Oct. 9, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Wes Durham has a fondness for reunion-style gatherings so he’ll be in a great mood next Friday when the long-time broadcaster will be one of nine sporting icons inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.
While he was the, “Voice of the Yellow Jackets,” from 1995-2013, Durham met thousands of Tech student-athletes, coaches, administrators, fans and supporters.
A countless many remain close friends, and dozens of them and quite a few of the folks he has worked with in radio and television will be at the Induction Dinner Oct. 16 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center.
Durham is rarely found short of words, yet while he surely has several books worth of Tech tales to tell, he’s humbled by this honor to where he’s more inclined to speak reverentially about his backstops and relationships built on The Flats than he is to re-live the Jackets’ many moments of greatness.
“It’s a little overwhelming . . . having been on the [Hall of Fame] committee, I have a pretty good understanding of the process and what they go through to get to the induction,” he said.
“While people might think that it will be lots of stories, for me it will be more of saying thanks to people . . . To have my wife, Vicky, present me, and be on the field at halftime . . . I have an incredible wife and support system for what I do.”
Durham, 49, does what his father did with unique stitching tying their shared circle of life.
Woody Durham was hired in 1971 by former North Carolina athletic director Homer Rice into a 40-year career as the voice of the Tar Heels. Fast forward nearly a quarter century, and Rice hired Wes at Georgia Tech in 1995.
After time behind the Mic at Radford, Marshall and Vanderbilt, the big city beckoned the Greensboro, N.C., native.
“A high school classmate, Tom Brooks . . . mentioned at our 10-year reunion in the summer of 1994 that there might be a change at Georgia Tech. He was working in marketing at the time,” Durham recalled. “I said I’d be interested in moving to the ACC, and Atlanta would be a great opportunity.
“I enjoyed Vanderbilt and Nashville; I was looking to be in a bigger market. In the spring of ‘95 things heated up . . . [Rice] offered me the job. I worked for WSB for a couple years [calling Tech games], and came to work for the school [when former athletic director Dave] Braine made it happen in ‘97.”
Legendary broadcaster Al Ciraldo, who will be inducted into the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame on Nov. 7, stepped away from play-by-play duties after the ’92-’93 season, and Durham followed Bob McCann.
His energy and personality were impossible to miss, as when he called out Tech’s amazing win over Georgia in 1999 in the Jasper Sanks fumble game:
The late Kim King also was in the booth that day, and Durham makes it clear that he is grateful to have worked with the former Tech quarterback and many more people on The Flats, including Jeff Van Note, Rick Strom, Randy Waters and long-time producer Miller Pope.
He’s more inclined to talk about his Tech friends and colleagues than special moments on the field.
“With all the support that I had, I’m very appreciative of the honor,” Durham said. “Tech fans wouldn’t know how important [former sports information director] Dean Buchan was, or how important my relationships were with [coaches] George O’Leary, Chan Gailey, Paul Johnson, Paul Hewitt and Brian Gregory.
“I was trying to best represent all of their programs . . . [athletic directors] Homer Rice, Dave Braine, Dan Radakovich – and even Mike Bobinski, although I didn’t work long with Mike — those guys were always incredible supportive. That means a lot.”
Durham left Tech in 2013 to work television with Fox Sports, and that’s why he won’t be in Bobby Dodd Stadium Oct. 17, when the new Hall inductees will be honored as the Jackets play Pitt.
He’ll be in Chapel Hill to call Wake Forest-North Carolina as part of a busy week. On Thursday night, Durham will be in New Orleans calling the action as the Falcons play the Saints. In 2004, he was hired as Atlanta’s play-by-play man.
“In 2004, it was another high school reunion when I got a call about the Falcons opportunity,” Durham explained. “Braine and Gailey said, ‘Absolutely, you’ve got to do it. There have been some harrowing moments changing planes and sleeping on couches in offices, but nobody ever stopped supporting me.”
There was more to Durham at Tech than games.
He was for years impeccably smooth representing the school in a variety of ways, whether at preseason football and basketball caravans, fund-raising and charity events, golf tournaments and much more.
Still, he’s a brand name among Jacket fans.
“I think that’s what comes to mind in the 18 years that I did the games obviously there were many thrilling moments and great success…I’m grateful that people appreciated what I tried to do,” Durham said. “Every so often, people come up and say, ‘We miss you,’ or, ‘We appreciate what you did.’
“It happened in Charlotte just last week. Someone in the airport said, ‘I just wanted to tell you that I really appreciated what you did.’ That means a lot. At the end of the day, that’s why you do it. I love doing the games, and I’m blessed to do something for a living that I love.”
Next Friday will be a big day, and although Durham won’t be at the Tech football game Saturday, when his wife, Vicky, will stand in, his parents, son and daughter, agent, and many work colleagues and friends – will be present on both days.
They probably won’t hear the story about a man meticulous in his planning who not long ago participated in a sports broadcasting seminar at his alma mater, Elon University, only to blush slightly when the professor cued notable Tech calls.
This one came up, and Durham admitted to mis-identifying the Florida State ball carrier when the Jackets upset the No. 15 Seminoles in 2008, when Cooper Taylor jarred the ball loose and Rashaad Reid recovered.
“[The professor] said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ “ Durham said.
He’ll have a couple stories to tell at the induction dinner after all, including, “one that’s never been told . . . something you always had to have in your pocket when traveling with Bobby Cremins,” and a long-awaited validation of an O’Leary-Braine yarn.
With the Jackets on their way to Clemson to play the No. 6 Tigers tomorrow, we part with a Durham call where he and the Jackets got everything right.
Remember when he announced the rather amazing arrival of Calvin Johnson to Tech football in 2004, when the former wide receiver caught three touchdown passes – two in the final minutes – to push the Jackets past Clemson?
If not, here’s ABC video, with Durham’s radio call: