Thirty years is a long time. In marriage terms, it’s known as the “Pearl Anniversary.” In the broadcast history of Alabama Crimson Tide football, Eli Gold is enjoying his own Pearl Anniversary after 30 years of play-by-play coverage for the team. Early in his tenure, however, it was hard to imagine the Brooklyn-born wordsmith would be in Bama for three weeks, let alone three decades. As reported in Cary Estes’ Birmingham Magazine story about Eli, imagery for which was shot by Tuscaloosa-based photographer Michael J. Moore.
Unfortunately, in the insular world of Crimson Tide football at that time, bringing in people from outside the Bama family was frowned upon. The program was already facing criticism because Georgia Tech graduate Bill Curry had been hired as the head football coach. And now the voice of the Tide — the biggest connection many people had to the team during this pre-Internet era — was going to be a Yankee?
It was not a pleasant time. There were people who thought that hiring me for football was an absolute disgrace. I received some vile letters. People ask me now whether I expected to make it 31 years. I didn’t expect to make it 31 days.
Eli’s predecessor, John Forney, was the voice of the Tide for nearly two decades and covered every single one of legendary head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s games. Funny enough, John wasn’t born in Alabama either — he hailed from Los Angeles. But over time John etched his name into Crimson Tide lore, which Eli did as well. Having actually started at Alabama as a student the same year, 1989, Eli began doing football games, Michael explains that the broadcaster had one important person in his corner.
Change is never easy. Luckily, the basketball coach at the time, Wimp Sanderson, liked Eli’s style and recommended him. The rest is history.
Although Eli hasn’t dropped his New York accent, Tide fans adore him and have grown accustomed to hearing the Northeast-born sportscaster on the mic for some of Alabama’s most memorable moments. Eli has called more than 400 Bama games — a staggering 31 percent of the program’s all-time contests — including six national championships. This was Michael’s second time speaking with Eli, the first since his undergrad days.
I briefly met Eli when he first started broadcasting for Alabama football and I was just starting out as a student. His “on air” voice is his natural voice — no southern-ness to it!
As Michael alluded to, he’s spent plenty of time in Tuscaloosa and, more importantly, in the Crimson Tide’s gargantuan football stadium. Though he only had one hour with Eli because of the broadcaster’s busy schedule, Michael used his knowledge of the venue’s vantage points to get quality shots.
During college I was a cheerleader, so I had a strong sense of what I wanted in the short amount of time we had with Eli. Birmingham Magazine originally wanted one image: a low-angle “hero” shot at Bryant-Denny Stadium. That was the only directive.
But they loved the work and wound up asking for two images.
Michael, who has done numerous assignments for Birmingham Magazine over the past few years, landed this shoot shortly after Eli found out he was being honored with the Chris Schenkel Award, which is awarded to broadcasters who have put together long and distinguished careers calling college football. Despite the shoot day’s brief time frame, Michael aimed to get photos of Eli from all over the stadium.
During planning I knew that I wanted a few different images: one from the tunnel where the team enters the stadium and one in the press box. That meant four lighting setups in three locations, from field level to press box, with very little pre-light time in each location.
Luckily, I had a fabulous assistant who has worked with me for the last ten years and Eli was great. He was open to all of my ideas!
The shoot almost ground to a halt after the team couldn’t track down a key to Eli’s press box. Michael and his cohorts called an audible and moved to the national TV press box next door. Fortunately, Eli had a sense of humor about the whole thing, and the shot Michael got ended up leading the story.
Eli quipped, “after 30 years, you would think that they would give me a key to my own broadcast booth!“
At this point, it’s hard to imagine any Alabama fan still having hard feelings for Eli. But 30-odd years ago the Brooklynite certainly couldn’t have imagined he’d become one of the most iconic figures in school history. Though Tuscaloosa has evolved tremendously over the last three decades, one thing hasn’t changed: come game day, Eli Gold is sitting behind the mic calling Crimson Tide football.
When Eli started in ’89, there were around 12,000 students. Now, there are around 33,000 students. The town has changed a great deal over the past 30 years, but the Alabama family of fans will always love Eli.
Check out more of Michael’s on his website.
Read more about Michael J. Moore on our Published Blog.