EVANSTON—Ryan Taylor had 20 points, Vic Law added 14 and nine rebounds and Northwestern survived a second-half offensive drought to hang on for a 67-61 victory over Georgia Tech Wednesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.Dererk Pardon had 12 points and 10 rebounds as Northwestern (6-1) won its third straight.The Wildcats had a 28-point lead with 16 minutes remaining before the offense suddenly went cold.Jose Alvarado had 24 points for Georgia Tech (4-2).Georgia Tech won the meeting between the teams last season, 52-51, in Atlanta.Northwestern quickly established control of the game on the defensive end. Georgia Tech managed just 20 first-half points on 6-for-24 (25 percent) shooting.Law led the way for the Wildcats with 10 first-half points, while Taylor and Anthony Gaines added eight points apiece.Gaines hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it 40-20 at halftime, NU’s biggest lead to that point.The Wildcats were 13 of 27 (48 percent) from the field in the first half.Northwestern opened the second half with a 10-2 run for a 50-22 lead, but Georgia Tech responded with a 13-2 run to pull within 52-35.The Yellow Jackets picked up their defensive pressure and quickly got the Wildcats out of rhythm offensively.The lead was down to 57-47 with 7 1/2 minutes to play. Georgia Tech kept chipping away, but couldn’t score consistently enough to make a serious push at winning the game. The closest the Yellow Jackets got was 66-61 on an Alvarado 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds to go.Despite playing three games in four days in the Wooden Classic over the weekend in California, the Wildcats had plenty of energy, particularly on the defense end. Coach Chris Collins has said repeatedly that this team’s success will be determined on the defensive end. It certainly was Wednesday.
MILWAUKEE—Giannis Antetokounmpo had 36 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, and Khris Middleton made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left to lift the Milwaukee Bucks over the Bulls 116-113 on Wednesday night.Antetokounmpo and the Bucks (15-6) won an entertaining duel with former teammate Jabari Parker, who put up 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists in his latest return to Milwaukee. Parker signed with the Bulls last offseason after spending his first four NBA seasons with the Bucks.Malcolm Brogdon smartly passed the ball back to a wide-open Middleton at the top of the 3-point arc to set up the winning shot. Justin Holiday missed a 3 that would have tied it in the final seconds.Antetokounmpo also had a crucial block of Parker’s shot with the score tied at 111 in the last minute, and the star forward then sank two free throws with 36 seconds left before the Bulls’ Zach LaVine tied the score with a reverse layup.Brogdon had 24 points, five rebounds and six assists, and Middleton added 17 points, six rebounds and four assists.Rookie guard Ryan Arcidiacano continued his stellar play in the last week with 22 points, five rebounds and four assists, but the Bulls (5-17) dropped their fourth straight game and eighth in the past nine.Antetokounmpo posted his fourth 30-point game in the last five, after scoring just 20 points in the Bucks’ loss at Charlotte on Monday.The Bulls again scored 40 points in the first quarter, equaling their total in the opening quarter on Nov. 16 in the first meeting between the teams this season.Parker had 10 points in the quarter and the Bulls shot 66.7 percent from the floor (12 of 18) to take a 40-30 lead.Antetokounmpo sparked a Bucks rally in the second and finished the half with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists. Milwaukee took its first lead at 50-48 on a layup by Ersan Ilyasova, and the teams traded the lead several times before Antetokounmpo’s drive gave the Bucks a 63-62 edge at halftime.Milwaukee outscored the Bulls 33-22 in the second period.A 3-pointer by Brook Lopez gave the Bucks a 77-72 lead with 7:40 left in the third quarter and prompted a Bulls timeout.Arcidiacono sank a pair of 3s as the Bulls regained the lead at 82-80 before the Bucks responded with dunks by Antetokounmpo and Pat Connaughton sandwiched around a free throw by Middleton.The Bucks led 92-89 entering the final quarter.
SOUTH BEND—Notre Dame guards TJ Gibbs and D.J. Harvey scored 19 points each, and Durham sparked his team with all of his 10 points and five blocked shots in the second half, as ND held off the late-charging Fighting Illini in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup.Trent Frazier’s 24-foot, solid-look 3-point try for Illinois narrowly rimmed out just before time expired.Durham, who sat out last season after transferring from Connecticut, registered a career high for points. Harvey’s total was also a career high and Gibbs’ a season high.The Irish (6-1) won their fourth straight while Illinois (2-5) lost for the fifth time in six games.Durham was 3 of 4 from the field and 4 of 8 at the line.The Irish led 65-52 with 6:30 to go before the Illini mounted their rally that came up just short.Aaron Jordan led Illinois with 23 points. Freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili added 22. Those were career highs for both players.After a tight first half that yielded nine lead changes and a 35-34 Illini lead at the break, Notre Dame appeared like it might win in a runaway when it outscored Illinois 17-2 over a span of just under eight minutes.That produced a 61-49 Irish lead with 6:48 remaining.The Illini, though, battled right back behind Bezhanishvili and Jordan, who each scored 13 second-half points.
EVANSTON—With nothing really to play for, and with the Big Ten championship game looming next weekend, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald decided to pull many of his starters in the second half Saturday against rival Illinois.Fitzgerald stuck with the plan in spite of unexpected tense moments down the stretch.Clayton Thorson accounted for three touchdowns, Isaiah Browser rushed for 166 yards on 18 carries and No. 20 Northwestern beat Illinois 24-16 for its seventh straight Big Ten win.Thorson completed 12 of 18 passes for 110 yards and two TDs. He also ran for a score, and Bowser posted his fourth 100-yard game of the season.Neither was on the field as the game tightened late.
”You should have heard the headphones,” Fitzgerald said of the communication with coordinators Mick McCall and Mike Hankwitz. ”`Hey, I want …’ No. `Hey, can I have …’ No. `But what about …’ No.
”Sorry, I apologize to Mick and Hank. But to win our rivalry game with the amount of guys we had out – and what I didn’t allow our coordinators to do – was awesome by our guys.”
The Wildcats (8-4, 8-1, No. 19 in CFP) will face No. 10 Ohio State in the championship game in Indianapolis.
”We’ve got an unbelievable opportunity in front of us,” Fitzgerald said. ”I’m fired up to take the Purple to Indy. That’s our goal every year, to win the Big Ten West. We’ve finally gotten over that hump, and now we have an opportunity, a 60-minute opportunity, to take this team to the Rose Bowl.”
Illinois (4-8, 2-7) lost for the sixth time in seven games. AJ Bush Jr. completed 23 of 39 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown, and Ricky Smalling finished with seven receptions for 72 yards and a TD.
”Our guys fought hard from start to finish,” Illini coach Lovie Smith said. ”We left a lot of plays out there would like to have over, but the guys competed.We know we need to improve on a lot of things. But I like the way the guys came to work each day.”
Northwestern retained the Land of Lincoln Trophy with its fourth straight win in the series, tying its longest winning streak.
”Beating our rival every year has been awesome,” said Thorson, who started all four games.
With Illinois driving for a potential tying score, linebacker Paddy Fisher intercepted a Bush pass at the Northwestern 8-yard line with 3:34 remaining. The Wildcats, with TJ Green at quarterback and backups at running back, then ran out the clock.The Illini have dropped 23 straight and 32 of 33 against teams ranked in the AP poll since beating No. 1 Ohio State in 2007.Illinois moved the ball effectively – particularly through the air – in the first half, but only managed a pair of Chase McLaughlin field goals.NU was leading 7-6 when it scored on its final two possessions of the first half.Thorson capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak. The Wildcats got the ball back with 1:47 left, and Thorson found Riley Lees for a 5-yard TD pass.Jake Collins added a 25-yard field goal on the opening drive of the second half to make it 24-6.Although the West Division title was clinched two weeks ago at Iowa, Thorson said the last two games were far from meaningless. ”We never wanted to let off the gas,” he said. ”We never wanted to back into the Big Ten championship game.”
Fitzgerald was asked if there was a chance Thorson might re-enter the game if Illinois had tied it. ”One hundred percent, no,” he said. ”One million percent, no. Infinity, no.”The Illini are one of the youngest teams in college football, and they played like it. They had explosive plays throughout, but had to mostly settle for field goals because of mistakes at the wrong time. Smalling is elusive and routinely broke free in the secondary. But he struggled to catch the ball and had nearly as many drops as receptions.Despite saying they wouldn’t overlook Illinois because it was a rivalry game, the Wildcats clearly didn’t have the same fire as in previous weeks. Bowser was shut down in the third quarter and Thorson was replaced by Green early in the fourth.
”I felt like we could win with the personnel we had in the game,” Fitzgerald said.
Illinois hosts Akron in the 2019 season opener on Aug. 31. The Wildcats have dropped six straight against Ohio State and have beaten the Buckeyes just once since 1972.
LOS ANGELES—Notre Dame’s offensive skill players gathered on the sideline and looked up at an unfamiliar sight on the scoreboard. The Fighting Irish hadn’t faced a double-digit deficit at any point in their perfect season before Southern California jumped to a 10-0 lead Saturday night.With their national championship dreams suddenly in a wee bit of trouble, running back Dexter Williams spoke up.
”Somebody has got to make a play!” Williams shouted.
Ian Book and Chris Finke did just that on Notre Dame’s next drive, and Williams did it himself right after halftime.By the time the Irish were done making plays at the Coliseum, they were well on the way to the College Football Playoff with the Jeweled Shillelagh firmly in hand.Book passed for 352 yards, Williams went 52 yards on a go-ahead touchdown run and No. 3 Notre Dame completed an unbeaten regular season and likely secured a playoff spot with a 24-17 over longtime rival USC.
”It brings tears to your eyes,” Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love said. ”So much is put into this, and it was very tough at times. It just feels so good to get here. Nothing has been handed to us. USC was struggling this year, but they weren’t just going to hand it to us. We had to go out there and seize it.”
Finke made an exceptional TD catch for the first score by the Fighting Irish (12-0, No. 3 CFP), who showed playoff-level tenacity in rallying from their largest deficit of the season. Tony Jones Jr. then took a short pass 51 yards for a touchdown with 3:09 to play to finish off Notre Dame’s 10th perfect regular season since 1945, the first since 2012.
”It’s something I dreamed about, so to have it really be like that, it’s a surreal moment,” said Book, the Californian who improved to 9-0 as Notre Dame’s starter, including 8-0 this year. ”This whole team, we’re just so fortunate to be here. USC, they played great. We knew they had a great defense, and to be able to finish the season off undefeated in a rivalry game, you can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Williams rushed for 97 yards as the Irish overcame a slow start in the 90th edition in this famed intersectional rivalry. Notre Dame didn’t score until Finke’s TD catch shortly before halftime, but the Irish ran off 24 consecutive points and shut out USC in the second half until Tyler Vaughns’ TD catch with 48 seconds to play.ND is all but certain to be chosen for the four-team playoff, and this win could keep the Irish away from powerhouse Alabama in the first postseason game. The Irish celebrated with ferocity in the Coliseum locker room, with their shouts echoing through the old walls into the USC room.
”It’s just such an emotional high,” Irish linebacker Drue Tranquill said. ”We were just dancing in there. I can’t really dance, but I was trying.”
J.T. Daniels passed for 349 yards for the Trojans (5-7), who will stay home for the bowl season after their first losing season since 2000. Vaughns caught 12 passes for 120 yards in what might have been the final game for coach Clay Helton, who is under pressure after the Trojans lost five of their final six games in a dismaying collapse.USC athletic director Lynn Swann didn’t make an immediate announcement on Helton’s future.
”The best is yet to be, I truly believe that,” Helton said. ”I watched the men that are out there, both old and young, and see guys that are truly talented individuals that will develop into a quality football team that can win championships. I know that and I believe that in them.”
After USC won eight straight over Notre Dame in the 2000s, the Irish have won six of the last nine meetings in this classic college football matchup. Notre Dame is the first road team to win in the series since 2012, when the Irish also completed an unbeaten regular season with a victory at the Coliseum.Only four USC teams have finished with losing records since 1961, but this clearly talented group gave a tough game to the powerhouse Irish. The Trojans’ 289 yards in the first half were 64 more than the Irish had allowed before halftime all season, and Notre Dame had only trailed twice at any point all season.Although Jones’ late rumble to the end zone clinched the expected result for Notre Dame, the Trojans were competitive with an elite opponent despite the roiling subplot of their coach’s future.USC’s 10-7 halftime lead could have been much larger, but receivers Michael Pittman Jr. and Amon-Ra St. Brown both fumbled after catches in Notre Dame territory. The Irish offense didn’t score until 2:20 before halftime on that 24-yard throw to Finke, who hadn’t caught a TD pass since the season opener against Michigan.
Bears beat Vikings 25-20, tighten grip on NFC North
No doubt about it now, the Bears really are serious about winning the NFC North.Khalil Mack had a sack and fumble recovery, Eddie Jackson returned an interception for a touchdown and the Bears tightened their grip on the division with a 25-20 victory over the second-place Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night.Mack and Jackson led a dominant effort by the defense. And the Bears (7-3) took a big step toward its first division championship since 2010.The Bears won their fourth in a row, their longest streak since a six-game run in 2012. The Bears finished 10-6 that year, missed the playoffs and fired coach Lovie Smith after that season.
”You’ve got to understand the situation, facing a division opponent, knowing we’re going to face them twice a year,” Mack said. ”We’ve got to make that jump and you (saw) it today. It’s knowing what’s at stake. Everybody showed up ready to play.”
The Monsters of the Midway simply dominated Minnesota on Sunday, taking out the defending division champions after beating three struggling teams – the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions.The Bears also have victories the past two weeks over NFC North opponents after dropping 10 in a row against division foes.
”This isn’t about proving, I don’t think for us, as much as it is about our guys just learning that they can trust one-another,” coach Matt Nagy said. ”When you stick together through the highs and the lows and you work as hard as our guys do together and you listen to the coaches and the coaches listen to the players – there’s a collaboration – you then get a chance to be in a situation like this tonight, to play in front of the whole world.”
The Bears suffocated the Vikings (5-4-1), with big advantages in total yards (308-268) and time of possession (34:29-25:31) even though quarterback Mitchell Trubisky had his difficulties.The Bears were leading by eight midway through the fourth quarter when Jackson picked off a pass from Kirk Cousins that was intended for Laquon Treadwell. His 27-yard TD return and a 2-point conversion pass from Trubisky to Adam Shaheen made it 22-6.Cousins then threw a 13-yard TD to Aldrick Robsinon and a 2-point conversion to Adam Thielen, making it 22-14. But Cody Parkey kicked to 48-yard field goal with 2:48 left. And the Bears hung on from there.Trubisky was 20 of 31 for 165 yards and a touchdown. But he was intercepted two times by Anthony Harris.Parkey shook off a performance unlike any other by making all three of his field goal attempts. It was a big improvement over the previous week, when he hit uprights four times while missing two field goals and two extra points against Detroit.
”We all believed in him in the locker room,” Trubisky said. ”There was never a doubt. … I’m happy for Cody. He was big-time tonight. He delivered for his team and put some points on the board when we needed them. They were crucial and he did a heck of a job.”
Cousins was consistently under pressure and finished 30 of 46 for 262 yards. He threw two touchdowns in the final 4:51 and got intercepted two times.Stefon Diggs had 13 catches for 126 yards and a TD. But the Vikings came up short after winning four of five.Parkey nailed a 33-yard field goal down the middle on Bears first possession, drawing a loud and maybe sarcastic roar from the crowd. It was a promising start for a kicker lampooned by Jimmy Fallon on ”The Tonight Show.” Chicago TV stations even sent helicopters to shoot footage when he practiced at Soldier Field on Wednesday night.Mack gave the crowd more to cheer near the end of the first quarter when he jarred the ball from Dalvin Cook and recovered at the Bears 15, stopping a scoring threat.The Bears added to their lead midway through the second when a sliding Anthony Miller hauled in an 18-yard touchdown from Trubisky. That capped the league’s longest touchdown drive this season in terms of plays (13) and time (7:13).Trubisky then hit Josh Bellamy in the end zone to make it 11-0, after the Bears opted to go for two rather than have Parky attempt an extra point.Parkey nailed a 41-yarder with room to spare in the closing minute of the half to make it a 14-point game. The Vikings then drove to the Chicago 32. But with Leonard Floyd bearing down on him, Cousins unleashed a wobbly heave that Adrian Amos picked off with on one else near him.The Bears and Vikings face off again on Dec. 30 at Minnesota.
MINNEAPOLIS—When he was an assistant at Northern Illinois, Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck once cold-called Pat Fitzgerald for a lunch meeting to learn about being a head coach.A decade later, Fitzgerald and his Northwestern Wildcats are still teaching teams like the Gophers how to win in the Big Ten.Isaiah Bowser rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns, and No. 24 Northwestern turned three turnovers by Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan into 10 points on the way to a 24-14 victory on Saturday that stretched its program-record road winning streak to eight games.
”The teams that win in our league are the teams that have the sustainability over the long period of time,” Fleck said. ”You have to earn that, but they have that.”
Clayton Thorson completed 15 of 21 passes for 230 yards without a turnover and had a 13-yard touchdown run in the first half for the Wildcats (7-4, 7-1, No. 22 CFP), who have their best Big Ten record since 1996 when Fitzgerald was in his final season as a player.Nate Hall had two interceptions for the Wildcats, who have won 14 of their last 15 conference contests, including 11 games in a row against opponents within the West Division they clinched the week before. Hall, who also made the tackle on a fourth-and-1 stop of Seth Green at the Northwestern 26 in the second quarter, was ejected for targeting on a helmet-to-helmet hit on Morgan in the fourth quarter.
”A very businesslike championship-type approach to the week culminated with a very businesslike win,” Fitzgerald said. ”I thought our guys were very focused.”
With a kickoff temperature of 23 degrees, which was actually slightly warmer than when Minnesota beat Purdue here last week , Thorson and the Wildcats played the field-position game well. The secondary missing three injured starters complemented a strong pass rush led by Joe Gaziano, who forced a fumble by Morgan with a sack in the fourth quarter, setting up a short field goal.That came right after a 68-yard completion on third down from Thorson to J.J. Jefferson, who slipped past freshman safety Jordan Howden and was tackled at the 2 before Bowser’s second score.Morgan finished 19 for 32 for 197 yards and a late touchdown pass to Tyler Johnson, who topped the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Minnesota’s streak of four straight games with 400-plus total yards, the longest for the program in more than 12 years, was stopped.
”They’re fighting for bowl eligibility. We knew we were going to get their best shot,” Fitzgerald said. ”That’s what jumps out to me so much about our defense.”
After cracking The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time this season following last week’s win at Iowa , Northwestern will remain a ranked team for now. The Wildcats aren’t part of the College Football Playoff conversation, but to be headed for the Big Ten championship game in December after losing at home to Akron and starting the season 1-3 in September is quite an accomplishment. The Cats host Illinois as they try to defend the Land if Lincoln Trophy next Saturday.
CHAMPAIGN—Nate Stanley passed for 178 yards and three touchdowns while Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young added two rushing touchdowns each as Iowa rolled over Illinois 63-0 on Saturday.It tied the largest margin of defeat in Illinois history, matching a 63-0 loss to the University of Chicago in 1906.The win ended a three-game skid for the Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) and makes a bowl invitation all but certain.The loss ended Illinois’ bowl hopes.Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley threw an interception on the second play of the game and the Hawkeyes punted on the next series. But the floodgates soon opened: Over the next 18 minutes, Iowa scored five times.
”A lot of man coverage today, a lot of zone a week ago,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. ”A lot of that stuff is just how things shake out, but again, we’re going to be a better team any time we get our better guys involved.”
The Hawkeyes led 35-0 at the half.
”We didn’t play well in any phase,” said Illinois coach Lovie Smith. ”Starting with coaching, we thought we had the team prepared. We weren’t. They outperformed us in every way.”
Stanley was 13 of 21 through the air for three touchdowns and one interception. His touchdown passes went to tight end Noah Fant (who played sparingly last week much to the chagrin of many Iowa fans) and T.J. Hockenson.Sargent carried 17 times for 121 yards, while Young rushed for 67 yards on 14 carries. Kyle Groeneweg returned a punt for a touchdown following Illinois’s first series of the second half.AJ Bush was 12 of 28 for 82 yards and two interceptions for Illinois. Ra’Von Bonner carried the ball 21 times for 111 yards.Illinois’ top rusher. Reggie Corbin, left last week’s game with an ankle injury and appeared to re-injure it in the first half. He carried the ball once prior to leaving Saturday’s for minus 4 yards.Illinois (4-7, 2-6) turned the ball over four times, which led owa points.The Illini face Big Ten Northwestern next Saturday in Evanston in their season finale.
NEW YORK—The band was an Aaron Judge moon shot away from the field, way up in the right-field bleachers of Yankee Stadium.Still, the Fighting Irish lined up in the end zone/outfield and sang the alma mater – just as they would have at Notre Dame Stadium – after dispatching No. 12 Syracuse and putting themselves a step away from the College Football Playoff.Ian Book returned to the starting lineup for No. 3 Notre Dame and threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns as the Fighting Irish routed the Orange 36-3 on Saturday to stay unbeaten.The Irish will head West next week to face struggling rival Southern California, with a spot in the playoff in their grasp.
”I don’t know that if we win our last game that we’re going to the playoffs, but that’s not in our control,” coach Brian Kelly said. ”What we can control is how we prepare. If we do a good job there and win our game then we would have won all our games and we’ll let people decide who should go to the playoffs.”
Notre Dame held out Book from last week’s home game against Florida State with a rib injury. He wasn’t missed as the Irish (11-0, No. 3 CFP) rolled with Brandon Wimbush at quarterback.They clearly wanted to be cautious with Book ahead of their trip to the Bronx to face high-scoring Syracuse (8-3, No. 12 CFP), averaging 44 points per game. Book, the junior quarterback who took over as the starter four games into the season, looked good as new.
”The ribs feel good,” Book said. ”Wasn’t even thinking about them during the game.”
Donning pinstripe uniforms in a tribute to the usual residents of the ballpark, Notre Dame went up 7-0 on its second possession on a 9-yard pass from Book to Dexter Williams.The Subway Alumni, along with the bridge and tunnel crowd, packed Yankee Stadium on a 45-degree day in the Bronx. The sellout crowd was announced at 48,104.That the Fighting Irish were playing such an important game away from South Bend, Indiana, did not sit well with most of their fans. Even Kelly said it was not ideal. Part of the Shamrock Series, the off-site ”home” games Notre Dame plays almost annually, the Irish’s second trip to the new Yankee Stadium had been in the works for several years.Adding to the anxiety of playing a Syracuse team having its best season in more than a decade was Notre Dame’s unusual stretch schedule. Notre Dame has played only one home game since mid-October and the trip to USC will be its second to the West Coast in five weeks.Turns out, there was nothing to worry about in New York. The most significant college football game at Yankee Stadium since No. 1 Army and No. 2 Notre Dame played a 0-0 tie in 1946 was no Game of the Century.
”We’ve played in California, Chicago and New York,” Book said. ”I think it’s awesome. I think it’s great experiences for us. We might have to fly a little bit more than other teams but I don’t think it hurts anyone.”
The Orange played most of the game without starting quarterback Eric Dungey, who left in the first quarter with what the school said was an upper-body injury. Coach Dino Babers said they would know more about Dungey’s condition when he was examined upon return to Syracuse.Tommy DeVito, who came off the bench earlier this season to relieve Dungey against North Carolina and lead the Orange to an overtime victory, stepped in but looked overmatched. The redshirt freshman was sacked six times and picked off twice.Only a field goal with 10 seconds left denied the Irish their first shutout since Sept. 6, 2014, when they beat Michigan 31-0 in South Bend.Syracuse has played both No. 2 Clemson and Notre Dame this season, losing a close game in Death Valley.
”I will tell you this: Notre Dame is better than what people think they are,” Babers said. ”That’s a really, really good football team. All I’ll say is this: Clemson is extremely talented. So I think there’s no doubt those two teams are in the top four in the country.”
Notre Dame improved 17-6-3 all-time at Yankee Stadium, including 3-0 at the newest version since Kelly took over.
Ray Clay (Bulls public address announcer, 1990-2002): My wife and I were driving to a wedding and had the Bulls game on the radio—I had to listen to the starting lineups like everybody wanted to do at that point. The broadcaster mentioned that it was Tommy Edwards’s final game. My wife said, “That’d be a neat job. Why don’t you call the Bulls and see if they’re interested in giving you an audition?” I said, “I’d never get a job like that. But I’ll call.” A guy I happened to know at the Bulls said, “Send in a tape.” At that time, I worked as the campus recreation director at the University of Illinois at Chicago. So I sent a cassette of some UIC basketball games that I’d called, including the starting-lineup introductions. A couple days later, I got a call from the Bulls: “What are you doing Friday? We’d like you to call the game.” That was my audition.
I was very nervous, having never announced a professional game before. I got to Chicago Stadium early and looked at the script book, which laid out the game with which activities were going to happen during the timeouts, announcements, pregame, during game, halftime, postgame. The Bulls rep said to me, “We’re gonna do the starting lineups. When the lights go out and the music starts, I’ll cue you when to go.” I said, “Yeah, but wait—the lights go out.” I had everything written down on a sheet of paper! This made me even more nervous. So the lights went out, the music started, the guy gave me a nudge and said, “Go.” I blurted out, “Aaaand now, the starting lineup for your Chicago Bulls!” The Bulls were touting Chicago Stadium as the noisiest arena in the NBA at that time, so I figured that I needed to give a good yell. That’s how my high-volume signature started.
Brenner: Ray Clay—great voice, great person, but he didn’t have the broadcast experience that Tommy did, where you could just throw him in front of a microphone and he could nail it. He had a lot to learn.
Clay: A team rep called to ask if I was available to come to the Bulls’ office downtown. They had put together a cassette tape of Tommy Edwards introducing Horace Grant, then me introducing Horace Grant. Tommy introducing Scottie Pippen, then me introducing Scottie Pippen. And so on. They said, “Put more emphasis on the ace in ‘Horace’ instead of the hor.” They wanted to make sure that I emphasized “the man in the middle” for Bill Cartwright. “Don’t worry about Michael Jordan,” they said. “Nobody can hear you anyway.” So I took all their notes and announced a second game. Later, I got a phone call: “We’d like you to come back and announce the final home game of the ’89-90 regular season.” When I got to the stadium, a couple sportswriters I knew said, “Jeez, Ray, you’re back.” I go, “I’m sure the Bulls are gonna bring in somebody else for the playoffs.” About 10 minutes later, Les Grobstein, one of the radio guys I knew, said, “Hey, Ray, they just announced that you’re the new PA announcer.” The Bulls had made an announcement in the press room while I was doing pregame announcements. A Bulls rep came up to me shortly thereafter and said, “Oh, Ray, by the way, congratulations—we’re gonna keep you on.”