Shame on Westwood One for Releasing Roberts
Tuesday, November 28, 2006; 2:56 PM
Tony Roberts wants you to know that he's not angry and he's not bitter, even if the hurt in his voice more than occasionally comes through loud and clear, just as that gravelly voice boomed across the nation's airwaves for 26 years as the network play-by-play broadcaster for Notre Dame football.
That illustrious run ended following the 2005 season, and not by Roberts' choice. This fall, he's spent football Saturdays watching college games on television or working on his putting stroke over at his favorite golf course a short drive from his Northern Virginia home. That Roberts, a Hall of Fame broadcaster in every sense of the word, is no longer the voice of Notre Dame football is a travesty of the highest order. A fate this consummate professional who literally bled Irish green hardly deserved.
Roberts handled his first Notre Dame network game in 1980. He was an old-school play-by-play guy who occasionally riled the Irish faithful by telling the absolute truth when things were going badly, as they often did over his tenure on the air. His signature call was "Touchdown, Irish!" and he did games the old fashioned way, always keeping up with the action on the field, repeating the score and time remaining on a regular basis and seamlessly working his sidekick color analyst into the discussion.
How good was he? In 2005, Roberts was honored with the prestigious Chris Schenkel Award presented by the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame. Over a broadcasting career spanning close to 50 years, Roberts has been the voice of Indiana football and basketball, Navy football, the Washington Senators and Washington Bullets, as well as handling hundreds of network sportscasts for Westwood One and reporting from five different summer Olympic Games. No broadcaster has ever worked more Army-Navy or Notre Dame-Navy games, and it seemed as if he'd continue stretching those records for as long as he chose to keep working.
"I always hoped that it would be my call when to stop," Roberts said.
"Unfortunately, I was wrong."
Last Christmas, Roberts said he got a letter from the new man in charge at Westwood One, a former Miami Heat broadcaster named David Halbertstam who had moved into the company's executive ranks. Halberstam wrote Roberts and told him what a wonderful job he'd done over the years and what an integral role he had played in the company's success. According to Roberts, he also wrote that he looked forward to working with him for many years to come.
Roberts contract was up this past February. For most of his Notre Dame tenure, he had always worked on a one-year contract based on the premise that, "if they don't want me, I'll just take a hike." But Roberts wasn't prepared for the negotiating stance Halberstam took in their initial negotiation to renew that contract for a 27th year.
"They called me in and said they wanted to take my severance pay, cut it into two chunks and have me do Notre Dame football with it for the next two years," Roberts said. "I told him that was illegal and I wouldn't do it."
The next time they met, Roberts brought a union attorney with him and made a counter-proposal. There was no demand for an outlandish raise, just an expectation that he'd be treated fairly as a long-time and apparently much-valued employee. He was told the company would get back to him, so Roberts and his wife took a long-planned cruise to South America and a week-long visit to Belgium.
When he returned, Roberts said he got a telephone call from Halberstam.
In a speaker-phone conversation, Roberts was told that Westwood One had decided to pay him his severance, and oh yes, the company would be announcing that it had hired a new broadcaster to do the play-by-play for Notre Dame football. On May 15, Westwood One put out a press release saying that veteran broadcaster Don Criqui had been hired to do the games, offering no reason why Roberts had been let go.