On Friday around 3 p.m. I spoke to Falcons and Georgia Tech radio play-by-play broadcaster Wes Durham as he was riding on a charter bus with the Yellow Jackets' football team for its 8 p.m. game on Saturday night in Tallahassee.
The logistics of Durham's travel schedule – Saturday Tech games and Sunday Falcons games -- had always intrigued me. This weekend shaped up as if it would be his most difficult week of the season, so I called him to discuss it.
After the game on Saturday, Durham would fly by charter with the Tech football team after the Florida State game back to Atlanta and then he would catch an 8:30 a.m. commercial flight to San Francisco for the 4:05 game on Sunday.
"Once we get on the land it's not terribly far," Durham said. "It's not as bad as it sounds."
Late on Saturday, I was wondering if Durham would have liked to rethink that statement.
In case you missed it, Tech's game was delayed by 78 minutes because of lightning. Plus, the teams combined for 93 total points. The game did not end until 12:45 a.m.
Durham said he slept on his office couch and got two hours' worth of sleep. Then his cross-country flight was delayed by an hour this morning. That's a tough way to call game. The same is true for Falcons' radio analyst David Archer, who calls Southeastern Conference football games for Fox on Saturday.
For Sunday's game, Durham and Archer were scheduled to be on the same commercial flight departing Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. If for some unforeseen reason they are late to or miss the game, Randy Waters, who calls three preseason television games on WXIA-11 and flies on the charter with the team, would act as the emergency broadcaster.
But that is the worst-case scenario, which has never occurred. Durham said when he was asked to take over Falcons' broadcasts, one of the first people he called was Larry Munson, the former University of Georgia broadcaster who had called the Falcons' games for a time.
"My conversation with Larry was unbelievable," Durham said. "He said, 'You've got it a lot easier because they don't play in the NFC West anymore.' "
Well, but cross-country road trips still pop up now and then. Durham said he is "anal" about planning his travel and begins doing so as soon as the NFL releases the Falcons' schedule in April. By then, Georgia Tech's schedule already is out. Durham said the call usually comes from Falcons' Vice President of Football Communications Reggie Roberts and Senior Director of Media Relations Frank Kleha.
This year they asked him, "What's your big fear?"
His answer: "San Francisco."
"We go from worst to best," Durham said. "I want to deal with the worst ones…. Leading up, if you know it's going to be a bad weekend, you make sure of your preparation and you've gotten your work done. So when you do fly in on Sunday there's not a lot of hesitation in terms of what you've got to accomplish on the air."
If the broadcast sounds natural, it's because of all the preparation time put in beforehand. Durham said that during the bye week on Sunday, he started studying around 10 a.m. and finished at 9 p.m. – an 11-hour day.
Unlike Durham, Archer is at the disadvantage of broadcasting different teams each week. That means learning an extra team each week. He spends hours to study, build cue cards and depth charts to familiarize himself with the teams.
"There are the young kids you need to brush up on," Archer said. "They might get in the game. If their mom and dad are watching, you want to say something positive if they get in the game and make a play."
For Archer, the most anxious part of the weekend is after his college game ends on Saturday. This week Archer called Saturday's noon game in Columbia, S.C., between Kentucky and South Carolina. That's almost a four-hour drive back to Atlanta, so I'm guessing he arrived back in Atlanta some time around 9 or 10 p.m.
Unlike Durham, Archer never has the benefit of a home game in Atlanta on Saturday, although he sometimes calls games at the University of Georgia or at Auburn.
"Travel to the venue is easy," he said. "It's the return part. On the back end, knowing I have to retool, get my suit and whatever I've got to wear and get to next game. It's more challenging logistically."
Archer said it's an anxious time.
"You're always concerned about making sure you get there to do your job and all that kind of stuff," he said. "You don't want to be late. To a certain extent you're kind of at the mercy of people who take you."
Last week Florida State broadcaster Gene Deckerhoff, who also does the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' games, missed part of the Bucs' game Sunday in Washington. He had returned with the Seminoles from Boston College the night before and had to fly out the day of the game.
If such a situation ever arose with the Falcons, they have Waters to step in. Durham said he'd nominate Roberts, the vice president of football communications, or President Rich McKay to serve as the analyst.
It's a scenario that Durham and Archer never want to see. Both say all the logistical struggles are worth it and it's just part of the job. Durham, who is a full-time employee of Georgia Tech, said he could not do it without the supports of the people at the Institute and with the Falcons, starting at the top with Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich and Falcons Owner and CEO Arthur Blank.
"Everybody -- their support means a tremendous amount," Durham said. "The fact they understand, I think Dave would say the same thing. Dave's doing these college games. They understand you're trying to reach some professional goals."
But the first goal is always getting to the game on time.