Sunday, August 31, 2014

The 1974 debut of the football sideline reporter role

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of sideline reporters on football telecasts. On Saturday 9/7/1974, ABC introduced the college-aged duo of Don Tollefson and Jim Lampley in this role on the nationally televised UCLA at Tennessee game which started at 4 pm ET. Tollefson was beginning his senior year at Stanford while Lampley was a graduate student at North Carolina.

Here is the entire telecast:

Tollefson was the first of the two to appear on air with a pregame report at the 4:24 mark. Lampley provided a pregame feature at 10:05. Once the game started, Tollefson handled the UCLA sidelines with Lampley on the Tennessee side. ABC attempted to jazz up its telecasts by cutting to one of them periodically for brief reports and interviews.

The first in-game sideline report came at the 41:58 mark when play-by-play announcer Keith Jackson sent it down to Tollefson who interviewed a cheerleader. The moment comes off very awkwardly as Tollefson doesn't identify the interview subject in any way, but rather dives right in with a question. He would do the same thing when interviewing a police officer at 1:08:18.

In a 2009 interview, Lampley recalled this telecast, but completely botched the details of his on-air debut.

"I can tell you exactly the first time they threw to me during action. It was early in the game." The day before, he'd had a lengthy interview with Tennessee quarterback Condredge Holloway. Afterward, Holloway pulled Lampley aside and guaranteed that, the following day, he would throw for a touchdown on the Volunteers' first play from scrimmage. Says Lampley: "I'm like, 'Pardon me?' He said, 'Trust me. We spent all summer studying film. We know exactly how they bit. This is play-action to Stanley Morgan, and we'll score on the first play from scrimmage.'" On Saturday, Tennessee won the coin toss. Got the ball on the 20. Play-action to Stanley Morgan. Eighty yards. Touchdown.

"I had told the producer about it," Lampley says, "and he remembered, and amid all the hoopla, Keith [Jackson] threw to me on the sideline. I said, 'Keith, at our sitdown interview, Condredge told me he'd throw a touchdown pass on the first play of the game, etc., etc.' That was the first thing I did on camera. 

Tennessee actually scored on its second play from scrimmage (not first play) on a 74 yard TD pass (not 80). You can forgive Lampley for these relatively minor mistakes. But I found a major error with the rest of his description of his first sideline report - it never happened! As you can see from the video (the sequence starts at the 28:15 mark), Jackson does not send things down to Lampley after this play or upon return from the next commercial break. In fact, Lampley would not appear on camera during game action until the 47:43 mark when he provided an injury report with no mention at all of this scoring play.

Here is a sampling of some other sideline reports from this game:

  • 49:37 - injury report (Tollefson)
  • 53:55 - injury update (Lampley)
  • 59:44 - mascot interview (Tollefson)
  • 1:02:19 - injury update (Lampley)
  • 1:10:54 - parent interview (Lampley)
  • 1:15:19 - cheerleader interview (Tollefson)
  • 1:27:22 - injury update (Lampley)
  • 1:37:05 - halftime coach interview (Tollefson)
  • 1:57:18 - halftime coach interview (Lampley)
  • 2:22:06 - injury report (Lampley)
  • 2:27:25 - parent interview (Tollefson)

I thought Tollefson appeared nervous on camera. I thought Lampley was more poised and sounded much better. Most of the interview questions from both men seemed quite lame. And many of the sideline reports seemed rushed.

A few other notable items from this video clip:

  • Most commercial breaks were just 60 seconds.
  • At 2:19:58, ABC promoted the upcoming Monday night telecast with an on-screen graphic which botched the spelling ("Darryl") of guest commentator Darrell Royal.
  • You can hear a classic Jackson "FUMBLE!" call at the 2:23:10 mark.
  • This footage also includes the Prudential College Scoreboard show with Dave Diles starting at 3:15:14.

Tollefson lasted just one season in the ABC sideline role and went on to have a lengthy career, primarily as a local sportscaster in Philadelphia. Lampley worked the sidelines for three seasons and then shifted into a play-by-play role on regional NCAA games in 1977. He made his mark mostly at the national level on ABC, and later on CBS, NBC, and HBO.

Ironically, in later years, both of the original sideline reporters encountered trouble with the law. In 2007, Lampley was arrested for a domestic violence incident and pled no-contest to a charge of violating a restraining order. In 2014, Tollefson was arrested for his involvement in a charity fraud scheme and spent time in jail.

This 1974 telecast was significant for other reasons. It was the first for Jackson as the lead voice on the ABC NCAA football package. He took over for Chris Schenkel who was moved to the studio. This was also the first example of a season-long experiment where ABC used a variety of current and former coaches as guest commentators in the booth. The analyst on this game was former Nebraska coach Bob Devaney.


  1. Thanks these old clips!!! I remember this game vaguely as a kid.....coming from a family of Holy Cross fans, we used to sweat out the Prudential College Scoreboard on weeks we didn't go to games lol

  2. Thanks, Jeff--great stuff! I had to laugh at Keith Jackson's description of those wonderful men who are shaping America's youth, considering the corruption that went on at so many of their schools!

    It was sad to see Chris Schenkel in the studio. He had been very much the #1 announcer for ABC Sports--people forget he anchored the 1972 Olympics, that Jim McKay came into the studio because of the horrible events at Munich, not because he already was the anchorman. Schenkel was a gentleman about it, as I understand he was about almost everything in life, but later he talked about his mistreatment by Roone Arledge and ABC Sports.

    1. Chris Schenkel still covered games for ABC in 74. I believe he had a dual role-studio host/backup play-by-play.