BOULDER - Claude Frederick Alan Cass (he's fine with Alan) never wanted to be the show. His philosophy was old-school simple: The most intriguing, most entertaining performances take place on the far side of the microphone - not behind it.
|Alan Cass' University of Colorado PA career, touching six decades, will end following the CU-Nebraska men's basketball game on March 5.
In an announcing career that officially began in the mid-60s, encompassed almost all things Black and Gold but frequently went beyond, Cass has stayed true to his principles. The athletes were his focal points, his words merely framing their actions. Keeping himself out of the picture, his decibel level staying comfortably short of annoyance, always were his goals.
That approach might not play very well in today's often too loud, "look-at-me" sports world, which could be a small part of Cass' decision to retire at the conclusion of the current Buffs basketball season. Although he will announce his final game on Saturday, March 5 at the Coors Events Center when the CU men play Nebraska, he will work at least through the school's spring commencement.
"Old PA announcers don't walk off the job, they just turn the volume down," Cass said.
But, in truth, he rarely needed to turn the volume up.
Cass, who will turn 70 next month, will walk away thoroughly grateful and mostly unscathed from what he still considers the opportunity of a lifetime. Arriving in Boulder with his family from Florida when he was 7, he's become as much a part of CU as the sandstone in the campus architecture. His work has been a true labor of love: his time behind the microphone at countless CU athletic events has been as a volunteer.
Cass and his wife, Sue, married 48 years in August, will travel and continue with their various research projects (he's an avid historian and self-described "compiler," she's a volunteer naturalist). They'll also catch up on the time together at CU sporting events that was missed when he was dutifully stationed behind the mic.
In his resignation letter to Athletic Director Mike Bohn, Cass wrote: "There is no more avid Buff fan than my wife Sue and we both relish the thought that we will now be able to cheer on our beloved Buffs sitting 'shoulder to shoulder.' Thank you for the privilege the University has provided me the last half century and let me know what I can do to make the transition as seamless as possible."
The search for a replacement should be as deliberate, as thoughtful, as Cass was in his PA role, which began almost by accident when he was a CU student. Cass' father managed Macky Auditorium and provided the PA systems for on-campus athletic contests - baseball, football, basketball, wrestling . . . and more.
The younger Cass' task was to set up the equipment, and it later afforded him a seat besides the man who would become his mentor - A.B. Patterson, or "Father Pat," the Episcopalian chaplain on campus.
"He was a big hulk of a guy and had a great basso voice," Cass recalled. "He would bring Macky to its knees when he sang Ol' Man River . . . I had the easiest job in the world; I just had to crank that volume control about that far and that was it."
When Patterson got a call to officiate at a wedding or a funeral, presenting a conflict with a CU sporting event, he turned to Cass as his replacement. Cass had followed most sports, but wasn't a wrestling expert - and truth be known, no grappling devotee. (He still lists his most challenging announcing duty as the Junior World Wrestling Championships, held in Boulder in 1969. Pronunciation of the names of the Bulgarian and Romanian wrestlers had his tongue in a half-nelson.)
|Above: Cass (right) from his standard view at Folsom Field with son Casey, spotting for him to his left. Below: Alan with son Casey.
But when "Father Pat" was called elsewhere, his understudy leaped at the chance to announce anything.
"There was nobody else, so I just did it," Cass said. "It was baptism by fire from 'Father Pat.' He had a great sense of humor and was a great, great mentor. He got me interested in announcing track, baseball, football . . . everything."
Patterson announced all Buffs sports except football, which was the realm of Warner Imig, CU's late college of music dean. When Imig had a Saturday conflict, Cass stepped in there, too. He began announcing women's basketball in the Russell "Sox" Walseth era, ultimately passing that duty to Patterson.
Said Cass: "It was kind of returning the favor. He enjoyed that immensely through his final years, and the girls adored him. Things do go full circle; you have to be good to the people who were good to you. I never would have gotten into this had it not been for his generosity and his guidance."
As Cass began honing his PA skills, he tuned in to a pair of announcers he considered the best of their day as well as enduring models in the profession.
"In the early days of television, I was watching a lot of games coming out of New York City," Cass said. "Although I wasn't a Yankees fan, Bob Sheppard was the ultimate. You could hear him in the background - clear, distinct. And in games or fights from Madison Square Garden, the announcer was John Condon. He was the same way . . . no flair to either one of them - just clear, distinct and factual with the right pronunciations.
"It wasn't like today with the yelling and screaming, the disc jockey-type stuff. I think it annoys people, and it bothers me to some degree. Sometimes I know we get complaints of, 'You know, you're really not behind the team as much.' When I was working with the Broncos (1988-2007), I had a couple of people in administration tell me, 'Could you raise it up to another level?'"
Cass' reply was genuine and true to his roots: "I said, 'I've got a threshold and I'll raise it . . . but I'm not going to cross it, because that's not part of my character.' Father Pat always taught me that your role is always understated. People are not there to hear the PA announcer, you're just there to give information - and that's it."
In that vein, former CU Sports Information Director Mike Moran offered advice that will stick with Cass forever. After Cass, a stickler for perfection, corrected himself a couple of times during an event, Moran approached him and said, "Cass, let me give you a piece of advice: You've got to understand your audience. Half the people aren't listening to you and the other half doesn't give a (crap)."
|Colorado women's basketball's NCAA Tournament success in the 1990's made for some great memories for Cass (bottom right at table, hand raised).
Cass laughed at the time - and still does as he tells the story.
"I'll still correct myself from time to time, but I still have this picture of Mike Moran standing over me," he said. "And I'll think, you know, he's right. That goes to show you how unimportant your job really is.
"The athletes are the ones who are performing . . . I'm just there watching. After we got our butts beat by Nebraska (in football) all those years, I have to admit when we were finally beating them, my decibel level probably went up a bit when I was announcing the score - and I probably announced the score before the end of the game dozens of times more than I should have."
If Cass was immovable in his approach to PA work, masking his enthusiasm for the Buffs sometimes has been difficult. After one particular CU-Nebraska game, he received an 11 p.m. telephone call from a Huskers fan in Omaha who disapproved of his "CORN-huskers" call - the heavy emphasis being on the CORN.
Cass pointed out to the gentleman that his school's media guide offered a pair of nicknames - Cornhuskers or Bugeaters.
Asked Cass: "Which do you prefer?"
Click . . . the conversation was ended on the Omaha end, with no follow-up call.
Cass was the catalyst for several enduring cheers at Folsom Field. Folsom crowds in the early '90s quickly picked up on his recognition of "OoooCcccc Oliver . . . JaaaayJaaaay Flannigan . . . Eeee-Bieniemy." Basketball audiences in the late '80s appreciated his introduction of David Kuosman, with Cass deliberately elongating "Kooooosman" - all of which might be as close as Cass has come to crossing the threshold into showmanship
In his days in the Broncos press box, Cass unwittingly contributed to a refrain still popular at Invesco Field at Mile High. During a game at the old Mile High Stadium against Kansas City, the Broncos defense had all but handcuffed Chiefs quarterback Steve Bono. After one of Bono's myriad misfires, Cass announced, "In . . . com . . . plete."
|Cass' love for CU went beyond athletics, continuing a long association with historic Macky Auditorium and the legendary Glenn Miller.
The crowd picked up on it - then kept at it for the remainder of the game and the season. It has stayed with Broncos fans.
Cass has "no idea" about the number of athletic events he's seen or announced. But he knows what his involvement has meant to his family. His son, Casey, now a photographer for CU, helped him for awhile on Sundays as a spotter at Broncos games, providing "a great father-son thing," Cass said.
But for as much time as he's spent at sporting events, some of his best memories and proudest moments have been outside athletic venues. His long association with Macky Auditorium put him in close proximity with the entertainment world and world-class performers such as Marian Anderson; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Arthur Rubinstein, with whom Cass "talked baseball" as he chauffeured the renowned pianist.
|ALAN CASS' HIGHLIGHT REEL
Alan Cass has been the voice of Colorado athletics - and much more - since the mid-1960s. With his retirement imminent, he was asked to recall his most memorable moments as a Buffs fan, as well as behind the microphone:
- Sept. 27, 1952 - CU 21, Oklahoma 21 (OU's only blemish from 1948-57; I was 11 years old)
- Sept. 24, 1994 - "The Catch" & National Play of the Year. 64-yard pass from Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook (deflection in end zone off Blake Anderson) with 6 seconds remaining against Michigan in Ann Arbor. (Not there in person, but this was my favorite play of all time).
As Folsom Stadium Public Address Announcer
- Oct. 25, 1986 - CU 20, Nebraska 10. "The turning point game." NU ranked third nationally; Buffs' first win against the Cornhuskers since 1967.
- Nov. 4, 1989 - No. 2 CU 27, No. 3 Nebraska 21 to clinch Big Eight title.
- Nov. 19, 1994 - CU 41, Iowa St 20. Rashaan Salaam went over 2,000 yards rushing. Kordell Stewart became Big Eight's all-time offense leader. Head coach Bill McCartney retires.
- Nov. 23, 2001 - CU 62, No. 2 Nebraska 36. Most points ever against a Husker defense.
- Nov. 23, 2007 - CU 65, Nebraska 51. One of the wildest! Buffs behind 35-24 at halftime. CU scored 41 points in second half.
- Public Address Announcer for NCAA West Regional Tournaments in Denver in 1985, 1989 and 1996. A real thrill!
C.F. Alan Cass
University of Colorado Athletics
- Men's Varsity Basketball (1965 to present)
- Women's Varsity Basketball (1975-1984) (1985-present as standby)
- Football (1982 to present)
- Track & Field (1970-1990)
- Wrestling* (1964-1981)
- Baseball* (1965-1981)
- Special Dinners & functions for department
*currently an inactive intercollegiate sport
University of Colorado
- Commencement Announcer (1970 to present)
- Artist Series (2006 to present)
- Special functions
- Associated Alumni functions
- Telephone Services recorded announcements (voice over)
- Denver Broncos (NFL) (1988-thru 12/30/07 - retirement)
- Denver Gold (USFL) (1983-thru 1985)
- Denver Bears/Zephyrs AAA Baseball Asst. Announcer (1978-1990)
- Ice Follies & Holiday On Ice Shows (Voice Over 1980 season)
- Boulder/Baseline Collegians Baseball Club (1964-1979)
- West Regional Basketball Tournament at Denver, CO (1985, 1989, 1996)
- Junior World Wrestling Championships, Boulder, CO (1969)
- Colorado State High School Track Championships (1968-1978)
- Boulder vs. Fairview High School Basketball games at C.U. (1967-1998)
- C.U./City of Boulder 4th of July Master of Ceremonies (1969-1979)
- Boulder Carnegie Library history projects (voice-overs)
- City of Boulder Sesquicentennial promotional video voice-over
Portrait: Glenn Miller (Multi-media production)
- 1970 to present (Producer and presenter)
Then there is his tie with Glenn Miller, to whom Cass is related by marriage. Cass' grandmother was one of CU's first female graduates (1891). His mother, also a CU alumna who later was a housekeeper at Chi Omega sorority, and two older sisters "loved Miller's music . . . and I grew up knowing this famous bandleader was related to our family."
His mother corresponded with Miller's wife, Helen, after World War II, which further kindled Cass' interest in the bandleader. Later, when Cass became Assistant Director of CU's Memorial Center, he put together a display that depicted the lives of CU alums Glenn and Helen Miller.
Explained Cass: "In 1969, most students were unaware of the circumstances surrounding the naming of the UMC Glenn Miller Ballroom by students when the building opened. In the intervening years, the archive had grown into an internationally recognized forum for the preservation of Glenn Miller's music and the Big Band Era. This is, by far, my proudest accomplishment!" (For more on the archive, go to http://music.colorado.edu/departments/amrc/gma and click on "About the GMA.")
Cass was not graduated from CU, but since has received an honorary degree. He jokes now that academics were an interruption of his time spent at Macky or at athletic events, and that most of his college days were spent jumping from major to major - theater, history, geology, anthropology . . .
"I think I put fear into professors every time I walked into class because they knew this was a guy who wasn't going to go very far," he said. "My counselor at the time was in the journalism school - and that's one thing I didn't try. I think he was thankful for that."
Now, C.F. Alan Cass believes the time is right to sign off.
"I wanted it to be on my terms," he said. "I liken it to athletes, but I'm not saying I'm at the peak of my game, because I'm certainly not. But I don't want to have somebody to have to struggle and come to me sometimes and say, 'Well, Cass, have you ever thought about hanging it up? You're losing it here or there.'
"I want to recognize when I'm not as sharp as I should be. There are a lot of terrific voices out there - male and female - and I keep trying to encourage them to come do this. Every time I walk into a stadium or an arena, I think I've got the best seat in the house. I work with the best people in the world - all volunteers, and they do it because they enjoy it.
"I've had so much fun, it's time for somebody else to have just as much. My wife loves the games, and I want to sit next to Sue, shoulder to shoulder, and have my grandson in between us sometimes. I feel very blessed . . . it's been fun, it really has. I've been very fortunate."
Almost as fortunate as CU and the many lives he touched in nearly five decades of being heard and reluctantly seen - just the way he wanted it. Although the volume rarely went up, he came through loud, clear and with immeasurable class.