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The voice of the Rays -- and of the big game

Paul Olden prepares for his yearly gig as public address announcer at the Super Bowl.

By DAVE SCHEIBER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2001


The voice is coming across loud and clear on the phone machine message. But what stands out most is not Paul Olden's deep, resonant tone, which marks his familiar delivery as baseball play-by-play man for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

It's the musical accompaniment in the background -- a beginner's note-by-note guitar rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

"Well, I always pick a project after baseball season is over, and this year it was between golf or guitar," he says with a chuckle. "That's actually my first public performance there on the message machine."

Olden, however, is ringing in the New Year with more than a guitar -- and a much larger audience to hear him perform. Though most people know him as a baseball man, the veteran broadcaster is getting set for his seventh straight year as the public address announcer at the Super Bowl.

It's a job he walked into while working as an announcer for the Jets and calling New York Yankees games on the side. Before '94, the NFL always had used whichever announcer happened to hold the job at the host stadium. League officials decided they wanted more continuity, and to take more control of the pregame pacing. Olden was offered a spot, and he jumped at it.

With all the hype and hoopla swirling around a Super Bowl, the disembodied stadium announcer's voice is hardly a pressing concern to football fans. But Olden's presence is felt nonetheless. He is the guy who announces everything in the pregame -- from musical acts to the national anthem, from the annual Hall of Fame inductees to the player introductions. Once the game begins, he keeps fans in the stands informed of every play.

He does it all with calm and precision, despite an NFL rep standing behind one shoulder and a network TV official hovering behind the other. They are fixtures with Olden at every Super Bowl, making sure each announcement and introduction comes off like clockwork. He also is flanked by a league "spotter," providing official down-and-distance details.

"I've only had one surprise so far," he says. "It was my second year doing the job and the Dallas Cowboys threw everything off."

Olden had been told to read the intro to the Cowboys, who were defending their Super Bowl championship against the Buffalo Bills. "I say, "And now ... the NFL champion Dallas Cowboys,' and fireworks are going off, and the crowd is going crazy, and one Dallas player starts to walk out," Olden recalls. "Then another player sort of jogs out, and another guy ambles out. They were trying to act cool, but it was creating havoc in the booth.

"My people are on the walkie-talkies, going, "Where are they! What's going on?!' They're yelling to the guy in the tunnel, who's supposed to be telling the players to come on in, and he's waving madly, but the Cowboys just keep walking in slowly."

In the end, the Cowboys' stunt resulted in a two-minute delay that backed up the Bills intros and national anthem and gave the league and network fits. "Understandably, people were pretty upset," Olden says. "When the NFL says a game kicks off at 6:37, it means 6:37 and not 6:39."

He says he is unfazed by the pressure, and likes hearing from old friends around the country who recognize his voice on TV. Much of what he says is taped the week before to the game so it can be matched up with pregame events.

His biggest challenge has been adjusting his play-calling style. He initially announced plays as they were unfolding on the field. But several years ago, Fox juiced up its microphone levels to pick up Super Bowl field noise. The mikes also picked up Olden's P.A. play calls, which started to interfere with Fox announcer Pat Summerall's patter.

Olden has developed roots in Tampa Bay, though most of his family lives in his native Los Angeles. He is excited about doing his first Super Bowl in Tampa, and he enjoys the recognition he gets around town.

"I was at the store the other day, and the guy there says, "You're the Devil Rays guy, right? As soon as you opened your mouth and said something, I recognized you!"' Olden says. "People may not know what I look like, but they know my voice."

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