By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL
Written for the LSWA
On Sept. 10, 1971, a ninth grader at Lakeshore Junior High got the chance he had been waiting for – to be a part of a radio broadcast of a high school football game. There was almost no concern whatsoever on his part. He had studied the rosters of Neville and Captain Shreve, knew their tendencies and was as prepared as he could be. There was only one problem – his broadcast partner. The guy who was doing the play-by-play was a seasoned veteran and could call a high school football game with one vocal cord tied behind his back. It wasn’t the chemistry between the two that was the problem. As they were on the way to the game, the veteran sensed there was an issue and asked what the problem was. “Just one thing,” the kid said. “What if I call you Dad on the air?”
Fourteen years later, the same boy who was worried about calling a forgettable high-school game with his father, once again found himself with the chance he had been waiting for – calling a premier college basketball game between Virginia and Duke. And once again, there was concern about his broadcast partner. This was the big time now. It didn’t get any bigger than being paired with this guy, who had already reached legendary status. Once again, he was as prepared as he could be, but he was anxious when he saw his partner make a phone call at halftime from press row – which was a little unusual. He couldn’t help but wonder if he had done something wrong in the first half of the broadcast and the veteran was using his considerable clout. The veteran hung up and returned to the broadcast location. “I just called up one of my guys,” Dick Vitale said. “He told me we sounded great!”
* * *
The broadcasting career of Tim Brando is all about found opportunity. Sure, there have been some breaks along the way, but it is mostly because he found the opportunity and took advantage of it. One of the biggest opportunities he ever got came from broadcasting an NCAA Basketball Tournament game to an audience of zero. Brando pulled up a chair at courtside with his cassette recorder at The Summit in Houston in 1980 and acted like he was broadcasting the game. He needed it for his resume.
Brando left college because he had already built a resume as a late night rock DJ, weekend television reporter and local game broadcaster. Why wait to build a career when it had already started? So he dropped off tape after tape all throughout the region – Baton Rouge, Gulfport, New Orleans – and waited for someone to call back. Someone did.
When it came time for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame to begin the Ambassador Award, opportunity found Brando. He will be the first recipient of the award as part of the Hall’s Class of 2020 to be celebrated June 24-26 in Natchitoches.
“Tim has always embraced Shreveport and always embraced Louisiana,” says Spencer Tillman, who has been Brando’s broadcast partner for more than 20 years. “I can’t think of anybody I
know who embraces where they are from more than Tim Brando.”
“He is a great ambassador for Louisiana,” says former LSU basketball coach Dale Brown. “I’ve been with him at games. People come up to him and ask for a picture or an autograph, and he always thanks them for asking. And the nice thing about it is that fame never changed him. He’s still the same Tim Brando.”
It was Brown who encouraged Brando (who already had a media pass as a radio reporter) to go set up shop on press row during the 1980 tournament since there were plenty of empty media seats after teams had been eliminated. “Just don’t get thrown out,” Brown told him.
“That was just Dale’s ingenuity,” Brando says. “He saw an opportunity for me and told me go for it.”
“I saw a number of things in Tim back then,” Brown says. “Number one, he was knowledgeable. He could criticize without being mean or cynical. He was always fair and he enjoyed what he did. He just never gave up. He dealt with the facts, not gossip.”
With Brando, there are so many stories he’d love to tell you. And maybe a few he’d rather not. But make no mistake – all you have to do is ask the question. He can take it from there.
Like the story of the chance meeting with his broadcasting hero, a phone call to his 11-year-old little brother (whom Tim had named), and how that weekend helped launch a career that Brando had always hoped would happen.
At the time, he was working at WGNO-TV in New Orleans and had spent time at radio station WIBR in Baton Rouge. Brando was about to start broadcasting games on Tigervision (LSU’s in-house network).
“Everybody knew I loved Curt Gowdy. The Final Four was in New Orleans that year, and the people with American Sportsman called me to tell me that Gowdy (the show’s host) was coming to town to call the Final Four on the radio. They asked if I would like to have him on my show. I said ‘Are you kidding?’ So he comes to do my show. I tell him about naming my brother Curt after him, and I think he thought at first, ‘Is this kid conning me?’ Later, I got him on the phone with my 11-year-old brother and we all got a little emotional. Then Gowdy says, ‘You know kid, Bob Earle sent me your tapes when you were at WIBR. He’s a friend of mine, and he’s been sending me your tapes for the last two or three years. I’d like to have breakfast with you tomorrow at the Hyatt.’ I was stunned. So, I go have a three-hour breakfast with him on the morning of the semifinals. I’m 26 years old. And you know how I like to talk. That day, I listened to one pearl of wisdom after another. The basic premise was this – ‘You are thinking you have to go to this market or that market because you think it’s a better job. Forget that. Just keep doing what you are doing and you’ll be able to get the job you really want as opposed to a bigger market that won’t allow you the freedom to go call ballgames. You keep doing that and I guarantee you you’ll be on that new thing. That ESPN thing.’”
Less than three years later, Tim Brando went to work at ESPN.
The chronology of his career is impressive. At ESPN, he was a SportsCenter anchor from 1986 to 1994. During that time, he was the first host of College Gameday for the network’s college football package as well as NCAA men’s basketball tournament games.
He moved to Turner Sports in the mid-1990s and called both the NBA and selected Atlanta Braves’ games.
Then came CBS, where he began by calling NCAA Tournament games and then in 1998, took over as the host of the network’s studio show, College Football Today. He also called NFL games for CBS from 1998 to 2003.
In 2014, he began doing college football and basketball for FOX and has also done some NFL work.
Tillman has been with Brando, both in the studio and broadcast booth, through many of those network jobs. “Tim is like a big brother to me,” he says. “We are a lot alike in many ways. We both want to be the best we can be, yet we both understand we aren’t perfect. When one of us talks or makes a suggestion, the other one listens. I can’t think of a better person I’d want to work with because I think we complement each other very well.”
With all of the job changes, you’d think that Brando has seen more than his share of moving vans in his driveway. But you’d be wrong.
Tim Brando (left) with analyst Beano Cook (right) at ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn.
Since 1990 – when he was in the middle of his career at ESPN – Brando moved from Connecticut back home to Shreveport. He has always been a relentless promotor of all things for his hometown and his home state.
“There were times when I would be doing a game and I would consciously make a comment about a guy who made a play. I would point out that he’s from Shreveport and I’d say it with a level of energy and enthusiasm,” Brando says. “I think those things matter. I’ve always thought that, at times, we were our own worst enemy when it came to public relations. In Louisiana, it always seemed like we were harder on ourselves. So, championing people who were accomplishing things from my part of the world has always been a big deal to me.”
As with any job, there are lessons to be learned. Usually, they come early in a career, but not always. And Brando’s hardest lesson came when he was well-established in his career. During his time at CBS, he also did a national radio show that was picked up as a simulcast TV show in 2011. For two years, Brando thought that he had found the perfect situation — being able to do a daily national show on CBS Sports Network from his hometown. He thought he had finally arrived.
And then he got the call – CBS was pulling the show, which was basically the beginning of the end for his time at the network.
“It was a great reminder that you can’t start to feel comfortable. You can never get comfortable. Because the moment you do, there will be a reminder that you’ve got to stay on your game and always be alert to what is going on around you,” Brando says. “It was a deep, dark time for me and I didn’t handle it well. And I learned that the only person responsible was me. In this business, there will always be higher highs and lower lows. It’s how you handle those moments that are vital to how long you last.”
Brando is a coveted sports talk show guest around the nation, fielding queries about the state of college sports. And then there is the question that almost no one wants to know: How did Tim Brando lose a vowel? Growing up, he was Tim Brandao. And then he wasn’t. Somewhere along the line, he became Tim Brando. “My dad dropped it (the ‘a’) when he was in his band. His booking agent said, ‘Hub, you’ve got to drop the ‘a’ especially if it is silent. It’s confusing.’ So, the moment I got on radio and television, I dropped it because that’s what Dad had done. I hated it when I was in grade school and high school because it got misspelled all the time.”
It’s fitting that we circle back to his father, which is how all of this began.
Brando is quick to credit his wife, Terri, and two daughters for giving him the support he needed throughout all the changes in networks and locations. But it is his father Hub, who died in 1984, who started it all.
“Dad was a motivating father,” he says. “He told me not only was I really, really good, but I had a chance to be the absolute best. That if I could keep it up and focus on one thing, I could be the best sportscaster I could possibly be. [He told me] there was no better 14-year-old doing this in the country. Keep it up and you’ll be the best 44-year-old. And then the best 60-year-old.”
What nobody knew when Brando broadcast his first game in 1971 as a 14-year-old was that it was the start of a career that has lasted almost 50 years. Actually, there was one person who might have known it all along. It was the man sitting next to him that night at the Captain Shreve-Neville game.
“I’ve got to believe,” Brando says, “that I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”