I have cheered for Georgia Southern since first setting foot on campus in the fall of 2003 and my Eagle fandom has only grown — neutral media coverage aside — since that first football season.
Unfortunately, I have to say that there is a rather large hole in my Eagle fan resume.
I never took the time to sit and listen to Nate Hirsch call a Georgia Southern game.
Now, it’s not like I never heard him at work. As part of diving into Georgia Southern football, I got plenty of education from watching old highlights with Nate on the call. That provided a great soundtrack to help plant my own blue and white flag, but I could tell that Hirsch was more than just a spoken guide to Georgia Southern history.
By my second football season in Statesboro, I began to see how Hirsch’s legendary words were just as much a part of the Eagles as the plays to which they were connected. It was impressive to watch Paulson Stadium erupt during the pregame hype video when “The Run” played, but what left even more of an impression was how some of the older fans around me knew Nate’s call, word for word.
And it wasn’t just that one play.
I have friends who will get tears in their eyes when a clip of the 1989 national championship game plays and they join Hirsch in urging Kevin Whitley to “keep going” with the game-clinching interception. The same goes with fans who can walk you, verbatim, through Tracy Ham’s connection with Frankie Johnson to win the 1985 national title.
What really struck me as I made my way through the archives was how Hirsch walked the line between announcer and fan — and also how he knew exactly when to go into full-on fan mode to drive a point home.
If beings on some far off planet, 33 light years from Earth, are lucky enough to be in the way of a stray radio signal, even they will feel the jubilation as they hear Hirsch call an improbable last-second victory over Arkansas-Little Rock to send the Eagles to the NCAA basketball tournament. Personally, I was sold when I watched a clip of the Eagles’ playoff game at Northern Iowa in 1985. When Ham broke free for a late touchdown, Hirsch’s voice cracked as he transformed, mid-play, into a fan that was watching his team do something (advance to, and then win, a national title game) that would have qualified as a far-fetched fairy tale when the program was launched just four years prior.
And yet, somehow, it never occurred to me to bring a radio to a game and listen to Nate on a live call. I was at all home games and plenty of road contests, yet I was always content to keep an eye on internet updates while watching other games on television when I wasn’t on the road with the Eagles.
Hirsch’s basketball and baseball calls also elluded me as I used the bigger schedules of those sports to justify not tuning in to games that I didn’t attend.
Luckily, just because I never heard Hirsch call a Georgia Southern game doesn’t mean I never heard him call a game.
In fact, I had the opportunity — and pleasure — to provide color commentary for Nate in 2014 when he resumed his play-by-play duties for Statesboro High football as part of the Statesboro Herald’s ‘Friday Night Live’ web streaming of local prep games.
It was impressive, to say the least. A few years out of the booth never showed as he wove seamlessly through stories, stats and out-of-town games before arriving back at the action just in time to call the next play. Meanwhile, yours truly was happy to just keep track of the running stats and was thrilled to help out with a nugget of information whenever I could look up from my computer.
It has been over 10 seasons since Nate called his last game for Georgia Southern football. In fact, the Eagles’ third official play-by-play man — Danny Reed — will get his feet wet for the first time in the Paulson radio booth this Saturday in the season opener. And yet, with all that time having passed since Hirsch last signed off, words like the ones I’m currently writing aren’t what he needs to be remembered.
He’ll be remembered because he provided the commentary on the start of one of college football’s most unique stories. He’ll be remembered because of his lasting place in three different Halls of Fame.
And mostly, he’ll be remembered because of the program he’ll always be connected with.
When some new freshman gets hooked on Georgia Southern athletics this season, he or she is going to go looking for more of the Eagles’ story. With the ever-growing stockpile of Georgia Southern history on YouTube, there is no shortage of Nate’s ‘Greatest Hits’.
So when that current freshman has lived and breathed Georgia Southern for over a decade — like I have — they’ll find themselves subconsciously announcing (or cheering) along with Nate as another classic bit of Georgia Southern history rolls across a video screen.
And that’s all he needs to be remembered.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.