By Mike Mooneyham
Jan. 7, 2007
One couldn’t help but feel sorry for Jim Ross on New Year’s night.
Good Ol’ J.R., quite possibly the University of Oklahoma football team’s most vocal and visible supporter, was forced to sit through a lackluster Raw while his beloved Sooners locked horns with Boise State at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.
So instead of prowling the sidelines, as J.R. is accustomed to do during Sooner football games, he delivered his usual stellar job of making Raw palatable to a nationally televised audience.
Ross may have spent New Year’s Eve in South Beach and, while there’s far worse things than ringing in the New Year in Miami and presiding over one of cable’s most popular shows, don’t think for a second that the venerable broadcaster wouldn’t have preferred taking in what would later be regarded as one of the greatest college games in bowl history.
Ross, who turned 55 last week, is widely regarded as one of the main reasons behind Raw’s success, and his track record of being loyal, hard-working and professional has been well documented over the years. Unfortunately, Ross’s boss, Vince McMahon, wouldn’t give his lead announcer the night off. Although it would have been his first Raw off in almost 14 years, Ross’s rare request fell on deaf ears.Making matters worse, he was ribbed unmercifully as the Sooners fell, 43-42, in a thrilling overtime classic.
“I don’t know why they give J.R. such a hard time, but Vince was really ribbing him all night about the game,” said one WWE performer. “They were all ribbing him during the game because he couldn’t watch it.”
Ross, though, is a consummate pro who takes it all in stride. “‘It all starts and stops with him,’ Ross once said of McMahon, who’s fired him several times during their tumultuous professional relationship. And each time, Ross has come back stronger than ever, proving why his name is mentioned in the same breath as the late Gordon Solie whenever there’s a discussion about wrestling’s greatest announcers.
Ross, a no-nonsense, company man dating back to his days as gopher-turned-first lieutenant for fellow Sooner Cowboy Bill Watts in the Mid South promotion days, has deferred to McMahon ever since the WWE chairman put a black Resistol cowboy hat on his head, urging the announcer to portray an earthy, down-home character not at all unlike the real Jim Ross.
“Mr. McMahon gave me the hat as a part of my persona. I hated it at first but wouldn’t leave home without it now when going to work. As usual, Mr. McMahon proves once again he is much smarter than yours truly.”
Ross has persevered despite several bouts with Bell’s palsy, which affected his speech and physical appearance, and a cutthroat business to boot. The Oklahoma drawl and honest, passionate delivery, along with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the business and sincere respect for its roots, have served him well. No one sells excitement and emotion like Jim Ross.
The announce job, however, remains a tenuous one. Management has made it clear in the past that it was looking to make a change to a younger face more to its liking. Ross was replaced as Raw’s lead announcer by Joey Styles shortly after the show moved from Spike TV to USA Network. Styles, however, struggled in the new role, and Ross eventually was called back into service, rejoining longtime announcing partner Jerry Lawler.
But even Ross wonders if he will still be around to broadcast Wrestlemania 23. “I am looking forward to being a part of Wrestlemania 23 at Ford Field in Detroit, however with my track record in the WWE, who knows for sure if I will make it until April 1,” Ross posted on Web site last week.
Ross had planned on celebrating New Year’s Eve by partying with longtime friend Stone Cold Steve Austin in Phoenix prior to the Fiesta Bowl, but those plans changed with the Jan. 1 Raw from Miami, which featured a heavily hyped match between quasi-celebrity Kevin Federline, the soon-to-be ex-husband of singer Britney Spears, and WWE champ John Cena.
Ross had expressed in a recent blog how much he looked forward to the game.
“I need to hear some ‘Boomer Sooner,’ to see No. 28 (Adrian Peterson) run one more time in an OU uniform, watch the head man (Bob Stoops) wearing the visor out-strategize the opposition, see an offensive line made up of a litter of 300-plus-pound pups rise up and hunt, and see a relentless defense with blistering team speed tackle surely and with a purpose.”
Instead, says Ross, he celebrated a low-key New Year’s Eve with room service, a diet Pepsi and cable TV, and following the Raw broadcast, returned to his room for the fourth quarter of the once-in-a lifetime event.
Had Ross made the trip, he most likely would have joined other stunned Sooner fans who could only bow in homage toward their blue-and-orange-clad adversaries after BSU’s overtime-forcing, fourth-and-18, 50-yard hook-and-ladder with seven seconds left in regulation, setting up two more wild do-or-die plays, putting a stamp on the storybook finish as one for the ages.
Ross, too, was gracious in defeat and looking forward to next season.
“My congratulations go out to the Boise State team for a great effort and finishing a magical year at 13-0,” Ross posted. “Heart and effort go a long way in determining one’s success in life, and the Broncos’ desire to win the Fiesta Bowl is a testament to that philosophy. Of course I am somewhat heartbroken my Sooners couldn’t pull this one out, but I am not a fair-weather fan and will be anxiously awaiting the 2007 season for OU which will be highlighted by a home, non-league game with the Miami Hurricane in September. Miami has a magnificent football tradition and this game will no doubt get national coverage early in.”
“I will always remember the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and will certainly remember where I was when this classic college football game was played,” Ross added. “Again, Boise State deserves tremendous credit for their memorable victory. It’s not like I am going to boycott potatoes or stop admiring Boise’s own Torrie Wilson because Boise beat my team either.”
Ross apparently had a sense of foreboding in the weeks leading up to the game. He put those fears on paper in a blog a day before the game.
“The biggest fear I have of Boise State is that they have the intangible that is hard to quantify and to defend – hope. The Fiesta Bowl is so huge in the state of Idaho that perhaps in our own world of football arrogance we have overlooked its historic magnitude for an entire state. Sure, we hear sound bytes about it on SportsCenter and we hear the local OKC (Oklahoma City) sports talkers mention BSU’s magical season culminating in this BCS Bowl Game, but the impact this football game is having on the entire state of Idaho is amazing. Potato production has taken a back seat to the men who play on the blue turf on Saturday afternoons. Hope springs eternal in the state of Idaho for their beloved Broncos in the biggest college football game in their history. It’s like a whole state of ‘Rudy’s.’
“Allowing Boise State to retain their ‘hope’ and take the Sooners deep into the four quarter is a scenario I don’t like to visualize … Let’s not forget one important intangible element of this game. The Fiesta Bowl is the biggest game for any team from the state of Idaho in any sport … ever. Is the Fiesta Bowl the biggest sporting event in Oklahoma football history? Monday night it had better be.”
The Oklahoma native has been a die-hard Sooner fan since listening to games on the radio on fall Saturdays as a child in Westville. He books his travel for Monday Night Raw telecasts based upon Sooners road games.
Ross returned to his home state two years ago after having spent the previous several years in Stamford, Conn., where WWE is headquartered. The move, says Ross, was the best thing he and his wife ever did.
Ross, who has his own brand of barbecue sauce and last year opened his own online sauce store through his Web site (www.jrsbarbq.com) following the success of his cookbooks, plans to open his first family barbecue restaurant in Norman in the spring.