the field [a drunk ran onto the field in Rams-Niners in 2016, and Harlan did the same play-by-play, yelling at one point, “THE GUY IS DRUNK”], play was stopped, the guy was running down the field like he was a slot receiver. This was different. Had I really thought about it, I could have schmaltzed it out a little more. But I called it the way I saw it. The officials stopped play after the Giants catch and run, and the players just stood around, hands on hips, I called what I saw, along with the delayed reaction of the policemen. I mean, Go get the cat! And Kurt’s so great, a fun-loving guy, great sense of humor. We had fun with it.”
I kept thinking of a long-haul trucker, listening to the NFL game at 10 at night on I-70 in the middle of Kansas, just trying to stay awake, and here comes Harlan yelling about a cat, and, well, that’s the beauty of radio calls and the people who describe precisely what they see so you picture it in your mind.
“I got back to my airport hotel that night, and I’ve got 30 to 40 text messages, buddies in the business, Mike Tirico checked in … and you know, you try for just the right words on the game-winning touchdown pass, and here comes a cat that everyone’s smitten with. Just goes to show you, I guess.”
Show you what?
“Thirty-five years of doing play-by-play in the NFL, and I’m gonna be known for drunks and cats!”
Perhaps. But he’ll be known too for his comfort with the craft, and mastery of it. I called Tirico on Saturday to ask him about the call.
“I loved it,” Tirico said. “I’ve had a chance to do games on the radio for Westwood One. Such a different challenge than TV. On a professional level, when I heard Kevin’s call, it was ultimate respect, because what I heard was complete command of the broadcast. What I heard was exactly what happened on the field. Perfect. Complete with the ad read! When I talk to college students, one of the things you tell the kids is when you’re on the air, you’ve got to be in complete command. Something happened, you’re documenting it, you’re in control, you drop in the sponsor read. That is what the craft is all about.”