The father and the youngest son were left alone in the house in
Coral Gables, Fla. The two older sons were off to college, Scott
to Virginia and Jeff to North Carolina. The wife and mother was
gone, Judy Griese dead of breast cancer. The father and the
youngest son were left with each other.
Bob and Brian Griese had to make the best of the situation.
There was no choice. "We became closer because we had to," the
father, Bob, says. "There were just the two of us. I was the one
who made breakfast. I was the one who drove him to school. I was
the one who went to his games. I was the one who was around."
"I was the one he could talk to," the son, Brian, says. "He
didn't have a friend, a companion, anymore. It was a hard time
for him. I had to be two people, be there for him at home, then
go to school and be someone else, figure out who I was."
It was the fall of 1988. Judy Griese had died in February and
Jeff had left for college. The son was 13. The father was
already a football immortal. He had quarterbacked the Miami
Dolphins from 1967 through '80, had won two Super Bowls--the
first of which was the culmination of Miami's 17-0 season in
'72. The Hall of Fame beckoned.
The son was too young to remember the father's Dolphins days. He
was five when the father retired, and so his football
experiences with the father were college football experiences.
The father had moved along to broadcasting, working as ABC's top
color analyst with Keith Jackson on the network's featured
college game of the week. The son would take some trips with the
father, sit in the booth, pick up hot dogs and Cokes for the
announcers, and chart plays. "The whole thing was great," the
son says. "Flying on the plane. Staying at the hotel. The games."
The older boys had played at Christopher Columbus High in Miami,
and each had played in college as a walk-on, but neither had
tried quarterback. Both played defense. It was the youngest son,
the one who hadn't witnessed the father's football career, who
decided to become a quarterback.
"He's the type of kid who'll say, 'I'll be a better quarterback
than you were,'" the father says. "That's how he is. He's bigger
than any of us. Notice I didn't say faster, but bigger. He was a
high-level tennis player as a kid. He's a six-handicap golfer.
He played basketball and baseball. He's the athlete."
At Columbus High the son developed into a solid quarterback. The
father helped at practices when the coaches asked him to, and he
tried to see the son play as much as possible. Because Columbus
played on Wednesdays or Thursdays, not just on the traditional
schoolboy dates of Friday or Saturday, the father didn't miss as
many games as he would have, given his schedule at ABC, which
required him to leave each Friday morning for that weekend's
game. "I could be there for the games," the father says, "be
there at the end. I think that's important for a kid, to have
someone there at the end of the game. If I couldn't make it, I
always made sure someone was there to meet with him."
By the end of his senior season the son had broken the school
record for career passing yardage and had been noticed by
college scouts. Texas wanted him, as did Purdue--the school the
father led to its only Rose Bowl appearance, in 1967. The son
wasn't sure what to do. The father offered an alternative: Pick
a school and join the football team as a walk-on. The father
would pay the tuition. The son picked Michigan.
"It was late, and Michigan really didn't have any scholarships
left," the father says. "[Coach] Gary Moeller came to the house
to visit and said he was interested, but the last two
scholarships already had been offered to two defensive linemen
from Texas. He said Brian could walk on, and if he did well,
something would open up."
Michigan. The fun began.
The original plan was that the father would never broadcast one
of the son's games. If Michigan were playing on ABC, someone
else would get the assignment. The father would not face the
prospect of critiquing the efforts of the son. "The worry was
the possibility of conflict of interest," says Tony Tortorici,
ABC's coordinating producer of college football coverage. "It's
a valid consideration. But maybe we take ourselves too
seriously. Maybe you just go with it."
In the years before Tortorici took charge of ABC's college
football broadcasts, the negative argument prevailed. How could
the father-color analyst sit with the coaches of both teams on
Friday, learn their game plans and not give the son-quarterback
an edge on Saturday? How could he maintain objectivity when a
pass was dropped or overthrown? How would he react to a change
in quarterbacks or, worse, an injury to the son?
The ruling didn't become an issue until 1995, the son's third
year at Michigan, when as a redshirt sophomore he became the
starter for the Wolverines' last nine games. The father saw only
one of those games, against Purdue on parents' weekend. He
missed the 52-17 win over Minnesota in which the son completed
four touchdown passes and was named the Chevrolet Player of the
Game. People were waiting for the son after each game, people
the father had asked to be there.
A year ago things began to change. The people at ABC remembered
when Ned Jarrett covered son Dale's win at the Daytona 500 in
1993. Everyone had liked the emotions of the moment. Why
couldn't Griese, who was a veteran broadcaster, handle sticky
situations? As the '96 season began, however, it didn't seem
that there would be any sticky situations. The son had lost the
preseason battle for the quarterback job to sophomore Scott
The father's first broadcast of a game involving the son was the
opener of the 1996 season, a 20-8 Michigan win against Illinois.
Dreisbach played the entire game at quarterback. The son held
for placekicks and punted twice. No conflict there.
Then came the season finale, against Ohio State. The son had
been complaining on the phone about not playing, but what could
the father do? This was the world. The world sometimes is hard.
The father prepared for the game the way he prepares for every
game. The son also prepared, but he didn't think he would play.
Late in the second quarter that changed. Dreisbach left after a
bell-ringing hit. The son trotted onto the field. The father
didn't flinch. He reported that news as he would have reported
any news. He didn't say that his son was playing. He said that
Brian Griese was now at quarterback. The son was a neutral X
playing against a team of neutral O's.
The father broadcast with remarkable detachment that day. Ohio
State was undefeated and ranked second, headed for the Rose Bowl
and a possible national title. But this backup quarterback
completed eight of 14 passes for 120 yards and one touchdown,
leading the Wolverines to a 13-9 upset. For almost the entire
game he was identified simply as "Griese" by the father. At one
point the father even said that the Buckeyes had to get after
the quarterback, send some blitzers, confuse him. I'm telling
them to attack my son, the father thought later, as he watched
the tape of the game. I can't believe it.
Not until the final moments, with a Michigan victory assured,
did the detachment disappear from the ABC booth. Griese
remembers Jackson, his partner for a decade, finally saying,
"Whoa, Nellie, I guess there are going to be some good stories
to tell around the dinner table in the Griese household this
Christmas." The pressure was gone.
Good stories, indeed.
"The best thing about doing his games this year simply is being
able to go to the games," the father says. "I can go a day
early, we can have dinner on Thursday night and just talk. Not
about football. Just talk about anything. It's the college
football experience. I can be a part of it with him, the way my
parents were with me."
The broadcasting approach now is that the father can talk about
the son, acknowledge the relationship. The father still edits
himself--believes, in fact, that he might edit too closely, give
praise too slowly--but can allow that he knows more than he's
saying about the son. In two of the first three weeks this
season the father was assigned to Michigan games, and the son
directed the offense in both games, victories over Colorado and
Notre Dame. "It's funny," the father says. "The first game of
the season, I showed up with all these notes in my head. I was
going over them, and I forgot Brian was playing. I always look
at the quarterbacks and the kickers during warmups, and I said
to myself, Hey, how's Brian doing?"
"Before the game he was nervous," the son says. "I said, 'You're
more nervous about this game than I am.'"
ABC isn't nervous. It enjoys the situation. "Our position is,
'Let's loosen 'em up," Tortorici says. "This isn't going to
happen very often. Let's take advantage of it."
Last spring the son received his bachelor's degree in
environmental sciences, and he debated whether to return for a
fifth year at Michigan. "I think his brother Jeff, who's a
banker now, had the best argument," the father says. "Jeff told
him, 'You know, you're going to be working for a long time once
you leave college." The decision looks solid. After last
Saturday's 37-0 victory over Indiana--in which the son passed
for 204 yards and a touchdown in less than three quarters of
playing time--the Wolverines were 4-0 and ranked sixth. Michigan
could appear on two more ABC national broadcasts, against Penn
State on Nov. 8 and Ohio State on Nov. 22.
The father and the son talk at least once a week on the
phone--"more, if I need money," says the son. They compare
notes, compare games, compare lives. They are able to enjoy this
special year. The father is happily remarried, successful in
investing in addition to broadcasting. The son is following in
"Just now there was a show on television, a replay of whatever
Super Bowl my father played in when the Dolphins beat the
Minnesota Vikings," the son says of Super Bowl VIII. "It was
surreal watching it. He played so much the way I'd like to play.
The announcer said at the end that my father had completed only
six of seven passes passes, but that they all were important.
That's exactly what I'd like to do. Complete six passes but have
every one of them mean something. Win the game."
ABC, it should be mentioned, will broadcast the Rose Bowl.