Typically when a streaker or crazy fan runs out on to a field of play, the announcers and the cameras ignore the person. The last thing anyone wants to do is encourage these people to get their 15 minutes of fame by disrupting a nationally broadcast sporting event. However, on Monday night, Westwood One’s Monday Night Football announcer Kevin Harlan found a way to have some fun with an incident, in an otherwise boring game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams. We spoke to Harlan about why he decided to make that hilarious call.
Radio Ink: Typically, announcers ignore the crazy people when they run out onto the field. What made you decide to make the call on that run?
Harlan: I’m not sure. I was in the middle of setting up the play, I was in that zone of broadcasting what I was seeing, and as the players were lining up, the guy ran through the formation and I just continued broadcasting what I saw. There wasn’t much compelling with the game at that time, and when I began to realize he was pretty harmless with his running in circles and peeling off his shirt, the more humorous or colorful sideshow that this was became kind of entertaining, and I followed in line with that. Guys were laughing in the booth and that may have fueled me a bit.
Radio Ink: Did you ever imagine it would get the national attention it is receiving today? Everyone is writing about how amazing it was.
Harlan: It never crossed my mind. To be honest the game was so one sided at the time, the guy going onto the field was a little jolt that was more anecdotal than anything, and I just continued on and finished up our broadcast. It was a little sideshow in an otherwise one sided game. I was more concerned about the description of my calls on the 49er scoring plays and never gave the antics of the intruder and my description of that moment any thought. When we were in the car and headed to our hotel afterward, our sideline reporter, Scott Kaplan, mentioned that there was some talk about it on social media. I thought he meant the shutout. He said no, the guy running around the field and not the game. I had a really early flight the next morning so I was more concerned about getting a little sleep. I went back to my room, packed, and slept for a couple hours. I hadn’t gotten any texts that led me to believe anything was out of the ordinary. I caught my 5am flight to O’Hare to connect home and when I turned on my phone after landing, I saw I had over 100 texts. I was stunned and thought something bad had happened. I read the first couple messages and the phone rang and it was the Dan Patrick Show. They wanted to know if I’d come on before they signed off. I first asked the producer though if there was an issue. If I had said something that was controversial. I was so confused and in the dark. So yes, I was surprised.
Radio Ink: What do think your call says for radio and its ability to paint a picture for the listeners?
Harlan: I was always led to believe, and certainly do today, that the theater of the mind is very powerful. If the right words or inflection or cadence or tenor is used, the effect is strong, as if you’d seen it, but through the minds eye. You’re pulling a lot of emotions together to capture the scene and the depth behind it. I think it’s the most challenging and purest form of broadcasting. It’s words and voice and pace. Some subtle. Some strong. Some creative. That’s the beauty of radio. A blank canvas with your words and presentation filling it in. And it’s immediate. It’s unique in that it invites the listener to be so engaged as they use their mind and thoughts to form a lasting impression. That’s kind of what this was in the Bay Area on Monday night. But again, the event happened fast, it was over and we finished the game. But I do love radio play by play and the challenge in painting as complete a picture as I can. I love that challenge and trying to evolve with the way I am describing plays.
Radio Ink: If that ever happens again during a game you call, you’ll have to come up with something even better.
Harlan: To be honest I doubt that I’d ever handle it the same way. I certainly didn’t think this would be the reaction, but now that it’s had this reaction, anything similar would be a copy to a degree. The best stuff is the genuine reaction which happens organically. There was a rhythm to the broadcast, this guy became a part of that play as I was in rhythm. The elements were perfect to have a little fun with the intrusion. If the game had been close, with a lot of big plays each way, the guy running out onto the field would’ve been handled a lot differently. He would’ve gotten in the way of a great game. He would’ve been a distraction. As it was, he added a little flavor and fun to an otherwise mundane night.
And Harlan’s call made big national news, had everyone laughing and showed how radio can paint a great picture if you have a great delivery. If you have not heard Harlan’s call, HERE IT IS.