Eskimos voice goes national

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

It went better than the time Al Stafford decided to try singing the national anthem.

A lot better.

And with a much bigger audience.

When Stafford signed on as public address system announcer with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1998, he didn't expect to go national.

But last Saturday CBC Sports' coverage of the Toronto Argos game out of Commonwealth Stadium featured his P.A. calls instead of the normal play-by-play and colour commentary due to the lockout situation at the mother network.

It's not every day a P.A. announcer becomes a story. And that was the biggest difference in Stafford doing the game, he said.

"That was the part that was unusual. Doing the game was pretty much the same other than adding a little more detail.''

When the referee announces a penalty, all you get is the number of the player, for example. Stafford added the name and a few more identifications in specific situations, which most fans in the stands likely wouldn't have noticed.

"CBC had a person in our booth to co-ordinate commercial timeouts, but that was a bit overkill. We always know when a commercial time out is coming our way from Glen Wynn with the CFL crew.''

Stafford does P.A. straight, almost a necessity in today's Jumbo-Tron package productions. In the press box, there was mention made of how much fun it might have been if Wes Montgomery had still been with us and doing the P.A. like he did for years in Clarke Stadium. Back then, humour was more than occasionally part of his calls. You know he'd have had some prime material to make fun of the whole CBC situation.

"That might have been something,'' agreed Stafford.

As it was, it was mostly a normal night in the P.A. booth.

"Obviously I was aware of having a much larger audience. But once we got through the first quarter clean, it was Brian Chambers, the spotter, who is the glue who holds everything together, making it feel like it always does.''

The CBC, which relied on management to run cameras and microphones, tried to turn the situation into a promotion, billing it as "the stadium experience from home.''

A canoe.ca slam sports poll asked fans to respond following the game. It was mixed with 32% saying it was interesting, 31% saying they hated it and 26% saying they loved it.

Stafford, who doesn't have another Saturday night CBC game on the schedule until B.C. is here Sept. 24, left after the game for a holiday and didn't have a chance to see a tape of the game, which was blacked out in the Edmonton area.

The No. 2 voice on Oiler P.A. since 1996, he replaced John Sexsmith as No. 1 on the Eskimos P.A. when the Global sportscaster moved into a 6 p.m. newscast sports spot.

Stafford had a much hairier experience when he sang the national anthem for an Eskimo game at Commonwealth Stadium. Actually, it was a rescheduled Las Vegas Posse home game in the final year of the ill-fated U.S. expansion.

He was working at The Bear at the time, and it became a promotion involving a contest to be his guitarist.

"I was supposed to sing it a cappella,'' he said. "It kind of got away. It sort of went sideways. It didn't turn out as well as I hoped. Let's put it this way. The Eskimos didn't ask me back to sing the anthem again.''

He did it the first time at the Canadian Little League Championship in 1989 for a hoot, and nailed it. And he did get a do-over at a Trapper game four or five years ago. He also came within about 15 minutes of emergency service at an Oiler game due to a late arriving pre-booked anthem singer.

In his normal life, if there is such a thing in radio, Stafford has hosted the Inside Sports 8 p.m. - 11 p.m. sports magazine/open line show for the past two years. For the five previous years he hosted a public affairs show on the station.


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