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Brothers in Black Bear broadcasting

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Rich Kimball and Bob Lucy enter 20th season calling UMaine football

ORONO On September 1, the University of Maine Black Bear football team will travel to Connecticut to take on the UConn Huskies.

Traveling with them will be Rich Kimball and Bob Lucy, two men who have spent the past two decades serving as the play-by-play and color analyst voices of Maine football. The 2016 season marks the 20th year for this pairing; they are the longest-running duo in the Colonial Athletic Conference and one of the longest-running in all of college football broadcasting.

They've been at it for a long time. And when you've been doing something like this for as long as they have, wellthere are plenty of stories to be told.

The three of us sat down recently for a conversation in the studio where Kimball broadcasts his drive-time radio show 'Downtown with Rich Kimball.' Over the course of the subsequent couple of hours, I was regaled with tales from the road and memories of Maine players past and present, as well as some talk of their pairing's origin story and more than a few stories that while hilarious and well-told are likely not suitable for print.

First on the docket how did this pairing originally come together?

'I was working at WZON at the time,' said Kimball. 'They had just gotten the broadcast rights to football after WABI had had them forever. Dale Duff approached me and asked if I was interested. I had done some high school football games, but always as the color guy this was a chance to do play-by-play.

'I asked who they had in mind to be the color analyst and they said Bob Lucy,' he continued. 'I liked Bob he was a good guy, smart and obviously knew the game, but I just didn't know if he'd be any fun to do the games with. If you're going to spend that much time with someone, car rides and flights and hotel rooms, wellthe football was a secondary concern.

'But from that first time that Bob got into the car, somebody cracked a joke and we started laughing and we haven't stopped since.'

Lucy's football background is an extensive one he grew up as a UMaine fan and played linebacker for the team in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He also spent a lengthy stretch as a coach at Orono High School, but he reached a point where he felt like he wanted to spend a bit more time with his growing family.

'When my third child was born, I decided I wanted to spend more time with my family over the course of the week and in the summertime,' Lucy said. 'So I resigned from my coaching position in 1996. I still wanted to stay close to the game, though, so when I got the call from Dale Duff asking if I wanted to be the color analyst, it didn't take me long to say yes.'

The thing is, Lucy wasn't an experienced broadcaster. In fact, he'd never done any broadcasting at all.

'I thought it would be fun,' he said. 'And I got to fill that football-shaped void. I figured that Rich was an experienced broadcaster and that I could learn a lot from him.'

He paused.

'I was wrong,' he said with a laugh aimed squarely at Kimball.

'I kid, of course,' he went on. 'I was nervous going into that first game, but Rich took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. I remember I asked him for some advice and he said Just tell everybody what you see. Tell them what you see and don't say we.' I've always remembered that.'

That first game was the start of a long friendship, one that has seen the two men grow from strangers thrust together in the name of sports broadcasting to close friends who spend almost as much time together off the job as they do on it.

And despite the relative disparity of their respective levels of experience, Kimball and Lucy seem to have hit the ground running.

'I think that was part of what was a pleasant surprise,' said Kimball. 'We got into a pretty good flow quickly. I think football is a game that really lends itself to it to a two-person booth; the roles are pretty clear - the play-by-play guy describes the action, the play ends and the color analyst steps in. We got into a pretty good rhythm pretty quickly.'

'We talked a lot about things that we wanted to do,' added Lucy. 'Whether it was during the game or pregame and postgame, we tried early on obviously to make sure we didn't step on one another. I think we learned very quickly that this is what Rich is going to know going in and this is what I know and so then we were able to kind of play off each other because we knew the types of things that we would prepare each week. I think that really helped us a lot.'

It's the degree of preparation the things that they know that makes Kimball and Lucy so good at what they do. From the very beginning, they've gotten into the habit of using their travel time to essentially quiz each other, each sharing their depth of knowledge about both UMaine's team and their opponents. And you never know when those sharing sessions are going to come in handy.

'The extent of Bob's research is legendary and I'm lucky enough that as we go over it all, if he mentions something to me, I'm pretty good at remembering some of the things he tosses out,' Kimball said. 'We find ways to incorporate that info into the games.'

'One thing about Rich is if I tell him something about a stat or player - some background information -he will remember,' Lucy said. 'And it's amazing how it unfolds; I remember one time I said Well, don't forget the free safety's mother was an Olympic gymnast.' I proceeded to forget about it myself.

'Well, in the fourth quarter, wouldn't you know it, the free safety jumps up and deflects a pass and without missing a beat, Rich says Well, it's not surprising, Bob, because his mother was quite an athlete, wasn't she?'

Over the course of a 20-year journey together, Kimball and Lucy have developed a remarkable ease with one another. The back-and-forth, give-and-take rhythm between them transcends the broadcast booth. The two share stories effortlessly, passing punchlines back and forth and each displaying a preternatural ability to know just when the other is finished speaking so that they can pick up the conversational baton.

Obviously, a lot of that springs from the continuity of their process. They've been together for over 200 game broadcasts 219 thus far, to be exact and are among just a handful of people to have watched every UMaine football game over the past 20 years. That leads to a lot of experiences, lots of teams and stadiums, lots of people and places. And lots and lots of stories.

I asked for some of their favorites. Here are some of the more printable ones.

'I would say that probably my favorite game was the McNeese State game when Maine won their first playoff game,' said Lucy. 'It was a night game in Lake Charles [Louisiana], we have this huge police escort (which was I think a first for us) to the stadium. That was a close game and Maine was able to finish the deal at the end with a great run by Royston English. To me that really was just such an exciting moment.

'We've had some great trips. Obviously, the win down at Mississippi State was huge. Nebraska when Maine was down by eight with about seven minutes to go, playing in front of 70,000 fans and then Montana'

'Montana was a great trip,' chimed in Kimball. 'The mountains, the stadium - we actually took a trip to Glacier National Park. We didn't realize it was four hours away, but we got there and we did a quick hike up. We're in the middle of the park and we hear these bells, this guy comes up just a-jingling. We asked what the bells were for, he said it was for the grizzly bears. Apparently, grizzly bears don't like to be surprised and the bells tell them you're coming.'

They both laughed.

'I said that I wasn't going to get a bell,' Kimball continued. 'I told him to go on ahead of us and he and his bell could surprise the bears and after he gets eaten, we'll keep going.'

(Note: this next anecdote could and possibly should have been cut for space, but frankly, I find it hilarious and fascinating, so it stays.)

'We've had some interesting experiences,' said Kimball. 'When we went to Mississippi State, we had some time and we decided to go to Tupelo, which is the birthplace of Elvis Presley. We went to the Elvis Presley birthplace museum; it's the one-room home that Elvis was born in.

'We had some time and so we went on the tour,' he continued. 'It's this little tiny one-room and there were maybe a dozen people. The woman was describing a bed, explaining that this is the very bed where Elvis and his twin brother Jesse were born back in 1935. And then there was this little noise - probably a squirrel or something that was in the fireplace - and she said that might be the King right there.

'We laughed because we thought it was funny, but the other people on the tour looked at us like we had just desecrated the King's memory. They really believed Elvis was there. It was really hammered home in the Elvis Presley chapel; all the stained-glass windows - no Jesus, no Mary - all the stained-glass windows are Elvis in prayer.

'Thank you very much.'

The two shared some thoughts about memorable wins over the course of their broadcasting tenure. The aforementioned playoff win against McNeese State came up, as did the Mississippi State victory UMaine's first over an FBS opponent. They also made mention of playoff wins over perennial power Appalachian State and a 49-47 triple-overtime thriller against UConn from their very first year together and numerous others as well.

They also talked about some of their favorite UMaine players from across the years.

'I think right away of Stephen Cooper,' said Lucy. 'Stephen Cooper did things we had never seen anybody do before from his linebacker position; things like completely jump over the offensive line and sack the quarterback or come off the edge in a blink of an eye and make a play.

'Another guy was Royston English. He was just a tremendous running back - a workhorse - and I'll never forget he put 179 yards rushing at Delaware and literally had the ball in his hands almost every play dragging four or five players for extra yards.'

'It has always been nice to get to know some of the players,' added Kimball. 'Justin Perillo was an excellent player. Jake Eaton was a great guy, one of those guys who was always accessible. The guys from Maine like Matt Mulligan, who has gone on to a long NFL career. Mike DeVito, unheralded out of Massachusetts; nobody wanted him but the Maine Black Bears and he went on to a lengthy NFL career thanks to an incredible work ethic.

'A lot of the quarterbacks were great fun to watch,' he continued. 'Mickey Fein was a great quarterback to watch. Ronnie Whitcomb had some great years for Maine. Warren Smith and his brief time; so much fun to watch. Oh, and Marcus Wasielewski easily one of my favorite Black Bears of all time.'

They went on, mentioning Maine football stars from every stretch of their era together. Jared Turcotte, Lofa Tatupu, all the way up to recent NFL draftee Trevor Bates.

'It's no surprise to us that Trevor Bates is likely going to be playing the National Football League this year,' Kimball said. 'We started saying somewhere around his sophomore year that this guy, he had the talent and he had the work ethic to take it to the next level.'

It has been a long and circuitous journey for Kimball and Lucy, one that has taken them all over the country. But even now, as they complete a second decade of broadcast teamwork, they're still gung-ho for the game.

'We're about ready to start our 20th year and I'm just as excited - if not more so - than I was that first year,' Lucy said. 'It just builds and builds over the offseason in the summer months. When you get to that first game, you're just really excited to get going.

'And it's fun. You know Rich has a great sense of humor. He is very professional, but he likes to have fun; there are times in a broadcast where I will just laugh almost uncontrollably about something he said in the broadcast.'

'In the booth, we do all kinds of things to keep it loose,' Kimball said. 'We sing to warm up before the games (Editor's note: this is 100 percent true I've seen it.). Yes, we've stopped head-butting each other, but we have a good time.

'Really, it depends on the game,' he continued. 'You don't ever want to take away from the game, but there are also some games where the score gets out of hand and the outcome is no longer in doubt. When that happens, we call it storytime.' That's when we go deep into [Lucy's legendarily research-laden] posterboard Let's talk about that running back from Villanova and his grandfather who oddly enough was a forest ranger who tangled with actual black bears.''

It's worth noting that while these two enjoy what they do, there's no disputing the amount of work they put forth each and every time out in order to ensure that they can do their jobs to the absolute best of their abilities.

'We have a good time so we almost forget the work that goes into it,' Kimball said. 'But there's a lot of preparation. I mean, I know the work and the preparation that I do and it's probably about a quarter of what Bob puts in. It becomes a full-time job in many ways during the course of the football season.

'You're giving up every single weekend from late August to late November - hopefully December if it's a playoff year - because even on those weeks when we're home and we get a noontime home game, we're at the stadium at nine and we probably don't leave until five, so it's all day. When it's a road trip, you leave mid-morning on Friday and you're lucky if you get back by two or three o'clock in the morning on Sunday so we give up a lot of time away from family.'

'We counted last year and we've been to 34 states as part of our journeys with Maine football,' said Lucy. 'Now, we didn't do a game in every one of those states, but with the flying and the driving from here to there and everywhere, we've seen an awful lot of the country.

'But it's worth it in the end,' he added. 'The payoff comes when you're in the booth calling the game and having a great time doing that.'

Doing something for 20 years is hard. Doing something for 20 years and maintaining the same passion for it that you had at the beginning is much harder. And yet, as Rich Kimball and Bob Lucy prepare for yet another season as the voices of UMaine football, there's no question that their love of the game is as strong as ever. There's no place they'd rather be than the Black Bear broadcast booth, and there's no one with whom either would rather be there than the other.

Here's to another two decades. Go Black Bears.

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