A Holliday Season to Celebrate
Voice of Terps Enters 40th YearBy Annie Dankelson | Photo of Johnny Holliday by John T. Consoli / Knoche photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics
Even after broadcasting around 1,500 University of Maryland games, he still claims he’s no expert. But for many fans, it wouldn’t be Terps football or basketball without Johnny Holliday.
“It’s like listening to a friend describe a game,”says former UMD basketball coach Gary Williams ’68.
This season marks Holliday’s 40th as UMD’s play-by-play announcer. He’s been here through 14 bowl games, 10 Sweet 16s and two Final Fours. Many Terp fans remember him exclaiming, “The kids have done it!” after the men’s basketball team’s 2002 national championship, a slight crack in his voice as he couldn’t contain his excitement.
“He’s not just a lifer,” says Chris Knoche, UMD's basketball color analyst. “He’s a Hall of Fame lifer.”
Always a fan of sports, Holliday aspired to coach and teach while growing up in Miami. But he didn’t have enough money to go to college, so he got his first radio job at 17 in Perry, Ga. He kept moving up from there, becoming an esteemed disc jockey in Cleveland, New York and San Francisco before moving to D.C.
WMAL in Washington hired Holliday to eventually broadcast the morning show, expecting the guys in that role to move on. In the meantime, he took over UMD games.
“But they never retired,” Holliday chuckles. “So that’s where it all started.”
Each game since then has required hours of preparation, with charts and stats and notes. Holliday might get 50 pages on the football team, maybe 40 on the basketball team. And that’s before the opposing team sends its own info. But once he gets in the booth, there’s no set script, no uniform sign-on. Holliday goes with the flow of the game.
“I don’t fly the flag for two hours,” he says, but “(fans) can probably tell by the tone of my voice if we’re winning or losing.”
More than calling highlight plays and exciting victories, though, what Holliday values most from his time with the Terps are the relationships he’s formed.
He routinely gets something from football great Boomer Esiason ’84 to auction off at his golf tournament. He remembers having basketball star Greivis Vasquez do a promo in Spanish on his show, so the player’s family in Venezuela could listen. He recalls his postgame shows with Williams, how they’d sometimes “fly by the seat of our pants” to fill 30 minutes. He keeps in touch with former basketball coach Lefty Driesell.
Holliday makes sure to give credit to everyone behind the scenes, too, like spotter Steve Rear, statistician Brett Bessell and engineer Tom Marchitto.
And he plans to stay as long as they’ll have him.
“He’s one of those renaissance guys who just keeps going,” Williams says. “He doesn’t stop.”
Six Favorite Games
Nov. 10, 1984 | A Comeback for the Ages
The Terps were down 31-0 at halftime, and Holliday’s Miami buddies were letting him have it. But Frank Reich took over at quarterback in the second half and led the greatest comeback in college football history at the time, a 42–40 victory for the Terps. “It was special for me because that’s my home,” Holliday says. Fun fact: Reich later led Buffalo to the greatest comeback in NFL history vs. Houston.
March 1, 1995 | Smith Steps Up
Coach Gary Williams was sick, but sophomore Joe Smith stepped up against archrival Duke, scoring 40 points and tipping in the game-winning shot at the buzzer for a thrilling 94–92 win. “Any time we upset Duke was a great win in my mind,” Holliday says.
Feb. 27, 2001 | No Fond Farewell for Battier
The Terps spoiled the last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the Blue Devils’ star, a Co-ACC Player of the Year, defeating Duke 91–80. “Probably one of the most impressive wins,” Holliday says. “It was on their senior night, and Shane Battier was a senior, and we upset them down there.”
April 1, 2002 | Terps Win It All
Top-seeded Maryland defeated fifth-seeded Indiana for the Terps’ first NCAA title, 64–52. “Nothing can top that,” Holliday says, proudly sporting his championship ring on his left hand. “Those guys with Juan Dixon and Steve Blake—that’s one of my favorite teams of all time, right there.”
Dec. 31, 2002 and Jan. 1, 2004 | Great Scott!
Quarterback Scott McBrien led the Terps to their first bowl game win since 1985 in the Peach Bowl (30–3) and to a Gator Bowl victory a season later (41–7). “Any bowl game you go to has got to be terrific,” Holliday says, “but the ones that impressed me the most were the ones with Scott McBrien. Back-to-back seasons, he was the Most Valuable Player.”
Broadcast Co-host Also Marks a Milestone
Maryland basketball was a staple for a young Chris Knoche, “back when there were basically four channels,” he says. Now, Johnny Holliday’s co-host is entering his 20th season as UMD’s color analyst.
“The opportunity to work Maryland games was sort of a dream come true for me,” Knoche says.
He played basketball at American University under Gary Williams ’68 from 1979–81, and he later coached there from 1990–97. Friends told Knoche that if he ever left, he should try broadcasting.
The chance arose to reunite with Williams, who had become UMD’s coach, in 1999.
“At the end of the day,” Knoche says, “it’s a lot more fun to have a team that you’re rooting for.”
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