When he isn’t on the radio calling LSU games, the “Voice of the Tigers” tries to do a lot of listening.
“I don’t talk a lot when I’m not on the air,” LSU radio play-by-play announcer Chris Blair said. “My grandfather always told me to listen twice as much as you talk. I get plenty of talk in at the games.”
On this particular Friday, though, Blair is talking, sitting in a studio in the LSU athletic administration building surrounded by some of the electronic gadgetry that puts the LSU Sports Radio Network on the air.
Talking about his fourth football season at LSU that’s about to begin.
The child of a broadcasting family — the Blairs owned a TV and radio station in Eastern Kentucky — Chris worked on the broadcast crew at Clemson and at Lander University before getting into high school football play-by-play.
That then led to 10 seasons as the voice of the Georgia Southern Eagles, LSU’s season-opening opponent at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.
“When the game was announced I was looking forward to doing a game at legendary Tiger Stadium,” said Blair, who has never seen a game here from anywhere besides the radio booth. “I had no idea it would be the other way around.”
Blair said the Eagles, who play in the Sun Belt Conference, embrace their underdog, “Do more with less” roots. He said when the program was revived in the early 1980s by legendary coach Erk Russell, a five-sport letterwinner and later assistant coach at Auburn, he asked Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant if the Eagles could have some of the Crimson Tide’s used uniforms and gear. Russell’s famous quote from those days was, “At Georgia Southern, we don’t cheat. That costs money and we don’t have any.”
“That’s why they have plain uniforms,” Blair said. “They look like Alabama because they got their old blue practice jerseys. That was almost 40 years ago, but it’s the mentality they still have.”
Georgia Southern has certainly made it work. The Eagles won six Division I-AA/FCS national titles between 1985-2000 and transitioned to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in 2014, though not before shocking Florida 26-20 in 2013 in Gainesville. Current Tulane coach Willie Fritz led the Eagles to the Sun Belt title in 2014 and Georgia Southern went 10-3 last season under now second-year coach Chad Lunsford.
Lunsford was a Georgia Southern assistant when Blair was there. The Eagles have been running versions of the triple option most years since the early 1980s, a spread with option principles installed under Fritz that Lunsford has retained.
Blair said it will be good that LSU has had extra time in camp to prepare defensively for the Eagles’ shifty offense.
“You can’t be fooled by all the motions and receiver sets,” he said. “You have to know where the football is.
“It comes down to assignment football. You can’t cheat. Speed helps, but you have to follow your keys.”
As for LSU’s offense, Blair said he’s seen the scrimmages and practices and vows that the Tigers will indeed be going up tempo most of the time this season.
“When they go, they go,” Blair said. “I told Doug (Moreau), ‘Sometimes between plays I don’t know when you and I will have time to talk.’ ”
For those who follow such things, Blair said the entire radio crew will be back this season. He will be in the booth alongside Moreau, the former LSU All-American and long-time color commentator, while former Tiger Gordy Rush reprises his role as sideline reporter. The crew will even be the same, right down to the engineers and spotter Jim Nickel’s purple and gold spotter sticks fashioned for him by LSU trainer and baseball bat maker Jack Marucci.
Blair – who handles well over 100 broadcasts a year between football, men’s basketball, baseball and weekly coaches shows – said he doesn’t worry about trying to please every single listener with his call or his style. Though certainly not a native, he feels accepted by LSU fans in his time in Louisiana.
“People here have been very nice,” Blair said. “A certain percentage are going to like what you do, a certain percentage can take or leave it and a certain percentage won’t. If you go into it thinking you have to convince everyone they have to like you, you’re probably doing it wrong.”
Following in the footsteps of such beloved announcers as J.C. Politz, John Ferguson and Jim Hawthorne, Blair said he is well aware of the responsibility of his role in the fabric of LSU sports. A responsibility he said Georgia Southern helped prepare him for.
“I was asked when I took the job here how it was going to be following a legend like Jim Hawthorne,” Blair said, “the demands this job has and the passion of the people who follow LSU 24 hours a day.
“Georgia Southern helped me prepare for that on a much larger scale. It has 65,000 alumni in Georgia. Everywhere you go in Georgia you run into Georgia Southern folks. You’re going to see a lot of blue and white here, probably starting on Thursday.
“The passion is there and it’s important to them.”