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Volume 22 No. 18
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‘Raff stories?’ Plenty to go around on hoops analyst

It seems like everyone who meets Bill Raftery has a Raff story, and they are all said the same way. They tend to start like Fox Sports broadcaster Gus Johnson’s Raff story — with a laugh, followed by a question. “For print?”
The stories always include a Raff imitation. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has one that’s spot-on. So does Sean McDonough and just about anybody who has ever heard Raftery scream “Onions!” and “Send it in, Jerome!”

In February, CBS Sports and Turner named Raftery a Final Four analyst along with Grant Hill. It will be Raftery’s

Veteran analyst Bill Raftery will be calling this year's Final Four.
Photo by: Getty Images
first time calling the Final Four. The move was widely praised by television critics, fans and his fellow announcers, many of whom reached out to the 71-year-old announcer.

He was still taking those calls two weeks after the Final Four announcement. For example, Raftery was in Washington, D.C., Feb. 17 to do a St. Johns-Georgetown game for Fox Sports 1 when ESPN announcer Mike Tirico called to offer his congratulations. “A lot of guys called or sent notes or texts,” Raftery said. “I’m not finished returning them all.”

Raff stories describe a man who is fun, social, loyal, enthusiastic and hardworking.

“It’s been remarkable to me to see the response when the news came out that he was going to do the Final Four,” McDonough said. “People are just so happy for him. A lot of us have been as happy for him as we would be if it happened to ourselves.”


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It’s not just bold-faced names who feel this way about Raftery. CBS Sports director Suzanne Smith said she sees the same reaction to the announcer in every arena.

“When he walks into the arena, everyone gravitates toward him — whether it’s players, the coaches, the fans, the administrators, the security guards,” she said. “It’s infectious. People just want to be around him.”

Photo by: Getty Images
Sean McDonough
Play-by-play, ESPN

“Back in the 1990s, Verne Lundquist and Al McGuire were doing a Boston College game against Seton Hall. The father of Bryan Caver, who was a player for Seton Hall, had passed away in an accident a couple of weeks before, and he was wearing a wristband that had his dad’s initials on it in memory of his dad. During the game, Al got confused and said that Malcolm Huckaby, a player for Boston College, was wearing a wristband because his dad passed away.

“We have the next Boston College game, and Mr. Huckaby comes over and says. ‘Could you guys do me a favor? Could you please say on TV that I have not passed away?’

“I asked Bill how we should handle it. Bill said, ‘I don’t think we should mention it. Al’s very sensitive. He’s our friend. I don’t want to do anything that would embarrass him.’ I said, ‘OK. I don’t necessarily agree with that. But I yield to you.’

“Boston College controls the opening tip. Bill utters his trademark, ‘Hoyas. Man-to-man. Malcolm Huckaby has the ball for Boston College. His dad’s here tonight, and boy does he look terrific.’

“We’re three seconds into the game. I looked at him and shrugged. He’s smiling at me and winking.”

Verne Lundquist
Photo by: David Patterson

Play-by-play, CBS Sports

“I was in New York for some kind of a meeting in the early 1990s, and Bill was doing a Big East doubleheader down at the Garden. I called him, and he said, ‘I’ll leave a credential for you. Come down here, watch the two games, and then we’ll go to dinner.’ I said, ‘Bill, that means we’ll go to dinner at 11:30,’ and he replied, ‘Your point?’

“We wind up at a restaurant over on 2nd Avenue. It was Bill’s haunt. We walk in at 11:30, and the place is jammed. We sat down and ordered dinner and had a few adult beverages. It got later and later. Finally, at 3:45 a.m., I said to Bill, ‘Listen, I’ve got an 8 a.m. flight. I’ve got to go home.’ He said, ‘I’ve got a car picking me up to take me back to New Jersey. Come on, I’ll drop you off. Let me make one phone call.’ It’s 3:45 a.m. and he decides to call his wife. He puts a quarter into the old coin telephone, and this is what I hear on my end: ‘Joanie, honey, I just wanted to call to let you know that I’m going to be a little late getting home.’ That is the essence of Raff.”

Photo by: Getty Images
Jay Bilas
Analyst, ESPN

“I played on a pretty good team in college that lost in the [1986] NCAA championship game to Louisville. It was a devastating loss. Dave Anderson had written a really nice article about our team in The New York Times. Raftery had that article framed and sent it to each one of the seniors on that team — Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, me. I still have the letter that he sent us. Who does that? ... That was one of the coolest things that anybody has ever done for me. I had met him, but I didn’t know him. Later on, I get to work with him and he turns into one of my treasured friends. I send notes to players. But I’ve never had anything framed and sent to a player. I send notes to players, and that’s one of the reasons why — because of how meaningful that was to me.”

Gus Johnson
Photo by: Getty Images

Play-by-play, Fox Sports

“Back in our early days at CBS, we’d be hanging out, going to dinner and having fun. One day he was like, ‘Come on, kid. You’re coming with me.’ And he took me to Mass, which was crazy. Somehow he knew that I’m Catholic, and he took me to Mass. I don’t even remember the city — it was 16 or 17 years ago. That’s something that’s stuck with me my entire career. I try to go when I can when I’m on the road. When my mother found that out, she liked him even more.”

Photo by: Getty Images
John Thompson Jr.
Former coach, Georgetown University

“The thing that I like about Billy is the fact that he could mix common sense about the game with humor. He hasn’t forgotten the fact that there should be some fun involved in this, too.

“I had competitive anger [when we coached against each other]. But as a person, I liked him a lot. People misinterpret coaches’ reactions to each other when they’re competing with one another. That wasn’t just Billy.
Anybody we competed against, you’d try to generate a certain amount of dislike for. But as a person, and knowing him off of the court, I liked him an awful lot.”

Suzanne Smith
Photo by: CBS Sports

Director, CBS Sports

“Two years ago, we were in between the days where we were doing the first round of the tournament. It was a Friday, and we were meeting with the teams who won on Thursday. The kids come in and the coaches come in and sit down and talk. These are college kids who are excited about having just won the night before, and they’re going to go on to play the next day. The Ohio State players came in, and they were so excited to talk to Bill. They said to him, ‘Say man-to-man. Give me, onions.’ Bill doesn’t usually say those phrases when he’s asked. But these kids were so genuine, sincere and excited that Bill started doing some of his Raffisms, and then the players started doing it. It was like a comedy bit going back-and-forth — who could do it better? These kids were imitating Bill better than Bill.”

Photo by: Getty Images
Sean McManus
Chairman, CBS Sports

“When I called Raff a few weeks ago to tell him that he was going to be the No. 1 analyst, he was obviously appreciative. He was surprised, I think, because he didn’t think it was going to come his way. One of his first comments and concerns was about what the move would mean to his partnership with Verne. His first questions were not about who the other analyst was going to be or the format. His first reaction was, ‘Boy, I’m really going to miss working with Verne.’ I think a lot of people wouldn’t have had that reaction. But that’s the kind of guy Bill Raftery is.”