After 15 seasons on CBS in which he became widely known for his enthusiastic delivery in the NCAA basketball tournament, Gus Johnson jumped to FOX Sports last year to be the lead college football announcer. His signature phrases include “Bam!”, “Cold-Blooded!” and “Ha-Haaa.” He and analyst Charles Davis will be in Norman on Saturday to call the Kansas State-OU game at 6:50 p.m.
Johnson, who graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy and with a political science degree from Howard University, talked about growing up in Detroit and his broadcast career.
I was educated by Jesuit priests. Not only was it strict, but if you got out of line, you could catch a left hook.
I played some ball — football, basketball, baseball growing up as a kid, hockey. I played squirt all the way through bantam. My mother, her whole thing was “an idle mind was the devil's workshop.” She kept me busy all the time.
My father was a hardworking dude. He worked for the city of Detroit for 40 years. He wasn't a sportsman as much as he loved music. He could have been a crooner if he got a break. He always made sure that I kept my nose clean.
I was a member of the Boys Club from the age of 6 all the way through high school. I came back and worked there in the summers when I was in college. They taught me a little bit of everything. Like the old saying goes, “It's a club that beats the streets.”
I had thought about becoming a lawyer or a priest. Lawyers work too hard. Priests, I didn't think I could make that commitment. Sportscaster is the next best thing. A lot of fun. As my father would always say, it beats working at the plant.
My first job was in Waco, Texas. Oh gosh, I loved that place. I was a weekend anchor, a weekday reporter. I edited, set up live shots, covered high school football, Baylor sports. I remember shooting a T-ball game for 6-year-olds. I miss the food. Chicken-fried steak and gravy. Luby's. I wish I could get some food like that in New York City. I'd be happy.
When I left Washington, D.C., to work for Madison Square Garden Network, that's when everything opened up for me. I learned so much. I worked around so many great announcers. I was doing regional TV in New York City every day, so they saw me everyday. Not long after I got a call from CBS.
I just like doing the games. I delight in the excellence of the athletes that I get a chance to cover. That's pretty much it. I'm not an investigative reporter. This is happy time. It's great to celebrate how well these kids out there are playing ball and doing well in school.
My favorite NCAA Tournament game probably was my first big one when Princeton beat UCLA a lot of years ago (43-41 in 1996). UCLA was the defending national champions and here come these fresh cherubic faces out of the locker room from Princeton. Pete Carril would pull his hair on the sideline, and he won the big game.
I just go out there and kind of free flow, let the moment describe itself. If I hear a clever line in a song or movie, I'll note in my mind and I might use it sometime.
I studied all the sportscasters. Growing up as a kid, Dick Vitale was coaching at the University of Detroit. He was so excited and happy when he became a broadcaster. It makes you feel good when you watch his games. I guess if there was anybody who I admire in that way, it would be coach Vitale.
Of course, I've missed not doing the tournament. It was a very special time in my life to have a chance to work with the tournament for 15 seasons. I'm still a fan, and I will always root for those kids out on the floor. It's a special time in our country when they come to play.
People at FOX are just terrific people. They have given us a lot of resources. Working with Charles Davis, he's an awesome, awesome man and an incredible broadcaster. We're on the big FOX now, instead of FX. The schedule looks great. We're going to get a chance to cover the Big 12 and the Pac-12. It's going to be fun to see Oklahoma, Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma State, hopefully, as well.
My boy, Che, is 9. He likes singing, dancing and acting and stuff like that. By the time he starts liking girls, he's going to want to play some ball.