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 Dreisbach.
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.