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Virginia Tech's beloved broadcaster Roth calls his induction "surreal."
The Roanoke Times | File 2002
Mike Burnop (left) and Bill Roth before a game in the press box at Lane Stadium.
Friday, April 26, 2013
Bill Roth is rarely tongue-tied, but the long-time Hokies football and basketball radio broadcaster found himself struggling to come up with the right words recently when talking about his upcoming Virginia Sports Hall of Fame induction.
“I’m much better at talking about other people,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s odd. I’d much rather talk about Cornell.”
That would be Cornell Brown, the star defensive end from the mid-’90s who helped put Virginia Tech on the college football map. He and Roth will both be inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in Portsmouth tonight, part of the seven-member 2013 class.
Another class member with ties to Virginia Tech and Southwest Virginia is Frankie Allen, a Charlottesville native who is the all-time leading scorer at Roanoke College and a former head coach of Hokies men’s basketball.
Roth, a Pittsburgh native, said it was an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as one of his idols, renowned Reds broadcaster and brief Virginia Tech play-by-play man Marty Brennaman, another hall of fame inductee.
“When they called, I thought they had the wrong number,” Roth said. “It’s surreal and quite a tremendous honor to look at the names that are in there. The athletes and coaches, yes, but the broadcasters as well.”
Roth has been the “Voice of the Hokies” since he was a wide-eyed 22-year-old, hired in 1988 only seven months out of Syracuse. He’s known one head football coach (Frank Beamer) and one broadcasting partner (Mike Burnop) in his time in Blacksburg, having been named the state’s sportscaster of the year 10 times by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
An early conversation with former Hokies basketball coach Chuck Noe helped him establish his widely-recognized opening to all Virginia Tech broadcasts: “From the blue waters of the Chesapeake Bay to the hills of Tennessee, the Virginia Tech Hokies are on the air!”
“He said, ‘You still have to have a hook of some sort,’” Roth said. “I said, ‘I’m not a comedian. I’m more of a play-by-play guy.’ He said, ‘You still have to have a hook of some sort.’
“And I talked it over with him and some of my other friends … and came up with that. And I thought it kind of reflected our goal of getting on the air everywhere. And people liked it.”
“Bill is similar to the program,” Brown said. “A guy that came in, a young guy, has got a great voice, a great personality, does a great job for the program, and now is a staple. Those guys that announce those games are really staples of the program. People really do attach to them.”
You could say the same about Brown, who committed to play for Beamer at Virginia Tech out of Lynchburg at a time when few if any of the state’s top recruits chose to do so. Brown signed in 1993, the same year the Hokies finished 9-3 and went to the Independence Bowl, Beamer’s first postseason trip.
“I didn’t feel like at Virginia Tech they were putting on a show for that weekend necessarily to entice me,” Brown said of his recruitment. “I felt like the people there were just being who they are and what they are. And it’s been proven.”
Brown was a big reason for the Hokies’ emergence on the national scene, finishing his Tech career with 36 sacks, second all-time at the school to Bruce Smith, and twice being named an All-American. During his career, the Hokies went 37-11, won two Big East titles and beat Texas in the 1995 Sugar Bowl, a defining moment for the program.
“I think the respect started to happen,” Brown said. “[Before that] it was still a question of, ‘Well, where did Virginia Tech come from? They’re just here for a moment. A flash in the pan.’ And going and beating a team like Texas, you have nothing else to do but respect the team that’s done that.”
A sixth-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in the 1997 draft, Brown played seven NFL seasons, earning a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens in 2000. He returned to Virginia Tech as an assistant coach prior to the 2011 season.
“The biggest highlight for me was just simply being able to year-in, year-out get with a bunch of guys that I created a bond with and enjoy a game as simple as football,” Brown said. “Going and competing against other guys and basically say, ‘Who’s the best?’”
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