Play by play broadcasters are just like the rest of us when a game goes long: They get hungry and thirsty.
Of course, the men and women who call the action don’t have the luxury of heading to the refrigerator during play to fuel up when a game heads into overtime, extra innings or sudden death. They also have to take account of what goes into their body and how it will affect their voice — and other parts of their body.
A sports broadcaster well versed on games going long is Kenny Albert, who works for multiple networks (Fox, NBC, MSG), calls multiple sports, and hails from famous stock (Marv Albert is his father). He broke down his game plan for SI.com for each of the sports he calls:
Baseball: “The longest game I’ve ever worked was a 20-inning affair between the Mets and Cardinals in St. Louis in April, 2010 (with Tim McCarver). All I remember eating during the latter stages of the game was a cup of pretzels. The bigger issue was how much I should drink because unlike basketball and football (halftime) and hockey (intermissions), there is not much time between innings for the play-by-play announcer to sneak off to the restroom. I never left the booth (perhaps setting an all-time MLB record in the process). The game, which had started a little after 3 pm local time, took 6 hours, 53 minutes.”
Basketball: “I haven't worked any particularly long NBA games, although I am always entertained by the snacks my Knicks partner Walt "Clyde" Frazier pulls out of his bag at halftime. Clyde is a health nut, so it often includes nuts and berries, fruit—and even sushi! Clyde's one vice is a Snickers bar during the second half.”
Football: “I'll usually have a snack at halftime, which varies from stadium to stadium—it's often a turkey sandwich. The Redskins always have a terrific spread just behind the television booth, and the Cowboys offer sushi to the broadcasters at halftime. I'll always make sure to have a power bar with me just in case. I have worked two NFL games that have ended in ties following a full 15-minute overtime period: Eagles at Bengals (the infamous Donovan McNabb game in 2008, and Redskins/Bengals in London in 2016). The entire crew is usually pretty hungry after all of our NFL games, which usually leads to a group meal at the airport prior to our flights home. My favorite is Ike's (burgers) in Minneapolis.”
Hockey: “I have worked several playoff games, which have gone to triple overtime. Some teams offer pizza in the press box between periods, which comes in handy, especially during long overtime games. The hot pretzels in the Flyers press box are always a favorite. The Blackhawks offer an outstanding hot spread to the media after the second period of games. I try not to eat popcorn during games. It would not be good for a kernel to get stuck in the throat of a play-by-play announcer, although I do sometimes break my own rule.”
Albert is not the only one who must attempt to balance a long workday of calling games with keeping himself at least semi-nourished. Below, we paneled 28 other play-by-play broadcasters from across the country on what they eat or drink to stay on top of their game when an event they’re covering goes long:
Adam Amin, ESPN:
I'm sure some of my colleagues will mention the secret items that keep them focused and locked in over the course of a long broadcast—the energizing elixir, the root of some plant found in the depths of Central America that when consumed with hot water and Eye of Newt before overtime brings out the best in one's call. My answer: Kit Kats. Why? I'm essentially an 8-year-old and I like chocolate, and a little sugar rush never hurt anyone. The one special thing [CBS Sports broadcaster] Carter Blackburn taught me: dissolve a few cough drops in a bottle of water. It helps soothe and lubricate the throat without needing to suck on a drop during the broadcast, lest someone at home go "what the hell is that clicking noise coming from the TV?" It’s a major help for me, especially during those high-energy NBA playoff radio broadcasts. Although, fair warning, you run the risk of an exceptionally long game forcing you to leave for the bathroom with all the water consumption.
Brian Anderson, CBS Sports, Turner Sports and Fox Sports Wisconsin (Brewers):
I always try to eat a big meal two hours before game time.
For basketball and football, I don’t eat anything in-game. Too intense. I just drink hot green tea with honey throughout the game. Occasionally, I throw down a protein bar at halftime if I’m feeling sluggish. For golf and baseball, I’m constantly snacking — trail mix or chocolate covered almonds are my jam. If the game goes past the three hour mark, I’ll eat an apple or banana or a bag of nuts or trail mix. It’s probably why I gain 10 pounds every baseball season. I always have some hot green tea with honey nearby. It helps my voice and keeps my immune system in check. Pretty earth shattering stuff, I know. But you asked.
Tim Brando, Fox Sports:
It depends entirely upon the time of the game. In college football we can start as early as 11:00 a.m. Central Time or as late as 9:00 p.m. Pacific. So by midnight Eastern Time, I am seeking caffeine. If it's a night game, it's all soup & salad beforehand. I can't retain too much fluid in HD. Once the game starts I'm a water-only guy. It’s a good idea to keep the vocal chords lubricated. All overtime usually means is a killer for post game cocktails with [Bill] Raft [Raftery]. Halftime means a must stop to the restroom and possible coffee hit after doing the old No. 1 in the restroom.
"For golf, when I'm on for sometimes 7 or 7.5 hours a day, I can get to about six cups of coffee with bulletproof powder in it. That can't be healthy." —Joe Buck
Mike Breen, ESPN:
As a daily consumer of large quantities of food, this is a subject of great interest to me. Unfortunately I don't have an interesting answer. I always eat a big meal at the arena approximately two hours before every game, just in case the game does go long. I'll occasionally grab something at halftime or have a piece of chocolate at the broadcast table. Mini Hershey’s or York Peppermint Patties are the chocolates of choice.
Thom Brennaman, Fox Sports:
Are you kidding? Anything that you can get your hands on and it better go with coffee!
Joe Buck, Fox Sports:
Almonds. Hundreds and hundreds of almonds—wasabi, smokehouse, honey roasted, you name it. And I usually slam about four cups of coffee during the game. For golf, when I'm on for sometimes 7 or 7.5 hours a day, I can get to about six cups with bulletproof powder in it (look it up). That can't be healthy. Golf will kill me before the USGA deal is up because of the caffeine intake. If I'm in Green Bay I will have a brat at the half. But I usually wait for a beer or three after as my reward. That's from a life spent as a fat kid. Postgame is my time to crush it.
Kevin Burkhardt, Fox Sports:
I always have a thinkThin or Kind Bar at the table when I'm calling a game—a couple of bites are easy to take and digest during a commercial break and they aren't sloppy! I'm always afraid of taking a bite of hot dog and having the mustard on my shirt for all of America to see. Other than halftime of football, I'm not a big eater during games for the most part. I do live on Dr. Pepper. It's turned into my go-to drink during games and normally I'm not a big soda guy. I drank it a while ago when I had a sore throat and it made my throat feel better so it's my little superstition. If it's freezing out I'll go hot cider, it warms my whole body up.
Mary Carillo, The Tennis Channel and NBC Sports:
We all have our favorites, of course, but when you're going extra innings, you cannot beat the satisfying crunch and the sweet sugar rush of a malted milk ball. This is the British version.
I fear no five setter.
Joe Davis, Fox Sports and SportsNet LA (Dodgers):
I try to be healthy. I've always got a bag of raw almonds with me. I would say some kind of protein bar, but by the time the game runs long, it's usually been eaten. Once, in the 15th inning of a minor league baseball game, they brought slushies to the booth for us. I drank it fast, then proceeded to slur my words for the next inning thanks to a numb tongue.
Matt Devlin, Raptors broadcaster:
If a game goes long, it always seems to be popcorn for the simple fact that it can be found in almost every press room or press box in North America. However, when I'm in NYC or Philly we've been known to track down a pretzel or two just to mix it up.
Ian Eagle, CBS Sports, Westwood One, Tennis Channel, Yes Network:
I marvel at broadcasters that can eat while they work. My food decisions during broadcasts are based on the sport that I'm working. In sports where the clock ticks down (football and basketball) I can strategically eat beforehand and not worry about it during the game. Where the clock goes up (tennis and golf), the time frame is more open-ended and there have been moments where I've needed nourishment. I've worked the French Open the last 11 years for Tennis Channel and the in-match menu has included Nutella Waffles, crepes, hot dogs, and a ham and cheese baguette. I have also been known to snack on Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids during basketball season. I am a popcorn fanatic, but the small bits of kernels are like kryptonite to my throat, so I try to limit my intake (Greg Anthony can consume an entire bucket during a telecast, I sit next to him in awe).
Mike Emrick, NBC Sports:
It was Rangers at Capitals in the playoffs in 2012, the multiple-overtime game in Washington when Marian Gaborik scored in the third overtime. This is when the peanut butter sandwich started for me, in the second overtime of that game. It’s great energy food for unpredictably long nights. Lee Ann Marks, from NBC’s logistics crew, always makes sure there are either jars or packets of peanut butter in the booth for all games—it’s most necessary in the playoffs for overtimes. Once it was peanut butter sandwiches, but I went off bread for a while and discovered I did better without it. I normally don't eat right before the games (which are usually 7:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. ET). Normally I have a strong lunch, like a Chicken Caesar salad and maybe some soup. But I rarely eat during a game except for peanut butter.
Eli Gold, Alabama football radio broadcaster and SportsUSA Radio:
I really don't do any eating during overtime or normal lengthier games. But during ‘Bama football games, I will usually grab a hot dog (with chili and onions, no bun) at halftime, and that will carry me for the rest of the broadcast, regardless of any overtime periods. For basketball, I’m not really looking at "hours" of extra work, so I don't munch on anything. I just sip on a Diet Coke. Baseball and softball extra innings just see me periodically sipping on another Diet Coke. I did do a 21 inning Birmingham Barons game back in the early 80s, and I'm sure I asked someone to bring me a couple of hot dogs, but I really can't swear to it. In my NHL (St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators) and minor league hockey days, I'd grab something small (a cookie or an apple) from the "spread" in the press box. But it'd have to be postseason (when you play full overtime periods) and at least double overtime, before I'd grab something. In my NASCAR days (41-years), only one track called for a mid-race snack and that was in Dover, where back in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s the speeds were much slower than they are today and the race was 500 laps on a one mile track. It was, at best, a 5 1/2 to 6-hour broadcast. After roughly 250 or 300 laps, the late Walt Bagley, owner of Walt's Dairy Bar in Dover, would bring ice cream sundaes up to the booth as a mid-race "pick me up." Broadcasters and race officials were all included on his delivery list. We'd scarf down spoonfuls of ice cream during commercial breaks or while a pit road reporter was talking on air.
Scott Hanson, NFL RedZone:
Hosting a 7-hour show with no commercials has extreme requirements and limits. I've had to strategize, experiment and hone my food approach over the years. Three hours before the show, I have a big, salty breakfast to retain water. During the show, it's one banana and about six to eight ounces of water. There's no time to have much else, and restricting my H2O has kept my no bathroom break in four years streak alive. Side story: Roger Goodell told me once, "the older you get, the more that streak is in jeopardy." I replied, "I can only hope medical science progresses quickly."
"When I was calling NCAA softball at the Lexington Regional this past spring, and our first game went 12 innings, I scarfed down Chick-fil-A like I hadn't seen food in days!" —Jenn Hildreth, Fox Sports
Kevin Harlan, CBS Sports, TNT and Westwood One:
For CBS Sunday afternoon NFL I'll have a bowl of oatmeal, some fruit and that's it. I feel better and more alert if I don't eat big the morning of a game. I try to drink a lot of water as well to hydrate for the day. I eat nothing during the game and wait until I get to the airport afterwards to eat a bigger meal. For Monday Night Football broadcasts I'll eat a big lunch and something very small before the game, but that's about it. Eating afterwards, that late, probably isn't a good idea. But I'm usually starving. For NBA TNT games, we have a morning production meeting around 10 a.m. ET on game days and I'll eat big. I won't have lunch and then eat something a couple hours before tipoff at the arena. Again, I sometimes eat after the game but not often. I never eat during the game. Not sure why but I'm guessing I just forget because of our focus on the broadcast. It should be noted, too, that both CBS and TNT, like most broadcast companies, provide a nice set of good snacks and some food for all production people.
Jenn Hildreth, Fox Sports
In circumstances like this, I eat something healthy like almonds, fruit, or a protein bar. That is true some of the time, especially when I am organized and pack snacks. However, the reality is that I eat pretty much whatever I can get my hands on! When I covered the Braves, it took superhuman strength for me not to hit up the soft serve ice cream machine in the press box (and add rainbow sprinkles.) When I was calling NCAA softball at the Lexington Regional this past spring, and our first game went 12 innings, I scarfed down Chick-fil-A like I hadn't seen food in days! There was some fruit, too, but I still remember how amazingly delicious those nuggets were. Whatever it is, it usually has to be something that you can eat fast. Forget salads or really anything involving utensils. Things like pretzels and popcorn aren't great because they make you really thirsty. You don't want anything that can get stuck in your teeth. There is always a high chance that I will spill on myself so I have to keep that in mind (chocolate = melting = trouble). And I do try to keep a container of breath mints handy so that my choice of snack, whatever it may be, doesn't cause my partner in the booth any distress!
Pat Hughes, Cubs broadcaster:
I always keep a supply of cashews or pistachios in my broadcast bag — you need some energy when you get into that fifth or sixth hour of play-by-play. We did a six hour game against the Yankees this season, I almost ran out of pistachios… and the Cubs lost. I try to avoid pizza or anything that would make me feel lethargic. Water at room temperature works best for me. I’ll eat a hot dog or peanuts if that is all that’s available. You do need something!
Steve Levy, ESPN:
I broadcast the three longest televised games in NHL history, just a fluke of course, but still a pretty cool thing to have on the back of my hockey card. That's why this is right up my alley.
Press boxes today, in the newer buildings, are better equipped to handle games that require extra time. They have options, even healthy options, and that was not the case back when I was broadcasting NHL games. My first taste of real overtime was in 1996 in the old Capital Centre in Landover, Md. It came up 44 seconds shy of an eighth period. (Mario Lemieux got kicked out for fighting in the second period — imagine that — and there was a penalty shot in the fifth period.) The broadcast booth there was right in the middle of the crowd so while you want to make sure you get your fluids, those fluids also need to leave at some point. There are no commercial breaks in OT so my first concern always, during the many intermissions, was fighting the crowd to make it to and from the washroom.
The five overtime game in 2000 at the old igloo in Pittsburgh is the one I remember the best. There was a cup of black coffee before each of the first four periods as I recall, then heartburn kicked in, plus I was a little jittery so no more coffee. I believe the truck sent a pizza to the booth after the 1st overtime. After the third OT we were down to crumbs. I mean the bottom of the popcorn/pretzel/chip basket, all of which are awful for your voice when trying to broadcast. I believe it was at this point that our entire crew was looking for our runner to bring us something, anything, when I was told in my headset that the runner went home. (His mom picked him up because it was a school night.) I was desperate for anything after the fourth overtime and Panger [Darren Pang] went to Mario's suite in search of nourishment. All Lemieux had to offer was a cold bud light which Panger quickly downed. Did he bring one back to the booth for his partner? Nope. I was starved after the game so Panger and I went immediately to the Pittsburgh's famous late night sandwich eatery Primanti brothers. We got a standing ovation when we walked in at 3:00 am or something like that.
The 2003 game in Dallas was in a new building and I was much more sophisticated by this point. I had a cup of black coffee before each period in regulation, switching over to hot tea for my throat and chest the rest of the way. I might have had some M&M's for a little chocolate boost.
Beth Mowins, ESPN:
For those extra innings and overtimes, I love my coffee, skittles and a power bar. If it’s really late, peanut butter and jelly is the go-to!
Dave Pasch, ESPN:
As my NBA partner Doug Collins likes to tell me as he observes my eating habits on game day—every play-by-play announcer in America is always famished! I eat lots of protein bars, trail mix with nuts, or a peanut butter sandwich. I try to stay away from too many carbs and sugars. They may provide an immediate boost, but make you feel sluggish by the end of a game, especially if the game goes long. Dairy is a no-no because it creates mucus and impacts your vocal cords. Caffeine is big for me, but too much coffee leads to numerous bathroom breaks, which is bad when a game goes to overtime. When I work with Bill Walton, he always has a huge bag full of energy chews, and he gives me some before each game. While I'm afraid to know what's actually in the stuff he gives me, they do provide sustained energy throughout the telecast. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find these particular items in actual stores.
Ryan Ruocco, ESPN and YES Network:
It's funny you ask this question because Doug Collins is always killing me and all play by play guys for how much we eat in games. When I started my career I would go to almonds and nuts in game, and then I learned the hard way that you will at some point or another after eating them choke and not be able to clear your throat and miss a possession or two. Then I moved onto Vanilla tootsie rolls, which I absolutely love. But as I've cut more and more sugar out of my life, the tootsie rolls had to go. My staple now is a halftime Quest Bar or Larabar where I save about a quarter of the bar just in case it becomes a really long game. If the game ends up extending, then I'll dip into the emergency stash which usually consists of trail mix (I'll only eat the raisins out of it during a game because can't have the nuts) or fruit snacks (last resort). I always like to have these on standby just in case, because if that game goes into extras or overtime you're probably expending a lot of energy calling it and then sometimes you feel like you just need some simple sugars to jolt into the system and guide you through the end of the broadcast. The one monkey wrench into all of this is my good buddy Mike Fratello. He will inevitably plop a massive soft pretzel and bucket of popcorn down on the broadcast table at the start of the third quarter of every game he does. Then it's up to Ian Eagle and me to resist the Czar's snacks.
"I don't eat anything during a long broadcast but I have a serious espresso problem. I mean, really serious. Todd Blackledge and I joke that I use the “This is Spinal Tap” espresso. I always grab the pods with intensity No. 11." —Joe Tessitore, ESPN
Jon Sciambi, ESPN:
Though my physique might indicate otherwise, I’m not a big in-game eater. Rick Sutcliffe likes to grab a hot dog mid-game, and sometimes I’ll join but I always have to be careful with something coating my throat. Honestly, it’s liquid consumption I worry about the most in a longer game because the bathroom isn’t always close. I did 18 innings this year at Wrigley without one bathroom break.
Kate Scott, Pac-12 Networks
When a game goes long, I tend to revert to the 10-year-old-version of myself and reach for all the things I'd look for in the kitchen cabinet after another arduous, two-recess day at elementary school. I like to think of them as my comfort snacks. Goldfish. Cheez-its. Pringles. Pretzels. Cheetos. Doritos. Can you tell I like salt? I avoid popcorn, even though it's my favorite salty snack, because it's more likely to get stuck in my throat and screw up the broadcast. Couple that with a chocolate chip granola bar—because you always have to pair the salty with the sweet, right?— and I'm good to go. If there's apple juice around, that's my first drink choice. It's got sugar, but doesn't make you salivate like other beverages (a tip I picked up in voice-over classes years back.) Otherwise, I stick with water or switch to coffee, cocoa, or tea on cold nights. Anything to keep the pipes warm!
Dan Shulman, ESPN:
Funny, the easy answer is whatever we can scrounge up quickly near the booth. But I’ve eaten more hot dogs than I care to count in those kinds of situations. When I remember, I try to bring some sort of protein bar with me just in case.
John Strong, Fox Sports:
It's much easier in soccer than other sports in that, worst case, we're only going three hours for a game. But I definitely always like to get a good meal in the press box pregame, lots of carbs to give me energy and keep me filled up for the later stages of the game. That and lots of water and, as Alexi Lalas likes to rib me about, plenty of coffee!
Joe Tessitore, ESPN:
I don't eat anything during a long broadcast but I have a serious espresso problem. I mean, really serious. [ESPN college football announcer] Todd Blackledge and I joke around in the booth that I use the “This is Spinal Tap” espresso. I always grab the pods with intensity No. 11 on the side of the Nespresso pack. Holly Rowe actually travels a Nespresso machine on our football crew. God bless her. Now in the pre-Nespresso days, there was one four-overtime game I was doing with Matt Millen when far too many hot teas had me begging for relief. It was Michigan at Penn State on ABC, four overtimes. With short commercial breaks, the bathroom down the far hall from the booth was not an option. If that game had gone to five overtimes, there would have been an issue.
Arlo White, NBC Sports:
Within a minute or two we can pretty much predict the length of each Premier League game as there is no overtime. But because of the nature of PL grounds, once we are in our broadcast position 90 minutes before the game, we are stuck there for the duration. So, no catering, no hot food and, more often than not, no bathroom facilities. Therefore, we have to be careful how much we drink! In terms of food, we always have a bag of goodies on the gantry with us. The contents often depend on what particular diet Lee Dixon is following at the time. The only items I require for the game are bananas for energy and a wrap of some kind. In addition, Graeme Le Saux, Lee, and I have all developed an addiction for 'Percy Pigs' (is that a British candy, or do you have it in the US?). [Editor’s note: It appears, indeed, to be a European offering.] The sugar hit usually gets us through any lengthy stoppage time period at the end of a game.
Pete Weber, Nashville Predators radio announcer:
One thing I have learned over the years is to avoid eating much of anything when you can feel a game going long. The most important thing is to keep your throat moist, and I want to make sure that I stay hydrated while avoiding coffee, which is counterproductive. Caffeine is a great "de-hydrator."