If you don’t know Alex Shelton’s face, there’s a chance you might know his voice. A small chance but a chance nonetheless.
For instance, say you were driving a truck during the holidays in Louisiana. And say you were puttin’ the hammer down on Interstate 20, between Shreveport and Bossier City. And though it was one of those cold, clear nights, the down-and-dirty blues station from N’awlins might have begun its compulsory fade to static.
If this was before SiriusXM – and you were tired of Hank Williams and Molly Hatchet – you might have started cranking the dial looking for 100,000 watts of Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
And then the next voice you might have heard?
Well, the next voice you probably heard was Rush Limbaugh’s.
But the next voice you might have heard after that might have been Alex Shelton’s, from the Weed-Eater Bowl, or from one of the other lower-tier bowl games played in the Southern states.
And then maybe you stopped cranking the dial, because Northern Illinois was moving the ball against Louisiana Tech, and it still had all of its timeouts.
Alex Shelton says there’s a market for minor college football bowl games on the radio. And that it’s not comprised only of truck drivers haulin’ hogs (or whatever it is that truck drivers haul across northern Louisiana during the holidays) and people from rural Nebraska who don’t get ESPN.
(I once listened to bowling on the radio on the way to the Indy 500. So I sort of believe him.)
“You always wonder if anybody is listening,” he says, “and next thing you know, you get an email or a text from the Texas A&M or Michigan State announcing teams saying good job with the game.”
Shelton’s production company, Nevada Sports Network, was formed in 1996. This year, he produced and did play-by-play for the Military Bowl (San Jose State vs. Bowling Green) and the Music City Bowl (Vanderbilt vs. North Carolina State).
NSN also has today’s GoDaddy.com Bowl (Arkansas State vs. Kent State); no, Shelton said, he never has gotten a kiss on the cheek from Danica Patrick, as Miami of Ohio quarterback Austin Boucher did after the RedHawks’ 35-21 victory over Middle Tennessee State in 2011.
A UNLV grad and longtime Las Vegan, the 45-year-old Shelton estimates he has broadcast more than 200 live sporting events. Many are college football games in which ESPN has no interest (which isn’t many). He might not get the kind of plumb assignments Brent Musburger gets, but Shelton did sit next to him on a flight out of Las Vegas once.
“He was wearing a Little League World Series watch,” Shelton says. “Having the chance to talk about doing games – and him knowing my work, providing advice – was a great thrill as well as a honor.
“I’m known everywhere except in my own market.”
The thrills and honors, however, usually are trumped by the weird stuff, the stuff that rarely occurs at a Rose, Orange or Sugar Bowl, or even at the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl during Capital One Bowl Week.
■ At one of the Gator Bowls featuring Florida State, Shelton’s broadcast partner was former FSU running back Dexter Carter, who kept referring to the Seminoles as “we” and cheered whenever Florida State recovered a fumble.
■ At the Humanitarian Bowl, Shelton left his coat on the airplane. Miami beat UNR in 28-degree weather, and Miami brought its own state troopers, with mustaches, to “protect” coach Larry Coker from exuberant fans, many also with mustaches (this was in Boise, Idaho), who might storm the field.
■ At the Meineke Car Care Bowl, Shelton’s color commentator, Gary Williams of the Golf Channel, did not show.
■ At the inaugural New Orleans Bowl, Shelton’s color commentator, former Saints running back Hokie Gajan, came straight to the Superdome from the French Quarter. One of the teams, North Texas, had a losing record, so nobody noticed when the color man burped and tried to kiss Suzy Kolber during the second quarter.
■ After the Music City Bowl, Shelton was having a cocktail at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in downtown Nashville, Tenn. Neil Young was there. A kid was on stage, playing Neil Young songs on his guitar, oblivious that Neil Young was in the audience.
■ At the Silicon Valley Bowl, one of the organizers sought input about a proposed postgame concert featuring some all-girl, R&B act of which the guy sporting the bright blazer never had heard. This was Destiny’s Child, fronted by Beyonce Knowles.
■ Then there was the 2003 Blue-Gray Classic on Christmas Day. The last Blue-Gray Classic ever played.
Shelton said the Blue-Gray game was laid to rest in Dothan, Ala., about 100 miles southeast of Montgomery; the drive down was more depressing than watching guys from Florida Atlantic (or The Citadel) attempt to tackle guys from Bowling Green (or Akron) while his kids were home in Las Vegas opening presents – “nothing but tin-shack houses,” he said.
The next day, because he was in the neighborhood – and because he still was feeling Blue and Gray – he dropped by the Auburn campus. There was an open gate at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Alex Shelton was able to walk onto the field and do Bo Jackson poses.
He said a man with a thick neck, watching him do air straight-arms and make air runs up the tunnel after scoring air touchdowns (though that was after Bo had gone pro) was not amused.
Apparently, the security guard never had hauled hogs across northern Louisiana during the Weed-Eater Bowl.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.