Pete Taylor had no "Oh, my!" or "Whoa, Nellie!" no "Holy cow!" or "How about that!" His football broadcasts were bereft of boo-yah's, his basketball broadcasts en fuego-free. "He had no catchphrases, no signature lines, nothing like that," says his daughter, Jill. "God, no. He deplored that kind of thing."
As a broadcaster Taylor had it all wrong. "He never wanted to be the story, he just wanted to describe the games," says Eric Heft, Taylor's color analyst for 24 years. "Pete appreciated the talent of a Jim Rome, but that confrontational style just wasn't him."
While colleagues, as if on a rope ladder to a rescue helicopter, frantically climbed toward larger media markets, Taylor took root in Ames, Iowa. "Never occurred to him to leave for more money or a bigger market or a better team," says his son, David. "He stayed at Iowa State for 33 years, and that's the way it was always going to be. A few others have stayed put like that: Jack Buck, Johnny Most, Chick Hearn. And my dad, in Iowa, had that same scale of recognition."
Strange, isn't it? The more he tried to shrink, the larger Taylor grew. In wanting to make stars of the Cyclones, he became the star. In 33 years Iowa State University had five athletic directors, seven football coaches, seven basketball coaches, 675 losses in those two sports combined and one—one—radio play-by-play announcer for football and basketball. Says current athletic director Bruce Van De Velde, "To many, many people in Iowa and beyond, Pete was Iowa State athletics."
And so, in the hours after Taylor died last week—unexpectedly, at 57, of complications from a stroke—the Cyclones' athletic department received e-mails from disconsolate Internet-radio listeners in Houston; Atlanta; Phoenix; Virginia Beach; Dallas; Albuquerque; Hershey, Pa.; Oceanside, Calif.; and innumerable other, un-Iowan places. "He has been our ears and our eyes, carrying images to faithful fans all over the world," wrote Charles Doo from... Singapore?
How, exactly, did this happen? Taylor wrote—as a high school freshman, in an English-class report—that a broadcaster "needs an honest voice, a voice which becomes to the listener that of a trusted friend. A voice that smiles, that is warm and pleasant to listen to, and is welcome in any home in the country. A voice that has not become distorted by artificial theatrical training." Honest, pleasant, untheatrical? Taylor was, by current broadcast standards, Van Earl Wrong.
"He didn't have those freakish meltdowns they replay on SportsCenter," says David Taylor. He did wear his heart on both sleeves and a sandwich board. Says Pete's friend Kevin Cooney, news anchor at KCCI-TV in Des Moines, "You could tell—within five seconds of turning on the radio, just by the tone of his voice—whether the Cyclones were winning or losing."
Yet his calls were truer than plane geometry. Often too true. It was not unusual to hear Taylor, unaware that a station break was over, profanely lamenting the Cyclones' ineptitude. "You'd think that after three decades on the radio he'd know when a microphone was on," says Jill Taylor. "But no, there were several instances of profanity on the air."
Naturally, this only made him more beloved. Last football season, after consecutive losses to Oklahoma and Texas, Taylor idly remarked to Heft that he envied network announcers because "they never have to care who wins or loses." The following Saturday, after a win over Missouri, Taylor idly remarked to Heft that he pitied network announcers because they never get to care who wins or loses.
Which isn't to say that sports were his life. Life was. Taylor loved books and crosswords and Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark. (When it came on TV, at 11 o'clock on a school night, he woke his young children and forced them to watch it.) In music stores all over the Big 12, he indulged his fetish—mercifully rare among white, middle-aged Iowans—for '70s funk and '80s rap. "I was the only girl in Des Moines," says Jill, "whose father introduced her to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five."