On the busiest day of one of the busiest weeks of Joe Starkey’s broadcaster life, his partner in the booth, former Cal quarterback Mike Pawlawski, quipped, “Not every day’s a Joe Starkey Day.”
Said Starkey: “Thank God.”
Starkey, working his 550th and final Cal football game over 48 seasons, held it together pretty well Friday afternoon. Cal couldn’t send him off with a victory — 18th-ranked UCLA won 35-28 — but the 81-year-old voice of the Bears mostly kept his emotions at bay while delivering a professional performance in his final act.
His voice cracked and his eyes welled up when he closed his post-game radio show by thanking Diane, his wife of 56 years, and their three sons.
“It’s tough to say goodbye,” Starkey said. “It’s been a remarkable gift to have this seat in this city.”
Best known for his frenzied call of The Play in the 1982 Big Game against rival Stanford, Starkey has been behind the mic for Cal since 1975 — when the late iconic Joe Roth was a junior quarterback and one year before current Bears coach Justin Wilcox was born.
His remarkable career — which also included two decades as play-by-play man for the 49ers during the peak of their reign — prompted wall-to-wall media attention the past couple weeks.
On Friday, as the team ended a 4-8 season, Cal and its fans showered Starkey with praise. In the video below, Starkey calls his final Cal offensive snap, then reacts after freshman running back Jaydn Ott fumbled the ball away.
Even two hours before kickoff in the radio booth that was named in his honor six years ago, this was definitely unlike most games. The cubicle was decorated with streamers and blue and gold balloons and a retirement cake greeted him.
He had friends and family at Memorial Stadium for the occasion, and Starkey had to make sure everyone’s tickets were set. He got a stream of well-wishers beforehand, and had cameras focused on him before, during and after the game.
“Can’t I just broadcast a football game?” Starkey asked at one point before kickoff. He was kidding. Mostly.
Cal honored him by having him on the field for the pre-game coin flip — which he lost.
“What a thrill — in 48 years that was the first time I’ve ever been on the field before the game,” Starkey said. “It was awesome.”
The tributes never ceased.
Cal ran on-air and in-stadium video messages throughout the game from the likes of Troy Taylor, Bob Melvin and Tim Roye, among others. At halftime, Starkey was honored with the Chancellor’s Citation from Carol T. Christ.
One Old Blue in the stands waved a sign that read: “Joe Starkey: What a Bonanza!” a reference to his trademark saying.
Even fans watching from Tightwad Hill above Memorial Stadium showed their appreciation with a “Thanks, Joe” banner. When Starkey acknowledged the tribute, a half-dozen fans on the hill waved back.
Diane Starkey said she’s looking forward to having her husband around on Saturdays next fall. She knows it will be difficult for Joe.
“Oh, he’s going to miss it,” she said. “When next season comes and he’s not getting ready for the games, it’s not going to be fun. He’s going to be a sad man, because he loves it. He loves the environment and he loves Cal.”
Starkey had no argument. “I think I’ll be OK until sometime next summer,” he said.
On Friday, he all smiles as the Cal community saluted him.
“A lot of love out there for you, Joe,” Pawlawski said.
“Believe me,” Starkey said, “I’m honored beyond belief.”
Cover photo of Joe Starkey, second from right, during Friday's Cal broadcast.
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo