Gene Deckerhoff reflects on nearly 50 years as FSU’s iconic radio voice

When I called him earlier this week, he was working hard on his research, scouring stats, reading player bios, writing his game notes, finishing his depth charts.

What else would you expect from the iconic Jean Deckerhoff? It didn’t matter that he was preparing for a relatively meaningless spring game on Saturday—his final act as the famed radio voice of the Florida State Seminoles. He could easily just show up at the press box, turn on the microphone and broadcast a Garnet the Gold game without really knowing or caring about his lack of game prep, but that’s not just Deckerhoff.

“I don’t want my previous transmission to be bad,” he says.

As if the great Jean Deckerhoff had ever broadcast poorly. He called 529 FSU football games in 43 years and 1,324 Seminole basketball games in 49 years and, yet, Deckerhoff, 76, is still a consummate professional. Even going to his last spring game, after which he’ll turn off his mic for the last time.

At least, his FSU mic.

He will still have one year left on his contract as the radio voice of the Tampa Bay Books this season and then retires altogether. His crackling voice, his technical brilliance, his colorful story, his spirited personality, his iron-man work ethic are all qualities that have made Deckerhoff the greatest sports broadcaster in Sunshine State history.

“He is one of the great broadcasters of our time – not only in the state of Florida but across the country,” says legendary Orlando Magic broadcaster David Steele. “His influence is immeasurable. He is a giant.”

Longtime UCF radio voice Mark Daniels says: “The way he calls a game; his level of enthusiasm, his tone of voice, his passion, his presentation is incredible. His legacy is huge. When I first gen He had a huge impact on me as a young college student when I started calling games at UCF.

Deckerhoff has seen it all through almost a half-century of calling FSU football games. He began in 1979, a three-year stint as Bobby Bowden’s head coach and called up three national championship seasons, three Heisman winners, 28 bowl wins and 18 conference titles. And, by the way, he’s also on the mic with the Buccaneers for 32 years and called both their Super Bowl victories.

Deckerhoff took time off from his game preparation earlier this week to reflect on his life’s work at Florida State:

MB: When and why did you decide to turn off your mic in Florida State?

GD: “I started thinking about it during a long, long trip in the middle of basketball season, when I was sitting in a hotel room and the weather outside was really terrible. When I came home from the ACC basketball tournament, Me and my wife Ann talked. She’s retired for 11 years and she said, ‘Honey, it’s time for you too.’ I’m in good health, but I’m going a little slow right now. It’s time.”

MB: Was it emotional when you made the decision?

GD: “I was doing fine until a few days ago as I was going to soccer practice and I passed the Bobby Bowden statue. I looked at Bobby and I thought it was really the end. I broke down emotionally And started crying.”

MB: You aired Books and Seminoles concurrently for 32 years. Can you give me an example of how busy your schedule was with college games on Saturday and NFL games on Sunday?

GD: “I’d be home late after doing a Seminole night game and we had to get up really early to get to Tampa for kickoff at 1 p.m. So I slept in the back of my Winnebago motorhome while Ann was driving. Except for Ann Don’t like to drive on the freeway, so I’ll take the wheel once I get to Crystal River.

MB: You broadcast a lot of games, but you didn’t broadcast FSU’s first national championship (when the Seminoles defeated Nebraska in the 1994 Orange Bowl). Why?

GD: “At the time, Mutual Radio had exclusive rights to the major bowl games, so my biggest regret is that I didn’t get to broadcast that national championship game. I watched it from home. The good news was when Scott Bentley played the game. kicked the field goal to win, then I walked down the hallway and closed my eyes [laughs], Had I been in the broadcast booth, I wouldn’t have been able to do this.”

MB: When you first started calling Florida State Games, did you get any criticism from fans for graduating from the University of Florida?

goal difference (laughs): “We didn’t really publicize it very much. In fact, when I was hired, my boss told me, ‘I want you to get rid of the University of Florida diploma and class ring.’ I don’t know what happened to the ring, but I think the diploma is somewhere in the closet.

MB: You beat some big-timers to be the soccer play-by-play guy at FSU, right?

GD: “Many people applied for the job and I was very lucky to get it. Craig Seger [legendary NBA sideline reporter] And [ESPN trailblazer] Tom Mees was the other two finalists. At that time we were all young broadcasters. Fortunately, I was doing FSU basketball at the time and my resume tapes contained names that were familiar to FSU administrators.

MB: Let’s union some names, shall we? … Bobby Bowden?

GD: “If I was building Mount Rushmore, Bobby Bowden would be the first face on it. He was the ultimate man and the ultimate football coach. There will never be another Bobby Bowden.”

MB: Jimbo Fisher?

GD: “Jimbo Fischer loved talking football and the talk show we did together was incredible. We took phone calls and coaches don’t take phone calls these days. We’d get a call from Notepad Rick in Orlando, who was some technical X and O’s questions, and it would take five minutes for Jimbo to explain the intricacies of a particular formation. Jimbo Fischer taught me a lot about the game of football, including ‘the low man wins’.

MB: Mike Norwell?

GD: “He’s young and bright and reminds me a lot of a young Bobby Bowden. He talks fast like Bobby and he treats his players like Bobby. I think he’s changing the schedule.” The dynasty may begin soon.”

MB: Burt Reynolds?

GD: “He was one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars and one of the biggest Seminole fans of all time. He loved Bobby Bowden. He loved this university. He was an evangelical Florida State fan who raved about the Seminoles. I preached all over the world.

MB: Deion Sanders?

GD: “Absolutely the best athlete I’ve ever been. He never turned down an interview. I was interviewing Dion before he got on ‘prime time.’ Actually, it was prime time, he just didn’t know it.”

MB: Charlie Ward?

GD: “With Bobby Bowden, I’ve been the best person I’ve ever been. Charlie and Bobby came out of the same peacock. If the quarterback position had been played in the NFL, Charlie Ward like it is now would be Patrick Mahomes of the 1994 draft.

MB: Jameis Winston?

GD: “Jimbo Fischer was the ideal quarterback for the offense and deserving of the No. 1 pick in the draft. It didn’t work out with the Bux, but he had three different head coaches and four different offensive coordinators. The Bux had the team then. Not what we have now. I thought Jameis would play his entire career in Tampa Bay and that he would become the second player in my career that I was able to broadcast all of his college and NFL games.”

MB: I guess that brings us to Derrick Brooks?

GD: “Before his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Canton, there was a reception for fans, friends, family, players and the Books management. Derrick is addressing the crowd at the reception in front of the room and he is thanking everyone And then he says, ‘I want to thank this guy right here – Jean Deckerhoff, can you come over here please?’ So I walk up and Derrick puts a hand around me and hugs me and says, ‘This guy broadcast every game I’ve played in my college and pro career.’ What an honor it was to me. Derrick Brooks was the ultimate team player in the last team game. A leader on and off the field.”

MB: Steve Spurrier?

GD: “I was a play-by-play broadcaster [USFL] Steve was head coach for the Tampa Bay Bandits for three years. We had a very good relationship and still are. But once the Outlaws are flying back from a West Coast trip, Steve comes to my seat, knowing I’m a Seminole, and says, ‘Gene, how much is Bobby Bowden paying? [former FSU running back] Will Sammy Smith play football at FSU? Nobody wants to play in that erector set in Tallahassee. He is paying Sammy; He should be!’ I looked at Steve and said, ‘Coach, it’s your alma mater’ [Florida] Who was slapped with just three years of probation. Bobby Clear; It is your school which is dirty’. [Laughs] Steve gave up and quickly went back to his seat. ,

MB: Which call are you most proud of?

GD: “For the longest time, it was Puntrowski. [against Clemson in 1988]But Calvin Benjamin’s catch to beat Auburn for the BCS Championship [in 2013] ,It’s caught! It’s caught! It’s caught!’ – Ranked number 1 on my list. 3 should be when Warrick Dunn caught a short pass against Florida and took it 80 yards for a touchdown. To play for the national championship, we had to win that match. I still remember how Warrick shifted to second gear and I said in the air, ‘He falls apart!’,

MB: What’s your worst call?

GD: ,[Laughs] I try to forget them. It’s like the score from the 1997 Sugar Bowl when the Gators challenged us to the national championship. It’s been wiped from my memory banks.”

MB: Gene, what are you going to miss the most about the Florida State Games broadcast?

GD: “It’s not so much broadcast because I’ll miss relationships. It may sound ludicrous, but I’m going to miss the fans and the bond I’ve built with them over the years. I have fans who grew up listening to me And their kids have grown up listening to me too. It’s weird, but it feels like I’m attending my funeral. Ever since I announced my retirement, people have said great things about how they want to remember me. are going.

“Some of my favorite fans are visually impaired listeners, and their only contact with the game is the play-by-play announcer by the name of Gene Deckerhoff. They can’t see the game with their own eyes so they see the game with my eyes and my voice. I I’m going to miss it.”

MB: Jean, when you retired, you said in a statement: “A life’s work that reads like a best-selling novel on the radio. I’m blessed. Thank you, FSU.”

No, Jean Deckerhoff, thanks.

Thank you for telling us the story of the Florida State Seminoles.

In a voice that will resonate for ages.

email me here mbianchi@orlandosentinel.com, Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my open mic radio show every weekday from 6 am to 9:30 pm on FM 96.9, AM 740 & HD 101.1-2.

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