I immediately began to look around for a job in sports. I wanted some gainful work but something I liked, too. As luck would have it, that all fell right into my lap just a few short months after leaving law school. On June 1, 1971, my alma mater, Santa Clara, hired me as their first-ever athletic department fundraiser to run the Bronco Bench Foundation, which encourages the development of well-rounded student athletes at Santa Clara. I thank two key mentors for this opportunity: head football coach Pat Malley, who hired me, and alum Sal Sanfillippo ’30, J.D. ’32, who loved the Bronco Bench so much that he became their volunteer business manager when he retired. Pat needed some help, and I was at the right place at the right time. That first year I made $8,400. A raise the next year took me to five figures! Making $10,000 seemed like a fortune.
I met a lot of people in my new capacity that summer. I realized that the best approach to meet and greet people as a new and young fundraiser was to take full advantage of Santa Clara’s football history. The Broncos had played in the Sugar Bowl in 1937 and 1938 and the Orange Bowl in 1950. There were many SCU grads in the area who had witnessed this history and now had the money to donate to the football program. It didn’t take long to put together a fifteen-minute slideshow with so many great black-and-white photographs from those years, taken by the team’s legendary trainer Henry Schmidt. I took the show and presented it to all the service clubs in San Jose and Santa Clara. This taught me a lot. I gradually gained confidence in speaking before large groups of people, never dreaming that someday I would be doing that for a living.
One evening in late September, I was at home in our little apartment when I turned on the radio and heard the broadcast of our Santa Clara football game on a small 250-watt station, KPEN-FM. My heart jumped, but not for the reason you might suspect. At once, I began to realize what a plus this could be to a young fundraiser. I could get my name “out there” in my new circles by simply being on our broadcasts to let people know about our program. I envisioned alumni saying, “Jerry, come on in. I just heard you on the radio. Let’s talk money for Santa Clara.” I was into fundraising and wanted to be the very best.
The games were broadcast by a Santa Clara alum who was an insurance salesman in San Jose. He donated $1,000 each year to the athletic department to be the team’s play-by-play announcer. I met with him and explained my idea for boosting our fundraising efforts. Much to my disappointment, the broadcaster said no. I asked him a couple of times as the weeks went by, but I still got no for an answer. Then one day at Buck Shaw Stadium, where our football team was playing, we crossed paths. “Jerry, I know you’re disappointed that I am not letting you join me on the radio. But you and I have the same problem: neither of us has a major league voice.” I was so surprised at the time, but in hindsight, he was right. It was one of the best things ever said to me in my young life.
The next day and without a trace of anger or resentment, which has never been my style, I went out and bought a tape recorder and a microphone with our wedding funds. My intentions were to try out my voice and call some football and basketball games. For the next two years while I continued to raise funds for the program, I seized every opportunity to sit on top of press boxes or on a folding chair above the field and tape our Bronco football games. During the basketball season, I would be at the end of press row doing the same—all with my best friend, Mike Rewak ’68, M.A. ’78, whom I “recruited” to be my stats man and security blanket. After each game, I would listen intently to every word back in our apartment. At once, I could hear all the mistakes I was making. In my first-ever taping at one of our basketball games, I distinctly remember saying the name of our point guard “Alan Hale” 41 times in the first half alone. I realized I could substitute “Hale” or “Alan” or “The tall Santa Clara point guard” to add much-needed variety.
I had a decision to make. I had always been a good writer, and a career as a feature writer at Sports Illustrated had long been my dream. I could take the journalistic path and find my way to Sports Illustrated someday, which would have been fine with me, or I could explore the world of broadcasting, which was the much greater challenge. Remember, I had already been told I didn’t have a major league voice; now, listening to myself on tape, I knew I could be better. In Robert Frost’s words, I chose the road not taken.
As my two years working at Santa Clara and taping games drew to a close, I asked friends to hear the tapes. All I had were football and basketball tapes; for some reason, I never taped any baseball games. Funny how life goes. One of our basketball coaches at Santa Clara, Dan Fitzgerald, who later became the head basketball coach at Gonzaga University, asked me to play one of my basketball tapes for him. After listening for a few minutes, he turned it off and said, “Jerry, you are very good. It’s time to take this around to radio stations and get on radio. You can do it.” With that boost of confidence from Dan, that’s exactly what I did.
Excerpted from Hello Friends: Stories from My Life and Blue Jays Baseball by Jerry Howarth. © 2019 by Jerry Howarth. All rights reserved. Published by ECW Press Ltd. www.ecwpress.com