WSU: How long will Robertson's great run go?

BOB ROBERTSON has worked as a Washington State broadcaster for nearly half a century. Well, “worked” may not be the correct term.

“I truly don’t believe I’ve ever worked a day in my life,” Robertson says.

At 85, Robertson remains a beloved fixture in the broadcast booth at Washington State football games. He’s the featured guest for Cougfan’s weekly 11-on-1 feature, where one person connected with WSU football answers 11 questions.

1. You finally gave up your football play-by-play duties last year. Do you miss it?

Robertson: Yeah, I do. But there were some things there. I’ve always worked standing up. The games were getting longer and I was getting older. I always tried to keep a high energy level in the broadcast while I was standing up. The last couple years, when we’d have a time-out, I’d find myself looking around for some place to sit down while the commercial was on. And it was getting harder to read the (uniform) numbers as the stadiums got bigger and the press boxes got further away from the field.

2. Who was your favorite coach or player to deal with over the years?

Robertson: Maybe the easiest would be Jim Walden (WSU’s football coach from 1978-86). We would do the one-hour coach’s show with the (game) highlights. After a Saturday game, we would hurry into Spokane and record the show so it could be put on tape and then put the tapes on buses to send them around. We didn’t have satellites in those days.

Jim was easy because he was so loquacious. You would open the show and say, “Here’s the Cougar coaching show, and now here’s coach Jim Walden. How you doin’, Coach?” And an hour later, you’d put your hand on his forearm and say, “Well, that’s all we have time for, Jim.” And it was all good stuff, because he was good and he had that little southern accent which kind of made him a little more personable.

Jim Sweeney (WSU’s football coach from 1968-75) was great, except he had (strong) fingers. … He’d be making points about what was going on in the films, he’d take his forefinger and tap me on the chest on the sternum. By the time the show was over, I would have a great big, yellow-purpleish bruise on my chest from him hitting me on the chest. But he was awesome.

3. What events do you rank among your career highlights?

Robertson: Being the (football and basketball) voice of the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame for a while, that was one that kind of fell on me. I was pretty young at the time. I was in my 20’s. … I got into the College Football Hall of Fame (broadcasters wing). … With the Cougars, the Rose Bowl games (1998 and 2003). They hadn’t been in the Rose Bowl from about the time I was born. We got into two of them, so I had that. I wish we’d won one of them or maybe both, but it was still a great thing. … And the old Blizzard Bowl (against Washington) in ’92 over in Pullman, when it was snowing so hard and Drew Bledsoe had such a great game before he went on to the pros.

4. Do you have any regrets about your career?

Robertson: I wish I had done major league baseball. I did have my cup of coffee when Dave Niehaus had something in his contract that gave him extra days off. They hired me for those three games (with the 1992 Seattle Mariners), and I did those. I was kinda hoping that there would be more, that they’d call back and say, “Gee, we liked you and there’s a job open here,” but they never did. … But no, I have not made any decisions that I really regretted.

5. Your father was a minor league baseball player, and you signed a contract as an outfielder with the Salem (Ore.) Senators before you decided to pass up pro ball to take a job with a Wenatchee radio station. Did you ever second guess your decision?

Robertson: Probably until I was 30, maybe, I would wonder if I should go back and give it a shot. That was the end of it. There was no point to it. I was out of it. That was probably the hardest decision I had to make: Which way are you going with your career out of college (at Western Washington)? I look back on it now: The voice that told me to take the radio job sure was wise. I would not at this age be playing minor league baseball. If I had got into baseball as a player, I would not have met my wife. We would not have had the children that we have. So those people and the grandchildren would not exist.

6. You’ve broadcast everything from rodeo to roller derby to table tennis to hydroplane racing. What’s the strangest thing that happened to you during a broadcast?

Robertson: At Notre Dame, I always worked without a spotter, but since it was television, they had a young guy in the booth as a communicator. You know, to tell me when to break for commercials and so on. I remember we were playing Iowa. The game was tied coming right down to the end. … (Paul) Hornung kicked a field goal to win the game, last play.

I think before I could call out that it was good, the young fellow in the booth with me … he was so excited, he jumped on me. He’d been with the team and he couldn’t play because he was hurt. So he was no longer on the team, but in his mind, he was still on the team. So when the ball went through and I tried to get out the shout that it’s good, he just jumped on top of me, knocked us over. We ended up on the floor in the corner.

7. Many WSU football fans expected the Cougars to be a lot better than 2-5 at this point in the season. What went wrong?

Robertson: I don’t think anything has really gone wrong. It’s a very young group without very much experience. When you do have an experienced guy, he probably has an inexperienced one on each side of him on the line and in the secondary. I’m not surprised that they have struggled. I’m a little surprised, perhaps, when they scored 59 points (against California), and they did give Stanford a pretty good battle for about three quarters. I think Stanford, with more physicality, just wore them down in the late going. It really hasn’t been that disappointing … and almost everyone is coming back.

8. Sports writers and sportscasters were able to develop closer relationships with players and coaches back in the day, particularly at Washington State. Interviews and such tend to be much more formal and controlled now. Do you think that’s good?

Robertson: It’s that way everywhere. Being part of the family with the players and the coaches; you were part of the team. Not anymore. You’re just …. there. That has changed, and I don’t think that’s for the better.

9. What are your favorite sports to broadcast?

Robertson: I’ve always thought maybe football or baseball, but yet, if I really had my choice going back to my beginnings, I might have been a hockey announcer. I did some of that, and I grew up around that game (Robertson spent much of his childhood in his father’s native Canada). I loved it. It’s great action, just go, go, go all the time.

10. In addition to your football work with the Cougars, you still call games part-time for the Tacoma and Spokane minor league baseball teams and the Pacific Lutheran University men’s and women’s basketball teams (Robertson is a longtime resident of the Tacoma suburb of University Place). Which sport do you think you handle best?

Robertson: The one I probably do best is baseball, because I grew up around it and intended to play it (professionally) after I got out of school.

11. How much longer do you plan to work?

Robertson: I don’t know. I might go another 10 years. At my age, health could knock me out of it. … My joke about it is, I’m not going to retire until (86-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster) Vin Scully does.

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