Public address announcer relishes role behind the curtain

2011-09-17T21:00:00Z 2011-09-21T20:25:10Z Public address announcer relishes role behind the curtainBy MITCH SMITH / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
September 17, 2011 9:00 pm  • 

The game was only 34 seconds in, and Patrick Combs' voice already had a workout.

Set up after a long Taylor Martinez pass on their first offensive play, the Huskers took the lead on a short catch by the fullback.

"Martinez pass complete to No. 48 Tyler Legate," Combs said with his voice rising. "Legate scoring for the Huskers."

Almost on cue, balloons rise into the air, and the 85,110 fans crowded into Memorial Stadium began screaming. For them, Combs is the game's narrator.

But the early touchdown wasn't the beginning of the public address announcer's day. Far from it.

Combs arrived at the stadium five hours earlier, where he went over the 18-page script of ads and promotions. Next was a meeting with the Washington media-relations staff, who helped him navigate a roster filled with tongue-twisters like Princeton Fuimaono and Lawrence Lagafuaina.

Then, as the stadium started coming to life, Combs looked over the script again -- page after page of kickoff kids and corporate partners and fans of the game.

But 60 minutes before the coin toss, Combs became attached to his seat behind a door that reads "Public Address Command Center."

Inside the command center, Combs and 11 others spent the game listening to their headset and peering through binoculars.

Sandwiched between two spotters, Combs sat with a numerical and two-deep roster of each team taped to his desk. His cellphone, binocular case and a bottle of water were the only other items in his workspace.

Down after down and drive after drive, Combs pressed a button, watched a red light blink on and relayed what happened to a crowd with as many people as the city of Duluth, Minn.

The former talk radio host got the job nine years ago, but started dreaming about it decades earlier as a teenage Coke vendor in Memorial Stadium's bleachers. His dad announced equestrian events, and Combs filled in for him occasionally as a teen.

Everyone, he said, encouraged him to become an announcer.

That led the Lincoln native with the smooth, deep voice to his chair on the 30-yard line. Combs stayed at that chair until the final play, unless the marching band -- which has its own announcer -- performs.

As exciting as the job is, Combs said it comes with its own pressures. One voice crack, hiccup, botched name or stutter immediately is heard by thousands. That's why he spends hours poring over Nebraska's roster. Nothing, he said, is worse than messing up the name of someone on the home team.

Ola Dagunduro, Prince Amukamara and Ndamukong Suh are among the linguistic challenges Combs has faced over the years. During Suh's first year on campus, someone told Combs the "N" in Ndamukong was silent. He later found out otherwise, and added an "En-" sound to Suh's first name.

This year's Nebraska roster, with last names like Mitchell and Cotton and Turner, is a bit gentler on the tongue.

Despite being the in-stadium voice of the Huskers, Combs is not the face of the team. He said he aims to be part of the gameday ambience, but not a superstar in his own right. If people recognize him in public, they do only after he opens his mouth.

Combs also has to temper his emotions to create an even tone. The NCAA doesn't want cheerleaders, and also doesn't want a running commentary.

"Braylon Heard is carrying the ball. Ooommmph. Pancaked by No. 53," Combs said Saturday with his microphone off.

One second later and one octave lower, he pressed his magic button and calmly said, "Braylon Heard on the carry, stopped by No. 53 Garrett Gilliland."

Reach Mitch Smith at 402-473-2655 or msmith@journalstar.com.

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