Boxes occupy Jim Hawthorne’s office, where the door number already bears the name of his successor: Chris Blair. Some are full. Others wait for the veteran broadcaster to fill with the contents of his desk.
Hawthorne hasn’t yet considered packing. That will come in March, he estimates, after the LSU basketball season and his 36-year career as Voice of the Tigers ends. For now, the cluttered office with bare walls and a desk full of mementos remains untouched.
He hasn’t been to the office since before Christmas. Hawthorne and his wife, Carol, spent a quiet holiday visiting Jim’s 91-year-old father, a World War II veteran who spent time in Australia and New Guinea in the Pacific theater. Father indulged son with memories of Australia, where Jim and Carol will travel April 8.
“It’s on our bucket list,” Hawthorne says. “Have time to do it now.”
Carol was a schoolteacher for 45 years. She retired four years ago.
“She’s told me how much she loves it, how glad she is she did it and why don’t I hurry up and do it,” Hawthorne laughs.
Starting after basketball season, Hawthorne — who got his start in radio as a country music disc jockey — will become a regular Grand Country Junction cast member, joining the Livingston Parish show that performs classic country on the third Saturday each month.
Hawthorne also is slated to host a classic country radio show on WTGE-FM, 100.7, each Sunday night after retirement, an ode to his beginning in the business.
“That’s why I got in radio,” he says. “So I could be around sports and music — those are my favorite two things. When I was a kid growing up, I listened to music on the radio but I couldn’t afford records. So being able to work at the radio station and have access to the music — I could play it myself — was one of the things that attracted me to being in radio.”
Hawthorne’s careful not to be in such a hurry. Husband and wife made the four-hour drive to Houston together Monday for Hawthorne’s final LSU football broadcast in the Texas Bowl, arriving at 2:30 p.m. in the Hyatt Regency.
It’s when the two make the drive back, on the desolate stretches of Interstate 10, where he says his mind begins to wander, that Hawthorne surmises he’ll reflect on his career.
But now isn’t the time. Hawthorne can’t ever recall LSU playing as fast an offense as Texas Tech’s, one so quick that he’s worried longtime color analyst Doug Moreau won’t have time to give insight between plays. Hawthorne says there has been talk of new LSU schematics to stifle such speed.
“We don’t know that, but we have to be alert,” he adds. “Right now, it’s the bowl game. It’s the game I’ve got to go do. When it’s over, I don’t know what my thought is going to be.”
Including Tuesday night’s call, Hawthorne has broadcast 389 football games. Dating to 1982, 380 were uninterrupted, not missing a game until his Oct. 30 quadruple bypass surgery.
Memories of those games only come to mind when explicitly mentioned. Hawthorne has called so many games while witnessing as many players and moments that he has understandably scrambled specifics, though he mentions Odell Beckham Jr.’s 2013 missed field-goal return for a touchdown against UAB.
“My goodness, what an incredible play,” he says. “Some of the runs that the backs made, the catches that were made. Not to win a game, the last play of the game or anything, just in the game. There’s just been so many.”
More could come. In passing, he references Texas Tech’s woeful run defense — one of the worst in the nation. Star sophomore Leonard Fournette could run for 300 yards, he says.
Hawthorne’s focus never wavers from the Red Raiders. He pours through his “reads packet,” a laminated stack of highlighted scripts to be read during the broadcast. He already has been to the fifth floor of the athletic administrations building.
“The computer is ready, the spots are done, the interviews are in there, the logs are done,” Hawthorne says.
“Here’s the stuff I’m going to load up in my briefcase,” he says, slamming game notes and depth charts onto that desk still full of relics. “That’s the way it is right now. The next thing I think about is driving over there.”
Hawthorne suddenly opens the top drawer.
He pulls out an opened letter, where a large crimson “A” once sealed the envelope. Former LSU coach Nick Saban sent him a note from Tuscaloosa about two weeks ago, offering his congratulations on retirement and support in Hawthorne’s continued medical recovery.
Former coach Mike Archer also has called. Les Miles turned Hawthorne’s final football coaches show into a playful hour of holiday banter between the two
“Those are relationships that just are special,” Hawthorne says of the seven football coaches he has worked with. “I’ve had a wonderful relationship with all of them. I didn’t expect anything. ... It’s been very humbling and overwhelming.”