Brad Nessler gained his preseason wish, even if he didn’t envision the stars of the spectacle involved.
Back in July, at the buzz factory that is SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., the SEC on CBS play-by-play announcer was asked what he anticipated most about the fall. He said he wanted to see someone from the SEC East stand up to the best from the SEC West, which has claimed eight straight conference titles. He wanted a contender to rise to challenge Alabama, which treated the SEC like a personal playground during its romp to national glory under Nick Saban. He wanted more balance.
Almost five months later, after a winding road produced stars and shakeups and surprises, both Georgia and Auburn delivered.
“The thing I said going in was, ‘I want to see someone represent from the East, and whoever they play in the West, I don’t want it to be a 30-point blowout,’ ” Nessler told SEC Country. “I wasn’t saying it was going to be Alabama. And I wasn’t going to be saying Georgia, even though the media picked Georgia to get there.
“I just wanted to see a little bit of balance when we got to the first weekend of December. And, boy, did I get it. Not only did somebody stand up to Alabama, [Auburn] beat them. Not only did Georgia step up, but they were No. 1 [in the College Football Playoff rankings] for a good stretch.”
Nessler, 61, will be on the call with veteran color analyst Gary Danielson on Saturday afternoon for the SEC Championship Game between the Bulldogs and Tigers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. This will be the second time Nessler has called an SEC Championship Game — the first came in 1999 with ABC. This matchup serves as a juicy capper to Nessler’s first season as part of SEC on CBS telecasts.
Auburn pureed Georgia, 40-17, on Nov. 11 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham had 214 yards passing with 3 touchdowns, and running back Kerryon Johnson crushed the Bulldogs with 167 yards rushing on 32 carries.
But this time, with a trip to the College Football Playoff serving as the prize in the SEC’s showcase event, Nessler anticipates a much closer fight.
“I think the fact that it’s a rematch, I think that just sets the tone,” he said.
“When you have somebody playing No. 1, like Auburn did the first time [against Georgia], and then again against Alabama last week, the level of anticipation for us is as big as it is for the fans. … An hour before the game, I’m already antsy and thinking, ‘I can’t wait for this thing to start.’ That’s the way I was three weeks ago at Jordan-Hare [for the first Auburn-Georgia game], and that’s the way I was last week [for the Iron Bowl]. So I can’t imagine.”
By now, Nessler is well aware that SEC football captures the imagination of many.
Before his current role, the veteran broadcaster was no stranger to the conference. In May 2016, he was named the lead play-by-play announcer for SEC on CBS telecasts, starting with this season. But he worked for CBS Sports from 1990-92, calling college football in addition to the NFL, men’s and women’s basketball, and other events. Then he spent 24 years at ESPN/ABC, which included stints serving as a play-by-play voice for major college football games.
At CBS, Nessler moved into a chair that famed voice Verne Lundquist had occupied since 2000, before the figure known to viewers as “Uncle Verne” stepped away after last season. Nessler has become comfortable carving his own reputation as one of the SEC’s most visible figures.
“This is the first job that I’ve looked at that there’s a responsibility,” Nessler said. “There’s always a responsibility to your network and to the timeslot you’re in and to your crew and to your partner. But because I was sliding into his chair, there was a high level of responsibility that I’ve got to be as good as Verne or better if I can be. I can’t be below his level of what he has done for so many years, and so many people loved him.
“That’s the other thing — I can’t make people like me or love me. I can only be Brad, not Verne. But from that standpoint, he was so beloved, and people still ask me about him all the time. I email or text him pretty regularly, talk to him on the phone when I can. … I probably spent more time talking to him this year than I ever have. And he has been our No. 1 fan.”
To Danielson, Nessler’s addition to the booth brought instant credibility in a new era. He’s confident in the direction of the SEC on CBS.
“After having a great 11-year run with a Hall of Fame play-by-play [announcer], beloved Verne Lundquist,” Danielson said, “I knew that when Brad took over this mic, the people who understand the importance of football in the South would immediately know that they have a pro’s pro back at the mic and that he was the right choice to pick it up after Verne.”
Nessler’s first season with SEC on CBS, like any introduction to a new job, has featured flashpoints that stay with him.
There was his call of Feleipe Franks’ 63-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland in the closing seconds of Florida’s victory against Tennessee on Sept. 16 . There was the time before the Iron Bowl when Nessler walked out of his hotel near Jordan-Hare Stadium and smiled after he saw a young boy in Auburn colors holding a sign that read, “Welcome to Auburn. Just don’t poison anything.” There are the weekly emails from a childhood friend that reveal the favorite lines from Nessler enjoyed by the hearty crowd at a bar in tiny Dover, Minn., (population: 747) that gathers each week to watch the SEC on CBS broadcast.
Many eyes. One common thread: unwavering passion.
“I knew the fans were passionate going in, and I loved that part,” Nessler said. “Gary and even Verne warned me about the scrutiny of the broadcasts. I can’t do anything other than my best.
“I really love the conference, because the people are just so fired up. … You’re born into this. You’re born into SEC football, and you pick your team at birth, and your parents do it for you or somewhere along the line you stand up to your parents and say, ‘I’m going to be an Alabama fan,’ and you’ve lived in Auburn, or you say, ‘I’m going to be a Florida fan,’ and you’re living in Georgia.
“I think it’s the greatest thing in the world. I don’t think there’s anything like it.”
Come Saturday, with dreams and College Football Playoff destinies in the balance, Nessler will once again be reminded why there’s nothing like it.
The post Brad Nessler embraces fans’ passion with SEC on CBS: ‘Greatest thing in the world’ appeared first on SEC Country.
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