by Charlie Krausse January 6, 2023
He's been a staple of college football for 27 years running. Now, he double-dips into the NFL on Thursday nights. Before all of this, he wore jersey #4 for the Ohio State Buckeyes as their starting quarterback. He is Kirk Herbstreit. Calling the College Football National Championship game this Monday Night along side his play-by-play partner Chris Fowler, Herbstreit sat down with the media offering insight and persepective into his life and his responsibility for the championship game.
Herbstreit spoke in great length to his role and vision as the Color Commentator, "When I first started doing games, I was lucky enough to be with Mike Tirico and a producer named Tim Corrigan and I was in my 20s and I'd never called a high school game, let alone calling a game on a Thursday night on ESPN. And Mike and Tim, they just said, listen, all we want you to do is tell us how or why the play unfolded. Just stay in that lane." Fast-forward to even today, Herbie still stays in his lane and waits, before he shares his perspective and knowledge, "I like to give the play-by-play guy his time and his lane to set the scene, to call the game. If you ever notice when a touchdown, especially if it's a home team, scores a touchdown, I immediately lay out, not because I'm happy or I'm sad or whatever, it's more of I lay out so our director can cut shots and show the emotion of the game. And then either right before the extra point or right after the extra point, we might hit a replay and kind of talk about what just happened on that touchdown." added Herbstreit.
Both Play-by-Play Announcers and Color Commentators each have simple unwritten rules the greats, like Chris Fowler, Mike Tirico and Kirk Herbstreit follow. For Fowler and Tirico, as PBP guys, their job is to paint the picture in real time, speak the obvious and not steal the thunder. For Herbie, his role is, "try to say it in layman's terms so my mom can understand or my wife can understand. That’s the other thing is, I'm not going to say three technique or inverted safety or too high shelf. If I say anything that's football terms, I always try to follow it up with what I mean by that, just because I think so many people don't really understand what some of those terms are."
Its a complex equation being a Color Commentator. The average play lasts 6-8 seconds while the average game runs for 3 1/2 hours. Herbstreit has only a few seconds before the play starts to think about what he's going to say next, before its time to get ready for the next play. To help him do this, he relies on his knowledge when he wore the jersey. "I'm right away, as soon as the huddle breaks, if there is a huddle, I'm looking at the safeties. I'm seeing if the corners have depth, that they bring in a blitz. I'm looking at it. "
There's reasons on the surface why Herbstreit is ESPN royalty. That part is easy to recognize. Why he receives the private jet treatment from a possible GameDay location to where his duties of calling the game on a Saturday night is because of everything mentioned above. He's mastered a simple formula = don't talk over your partner + simple insight and shared perspective of what just happened.
Now to get there and to do it at his level and consistency is where his true skill comes to play. Reading a defense and converting it to English on the fly while having a producer in your ear is a tough skill to master, while all along, feeding off of your partner's lead ins.
All of this makes him great at his job. But what makes him an even greater person, is the humbleness and time he offers. This season alone, Herbstreit worked 16 College GameDays, 18 Saturday Night Games and 14 Amazon Prime NFL Thursday Night games. One can argue that's three fulltime jobs with the amount of prep required for each. Yet, days before the College Football National Championship, Herbstreit offered even more of his time to answer every question asked. Each with great depth and insight. That goes a long way.