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Rudel: Terps’ Holliday is the ultimate host

When it comes to college football play-by-play announcers, there may be no one who has combined more versatility with a longer tenure than Maryland’s Johnny Holliday.

Consider some of these impressive resume items:

n He emceed the final scheduled concert of the Beatles at Candlestick Park in 1966.

n His work as a disc jockey, during his days from New York to San Francisco, is featured at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

n He hosted NBC’s popular musical variety series “Hullabaloo” in the mid-1960s.

n He served as the Cleveland Browns’ public address announcer at age 21.

n He is an accomplished actor who has appeared in more than 30 Baltimore and Washington D.C. productions.

n He hosted ABC’s “This Week with David Brinkley.”

n He served as pre-game TV and radio host for numerous NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball teams.

n At the request of Len Bias’ mother, he sang at the funeral of the fallen Maryland superstar.

n And tonight, at 81 years young and now in his 41st year of calling Maryland football and basketball, he’ll be behind the microphone in College Park when his beloved Terrapins take on Penn State.

“Pretty lucky,” is how Holliday humbly summed up his remarkable career Thursday morning. “All of these things that have fallen into my lap, I can’t describe how lucky I’ve been and how enjoyable it’s been.”

Holliday’s success story comes despite not attending college or having voice training. He simply followed his heart when opportunity knocked not far from his home in Miami, and he accepted an on-air job as “the only caucasian” at an African-American radio station around 1955.

He learned from mentors at every stop.

“Basically, it was all self taught and being in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I always tell young guys and young ladies (hoping for their break) — ‘you’re looking at someone who didn’t have a lot of talent.’ But I always felt if I had an opportunity that I could do something. I wasn’t cocky, but I was confident. It’s not how good you are but who likes you at that time.”

Penn State has been blessed with longstanding personality, professionalism and stability with Fran Fisher and now Steve Jones, and when the Nittany Lions face the Terps, Jones knows he’s in the presence of greatness.

“Johnny is one of the great broadcasters ever,” Jones said. “He has that great voice and an incredible feel for any sport he broadcasts. He brings Maryland fans right to the field or court and does it in a true professional manner. Away from the broadcast he is a terrific story teller who constantly makes me laugh.”

Holliday calls Jones “probably one of my best buddies in the conference right now. Without question, Steve is one of the best voices and best personalities.”

Holliday is equally high on James Franklin. The two became close when Franklin was on the Maryland staff under Ralph Friedgen, and Holliday’s then 10-year-old grandson, Jack Rolle, was being treated for an inoperable cancerous brain tumor.

“They brought him to the sidelines as a good-luck piece,” Holliday, his voice cracking, said. “He was there every game, and as soon as a game was over, Franklin would put him on his shoulders, grab his hand. I’ll never, ever forget what James did for my grandson.”

Thankfully, Jack survived. He’s now 21 and a junior at Wake Forest.

“My hero,” Holliday said.

Holliday has remained in touch with Franklin, and the two planned a get-together this morning.

At the beginning of this decade, Franklin was Maryland’s head coach in waiting, but a Terps’ administrative change altered those plans, and instead of a smooth transition from Friedgen to Franklin, Maryland wound up with Randy Edsall.

Franklin saw it coming and took Vanderbilt’s head coaching job when it was offered in 2011.

“In retrospect, you wonder what would have happened had he stayed here,” Holliday said. “A lot of times these guys get anxious. When you’re the head coach in waiting, you don’t know how long you’re going to have to wait. James did what was best for him.”

The bridge that Maryland burned with Friedgen has been repaired enough for the former Terps’ boss to be honored tonight as new Maryland coach Mike Locksley wants all hands on deck for the Lions’ — and Franklin’s — visit.

“Penn State in football is probably the biggest rivalry we have,” Holliday said. “With Franklin being there and being on the Maryland staff and being with Locks … all the kids know each other. If Maryland can win this game, that would be a tremendous step forward to what could be a very interesting season — and they’ve got the talent to do it.”

A longtime member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Maryland joined the Big Ten in 2014, which created an adjustment for the Terp family — like the Penn State fan base which, 25 years later, is still acclimating.

“At the beginning, I think everybody was kind of shocked and reserved,” Holliday said. “But on the positive side, you can’t take away the exposure with the Big Ten Network. You’ve got major stadiums for football and basketball, and the money is there. The fans have finally come around and the really old timers are all on the same page. It’s helped fund other sports. The Big Ten has been terrific. It’s the best conference but the toughest, too.”

How much longer he’ll keep his seat on the Terps’ perch, Holliday isn’t sure.

“I like what I do too much, but you always want to keep in the back of your mind, you don’t want to hang around too long, where you can’t read numbers or react quick enough,” he said. “But the longer you do something, the more comfortable it is, and I enjoy it more today than I ever have.”

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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