I thought I was going to have a script. Come on up, said EA Sports. We’ll put you in the booth with Gus Johnson, the new play-by-play man, and let you play the part of the colour analyst.
Instead, when it was my turn to call a 49ers-Seahawks tilt at EA’s Redwood Shores studio, I found myself staring at a monitor with no lines, no idea what the hell I was going to say, and the ebullient Gus Johnson pumping up the audience for my insight. See it here in this video, beginning after a one-minute introduction of the game’s new features from EA Sports audio designer Ronnie Morales.
I understand football, but I don’t analyse it, and having grown up with no professional team, I never made a practice of recognising anyone’s number. I spent much of the first series clearing my throat and doing exactly what I complain about when I hear it from Gus’ booth partners – stating the obvious.
Meantime, Gus was rolling along like it was just another Sunday, as if he had a depth chart in his hands and a spotter calling out names in his ear. I know the video shows the players’ names underneath them, but I swear I wasn’t seeing that in the booth. Then again, I was panicked by just trying to keep up with the guy.
But this is what Gus does for a living, and in a no-pressure have-fun setting, you can see how second nature it is to him. Sure, if I were asked to write the first half of a Madden game running, even keeping my own drive charts, I could probably bang it out like I was still back at the college paper. But they’re not yet asking sports writers to provide that kind of atmosphere for this game.
There were about five other writers there for this session. Very soon into our takes every one of us gave up on playing it straight and started trying like hell to knock Gus off of his game or at least get a laugh off of him. Nate Ahearn of IGN did the best job, coming up with a completely gratuitous line about Ray Lewis that made me laugh so hard I farted. (Sorry, Ronnie. I know you smelled it.)
The action went so fast I forgot to use my one canned line, which I actually heard Brent Musberger say at the 1997 Rose Bowl – “Let’s go down to the field and Jack Arute!” While I did manage to crack up Gus, it wasn’t entirely deliberate. Check it out at the 6:11 mark.