Eli Gold has been the “voice” of the University of Alabama Football Network for the last 29 years and, to put that in proper context, I knew the colorful radio announcer long before then. Earlier this week, in an interview with AL.com’s Mark Helm, he said something all of us grey-heads in the sports reporting business have mourned for a long time.
“The world has changed … it all transitioned when the radio talk shows got desperate to out-do one another and everybody got access to their mobile device,” he said. “Back when I did sports talk in Birmingham, we did something that isn't done any longer. We talked sports," Gold said this week.
"We didn't talk character assassination. We didn't talk player assassination, character-wise. We talked sports.
"When everybody started getting sports talk shows, you had to be more bizarre than the next guy because you want to retain your listeners,” Gold explained. “That started the swing," and he’s right. That’s when the business got mean.
Here’s the case in point: Last Saturday, when the Crimson Tide cruised to an easy 41-10 win over Fresno State, the Alabama quarterback – the brilliant Jalen Hurts – accounted for 282 offensive yards and three touchdowns in the rout. Immediately the nay-sayers pounced on Hurts, questioning his passing ability and wondering all over social media if head coach Nick Saban should not lean more towards the heralded freshman from Hawaii, Tua Tagovailoa.
Hurts connected of 14-of-18 passes for 128 yards last Saturday but the boo birds say he can’t throw the long ball. It’s no longer about winning the game as much as dissecting every player. Eli dismissed such a thought process. "You love the passion. You want a fan base that cares," Gold told his AL.com colleague, “… but I think there is a difference (today.) There are degrees and different fans out there. There are some who understand, and some who know what's going on. Some understand that you are talking about 18-year-old kids.
"(There are) some who just enjoy jumping on people. There are people out there who are not happy unless they are unhappy,” the announcer explained and the faceless tweeters are “emboldened,” if that’s a fair word.
"Reading a text or a tweet or a Facebook post by some guy sitting in his basement who doesn't know if a football is blown up or stuffed, trying to tell me why Brian Daboll is a crappy offensive coordinator, well you didn't have that back in the days when I was doing sports radio."
‘Bama boss Nick Saban wasn’t as kind when a reporter asked him about the No. 1 team in the country’s quarterback situation and if the issue was “over-blown.”
"I think a lot of things (the news media) does are overblown, but I realize why you do it," the coach said. "It's your job to create news. It's our job to try to help our guys play winning football. I think different players play winning football in different ways. If you want to be critical of a guy for rushing for 154 yards and think he should not do that so he can pass more, then that's up to you. You can do that if you want.
“But we did pass for 192 yards (total) and I think that's the kind of balance that we want to create. We're going to continue to try to help our players play to their strengths and work on any weakness that they have so that they can do better on those things,” he added.
"I don't think this is any more overblown than a lot of other things you do, if you want to know the truth about it. But I kind of get it. It's not personal. I don't mind it. It's okay, I get it."
So in the very next press conference, a different reporter asked Saban when he was thinking about subbing Tagovailoa for Hurts in this week’s game against Colorado State (NOTE: Mike Bobo, the former Georgia quarterback, is in his first year at CSU.)
“I have no idea and I wouldn't tell you if I did," he said. "So, I don't mind you asking the question but I don't need to answer it."
Nick paused to sizzle and then added, “But I will call Colorado State and tell them exactly what we want to do as soon as I get out of here," Saban said, knocking his fist on the podium.
"I know Mike Bobo, his dad lives up by my house at the lake. So, I'll just call him up and tell him who we're playing, when, how long, when we're putting them in, tell them the whole thing. Alright? Is that alright with you? So you can call him and find out."
Man oh man. I remember when writers would sit around with coaches and talk about everything. I was great friends with so many Alabama coaches, from Coach Bryant to Mike DuBose, but those days are long gone. Now it’s all adversarial and if there is a better quarterback in the SEC than Jalen Hurts I have yet to see him.
But the Tide’s faithful want to see his long ball, that deep pass, because there are some of those in the “Legion of the Miserable” who doubt last year’s SEC Player of the Year can do it.
How did we ever get here?