The Tess Effect: A study of Joe Tessitore's magic spell over the world of college football; Punt, Pass & Pork
Joe Tessitore, master and possibly creator of tight, multi-overtime games, has just been reminded of a 42–13 game he called in 2014. "Missouri-Florida!" the ESPN play-by-play man yells. "Missouri-Florida!" Tessitore then rattles off the relevant stats: Missouri gained a measly 119 yards on offense but returned a kickoff, a punt, a fumble and an interception for a touchdown and won by 29.
"See, that's the thing," Tessitore says. "It's not just the zaniness. It's how you almost can't produce the outcome with what you know to be football common sense."
That is indeed the thing with Tessitore. It's not the overtimes. It's not the crazy finishes. It's that games he calls often ignore the basic rules of gridiron math. For example, Arkansas led TCU 20–7 Saturday when the Razorbacks lined up on first and goal from the TCU 2-yard line with 13:04 remaining in regulation. So how did the game go to overtime tied at 28 and end 41–38 in double OT? The Tess Effect, that's how.
- First, the Razorbacks were denied three times by the TCU defense and then doinked a chip shot field goal attempt off an upright.
- Then TCU scored three consecutive fourth-quarter touchdowns. After the last one, which put the Horned Frogs up seven, two things happened. TCU quarterback Kenny Hill, who scored on the five-yard run, made a throat slash gesture. That drew a flag and a 15-yard penalty that would force the Frogs to kick off from the 20. Next, TCU coach Gary Patterson opted against pulling a Tracy Claeys and kicked the extra point. This seemed perfectly logical, because even if Arkansas could drive the length of the field, the Razorbacks still would have to convert a two-pointer to send the game to overtime.
- Of course the Razorbacks drove the length of the—shortened (thanks to the penalty on Hill)—field.
- Then this happened. Enjoy the Russian broadcast in the clip below. If the Russian I picked up from watching Yakov Smirnoff guest star on Night Court is correct, that call translates to this: "IN SOVIET RUSSIA, WIDE RECEIVER THROWS TWO-POINT CONVERSION TO QUARTERBACK." Then a TCU touchdown was called back because the receiver had stepped out of bounds before catching the ball.
- Then an Arkansas offensive tackle blocked a 28-field goal attempt that would have given TCU the win.
- Then came two overtime periods.
We first noticed the Tess Effect back in 2010 when he called Nevada's upset of then-undefeated Boise State on Black Friday. While still working with Rod Gilmore on Friday nights in 2011, Tessitore sprinkled more magic dust on the Baylor-TCU season opener. I walked into the press box at Iowa State for the Cyclones' matchup with Oklahoma State on Nov. 18, 2011 and Tessitore was the first person I saw. By the end of the night, the field had been stormed and an upset for the ages had sprinkled the seeds of what would become the College Football Playoff. The next night, Tessitore called Robert Griffin III's touchdown pass to Terrance Williams with eight seconds remaining to lift Baylor to a 45–38 win against Oklahoma. It was just another weekend for Tess, who went on to call a four-overtime classic between Penn State and Michigan in 2013 and last season's mindbender between Oregon and Arizona State. "That game was the closest thing to broadcasting Arena football that I've done," Tessitore says. "That game was out of control."
But something has changed this season. The Tess Effect has been intensified. Arkansas-TCU contained enough crazy for a broadcaster's entire season, but it came only six days after Tessitore called another classic in Austin. At one point, Texas led Notre Dame 31–14. Somehow, it went to overtime tied at 37. That happened because Notre Dame's Shaun Crawford returned a blocked extra point 98 yards for a safety. Then Texas won in two overtimes.
Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via AP
I crunched some numbers in an attempt to quantify the Tess Effect. In an attempt to control for a variable, I began my research in 2012 when ESPN moved Tessitore from Friday games to Saturday games. Friday is wild in its own right, and I didn't want any confusion between the Friday Effect and the Tess Effect. Then I decided to compare Tessitore's numbers to the numbers of a broadcaster with a reputation for bringing drama wherever he goes.
Yes, I compared Tessitore to (Uncle) Verne Lundquist, the man who called Jackie Smith's drop in Super Bowl XIII (on radio) in 1979, Jack's win at Augusta in '86 and the Kick Six in 2013.
Since 2012, the median point differential in 60 games called by Tessitore is 10. That's pretty low, especially considering he's called quite a few blowouts. The difference between Tessitore and the average play-by-play announcer is that even his blowouts are interesting. You read about 2014 Missouri-Florida. Remember 2013 Texas-BYU, when the Cougars ran for so many yards that then-Longhorns coach Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz the next day?
So how does that stack up against Verne? In 66 games—including Army-Navy games and Sun Bowls—since 2012, Lundquist's median score differential is 14 points. Where things really get interesting is overtime. From '12 to now, Verne has called four overtime games. This includes one doozy—the '14 Alabama-LSU game that needed some voodoo to go from LSU inside the 10 and ready to ice the game to Alabama winning in overtime after opening the period with a 24-yard pass to a 300-pound offensive tackle moonlighting as a tight end. But none of those four overtime games has gone into a second overtime period. During the same span, Tessitore has called six overtime games and provided an average 2.3 overtime periods in each of those games.
Both games Tessitore has called this season have gone two overtimes and bent the mathematical rules of football, so this requires a new question: Is something amplifying the Tess Effect? Tessitore has a theory. This season, ESPN moved Tessitore into a primetime slot. Instead of having three jobs as he did last season—calling games on Thursdays and hosting the SEC Network's SEC Nation and ESPN's College Football Final—he has only one. Make magic happen. In this endeavor, he is teamed with analyst Todd Blackledge and sideline reporter Holly Rowe. Prior to the Notre Dame-Texas game, that trio had worked together only once before. That was at the LSU-Florida game in 2010, when this happened:
Later that season, Tessitore and Blackledge were paired to call the 3D broadcast (Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit had the main call) of the BCS title game between Auburn and Oregon. That's when this happened:
"It's all coming together now," Tessitore says. "It's some kind of chemical thing."
Tessitore has an alternate theory about the Tess Effect. Though he doesn't quite put it this way, it sounds a little like the central theme of The Neverending Story. In the film and in the book that inspired it, the health of the mythical world of Fantasia depends on how deeply human children believe in their dreams and their imagination. Only with the Tess Effect, it's not children reading books but college football fans glued to their social media accounts. "If you look at the Twitter timeline, I think it often matches up with the moment of the flipping of the script or the moment of the surge toward wackiness," Tessitore says.
He may have a point here…
This, of course, led to a side discussion that probably also boosted the Tess Effect.
Tess should hire himself out to liven up other, more mundane events.— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) September 11, 2016
You’re standing at the altar, waiting for the bride to make her way down the aisle. Then you see him, sitting in the corner:— Ryan Nanni (@celebrityhottub) September 11, 2016
Tessitore swears the rest of his life isn't nearly as interesting as the games he calls. He's either at home in Connecticut studying up for his next game, planning a fabulous meal with his wife Rebecca or out at practice watching his son John, a punter who graduates high school in 2018. Cars do not explode behind Tessitore when he walks down the street. Eagles do not land on his shoulder. The earth does not open under his feet. He's just a regular guy who happens to create the best kind of chaos when he steps into a broadcast booth.
A random ranking
I promised reader Chris Patton that I would get to this topic, but I'm getting to it a week late because we had to memorialize the late, great Gene Wilder last week. Here is what Chris requested.
Your wish is my command.
1. Bobby "The Brain" Heenan
2. Jimmy "The Mouth of the South" Hart
3. Captain Lou Albano
4. Jim Cornette
5. Paul Heyman
6. Classy Freddy Blassie
7. Mr. Fuji
8. Paul Bearer
10. Miss Elizabeth
1. Alabama (2–0)
Here's what Nick Saban said after Saturday's game: "I don't know that I've ever been this disappointed after winning a game, maybe ever." Alabama had just won 38–10 against Western Kentucky, one of the nation's better mid-major teams. So yes, the standard is a little different in Tuscaloosa.
2. Florida State (2–0)
The Seminoles had no trouble with shorthanded Charleston Southern, but the real challenge comes Saturday at Louisville. Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson is putting up Cam Newton/Johnny Football numbers against inferior competition. If he can do the same against the Seminoles, Louisville could wind up taking Florida State's place here. If the Seminoles can contain Jackson, it might vault Florida State to No. 1 on this list. That might be tougher if the Seminoles are without safety Derwin James, who left Saturday's win with a knee injury.
3. Michigan (2–0)
This is a quote from UCF coach Scott Frost after facing Michigan on Saturday: "It's hard to say when the score is what it is, but we came in here and outhit those guys today. Standing on the sideline, there was no doubt who was hitting harder." Um, Michigan won 51–14. Frost is correct that Michigan had trouble running against the Knights' defense, but the Wolverines had little trouble completing passes or blocking punts and field goals. The Wolverines should get a bigger challenge Saturday from a much improved Colorado.
4. Stanford (1–0)
The Cardinal had the week off, but they start a long slog this week with USC. The Trojans bounced back from getting creamed by Alabama with a 45–7 win against Utah State, but this will be USC's first real chance to prove it is better than what it showed against the Crimson Tide.
Big Ugly of the Week
Unless the team is practicing kicking field goals, offensive linemen usually have to spend the special teams periods working on pass protection or run blocking. Arkansas offensive tackle Dan Skipper apparently gets the occasional break from that. The 6' 10" left tackle saved the Razorbacks' bacon Saturday at TCU when he blocked Ryan Graf's 28-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation.
1. Apparently nothing can be done to change the result, but the leagues whose officials botched the end of the Central Michigan-Oklahoma State game have suspended the crews involved. The MAC suspended the on-field crew for two games. The Big 12, meanwhile, suspended the two-person replay crew for two games.
The crew incorrectly gave Central Michigan an untimed down after Oklahoma State was called for intentional grounding as time expired. The result was this play and a 30-27 win for the Chippewas.
2. Fox Sports rules expert Mike Pereira was all over the error immediately.
3. Cowboys coach Mike Gundy released a statement Sunday acknowledging that Oklahoma State could have easily avoided that situation with different playcalling. Though it doesn't absolve the officials for jobbing the Cowboys out of a win, none of this happens if Oklahoma State—up three—sends quarterback Mason Rudolph sprinting toward his own end zone to run out the clock. Or Oklahoma State could have punted and played defense. Either solution would have avoided a grounding penalty. Of course, shouldn't have had to worry about a grounding penalty because THE RULE SAYS YOU CAN'T EXTEND THE GAME ON AN OFFENSIVE PENALTY WITH A LOSS OF DOWN.
Here's Gundy's statement:
"I'm disappointed in myself that I called a play that could have been interpreted as intentional grounding. That play has been in our playbook for 12 years now and intentional grounding and an untimed down after the last play of the game never even crossed my mind. Of course in hindsight, I wish I would have done it differently, but in the big picture, the game should have been over. While I'm disappointed in myself, I am also disappointed that we had 10 rules officials who didn't properly apply the rule. I give credit to Central Michigan for coming up with a great play and executing it as well as they did.
"My reason for reaching out to you with this statement is this—we have another game on Saturday and letting the end of the Central Michigan game linger into this week would not help our team in any way. I want this to be our final official comment on the end of the Central Michigan game, so we can close the book on it and move forward to Pittsburgh. In our program, we talk all the time about controlling the things we can control and not getting caught up in the things we can't control. We can control how we focus on and prepare for Pittsburgh. We can't control the decisions that were made Saturday, so I do not believe it benefits our coaches or players to dwell on them and re-hash them beyond what we already did during post-game interviews, the comments that our athletic director made yesterday and now with this statement from me today."
4. Former Baylor coach Art Briles gave an interview to ESPN's Tom Rinaldi as Briles begins his Hire Me For 2017 Tour. My guess is that no Power Five athletic director or school president will be able to hire Briles without somehow finding out exactly what led to his ouster at Baylor. The fear of the unknown—for people whose jobs involve a lot of risk assessment—would seem to eliminate the possibility of hiring Briles unless that information can be procured. But in the lower-scrutiny world of the Group of Five and the FCS, someone probably will try to hire Briles.
5. Back on the field, Arizona State's Kallen Ballage tied an FBS record by scoring eight touchdowns in the Sun Devils' 68–55 win against Texas Tech. So here's your Ballage Montage.
6. Purdue transfer Danny Etling replaced Brandon Harris in LSU's 34–13 win against Jacksonville State. The offense looked more in rhythm with Etling at the helm. But before anyone gets too excited, here's Ross Dellenger of The (Baton Rouge, La.) Advocate with a reminder of what it looked like when Harris replaced Anthony Jennings during a 2014 win against New Mexico State.
7. Here's a reminder from LSU cornerback Tre'Davious White that sometimes you have to run a little farther to get where you want to go.
8. Congratulations to San Diego State tailback Donnell Pumphrey, who broke Marshall Faulk's school record for career rushing yards during the Aztecs' 45–40 win against Cal.
9. Pro tip: When facing third-and-36, just throw it to your Olympic hurdler. Wait. Oregon's Devon Allen is the only Olympic hurdler playing college football? Oh. Sorry, all non-Oregon teams.
10. At Arkansas, overtime heroics are apparently in the genes.
What's eating Andy?
Thanks, Apple, for having the "courage" to eliminate the headphone jack from the iPhone 7. Now I'm going to invest in duct tape to keep my iPhone 6 running for as long as possible so I can use my 140-year-old technology that still works better than anything anyone has built recently.
What's Andy eating?
Parenthood doesn't change your tastebuds, but it does altar some of your notions about certain restaurants. For example, I turned my nose up at Little Caesars in my youth. I was a snob with regard to chain pizza in general, and Little Caesars lived pretty far down the chain pizza totem pole. A few years ago, when Little Caesars altered its business plan to have pepperoni pies ready for people who wanted a $5 pizza RIGHT NOW, it barely registered.
Then I had kids.
There have been days when that $5 Hot 'N' Ready pizza has saved my sanity. When a couple of elementary schoolers have events in different parts of town and I have exactly five minutes to figure out how to feed them, I don't worry about artisanal anything. They certainly aren't. So I buy the Hot 'N' Ready. They eat it. I swipe a slice or two. They're no longer ready to throw a temper tantrum at the slightest provocation. Neither am I. We all win.
When I'm trying new restaurants, I tend to look at them now through that parental lens. At this point in my life, the trendy place with two stools and the surly bartender seems a lot less attractive than the place that offers the kids free Push Pops. But rarely do such places serve the best food. So what if there was a place that catered to parents with children and served great food? That would be ideal. It turns out that place exists in Gainesville, Fla. It's called One Love Cafe.
One Love's concept isn't possible in New York or San Francisco because no restaurateur could afford the space. But it can exist where real estate prices are reasonable, and every smaller town should have a place like this. One Love sits on the back edge of a huge open field. Only the bar, the cash register and a few tables are in the building. The other tables sit on a huge covered patio equipped with misting fans to combat the swampy heat, which is usually about 92 degrees with 1,000 percent humidity. Beyond that is a fire pit and more tables that probably get a lot more use when the temperature cools. In the field is a giant sandbox, a cornhole area and a tetherball pole. The kids immediately run to the field. The parents who aren't driving run to the bar, where they can pick from a rotating selection of local craft beer.
While the kids play, the adults can order their food and converse with other adults. They don't have to worry about losing track of their offspring because the entire field is visible from the tables on the patio.
The star of the menu is the grilled PB&J with bacon. It's house-made peanut butter and strawberry jam with strips of bacon on grilled ciabatta. I've had a peanut butter and jelly burger before at Slater's 50/50 in Orange County, Calif., so I wasn't surprised at how well the flavors mixed. The peanut butter isn't Jif, so it isn't too sweet or too salty. If it had been, that might have upset the balance. Instead, the jam provided the sweetness and the bacon provided the saltiness. The baked beets and the mac and cheese were the best sides, but save some room.
You'll want a slice of the chocolate cake with chocolate and peanut butter icing. In fact, this might be the only dish that gets the kids to come back to the table from their game of kickball or tag. But when they're done, they'll head right back. And the grown-ups can talk. And everyone can go home full and happy.