Super Bowl

Decades After the Final Overtime, The Voice of the NFL Rises Phoenix-like From the Ashes of the Past, and the Lethian Waters of Forgetfulness Recede Like the High Hopes of Tom Landry's Cowboys

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Having problems jumpstarting your Super Bowl fever? Troubled by a nagging sense that a game which is in every way more gargantuan than ever before seems to have gotten so small? The Onion AV Club's appreciation of the NFL Films Super Bowl DVDs suggests a reason why: We don't have John Facenda narrating the highlight films.

Although I hadn't thought about Facenda's stentorian readings of the weekly NFL wrapups for a long time, the AV geeks pay him a telling tribute by singling out "Memorable John Facenda narration" on each disc, but not even bothering to name his successor (the able but less stirring Harry Kalas). It says something that a man who died more than two decades ago is still the unchallenged poet of professional football. Some samples:

Memorable John Facenda narration: "The clarion call of the Kansas City trumpeter went… unanswered."

Memorable John Facenda narration: "The third quarter was dying… and so were the Colts."

Memorable John Facenda narration: "A Niagra of gold and black… poured down on Roger Staubach."

Memorable John Facenda narration: "By day, the Rams' sparkling spirit kept the game close… but by night, it faded into the black reality of the Pittsburgh Steelers."

If you're not familiar with the vocal stylings of Facenda, a man who must have eaten nothing but leeks, you can listen to samples (not football-related, unfortunately) here and here. And if you think these phrases didn't just flow naturally from his lyre, that the great Facenda alexandrines were crafted by some nameless South Jersey writing team, read this account of how Facenda got the job. (It's in Wikipedia, so you know it's true.)

Maybe there's just something in the water in the City of Brotherly Love, the same stuff that produces the incomparable sub rolls; but why hasn't professional football been able to come up with another great narrator in more than 20 years? (Though some have apparently tried.) How is it that this supposedly post-ironic era can't muster up a decent Voice of God? Isn't there some underutilized baritone at the Philadelphia Opera willing to read Stan Lee-style descriptions of draw plays?

But this is no time for kvetching. One of the great dynasties of the Facenda era is back in the Bowl as the sentimental favorite (and to my surprise, the Vegas favorite), so reminisce with the DVDs for Super Bowls I-X and Super Bowls XI-XX—taking you up to the 1985-86 season, when Ditka's Bears clearly demonstrated that Facenda's heroic age had come to an end.

Update: Independent worm sends in this must-hear clip of Facenda reading "Autumn Wind," the fabled Raiders poem by NFL Films librettist Steve Sabol, complete with an old-school musical track (not "What do ye do with a drunken sailor earl-aye in the mornin'," but still stirring enough to make you want to go out and sack Bob Griese).

NEXT: There wouldn't be no trouble except for that king shit cop

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  1. My first Superbowl memory is of XIV, Steelers vs. Rams. Damn fine game that was. I’m excited about the game for the first time in years.

  2. Thanks for posting this. Do they still show all of the SB highlight films back-to-back on ESPN in the days and hours leading up to the game? They used to, at least, and that’s where I saw most of them. To me the first four are really fun to watch because they are so over the top. The ones after that became more boringly professional–pretty much like the Super Bowl itself.

  3. I watched most of a pro football game once. It reminded me of watching ants carrying seeds ‘n’ stuff, but not nearly as interesting.

  4. My only remaining interest in the NFL centers on whether the powers that be will finally discard the Roman numeral iconography before we reach the ridiculous milestone of Superbowl L.

  5. There are two men who narrate movie trailers and ads, one does comedy and the other does drama (for all I know, they’re the same guy) – the NFL needs the drama narrator. It’s the closest “voice of God” we have.

  6. I always look forward to the day before the Super Bowl, when ESPN Classic shows NFL films Super Bowl highlights from every year. I love the narration and the music.

  7. I can hear his voice just reading those quotes.

    Voice of God indeed.

  8. Like that guy who does all the movie preview trailers: “In a world. . . “.

  9. And if that commie ho cindy shows up in a t-shirt at the super bowl? Flush her ass!!

  10. I’ve got it! I know who can fill Facenda’s shoes. Check this out:

    “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday, the Monsters of the Midway, the Chicago Bears, brought their titanic defense to Soldier Field, and it was *EX-TREEEEEEEEMMMMMM…”

  11. Actually, I am a commie whore. Sorry if there’s been any confusion about that point.

    Bushitler sucks!

  12. joe, there’s always James Earl Jones. Check out this clip from Letterman: Top Ten Words That Sound Great When Spoken by James Earl Jones (Warning: Link opens a new window to play video).

  13. I love Jones in small doses, but I think we’re better off now that Morgan Freeman has become our Narrator In Chief. Freeman’s narration was the best thing in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds joint, because he read it straight, in that partly deregionalized Memphis drawl of his. Jones would have thespianated it up.

  14. I don’t know, Tim, I think Jones is pretty danged good. Though I’ve like Freeman since his Electric Company days 🙂

    Some of the best “voice” people that I’ve ever heard are the pros that read for audiobooks. Some are actors, of course (Derek Jacobi is very good, for instance), but many are just professional narrators/readers. I still get quite irked at the trend that started ten years ago or so of using “name” actors to voice lead roles in animated features. Most of them are NOT professionals and aren’t half as good as the people who are.

  15. Most of them are NOT professionals and aren’t half as good as the people who are.

    Agreed, and recognizing the “famous voice” tends to take you out of the movie. They should just use Frank Welker for everyhing.

  16. Speaking of voice-overs… Who was surprised that Christopher Lee did the narration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? I thought it was an old Jamacian guy with a mouth full of ball bearings. Also, a friend of mine is in training to be a voice-over guy, hopefully displacing the “In a world…” guy, and his voice is pretty god-like.

  17. Here is a great angry interview with Billy West about the trend toward celebrity voicing. Although I agree pretty much completely, I have to concede that Chicken Run belongs in any credible list of Mel Gibson’s top 5 pictures.

  18. The narrator was not Christopher Lee, it was Geoffrey Holder! Hell’s bells, let’s have a little respect for the multiple-Tony-award-winning Uncola Man.

  19. What a relief!!!! Christopher Lee’s the man (the Saruman! haha… oh.) and I thought that narration beneath him.

  20. What a relief!!!! Christopher Lee’s the man (the Saruman! haha… oh.) and now I know that my friends lie to me to whisk me out of the theaters before the credits end.

  21. Ah, Geoffrey Holder. I forgot all about him. He was in Live and Let Die, too. I LOVE his voice. Makes me want to drink some crisp and clean, no caffeine, never had it, never will 7-Up (Insert deeply rendered, ha, ha, ha, ha). Wish I were from Trinidad.

    Just checked out the IMDB entry on him. He’s dramatically underutilized. I didn’t see Charlie–was his voice still awe-inspiring? Huh, he was a choreographer, too. Hmmm. There was lots of dancing in those old 7-Up commercials.

  22. The ones after that became more boringly professional–pretty much like the Super Bowl itself.

    There hasn’t been a boring Super Bowl in about 4 years.

  23. Oh, I don’t mean the games themselves, zach. You are right–the last several games have been barnburners. I mean all of the hype and salesmanship surrounding them. What the SB needs is more wardrobe malfunctions. Preferably by women with perkier breasts than Janet Jackson.

  24. Maybe we could fly the Eagles cheerleaders in to this one for such a purpose.

  25. Eagles cheerleaders? Try again. How about the Bucs’ cheerleaders? Or, if you like some spice, there’s always Carolina’s.

  26. Check your premises, zach. We breed ’em better than anyone else here down in Florida 🙂

    No offense, ladies.

  27. Hailing from the extended Philly metro, I grew up watching the ever-reliably dour Jooooohn Facenda anchor the news in the sixties. Given the doomy and gloomy tone of the time, Facenda was perfect for the job.
    I also remember him as the voice for the Sears radio spots. In 1978, when Paul VI checked out, some friends of mine in radio did a never-to-be-aired mockup of “Jooooohn Facenda for Sears’ ‘The-Pope-Is-Dead Sale'”.
    OK, I guess you had to be there…

  28. Thanks Tim for that great link. I always play that song on my mp3 player before the first game of the regular season. The Raiders are 3-1 in Super Bowls in the Facenda era and 0-1 since. Coincidence? I think not.

  29. I’ve seen his bumper sticker here in the Denver area a few times in the last couple years:

    God I miss Reagan and Elway!

  30. …Make that: “I’ve seen *this* bumper sticker…”

  31. The vegas odds that I have are different than the one you had linked to did that make a difference?

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