On Oct. 24, Nebraska basketball play-by-play announcer Kent Pavelka and the Journal Star's L. Kent Wolgamott sat down at Gate 25 to talk about Pavelka's career and the upcoming season.
Longtime friends - Wolgamott has covered Nebraska basketball for the Associated Press since the early 80s and sat next to Pavelka for many of those seasons -- the conversation lasted nearly an hour, most of which was recorded.
It began with Wolgamott's observation that Pavelka had become the embodiment of the program.
“I don’t ever think of it in those terms. When you were saying that, that never occurs to me. It never has. The first year to the 33rd year, whatever this is. I go into a zone when I’m doing these games and I don’t have any concept - either before, during or after - a broadcast or a season, what it means to anybody.”
I’m sure it is meaningful to people. Among the reasons, you can tell that - ‘bangarang. When you’ve got people quoting that back at you, you know they’re paying attention.
“I’d be disingenuous if I said that I don’t feel good about where I’m at. And I suppose, I used to say this kind of in jest, and I really think its true. I’m not trying to be self-deprecating, you dn’t really have to be that good. You have to stick around. You end up feeling like a good old broken in pair of house slippers. You grow because you’ve hung around. But I guess that doesn’t apply to somebody who’s a new listener.
“It’s been a blast though ... You’ve probably done more than a thousand games."
Maybe not, because I don’t go on the road.
“You didn’t miss a bunch of seasons either, like I did.”
One thing we do have in common, you and I have watched a lot of crappy basketball and yet you’ve maintained an enthusiasm through some really not good years.
“True enough. I remember when you and your brother, back in the old days, we would chat after every game. I kind of realized back then that I was the unique one of the three of us in terms of how invested I was. I don’t why. Even with football, to a degree, there’s been an element of can we ever get over the top of the hill with this thing. It’s us against the world, David and Goliath.
“With football, it was true because we could never beat Oklahoma. We finally got there in ‘78. In basketball, Joe had some good teams, Moe had some good teams. Danny had really good teams. But nobody ever won a conference championship, nobody ever won an NCAA game. We just haven’t gotten over the hill. I just think collectively, Nebraska basketball fans, we’re in this thing, despite reality.”
To have to be enthusiastic about some of those Barry Collier teams, that would have been an artform.
“I missed most of those. Moe had some pretty abysmal talent. Danny, the first year and Doc, they were kind of like Moe’s teams, they’d give you a hell of a game.”
I don’t know the answer to this question. I know you did KFMQ when you were in school. When did you start doing sports broadcasting?
“At KRNU. I grew up in Lincoln and when I found out they had a broadcast sequence at the School of Journalism, back in those days, I thought ‘that’s what I want to do.’ About a half dozen years before that I was just mesmerized by Dick Perry, Bob Zinner."
Was Lyle on that list too?
"Yeah, but we didn’t listen to Lyle in Lincoln, did we? I think it was my sophomore year they gave us a chance to go over to Memorial Stadium and to the Coliseum and do a closed-circuit broadcast on KRNU, that’s what I wanted to, right then. I go experience while I was going to school, when I graduated in 71, I went to Fremont and got to do hundreds of games a year. High school, Midland College, Fremont Bergan, Fremont High, football, basketball, Legion baseball. I got three years of that. Then just serendipity I got hired at KFAB, when I was a pretty young guy.”
When did you start doing Nebraska basketball?
How did you land that, just three years out of school?.
"When I say serendipity, it is. It ties in with you don’t have to be talented to be successful. There are a lot of guys better than I am that are stuck in Fremont, I don’t mean Fremont’s a bad place. If as a graduating senior at UNL, I don’t interview with KFAB becasue they came down and did interviews even though they didn’t have jobs and hadn’t met Tom Johnson. Then when I’m in Fremont and I’m asked to emcee a Fremont high school band event on a Saturday night and there’s a Friday night version of it too that Tom Johnson is emceeing. If I don’t go to the Friday night deal and see how he does it, and I don’t run into him, he doesn’t think to call me three weeks later. He calls me three weeks later and says ‘we’ve got a job for a disc jockey, nights and weekends. I took it. That was like in February or March. By the fall, I’m in the booth with Lyle, the third man in the booth and in the winter I’m doing basketball at 24 years old.”
So you were doing basketball at 24. You were only a couple years older than the kids. That’s not the case today.
“No, no. It’s weird. That is a really weird reality when you’re riding the bus and riding the airplane with these guys and you know you’re older than their grandparents. The 180 that is when Jerry Fort comes back for a basketball reunion and I say ‘I was only three years older than you.’ You’re an old guy too now.
"I don’t ever think about it that much. But when you get older, you kind of put it all together. It’s kind of like a dream. It’s so odd.”
If you listen to Kent Pavelka calling games back then to Kent Pavelka calling games now, what’s
“I don’t know. Actually a guy from western Nebraska sent me a tape of a Kansas game I did my first year. I don’t listen to the recordings of my games any more. I don’t know that I’m that much different, really. You’d probably be able to answer that better than I would. If you listen."
If you’re driving in the car and there’s a game on, you listen. To me it’s not much different, it doesn’t seem.
“It don’t think it is.”
Other than the game is a little faster paced, I think, You had plenty of time to talk during the Moe era.
“Each possession was a little longer. But even thinking about that, you still try to describe every detail during a minute and a half possession as you do in a 30 second possession. Maybe there’s a few more passes you’re describing. That’s always been what try to do, just be as detailed as I can, try to give a listener kind of an unconscious mental detail."
How do you develop that knowledge of the detail?: Do you go to practice and see what they’re going to do?
"I do go to practice. I go to practices way more today than I did back in the day. I don’t know any value out of it in terms of whether I’m any good doing play-by-play, but it’s kind of the aggregate knowledge that somehow seeps through on occasion, that you can throw in.
“I’ve always been a big guy to study, to prepare. Back in the day, I didn’t have access to Synergy Sports where I could dial up Wayne State who’s going to play here or Mississippi Valley State and watch their players, so when I walk in here, I’m not trying to figure out who these guys are for the first 10 minutes of the game. That’s hard."
I’m sure it is. It’s hard enough when you’re writing about.
“That part I still work really hard at, probably harder than ever. Once the season starts for me, I don’t ever take a day off. If we have a game on a Monday and a game on Thursday, Tuesday morning I’m starting to prepare. A lot of that is the video study, but I’ve got formats to prepare, scripts and commercials and stuff. The same is true if we have a game the next day or the next week, I don’t like to say ‘I’ve got three days off, I don’t have to get ready until Friday.’"
How does that extend into the game? You can convey some excitement in the game just from the way you express yourself, right? Is that just natural, do you think that stuff out?
“You can’t fake that...It’s not schtick. I go into a zone, I go into a trance, kind of. This is serious business, the ball’s thrown up,. I know in the larger scheme of life, now that i’m almost 70 years old, that it’s not serious business. But in terms of the next hour-and-a-half, on this radio broadcast, for this group players and these coaches and these fans, this is serious damned business and to be successful.
"I think probably got this from Bremser. I realized that one of the responsibilities you’ve got doing radio play-by-play is, since the fans who are not at the game, if they don’t have access to television, my responsibility isn’t only to just clinically describe the play and try to give you a visualization by doing it that way. I also have a responsibility to convey what the atmosphere at the arena is like, what the fans are feeling. That’s part of the experience that people who are there have.
“What I hope happens is that listener who is not there and has no visual aid feels like they’ve been at the game. That’s what I try to do. Since I go into a trance, it’s not like manufactured. It’s like I’m out of control, kind of .”
In terms of atmosphere, things have really changed. From the Coliseum to Devaney to here, this has been something else.
“The atmosphere, you’ve got to be kidding me. It’s the best there is. Remember the Wisconsin game a couple years ago, you’ll hear a lot of people say that’s the best sporting event I’ve ever been to. People who have been to national championship Husker football games will tell you that.
"After that game, I’m schlepping equipment still, I’m packing the stuff up. The TV guys are over here and the crew is over there. One of the guys I happened to strike up a conversation with, his specific job was audio on the baskets. Here’s this professional audio guy at sports events only, who covers the NBA and the guy had some years on him too, he said that was the best atmosphere at basketball game he’s ever been to.
"I don’t want to say anything bad about Moe,.you back to some of those guys. By comparison, give me some more novocaine."
There were some deadly ones. All I can say is be happy you missed those Collier games.
"I suppose it was like a cavern in there."
It was a cavern
"By the same token, I still think a 42-39 game is exciting because it’s close. A 42 to 39 game is really a hell of a lot closer than an 84 to 81 game because each basket is precious. So I could get into it. Maybe the crowd wasn’t into it.
"It depends on whether it’s 42 to 39 because somebody’s slowing it down and doing it on purpose or if it’s 42 to 39 because they were shooting 8 percent.
"Moe would win like that."
I remember this, I use this only as illustration, when were sitting in that press box up on the side, you go yourself plenty excited and I got bombarded by press guides, notebooks.. You get plenty excited.
“I don’t know. The only time I get conscious of that, Davison sits me down. He grabs me by the torso or the shoulders. Any time I pop up, I realize I’m probably a little too animated. Other than, I guess people who aren’t real great fans may be sitting behind me looking at me as much as the game. Look at this freak."
You mentioned Davison. You’ve worked by yourself. You’ve had partners, Matt for a long time, now you’ve got Jake coming in. You like one or the other?
“I’ve done some games in the last couple years by myself. On the odd occasion, it didn’t work out -- that tournament in Brooklyn and the charity game last summer. In a way, I feel like I’m unimpeded because I don’t have to deal with the guy next to me. I can really get going. By the same token, with what today’s broadcast requires compared to back in 1974, just the formats, the pregame show, just all the details involved, you want to have an analyst with you a partner.
"I want to tell you, working with Matt was just a highlight of my career. I loved working with him. He’s so funny. I just thought we worked well together. I’ll miss him."
The thing I always appreciated about Matt is even with the ties to the program, he was pretty brutally honest ...
And that doesn’t happen in a lot of places.
“It doesn’t. And I appreciated that. A broadcast ought to have something critical. And he had a way of doing it that worked. He didn’t alienate anybody."
You’ve done a few games with Jake over the years. You’re going to have to get him worked in here over the next couple months.
"He’s getting better, he’s starting to relax with it. I don’t think it would be easy to work with me. In basketball, as an analyst, it’s not an easy job. You can’t have your analyst talking when there’s anything happening on the floor. It’s hard to talk in four seconds and say anything. I think he’s developing that. Obviously he knows the game in and out. When I do shut up, he can really add some enlightening things about the game that I need to shut up and let him do. I think he might be potentially, a better analyst than Matt in terms of the x’s and o’s of the game. Which is fascinating to me. The challenge there is to be able to do that and say that in terms the average guy understands. I love talking basketball with him. If I let him talk, he’s got a lot to add."
Besides the Wisconsin game are there other games that just jump out, stand out.
“Yeah, and I don’t know why these do because there’s probably another 50 that I’m not remembering. One game I remember, you’ll remember this game, was a three or four overtime game against Alabama-Birmingham when Moe was here. We had a pretty good team. I think game was in the 80s...after four overtimes. Just in terms of what we were talking about earlier, are we going to be the team to come out ahead in this or not, I don’t remember a game that was was any more exciting.
“I remember a game at Kansas State when Kansas State had Chucky Williams, Mike Evans, Jack Hartmann and Joe and Moe, Moe was really coaching Joe was sick. Ahearn was just the epitome of den of iniquity. That was an overtime game, we lost. Then there was a game at Missouri, when Fort was a senior. We lost that. They had Willie Smith. It was an overtime loss. All of these are losses except for UAB.
"There was an occasional game at Kansas. I looked up in the record book when I thought it was going to be the last time we played there, i think I broadcast two wins there out of like 18 games. So winning at Kansas when Ted Owens was there. And, of course, the NIT championships.”
Do you remember the game when Fort and Hercule Ivy decided they’d have a shootout at the Coliseum.
“I don’t know how many years ago, it had to be a Sadler team. We’re over at Iowa State and they’re having a halftime version what Nebraska does, bringing their old players back. We’re in a break and they’re announcing Hercule Ivy is coming out on the court. I had like 30 seconds. I walked up to him and ‘I just want to introduce myself, my name is Kent Pavelka. I broadcast Nebraska games when you played against Jerry Fort and I remember this game and I just had to tell you, I was there and I broadcast it.’ He just lit up.
“You and I are the only ones in the Western Hemisphere that will remember that. But it was cool."
They just as well had not had the other eight guys out there. It was just come down and shoot. There was some Danny teams, Beau Reid, wasn’t it Michigan State or somebody they beat on the last second.
"There was that game, there was a Kansas game. Derrick Vick teamed up with somebody. Do you remember Bobby Moore? It either a halftime shot or an end of the game shot from half court literally, I think Nebraska won the game on it."
It was the end of the game.
“I’ve searched high and low for the audio recording of that shot. Yesterday I got an email from Gary Sadlemyer that contained an audio clip. Bobby Moore this week, found Gary Sadlemyer and he’s looking for some audio. What is he? 60 years old.
“Nobody remembers that shot except you and me. I’ve got to call him. I wish I had it.”
We’re talking names here that nobody remembers, like Jerry Fort, he was a great player.
“It’s like when we used to go on the road in football and Fox would be holding court either the day before or afterwards over cocktails, and he’d name one of those coaches from the 20s and 30s and my eyes would glaze over. I was like ‘who are you talking about?’ I realize now if I make the mistake of talking like this in front of somebody that wasn’t there, their eyes are going to glaze over.”
Maybe, in a way, that’s something you’re bringing, it’s a continuity of the program and it connects you back to Jerry Fort.
"Sure, there will be a conversion in this bar, if it’s still open, with people saying I remember when Tom Allen was a sophomore back in 2018 and he did this and we beat so and so. And we’ll be 40 years dead."
Maybe they’ll win an NCAA Tournament game before we’re gone. You want to call an NCAA tournament win?
“I went to practice yesterday. I was on the phone, on the way back to Omaha, talking to a buddy. I’ve said this to myself a million times and I’ve said it out loud a couple times, I might just hang it up then and there. They’re going to go from the Sweet 16 to the Elite Eight and I’m done. My last football game was a national championship. This is the last piece of the puzzle for me. How foolish that is because I don’t even play. But it speaks to investment, emotional investment.
"And the fact of the matter is, that would be a great way to go out.
"Well, yeah. I’m sorry, they don’t have a lot coming back next year.