Florida State radio announcer Gene Deckerhoff felt it was time to go

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One day it hit him like a tornado he never saw coming. Gene Deckerhoff had no intention of retiring as a Florida State radio play-by-play announcer.

Even after the Seminoles got off to a disastrous 0-4 start last fall, including a humiliating loss to Jacksonville State at home in the last game of the game, the 76-year-old Seminoles’ voice was her usual energy.

Deckerhoff remained unfazed by the dual obligation of calling FSU games on Saturday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers games on Sunday, and then the two overlapped by early-season FSU basketball.

He was planning to take on the same workload until he was 80, as was his colleague Bill Hillgrove, the University of Pittsburgh and NFL Pittsburgh Steelers play-by-play double who is still going strong at 81. years.

But on back-to-back road trips for the Bucs and FSU basketball in Indiana in December — a time of year when all of his play-by-play duties converge and the grind gets more taxing — Deckerhoff felt something. of different. He felt his fatigue hit a higher level then again during mid-February basketball trips to Duke and Boston College, which gave him the first thought to quit.

“I came home and [wife] Ann said, ‘It’s time [to retire], You do not think ? “, Deckerhoff said. “And it was about time.”

When that feeling didn’t dissipate during the ACC basketball tournament, he phoned FSU athletic director Mike Alford three weeks ago to inform him that the spring game Garnet and Saturday’s Gold at Doak Campbell Stadium would be his last day as a school. voice play-by-play.

Deckerhoff, a Jacksonville native, intends to stay one more season with the Buccaneers to fulfill his contract, but the mainstay behind an FSU microphone for five decades will be no more.

“It’s the grind,” Deckerhoff said. “I’ve often said that God will tell me when it’s time to hang up and I’m moving much slower than last September.”

He also tested positive for COVID-19, missed a few FSU basketball games and his first Bucs game against the Carolina Panthers, but that was a fortuitous byproduct of what was already happening.

One more year with Brady

All careers come to an end and Deckerhoff acknowledged that his finish line had arrived. Ironically, he made it official the same week that the legendary quarterback who presented him with a second Super Bowl ring was returning.

“Three days after Tom Brady didn’t retire, I decided to quit,” Deckerhoff said of the Buccanners quarterback. “I said to Mike Alford, ‘let’s just finish what we’re doing [with the FSU spring game] and move on.’ ”

It won’t be easy for Seminoles fans. Deckerhoff has been their voice in football since 1979, the same year that kicked off Bobby Bowden’s formidable 34-year run when FSU had an undefeated season and lost to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. While serving as athletic director at WTNT 1270-AM in Tallahassee in 1974, he began calling Seminoles basketball games at Tully Gym when Hugh Durham was the head coach.

Here is the numerical breakdown of the 2,520 games in which Deckerhoff, a graduate of Forrest High (now Westside) in 1963, was the voice of FSU and the Buccaneers: 529 Seminole football games, 667 Buccaneers games (including preseason ) and 1,324 FSU basketball games. Games. That doesn’t count three years (1983-85) of game-by-game play for the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits, coached by Steve Spurrier, or an undetermined number of FSU baseball games.

That’s a lot of mileage on her vocal cords and the rest of her travel-weary body. Considering Deckerhoff has already outlasted Bowden’s combined seasons at both West Virginia FSUs, and remained relatively healthy, it looked like he would be with the ‘Noles forever.

“Gene Deckerhoff is the greatest announcer Florida State has ever had,” said Max Zahn, former president of the Jacksonville Seminoles Booster Club, who also leads FSU’s spring golf tournament tour. Guys like him and [former Georgia radio legend] Larry Munson made you want to listen to the game. I don’t know how it took so long. He is a friendly, happy and humble guy. He is never shot.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do. It’s just going to be a huge change. I’m surprised he stayed that long because it’s so grueling. Gene was everywhere. I don’t know how you replace someone like that.

Insiders say there is no deadline to name Deckerhoff’s successor, but the final decision is expected to be a collaboration between Learfield, which owns the school’s broadcast rights, and FSU.

Two loves of his life

There have always been two loves in Deckerhoff’s life: Ann, to whom he has been married for nearly 57 years – they met while he was attending St. John’s River Community College in Palatka on a basketball scholarship -ball- and being the play-by-play voice of FSU.

It is difficult for him to speak of one love without mentioning the other. Ann has been her husband’s biggest supporter, always driving him for the first two hours of the trip from Tallahassee to Tampa on Sunday mornings so he can prepare his script for Bucs games.

But in the past decade since her retirement, Ann couldn’t help but mention to Gene how nice it was to not be tied to a work schedule every day.

“She likes the retreat, she asks when I’m going to join her,” Gene said. “I just wasn’t ready.”

But Deckerhoff is in a different place now. Unlike Bowden, fired at age 80 by FSU administrators, the radio announcer who doesn’t like announcing he has a college degree from Florida can walk out on his terms.

When he started covering the ‘Noles for WTNT and ABC-Channel 27 radio in Tallahassee, the end zones at Doak Campbell were bleachers. The stadium was having no luck and FSU football was an afterthought, after seasons of 3-8, 1-10 and 0-11 before Bowden’s arrival.

Deckerhoff retires memories of calling three national championships, the “punt-rooskie” game at Clemson, two NCAA basketball tournaments against the Elite Eight and Marshall’s record six NCAA home runs McDougald (8 for 8) in 1999 over Maryland. He still has a laminated scorecard from that 26-2 FSU win.

“What I will miss the most are the fans, I will miss that more than anything, besides visiting the Jacksonville Seminole Club,” Deckerhoff said. “I miss traveling across the state to visit all those encore clubs with Bobby [Bowden] in Lake Wales, Bartow, Stuart, Fort Pierce. We met a lot of great people. Some of these relationships will continue, but not in person.

Although Bowden was gone, there was an unmistakable connection between the FSU coaching legend and the play-by-play radio guy. Both had that folksy Southern charm, childlike enthusiasm, and engaging personalities that drew them to Noles fans everywhere.

A week after his retirement announcement, Deckerhoff experienced one of those defining moments that reminded him of just how glorious his career was at the FSU stand.

“I went to see football practice on a Tuesday [March 22], walking down Gaines Street and parking the car,” Deckerhoff said. “I walked under Bobby’s statue and kind of crumbled. I just felt really emotional. I said, ‘Come on, Gene, you have to go.’ ”

Now FSU radio Iron Man – who beat iconic TNT reporter Craig Sager and future ESPN presenter Tom Mees to the play-by-play job of FSU football – is on the point to leave. Gene Deckerhoff leaves behind a treasure trove full of garnet and gold memories.

And an undeniable common thread with Bobby Bowden: both being a tough act to follow.

[email protected]: (904) 359-4540

Gene Frenette Sports columnist at the Florida Times-Union, follow him on Twitter @genefrenette

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