I had the pleasure earlier today to speak with Bill Raftery of ESPN, CBS, and Westwood One where he will be announcing the Final Four this weekend around the country on radio with Kevin Kugler and John Thompson. With trademark catchphrases like "ONIONS" and "man to man," Bill Raftery has become one of the most popular analysts in all of sports. In addition to his humor and energy, Raftery also brings a wealth of knowledge as a basketball lifer. In our latest Q&A, Bill talks to Awful Announcing about how he got into broadcasting, what VCU and Butler's run to the Final Four mean for college basketball, his response to Jay Bilas' Tweets, and of course, ONIONS!
Q: Tell us a little bit about your basketball background and how you got into broadcasting.
A: Well I wasn't a good player, Matt, and then I wasn't a good coach, so it was an easy slide. In the early days of my college career I met a man by the name of Bob Wolff and my coach asked me to show Bob around and he's a Hall of Fame announcer in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was doing a CBS game with us in the NIT. Bob said, would you want to try and get in my business someday. And that always stuck in my head, I ended up coaching for 16 years and just thought, let me give this a shot. Dave Gavitt (former Big East commissioner) was nice enough one late October calling me at Seton Hall and saying look, you've got two days to let me know if you want to do this.
I had two weeks of practice in in '81 and fortunately there was a Dave Gavitt in my life because the Big East was starting to mushroom and philosophically Seton Hall really wasn't ready for it. A few years later PJ (Carlesimo) came in and worked hard and struggled and they finally stepped up and did the things everyone else was doing in terms of support and we ended up in the Final Four in '89. So, that was sort of a tumultuous road to broadcasting.
Q: Everyone will want to know the origins of "Onions!" Ian Eagle has put the story out there on the internet, is it true?
A: Ian's the one that says Kevin Edwards made a jumper in Miami (for the Nets). It's something in that head of mine that popped out. I was trying to be as descriptive as I could about how tough kids are and making big plays and finding ways to win the game and that sort of popped out. Ian's got the memory man, I never question him, he's the vault.
Q: So that was something spontaneous that just happened to come to mind?
A: Yea. In those days a win for the Nets was unusual. They were struggling and winning in Miami on the road made it sweeter with all the New York and Jersey people that live down there. It was something that made sense at the time and I never said it for a while. I guess it popped in once on one of the college games and fortunately it's part of the lexicon, or unfortunately, I'm not sure which.