Michigan football broadcasters Jim Brandsatter, left, and Dan Dierdorf go over the lineup before Michigan's game against Appalachian State at Michigan Stadium. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Ann Arbor — Full disclosure: Jim Brandstatter is a friend. We’ve known each other and worked together since the late 1980s when I was covering Michigan football. We worked together again the last four years on Lions coverage.
He’s a big man with a big personality. His passion for the game of football is deep and his knowledge of the game is boundless. I have long thought he has been one of the most competent and complete analysts in football, and one of the most underappreciated.
But when I heard he was going to replace Frank Beckmann as the radio play-by-play voice of Michigan football, that he was going to team up with his former Michigan teammate Dan Dierdorf, well, honestly, I feared the worst.
And I told him so.
This had disaster written all over it. Two aging offensive linemen, neither with a lick of play-by-play experience. Dierdorf hasn’t been around college football for decades. He covered the NFL on ABC and CBS from 1987 through last season when he retired from the network.
I am picturing listening to the games and never knowing the score. Never knowing where the ball is. Never knowing the down and distance. I am bracing for two road-graters prattling on and on about gap integrity and pad level. I am bracing for a moment when all I hear is crowd noise and then the two announcers falling over themselves talking about how the pulling guard worked over the weak side linebacker.
And finding out later it was a 50-yard touchdown.
Once again, I failed to give Brandstatter enough credit. I completely underestimated his professionalism and the diversity of his broadcasting skills. Listening to their call of Michigan’s 52-14 romp over Appalachian State, was an absolute joy. It really was.
The energy was good, even when the game got out of hand. The chemistry and the banter between Brandstatter and Dierdorf was fluid and fun. The knowledge of the team, the in-game analysis, as you would expect, was spot-on and not overly technical.
But the biggest surprise to me, Brandy nailed the play-by-play. There were glitches, for sure. It took him a few series to get used to constantly reminding listeners about spot of the ball and down and distance. His calls, especially early, were late. He was reacting to the play instead of calling it as it happened.
But he never sounded unsure or panicked and as the game wore on, he seemed to settle in.
“Five wide receivers; Gardner out of the gun. He takes the snap and goes straight back, throws over the middle — he’s got Funchess! Touchdown Michigan!”
That was Brandstatter’s first touchdown call. It was emotional but not overdone.
In the second one, he was better at describing the play while it happened.
“Gardner looking to his left. He’s got Funchess wide open at the 10! To the 5! Funchess fighting. He’s….IN! Touchdown Michigan!!”
There were no gimmicks. No forced calls. He and Dierdorf didn’t talk over each other very often, but they bantered and bickered in the good-natured way longtime teammates do.
After the Wolverines ran the exact same run play for 13 then 6 yards, Dierdorf said, “You don’t see enough of that in football. Run it until they stop it. I know we talk about Schembechler a lot, but I remember in one game we ran the same play eight consecutive times.”
Brandstatter: “They ran it behind you.”
Dierdorf: “It doesn’t matter where they ran it.”
Brandstatter: “They never ran it behind me because I couldn’t block.”
Dierdorf: “When you can turn a first down into a second-and-4, you keep running it until they show you they can stop it.”
Brandstatter chided Dierdorf a couple of times. Once after Dierdorf called a missed block by the Michigan center a learning experience, he said, “Do we have to call you The Professor now? A learning experience?”
Later, after Dierdorf “mandated” that Devin Gardner stop running the ball and taking hits late in the game, Brandstatter said, “What, do you have a direct line to the coaching staff?”
Then, after Gardner scrambled for a big gain on the next play, Brandy said, “Clearly you do not have a direct line to the coaches.”
To which Dierdorf joked, “There will be one in place by next game.”
They didn’t talk as much about Bo Schembechler as I thought and secretly hoped they would. And they didn’t spend much time talking about their glory days. They stayed on point and offered consistent insight and humor.
Dierdorf quickly and comically zeroed in on Appalachian State’s inability to cover Devin Funchess.
After the first touchdown when Funchess was covered by an inside linebacker, he said, “That’s a mistake. That is never going to happen. Memo to you, Mr. Defensive Coordinator: Your linebacker is not ever going to be able to cover Funchess.”
Dierdorf’s best line of the day came after Funchess’s second score. Both Brandstatter and Dierdorf made a big point early in the game of Funchess switching to jersey No. 1.
“I don’t know if App. State is still looking for the guy wearing No. 87,” he said, referencing the number Funchess wore last year, “thinking that’s the guy we need to cover. Because they are not covering the guy wearing No. 1. They need to figure out that’s Devin Funchess.”
After Funchess’s third touchdown, when he went up and caught the ball over two defenders, Dierdorf said, “Here’s some expert analysis: My guy is better than your guy.”
As the game wound down, both talked about it being a good start, a feel-good start for Michigan, but they emphasized the team was a long way from being as good as it could potentially be.
They could have been talking about themselves, as well. The debut game for Brandstatter and Dierdorf far exceeded whatever expectations I had, for sure. But without even talking to him, I know he’s already thinking about things he needs to do better.
That’s what pros do and that’s why he’s lasted 34 years in the business. This two old O-lineman in the booth thing, it’s going to work just fine.