Brandy and Dierdorf in the Summer of ‘69 [Bentley]
You certainly know by now that this season longtime U-M color analyst Jim Brandstatter shifts over one chair, replacing Frank Beckmann as the play-by-play man. Next to him will be Brandy’s former teammate and pal, longtime NFL broadcaster & Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf. I spoke to both men this summer for a piece you can find all season in the home game program. For you – I posted the full Dierdorf interview last week. Like Dan D., Brandstatter is just an outstanding guy – incredibly kind. File under FWIW – as a pee wee I grew up in East Lansing a few houses down from Brandy’s older brother (and Spartan) Art and his great family.
Here’s the balance of my chat with Brandy:
MVictors: All right, so when did you decide you to go for the play-by-play gig?
Jim Brandstatter: I really didn’t decide, it was kind of decided for me. This whole thing, when Frank announced his retirement they had gone out and they were looking for people and they were, nothing really fit the bill. As I understand it they really wanted a guy who had Michigan background–someone who brought Michigan with him to the broadcasts. Then it wasn’t until the third week in January that I was asked if I ever did play-by-play and I said, ‘Yeah, I did a game back in 2003, actually.’
MVictors: Northwestern, right?
Jim Brandstatter: Yeah, Northwestern. When Frank had back surgery. Steve Courtney and I did the game at Northwestern and I have a copy of it and I was able to get it to Dave Brandon and the people at IMG. I said, ‘Here it is if you want to listen. I just want to do what you guys think is in the best interest of the broadcast. I want to stay on board. I want to continue to broadcast the games. If it’s in this capacity, fine but if it’s not I just want to stay doing color.’ They said, ‘Okay we’ll let you know.’ Then I forgot about it.
Because I still thought they were looking for a play-by-play guy then about late February, early March, they called me and said, ‘You know what? Your tape’s pretty good.’ I said, “Well, thank you.” They said, ‘Would you consider really being the play-by-play guy?’ I said, ‘Heck yeah. If that’s what you think is going to work.’
They also said that the opportunity to find a color guy with a similar criteria that they wanted in a play-by-play guy was going to open up the category, if you will, for more people. Because there’s a lot of people that probably were available to do color as opposed that there were fewer able to do the play-by-play thing with the same Michigan background they were looking for.
It was about two weeks later, Dierdorf showed up and that’s a no brainer, you know? Dan Dierdorf. There’s a Hall of Fame broadcaster. Michigan Hall of Honor winner. Former All-American. How in the world can you not use Dan? He had been on our radar back in January but he had had horrific back surgery that he needed. It was one of those things where he’d be in rehab for a year. He did not think that he was going to be available because of the rehab and the surgery.
In April it turned out that the rehab was coming along better than he had imagined. He really wanted to return to Michigan. He loves Michigan football, it’s his passion. For him it’s a homecoming and he lives in northern Michigan most of the summer. He just liked the idea and thought it would be great to work with me since he and I were teammates and we’ve been friends since we were 17 years old. That’s how it worked.
MVictors: Has Frank given you any advice on the role? Just being next to him for so long, what have you learned from him?
Jim Brandstatter: I’ve learned tons of stuff. Not just from Frank but from Dan Miller and Mark Champion. If I haven’t learned a little bit of play-by-play from those 3 guys then shame on me. Because those guys are top of the class in their ability to do play-by-play and as a color guy you listen and you learn and you try to fit to their play-by-play calls. They rub off on you.
Normally Frank would give me advice from a standpoint where it was the same advice he got when he took over for Bob Ufer. It’s really simple, he says, ‘Be yourself. Don’t try to be somebody else. Don’t try to be Ufer.’ I take that to heart. I can’t be Frank Beckmann. He was a unique, special play-by-play broadcaster for Michigan but Frank did it Frank’s way and that was the only way you can do it.
The only really advice he had was he said, ‘Okay, look. You know the ins and outs, you know how to do it and it’s just a matter of you being you. Don’t be me.’ That’s really the only advice that he had ever given him and that was the same advice that he got 30 years ago–and it still stands true.
MVictors: One of the nice things I think about doing play-by-play is that your voice will be immortalized on great plays. Of course we all know the great Ufer calls, and of course Frank’s everywhere over and over again. Is that something you’re looking forward to?
Jim Brandstatter: I’m looking forward to it but I’m not planning anything. I truly believe that stuff just happens. It’s got to be instinctive, it’s got to be off-the-cuff, and it’s got to just happen. From my perspective, it doesn’t even hit my radar that my touchdown call is going to be on SportsCenter or on film because that’s not what I’m worried about.
I know from Frank’s perspective and watching other guys, none of them have planned great play-by-play calls. When Woodson intercepted that ball against Ohio State [in 1997] in the end zone it was the best I’d ever heard Frank, he was standing up, he was pointing in the end zone and this stuff was just flowing. You know, ‘Clear off the mantel, make way for the Heisman Trophy, Charles Woodson has just intercepted….’ He went on, I stood back, I looked at him and I clapped. I applauded because you can’t make that up.
You can’t write that stuff. It just happened and he was there to capture that moment and he did it beautifully. I don’t even think about it. I just want to do it right.
MVictors: What’s the biggest challenge is going to be for you in your new seat here in the broadcast booth?
Jim Brandstatter: I think to get a nice flow and get a relationship established with Dan that translates to the audience. He and I, we’ll call the game and I know that we’ll do a nice job of it and the Xs and Os but I think the beauty of what I’ve found over the years is that the relationship between the play-by-play guy and the color guy is kind of what holds the needle for most of the listeners.
That’s another one of those things that I think is going to happen. Dan and I have to do our job but in between there, that relationship between us as friends, as football guys, as football players has got to kind of come out and say hello to all the fans every now and again. That relationship is real and people feel comfortable with us. Listening to us in their car or on their lawnmower or in their fans with their transistor radio or whatever.
From a difficulty standpoint, nothing to me is ever difficult. It’s a challenge but I’d pick the line from Lloyd Carr he used to tell his team, ‘Where else would you rather be?’ There is absolutely no place I’d rather be than right up there doing those games with Dan Dierdorf.
MVictors: Speaking of Dierdorf, is there anything unique you think he’ll bring to the color broadcast that may be different from how you handled it?
Jim Brandstatter: You know what he brings? He brings an NFL Hall of Fame career with him. He brings a tremendous amount of wit. He’s one of the best speakers you’ll ever hear. I think he’ll bring a perspective as to what it’s like at the next level and is that next-level type of play. Do you know what I’m saying?
I think that he brings that credibility automatically with him. That he’s played the game at the highest level. Has been elected to the National Football League Hall of Fame and he is able to analyze and see things during the game that he is uniquely qualified to talk about. He’s got the vocabulary and the experience and the wit to say it in an entertaining way.
That’s Dan Dierdorf and I think that that’s his great strength. Some guys are relatively dry and really Xs and Os-ey. Dan will have the ability to make it entertaining along with being authoritative and that’s a difficult thing to do. He was at the pinnacle, he was at the franchise of television–there’s no greater broadcast spot than Monday Night Football. He was there for a long time and when you reach that level, you know what? You got some pretty good juice to bring with you wherever you go.
MVictors: Is there anything about Dan Dierdorf that Michigan fans don’t know about him but perhaps should?
Jim Brandstatter: He’s a terrific public speaker. He loves Michigan and Michigan football. Being from Canton Ohio, he’s a guy that has adopted Michigan and Michigan has adopted him and he lives here 5 to 6 months of the year. He loves Northern Michigan, some of his best friends are in Ann Arbor. Like I said, he’s unabashedly a Michigan guy.
Even when he was broadcasting NFL football, he was the guy they would kid when Michigan did well or Michigan got beat or something like that people would go to him and kid him about it because they knew how much he bled maize and blue. All the other announcers everywhere around him would tell him, ‘What happened to your guys yesterday?’ They’d give him a little needle because they knew how much he wore Michigan on his sleeve.
That’s one of the things that’s unique about him, having played here and he loves Ann Arbor. He’s very quick-witted, just really very intelligent and he’s a hell of a good guy.
MVictors: Are you guys going to do any kind of dry run or practice or anything like that?
Jim Brandstatter I don’t know. We may, we may not. Dan and I—we’ve got 60 years of experience just doing games so I know that we’re going come and we’re going to watch practice together before the season. I know there’s a scrimmage the Saturday prior to the first game. Both of us I know want to be there. We may just sit together and talk as opposed to do a mock broadcast.
For Dan and I, this isn’t our first rodeo. He and I know where we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to do. I think the biggest adjustment we’ll have to make maybe is part of the necessary broadcast type-things within the broadcast like the little advertising one-liners, you know?
That when the tape is rolling, when the camera goes on and it’s live, that’s when everything ramps up. Your senses get their highest and you’re pumping your best stuff out. I think that’s the way both of us feel about that first game against Appalachian State.
MVictors: Should fans expect any special visitors in the booth? You guys do have a lot of friends.
Jim Brandstatter: I don’t know. That would be fun. I would love it if, who-knows-who comes up there? If Greg Gumbel for instance decided he wanted to take in a college football game. He worked with Dan the last 5 or 6 or 7 years at CBS. I’d say, ‘Come on in! Call a play-by-play thing with Dierdorf, here!’ I’d absolutely would love that but again, I don’t know.
You know, that’s one of those things that happens at the moment if it does. I’m one of those guys that loves to have the non-traditional thing happen. It’s like we had Mark Harmon up in the booth when they put his dad’s jersey in the Legends program. So he came up and talked to us, it was great. We were talking football and this and that, and finally I looked over and said, ‘Hey Mark here’s a big question. What’s happening with Ziva on NCIS?’ [laughs]
He looked at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’ But that to me was fun and I think everybody who was a fan of NCIS and his career as an actor wanted to hear that question.
Completely out of the context of football so from my perspective, I would love it if somebody came up who was a friend of Dan’s or one of those broadcast guys who wants to come up and say hello. We’ll grab ’em! I’m sure Dave Brandon will come up and we’ll give him a microphone.
MVictors: Having been to so many stadiums—college and pro–is there anything unique about the experience at Michigan Stadium?
Jim Brandstatter: There’s no question about it, because it’s so huge. You don’t realize how big it is and then you go to some other places where there’s 50,000 seats there and you go, ‘That’s a big place!’ 50,000 people but it pales in comparison. The other thing I think that is unique and interesting about Michigan Stadium is this place was built in 1927. Yost figured enough about it so that you could put an extra deck on top of it with the foundation on it and here a guy is literally nearly 100 years ago with the foresight to build a place that could handle what is today modern college football.
That historic aspect of the Stadium in my judgment anyway, sets it apart and the fact that the same place has housed so many great, great names and traditional players. Michigan is the winningest College football program in history so with all of those things kind of going to making that place really hallowed ground.
To me it’s unique, not just because it’s Michigan but because of what Michigan has meant to college football nationally and what Michigan has meant to college football historically.
MVictors: What do you think Bo would tell you two if he saw you heading up to the stadium to call your first game?
Jim Brandstatter: I think that Bo would look at us and he would say, “I can’t believe they’re putting you two guys behind microphones to call Michigan football! What a colossal mistake!!” [laughs] That’s what Schembechler would say to us. [laughs]
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