I-80 East separates Provo, UT and Toledo, OH and driving along the route would consume roughly 24 hours. BYU and Toledo are distant geographic relatives in the college football spectrum, but the teams’ most recent — and only — meeting in history is sure to revive memories of Cougar and Rocket fans alike. Everyone who watched knew where they were on September 30, 2016.
Perhaps you recall BYU kicker Rhett Almond’s 19-yard clock-expiring field goal to give the Cougars a 55-53 win. Perhaps you remember Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside fumbling the snap on the 2-point attempt, picking up the ball, and firing a go-ahead pass to Michael Roberts with 1:11 left. Perhaps BYU running back Jamaal Williams’ 286 rushing yards and five touchdowns strike a chord in your brain.
While the Friday night thriller served viewers one of the most riveting matchups of the season with everything imaginable occurring in the confines of the Utah Valley, the happenings in ESPN’s broadcast booth were just as memorable.
At the 10:45 mark in the fourth quarter, with Toledo leading 45-42, color analyst Mack Brown announced his departure from the game on the air, leaving ESPN play-by-play broadcaster Adam Amin to deliver the closing duties. In those 11 minutes, the solo Amin called a game-tying field goal, an interception, two touchdowns, a successful two-point conversion, and a game-winning field goal. And with no one but himself holding down the fort in the booth, Amin sustained the energy through Almond’s final kick.
“And a wild Friday night in Provo, Utah comes to a close! BYU wins it at the horn!” Amin exclaimed on the broadcast, putting the icing on a wild fourth quarter in which he simultaneously provided play-by-play and color commentary for the ESPN2 broadcast.
Brown, who recently turned in the announcer headset to become the head coach at North Carolina, exited the booth in the fourth quarter to catch a flight to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut for a Saturday show. Amin and Brown were originally assigned the Friday night Washington-Stanford game (a Top 15 matchup, despite a 44-6 lopsided win for the Huskies) which ran concurrently to BYU-Toledo, and the alteration in the schedule tightened Brown’s availability.
“I had the idea that Mack may have to leave before the game,” Amin said. “It was because we got switched off our original game. I said, ‘Man... he might actually have to leave. He might actually have to go during this game.’ We were under the impression that if we hit a deadline, he’s gonna have to go, otherwise, he’s not gonna make it to Bristol for the ABC studio show.”
With Brown out of the booth, Amin controlled a great portion of the broadcast in the fourth quarter. Reporter Molly McGrath assisted with sideline commentary and several behind-the-scenes staffers additionally contributed to smoothly execute the makeshift broadcast. ESPN’s broadcast of BYU-Toledo wasn’t covering just an ordinary Friday night matchup. This was a spectacle which later earned a coveted spot as one of ESPN’s Top 25 games of 2016.
“We were prepared for the concept of Mack leaving. I don’t know if I was prepared for the execution of Mack leaving. I don’t know if ever in my head, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, if he leaves, I’ll just call the game like this!’” Amin said. “Ed Sfida was my stat guy and Bill Garrity was my spotter, and they were awesome. They currently do Joe Buck’s games on Thursday night and his Sunday games on FOX, so they’re elite level people in that position. They were outstanding, even more so that night helping me out with identification.”
Another staple of Amin’s late-night college football broadcasts — especially when he called Friday night slots with Dusty Dvoracek and McGrath — is food segments. Oftentimes, ESPN highlights the home venue’s local restaurants by displaying their food on-air. When asked to compare the BYU-Toledo thriller to a dish, Amin equated it to a serving of blowfish.
“It’s like blowfish. It’s called fugu. It’s a poisonous sushi that’s really dangerous but it’s crazily good if prepared a very, very specific way,” Amin said. “Being nervous in that stretch — 11 minutes without Mack in the booth — and the level of satisfaction of getting through that game with no real issues, and the sigh of relief to say, I ate it, I didn’t die... I think that might be the most accurate dish I can think of.”
The aftermath of the game, which ended around midnight in Provo time, involved an onslaught of celebration from over 60,000 BYU fans in attendance. For the ESPN crew, praises were abundant from the college football Twitterverse after Amin stepped up to the plate and tackled a unique situation in a chaotic, instant classic.
“Molly, Ed, Bill, and I all went to a bar in Provo and I just made a toast. ‘Thanks for doing what you guys did because I felt like we got a lot of positive response,’” Amin said regarding his postgame festivities. “I think I got a lot of it, but the people around the broadcast really stepped in. I hope, among college football, it got me a little bit of a head nod and handshake, proverbially.”
Amin, a seasoned announcer in his nine years at ESPN, has seen it all — from buzzer beaters in the Final Four to MLB and NBA playoff games to record-breaking Hot Dog Eating Contest finishes. For college football, Amin was on the call for the 2017 UCF-South Florida rivalry, the national radio announcer for the 2013 Auburn-Alabama Kick Six game, and in the booth for the 2017 Friday night Washington State-USC upset in Pullman. But through hundreds of broadcasts at ESPN, Amin’s solo fourth quarter call of the 2016 BYU-Toledo game ranks among his best and most memorable.
“That might be the Michael Jordan flu-game performance,” Amin, a Chicago-area native, said. “I had to elevate a little more (laughs). I’m sure I’m cheapening the Flu Game a little bit by even making the comparison. But if we gotta make that comparison, I’ll stick with it.”