Student Announcer Ensures Laterals Are Heard Around the World
By Joe Lapointe
New York Times
Jonathan Wiener is a sophomore English major from Mississippi who enjoys William Faulkner novels. He is comfortable with bursts of words and long, descriptive paragraphs.
So when Wiener’s narrative skills were put to a test Saturday in a football broadcast booth, he was prepared. For a young man with broadcasting ambitions, it was the pop quiz from heaven.
“I can’t think of anything better in the world than watching football and talking about it,” Wiener, 20, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “It was only one of the most improbable plays in college football history.”
Wiener, a student at Trinity University in San Antonio, was the play-by-play announcer for the Division III college football game between Trinity and Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss.
He was part of a four-man crew with only one camera in a telecast seen live only over the Internet. Trinity won, 28-24, on the final play by completing a forward pass and then scoring after 15 lateral passes that zigzagged across the field, taking 62 seconds to cover the 60 yards to the end zone.
Wiener kept his cool through the frenzy and described most of the details precisely as they occurred. The replay of the video with Wiener’s description has been shown on national television and has become a hit on the Internet.
“It wasn’t much of a call,” Wiener said. When someone suggested to him that it really was a pretty good call, Wiener replied: “Well, I tried. They were moving so fast. You do what you can.”
The play began with two seconds left on the clock and the ball on the 40-yard line of Trinity. Just before the snap, Wiener’s color analyst, Justin Thompson, finished a Wiener thought by suggesting that the offense might have to “start lateraling.”
Moments later, after quarterback Blake Barmore completed a pass to Shawn Thompson, the players began to throw the ball to each other, either sideways or backward but never forward (which would have been illegal). Riley Curry ran it into the end zone after catching the last lateral, which bounced, at the Millsaps 34.
Seven players touched the ball, including two offensive linemen. Wiener mentioned all the players, except the linemen, who did not hold the ball long enough to be recognized. Wiener also kept track of the ball’s position on the field. “He’s going to throw it to Thompson; Thompson at the 30-yard line; Thompson now laterals it back to Curry at the 35; they’re running out of spaces; Curry fakes; he’s going to lateral it.”
Wiener’s voice increased in volume and pitch only after Thompson — the color analyst and brother of the original pass-catcher Shawn Thompson — began to shout. And then Wiener, too, began to shout, like Russ Hodges at the Polo Grounds.
“CURRY SCORES! THE GAME IS OVER!” he shouted, continuing, “THE TIGERS LATERALED IT AND KEPT LATERALING! AND THE GAME IS OVER! THE TIGERS WIN! THE TIGERS WIN!”
“OH, MY GOODNESS!” he added.
Wiener said he had not planned to cover the game but decided to stop in Jackson while returning from a journalism convention in Washington. The game just happened to be played in his hometown, a few minutes from his parents’ house.
His mother picked him up at the airport and dropped him off at the field before kickoff. Along with his major in English, Wiener is studying for a minor in communications.
Wiener said he had a native Mississippian’s love of Faulkner and read “Absalom, Absalom!” last summer while doing an internship as a basketball writer for Slam magazine in New York.
He said he would start reading Faulkner’s “Go Down, Moses” this week while preparing to announce Saturday’s home game against Centre College of Kentucky.
Faulkner, by the way, did a little sports reporting, too. In 1955, he wrote an impressionistic essay about a hockey game at Madison Square Garden for Sports Illustrated. Faulkner described the movement of players in a game between the Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens as “bizarre and paradoxical, like the frantic darting of the weightless bugs which run on the surface of stagnant pools.”
In other words, hockey to Faulkner looked sort of like the football play that Wiener described Saturday in Mississippi.