By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports
For 18 straight years in mid-March, Tim Brando would answer the phone at his Shreveport home around 8 on the night of Selection Sunday, get his marching orders from CBS Sports, pack his bag, and head out to do play-by-play for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
For the broadcaster many locals know as Timmy B., March Madness was crammed into one opening-round Thursday or Friday: eight teams, four games, and one truly special, genuinely extraordinary, and undeniably long, long day.
“There’s no denying it’s the hardest day, the most challenging live event, in sports television,” said Brando, whose opening-round travels took him from Albuquerque to Columbus, from Austin to New York, and many points in between. “Even the guys who work the Olympics and things will tell you that in terms of preparation, of stamina, calling four games with eight different teams in one day is the most challenging live sports assignment a play-by-play guy can get.”
There’s the game preparation for teams you know nothing about but will need to learn everything about during the next 96 hours or so. Coaches and players and gotta-have-’em sports information people to talk to. Production crews to coordinate with. And it’s back to the hotel to watch a recording of each team’s most recent game, probably with your broadcast partner.
For various reasons, Brando had plenty of those. Derrek Dickey. George Raveling. Al McGuire. “Big Game” James Worthy. Rolando Blackman. Rick Pitino. Eddie Fogler. Bob Wenzel.
“For the first nine years,” Brando said, “it felt like I was the Grim Reaper for every analyst who worked with me.”
In 2004, former Duke great Mike Gminski became Brando’s partner. They stuck, all the way to the end of Brando’s time at CBS in 2013.
There were times he thought he’d lose his voice. Times the bladder was unkind and needed to be made of iron. Times long ago when the Tournament was on only one channel, regionalized, and the director and producer would be silent in his ear and Brando would know that the majority of the TV audience had been switched from his dud game to a nail-biter somewhere else.
“Then maybe our game would come alive again,” Brando said, laughing at the memory, “and they’d tell you in your ear that they were bringing in another audience and what you wanted to say was, ‘We welcome those of you who didn’t give a rat’s ass about our game a while ago but you do now.’”
On the opening day of this 2022 Tournament, Brando, fresh off calling the Big East Tournament with longtime beloved sidekick Bill Raftery for FOX, was like a lot of other lucky basketball junkies, contentedly on his couch at home wondering if Murray State could beat the Dons, if Marquette would cover against North Carolina, if the Catamounts could upset Arkansas.
“I might just throw something at the television,” he said.
After a long season of football and hoops, the winner of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s inaugural Ambassador Award in 2020 has earned some time off to be a fan — until football season, when his broadcast duties crank up again. But for the next three weekends, he’ll enjoy the Tournament with the same joy and anguish as the rest of us.
“I don’t miss doing it,” he said, “but I’m so glad I did. Had a great run. It’s funny, but those first games are just a lot of work and then it’s over. Just like that. And if you’re not doing the Sweet 16, suddenly you’re going home and it’s a little bit of an empty feeling unless you got one of those great moments, maybe a Round 2 buzzer beater and a team is punching its ticket to the Sweet 16. Then it’s awesome.
“You get some games that aren’t so good, not a lot of drama,” he said, “but over time, you get your fair share of those great ones.”
Some of those could come today … on arguably the second greatest weekday of the year in sports?
“To me, the opening Thursday of the NCAA Tournament is the greatest weekday of the year in sports,” he said. “Part of that is, at the end of the day you can say, ‘We get to do this again tomorrow.’”