There were mere hours between the end of the 49ers-Rams game on Sept. 12 and the time when broadcaster Kevin Harlan was due to fly out of San Francisco.
Harlan made his 5 a.m. flight in plenty of time and turned off his phone as he settled in for his flight to O’Hare Airport in Chicago.
While he was in the air, many people were listening to his hilarious call of a fan running on the field during the game. When he landed in Chicago, Harlan turned on his phone and saw that he had more than 100 text messages.
“I just went oooh, that cannot be good,” Harlan recalled. “At first, I wasn’t really sure what was going on. First one I read was, ‘Loved your call; laughed so hard.’ And I thought, ‘Well, what call is it? A touchdown call?’ Then I read another one and it was: ‘The guy running on the field, that was hilarious.’
“I go, ‘That’s what this is all about?’ Then I read a third and the phone rang and it was the Dan Patrick Show. It was just before they were signing off and the producer was like, ‘Can we get you on really quick with Dan to talk about your call last night.’
“I said, ‘Yeah, but are there any issues?’ He goes, ‘No, no, no. It was great, we’ve been playing it all morning.’ So I said OK.”
Indeed, it really was OK. The call of a fan running on the field during the 49ers’ 28-0 win over the Rams went viral, because it was so funny.
Let’s rewind to the night of the game. It was a dreadful affair, full of punts and futility. In the fourth quarter, the fan ran on the field and Harlan made his call.
After the final gun, he was driving back to his hotel with other members of the announcing team and heard about 10 seconds of the call and dismissed it — until his phone blew up the next morning in Chicago.
Harlan, who has a home in Wisconsin in addition to one in Mission Hills, hadn’t even heard the entirety of his call until he landed in Green Bay, Wis., and he found it online.
“I just had to see, What did I say? What did I say?” Harlan recalled. “I saw it and I thought, OK, I guess I didn’t offend anybody.”
Once he saw that his call was on NFL.com, Harlan realized that the league wouldn’t have any objection. He said this call’s popularity is in part because of social media.
“The LeBron James dunk* a handful of years ago got a lot of notoriety and back in the 90s when I was with ESPN there was a rabbit that came on the field in the Michigan-Purdue game**,” Harlan said. “But there was not really social media then, but a lot of newspapers picked it up and TV stations.”
* That call:“LeBron James with no regard for human life!” It came on James’ dunk in the 2008 playoffs over Kevin Garnett.
**Here is the rabbit scoring a touchdown
Harlan said that had he been doing the call on TV, he never would have made the call, because the camera didn’t follow the fan. But on radio, it was the perfect opportunity.
“The kid ran right through the formation,” Harlan said. “I was setting up the formation, so it was like he was part of the play and he was doing stuff during his romp around the field that was describable. He was running, he ran through the play, he was running on the different yard lines, he was pulling up his shirt and trying to take it off and pounding his chest and waving his arms and reversing field and he doing describable stuff.”
While his superiors at CBS, Westwood One and Turner have all said encouraging things to Harlan, he remains somewhat embarrassed by the attention gained from the call.
“You’re not really in it to do that,” Harlan said. “You’re not in the business to have those kinds of things. You have the Al Michaels’ deal (in the 1980 Winter Olympics) and you’ve got some great, great calls. This was just goofing around. It was just kind a sidelight. This doesn’t approach some of the great sports calls, Masters made-putts or whatever, that we’ve heard over the years.
“That’s what you’re in the business for: to hopefully be in a big moment, a big event, and call it in a way that does not intrude but at least adds to the moment. ...
“This was just a sidelight kind of thing that happened that I’m sure I’ll never do again. It was the intersection of a boring game and fourth quarter and we’re trying to keep ourselves awake.”