Radio and television sportscaster Jim Brandstatter talks about his dismissal from Lions football broadcasts and his love of Michigan football. Daniel Mears, The Detroit News
Commerce Township – It has been nearly a month since Jim Brandstatter was unceremoniously fired by WJR as the Detroit Lions’ analyst on radio broadcasts, a job he held for 31 years. And after the initial sting, he’s fine, just fine, thank you.
He will continue working Michigan games as the play-by-play radio announcer, calling them with fellow former Michigan offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf. But gone are the crazy travel weekends, getting from one game to the next, that once seemed more like an adventure than the test of endurance they had become.
Robbie Timmons, the longtime anchor on WXYZ who retired in 2010, has been married to Brandstattter for 38 years. She said it took the couple about five minutes after he was blindsided by his over-the-phone firing to move on and discover the silver lining.
“It’s going to be nice,” Timmons said. “We’re already making plans for things we can do in August and on Sundays. Thanksgiving dinner we haven’t had forever and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and all of December. It is a whole new world.”
While the couple happily embarks on this new world, Brandstatter explains that while he was stunned by his firing on July 10, he didn’t allow anger to creep in.
“Twelve, 15 years ago, (I) probably would have been (angry),” he said during a recent lunch interview. “But 31 years and knowing this was probably going to be my last contract and staring down a travel schedule this year that was going to be difficult …
“I’m not very happy with how it happened. I thought like everybody else out there it was classless, but I’m not going to go there because I’ve had 31 years. Other guys in this business have been treated more poorly than I have. I’ve had great response from people. You’ve got to step back a little bit and take a look at the big picture, and the big picture actually looks not so bad. I still have the Michigan games.”
‘WJR just fired me’
The couple had been traveling and had a brief stop at home when Brandstatter had a conference call with WJR. He had a five-year contract with a two-year option and assumed the conversation was to re-up his deal. Brandstatter said he planned to retire at the end of the contract.
Timmons was in the garage, unaware her husband was on the phone. That’s when station general manager Tom O’Brien informed him he was being fired and former Lions player Lomas Brown was the replacement.
“We just thought with Lomas available, an 18-year veteran and seven-time Pro Bowler, and a well-respected Detroit Lions guy who still lives here and is still involved in this community, we thought he would bring a great perspective,” O’Brien told The Detroit News at the time, referring to Brown.
Brandstatter found Timmons and broke the news.
“He comes out and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this,’” Timmons said. “He says, ‘WJR just fired me,’” and I said, ‘What?’ We went inside, and he explained the whole thing, how short the conversation was.
“He was disappointed because he thought maybe it was something he did or his performance. We came to the conclusion, no that wasn’t it at all. We think it was a financial decision by WJR and nothing else. And then we started looking on the bright side – we get August back, we get December, we get the holidays.”
Timmons was the voice of reason and said they moved on after a few minutes of discussion. The decision had been made and there was no way to change it.
“This was a total blindside,” she said. “I even wonder if the decision was made that morning before they talked to him. It was so fast and there was no discussion. It was like, ‘This is the decision, and this is the way it is and live with it.’”
Brandstatter posted on Twitter shortly after his firing that he would no longer be part of the Lions radio broadcasts and stories appeared in papers and on television. They were thrilled by the outpouring of support, which elevated their moods. Brandstatter wouldn’t be allowed to leave on his terms and there would be no farewell tour, but fan response was overwhelming.
“I don’t think JR ever anticipated that reaction,” Timmons said. “He was the lead story on Channel 7 that night.”
“It was mind-blowing and extremely gratifying to have those things said,” Brandstatter said. “Let’s put it this way, with the kind of response that it got, clearly I was doing something right. I’ve got no ill will toward Lomas whatsoever. He had nothing to do with it. This was all a WJR decision and it was based on an agenda not on job performance. When you see that, you’re on the Titantic and you’re playing a violin. You’re going down. That’s the way it is.”
‘We’ve moved on’
Brandstatter and his wife were with family in northern Michigan when Lions camp opened. He took a call from a local reporter who said he was missed. Brandstatter wasn’t sure what he had missed. A golf outing?
“When you step back and start looking at the big picture, I love doing the games and I will miss that part. I will miss that,” Brandstatter said. “But when you step back and you look at quality of life – nowadays at my age, time’s more important.”
He remains involved through work with Zing Media Group and will launch a podcast this fall on his Facebook page. He already has been posting photos and sharing stories there.
And he’s not done on the radio. Michigan’s season begins Sept. 1 at Notre Dame, and Brandstatter, who shifted from the analyst role to play-by-play, and Dierdorf will call the games again this season.
‘I’ve had a great run and the Lions and everybody appreciated my work over those 31 years, the public and the social media has been unbelievable. It’s OK, I’m all right with it,” he said. “I’ve got Michigan, so I still get to scratch that itch, the football thing, in the press box. Michigan is my first love, anyway. Because I played there with Dierdorf, it’s just a great situation for me at the end of my career to be able to go out doing Michigan football.
“Every year is new. It’s like Christmas morning. The team changes every year. This year there’s so much different talk. This year it’s the Shea Patterson thing. The defense. New coaches. New offense basically. So there’s everything new. It’s like Christmas morning, and you get to open up the Christmas present and it happens to be at South Bend at prime time and you get to see this develop and watch it go through the season. I just love it.”
Timmons is thrilled that they’ll actually be able to relax after Michigan games and go to dinner with friends if they’d like.
“Life’s too short for the gnashing of teeth,” Brandstatter said. “We’d prefer to look ahead at what opportunities are out there. As Mark Twain said, ‘The rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.’”