JEFFRIES GIVES UA FANS HALL-OF-FAME CALIBER PLAY-BY-PLAY
For Tucsonans, this is a familiar time of year. It's the point in the college basketball season where fans come out in droves and get behind their Wildcats, who are making yet another appearance in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen.
Wildcat fans are also familiar with the voice who calls the action: Brian Jeffries has been behind the radio mic for every high and low moment of UA hoops for almost three decades. It's a far cry from the near-constant turnover in the job before the powers that be at the university finally came to their senses.
"The UA had gone through four play-by-play announcers in a span of six or seven years. Naturally, every time it opened up I applied for the job. And in a very nice way they said thanks but no thanks," Jeffries said.
When legendary broadcaster Ray Scott, who was Jeffries' mentor, returned to the position for a second run in the mid-'80s, it seemed that Jeffries' chances of expanding his play-by-play skills beyond UA baseball and high school football were shrinking. He seriously contemplated pursuing his dreams in another market. However, when Scott stepped aside a second time after just two years, Jeffries' patience paid off.
"I think there was some frustration," said Jeffries, who recalled the UA's response in his subsequent interview for Scott's job. It went something like this: "We're tired of you coming in and applying for this job every time it comes up. Just go ahead and take it. It's yours."
"It was something to that effect," Jeffries said. "I'm not kidding. That was the way it felt. 'This guy keeps hanging around, he keeps bugging us, and we can't find anyone else to stick with it.' So they probably figured I'd be here a couple years, or a year, and they'd find someone better. Who knows what the thought process was. I remember heading home that day thinking I just got my dream job. But it didn't feel like it at that point. There was no celebration other than I had a grape juice or something."
Fortunately for Jeffries—and for a generation of Wildcat fans who probably can't imagine UA games broadcast by anyone else—he's been the conduit for every memorable moment in UA athletics' modern era. Or what you could also call "the Jeffries era."
"It's easy to point out the big games," Jeffries said. Among the most notable are "when Arizona beat Oklahoma in football 6-3. That's one of my all-time favorite games because every single play mattered; the game at the Kingdome in basketball where Arizona went to its first Final Four. I still get chills thinking about it."
His career highlights also include "any time you go to the Final Four, the College World Series. Any bowl game is special. Beating Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. It's nice there's not just one game you look back on."
And the special moments just keep coming. Jeffries was behind the mic when UA football capped the end of Rich Rodriguez's first season in the desert by rallying for 14 points in 43 seconds to shock Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl. Just last spring, he called every play of the postseason for UA baseball as it stormed through the competition en route to a College World Series title.
"It was pretty amazing," Jeffries said of the baseball team's undefeated playoff run. "After that first game against Florida State, I'm still thinking there are some really good teams here, but that was the only game they were challenged. They played with such confidence. You knew they were going to play their best. I could tell by their body language they were going to put in their ultimate effort."
Jeffries' years of hard work recently earned him a spot in the Arizona Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
"It was totally unexpected," Jeffries said. "I knew about the Hall of Fame, but had never given it a second thought. I never in my wildest dreams thought it would happen or contemplated it. Al McCoy got inducted for the Suns a couple years ago, and I thought that was neat that a radio play-by-play broadcaster got inducted."
When Jeffries learned he would be joining McCoy, "I was speechless."
Fortunately for fans of UA athletics, Jeffries plans to continue calling games for quite some time.
"Ray (Scott) was in his 70s. I'm not saying I'll work into my 70s, but I see guys like Bob Robertson at Washington State, who is 84 years old," Jeffries said. "I told my wife, when it starts going south you have to tell me. It happens in broadcasting, where you can overstay your welcome. You can be somewhere so long where people will overlook your faults, and I just don't want to be in that situation. When someone tells me I'm not doing it as well, then I'll go."
But "the neat thing is, it's not an 8 to 5 job. There's nothing routine about it. You go into every game and have no idea what's going to happen. You want to keep doing it and want to be there and watch it unfold. It continues to be fun. I want the people that employ me to keep liking what I'm doing because I'd like to keep doing it for a little longer.
"I wish Ray Scott was still alive so I could thank him," Jeffries added. "The two years with him, I'll tell you, he was a mentor and did more for me than anyone else. He was one of the greatest ever. I wouldn't be here if not for that experience."