Doug Grow: Red McCombs' brush with broadcasting
Doug Grow
Star Tribune

Published Oct 1, 2002 GROW01

Even billionaires can have bad nights.

Take, for example, the evening Red McCombs, owner of the Vikings, had in Seattle on Sunday. Not only was McCombs' team embarrassed on national television by the mediocre Seattle Seahawks, his career as a play-by-play announcer came to a dramatic end.

It went like this:

With about three minutes left in the first half of the Sunday night game, McCombs was invited to chat with the KFAN/Vikings radio play-by-play team of Paul Allen and Joe Senser. At the time, the game was still competitive, with Seattle holding only a 17-10 lead.

McCombs, who generally loves microphones, said he would be happy to sit in with the KFAN Radio (1130 AM) crew. And why not? He's a major owner of Clear Channel Communications, which owns KFAN.

"Right when he came in to chat, we had to go to [an advertising] break," Allen said. "So during the break, I asked him, 'Do you want to call a play?' He said 'Sure.' I said, 'OK, you do your thing.' "

The commercial break ended and, headphones in place, McCombs went to work.

Old Red started off his play-by-play with a little color, talking of what a beautiful night it was in Seattle and mentioning what a beautiful (publicly subsidized) football stadium the Seahawks play in and wouldn't it be nice if we had a stadium like this back in Minnesota.

Before we get to Red's few seconds on the air, here's a quick summary of the cast of characters: Trent Dilfer is the quarterback and Shaun Alexander is a running back for the Seattle Seahawks.

OK, take it away, Red.

"The Seahawks come out," McCombs says, sounding quite professional. "They're down now on their own 19 yard line. Dilfer's back."

Pause.

"We're gonna rush!" McCombs says, hope in his voice. "We got the big rush on!"

A little pause.

"He completed the pass over the middle," McCombs says, still sounding almost like a broadcast pro.

Mini pause.

"Nine yards," says McCombs, concern starting to show. "Twelve yards."

In the background, Allen whispers, "Shaun Alexander," who caught the pass from Dilfer. McCombs is quick to pick up the prompt.

"Shaun Alexander on the way," McCombs says.

At this point, McCombs starts talking faster and faster.

"Come on, take him out!" McCombs implores his team.

As a listener you suddenly have little idea what's going on -- except that, if you're a Vikings' fan, you sense that it's not good.

"Here we go!" McCombs says, urgently. "Stop him! Stop him!"

A little pause and McCombs' voice drops to a whisper.

"Stop him," he says one more time.

Another pause.

"Seven points for the (pause) Browns," he says.

Then, it sounds like he says, "Oh my God."

Allen jumps in.

"Red, you might be bad luck," Allen says. "You gotta leave. An 80-yard touchdown. A purple pride, a purple slide with Red McCombs on lead vocals. Oh, my Lord."

Allen said that McCombs "took off" his headset, set it down and left the radio booth. Others say he "ripped off" the headset and stormed out of the booth.

No matter, it only got worse for the Vikes after McCombs's brief moment of broadcasting. Seattle scored three more touchdowns in less than two minutes before the half mercifully ended.

Allen felt bad for McCombs, but also had to admit that this was an astonishing moment in sports broadcasting history.

"When he was yelling 'stop him!' it sounded like a thief had just picked his pocket," said Allen. "Here's a chance for the owner of a team to call one play and it turns out to be an 80-yard touchdown against his team. You can't make this up."

I called McCombs' office in San Antonio on Monday afternoon to see if he had any comment on his play-by-play career.

"What do you want to talk to him about?" a woman in his office asked.

"The one play he broadcast," I said. "It's sort of funny."

"Not yet it isn't," she said.