Written by Jeffrey D. Norwalk
Friday, 03 October 2008 15:39
It’s been 21 Comet football seasons since that “Voice of the Genoa Comets,” John “Jack” Werner, remained at his post high above Bergman Field.
At Comet Stadium during Genoa’s win over Lakota, he stepped back to don his maroon cape in the form of a fading, well-worn Comets T-shirt one more time.
“It was at the first game against Mohawk this season that I was first approached by Superintendent Dennis Mock about possibly calling this game,” reflected the 85-year-old.
Then on a sun-washed Tuesday afternoon spent shooting the bull with Mock on his front porch, three whole days before the Lakota game, it happened.
“That’s when I met him down there a half hour before kickoff, and he said to me, ‘Jack, we’d like to get you back here, for one of our games. We’d like you to announce a game, or at least part of a game this season, because if (legendary Detroit Tigers announcer) Ernie Harwell can do it, you can do it, too,’” Werner quoted the superintendent.
“I thought he was kidding at first?” chuckles the living legend in his own right with a good-natured wink, who tirelessly announced football for 40 years (1948-87) before finally hanging up his mike.
“I said, ‘Oh, yeah. Sure. Okay, Dennis.’ And then I went up, and sat down in the bleachers, and started watching the game, until later when I got a message from athletic director Rick Briggle attached to my Hall of Fame mailing (Genoa had previously called Werner back to serve on its Hall of Fame committee) and it said, ‘We’re asking you to announce the second quarter of the homecoming game against Lakota. Call me.’ And he left his number.”
“I was just shocked, and a little taken aback, and my first reaction was, ‘Heck, I don’t know anything about this team. I don’t really know all the players. I’ve been retired for 21 years, for God’s sake, and I did so after the fall of ’87 because my eyesight was going bad, and I was misreading the numbers on the backs of jerseys. I had spotters, both home and away, and I was relying on them 100 percent, and that’s not announcing.” So, I thought I’d do an awful job.
“But Rick’s little note said that (current Comets announcer) Kevin Gladden had been approached, and that he was very agreeable to this whole idea, and that he would help me along if I needed it.”
“I had never been up to the press box at Comet Stadium, but I’d always heard it was pretty plush up there by my standards, with actual windows, and air conditioning, and a snack spread, and cold soft drinks.
“When I was up there announcing the games in the old press box at Bergman, we had no amenities. I did get up in the new press box they built out there, and that was even plush to me, with carpeting on the floor, and soft drinks, and snacks. But in the old press box, we had no windows. We weren’t enclosed. We sat on folding chairs. And we had wooden doors that would lock down, and which we’d prop open come game time, and we’d call the games with the open air right in front of us, and with the wind, and the cold, right in our faces.”
Once it started, for 12 minutes, the original “Voice of the Comets” wasted no time when he quipped, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t think this evening is a very good idea, seeing as how I quit announcing 21 years ago because of bad eyesight, which I assure you hasn’t gotten any better.”
But Werner bantered back and forth with Gladden, playing his John Madden to Kevin’s Al Michaels.
Werner also ribbed the younger man on the two drawbacks of being a high school football announcer, which include,
“Number one, not being allowed to express your ire at the officiating crew,
“and number two, being too busy to ever really ogle the pom-pom girls.”
All the while, the “Voice” was engaging fans on both sides with old Werner stories and anecdotes as fans were pointing up to the press box like they were pointing up to some god in heaven.
Fans gave Werner a standing ovation, after Gladden’s — who’s been doing the job for over a generation himself now — introduction in the waning ticks of the first quarter.
His baritone voice was in form and resonated across the Comet Stadium gridiron loud, clear, and strong. Fans could almost swear that it was 1987 again, and that “Comet Nation” was back on Fourth Street.
Loyalists once again witnessed some of Jack’s famous, colorful play-by-play descriptions, like “The snap is up, the ball is down, the kick is up, and it’s goooood!,” and
“It’s Skilliter around the right end. He eludes a tackler and goes in untouched for a Genoa touchdown!”
But Werner remained down to earth while perched in the press box.
“When I went up there, there was something very important I wanted to get out to the public, and that was that Kevin Gladden is the ‘Voice of the Comets,’ not me,” champions Jack, “ because for God’s sake, I’m retired. Kevin does a good job, and I think in many ways does a better job than I ever did. I just wanted to publicly make that statement, and to congratulate Kevin for the many years he’s already done it. And who knows, he’s not nearly finished yet. Maybe he’ll even go 50 years, or what have you.”