The broken AC causes the morning heat to settle inside Andy Burcham’s office on the second floor of the Coliseum. Everyone who enters soon leaves a sweatier version of themselves, and most who enter are other reporters. It’s 9 a.m., and this is his second interview of the day. Three more are scheduled before lunch.
He stands to greet reporters there to ask him what it’s like, how he feels, people who want to know where he was on that warm May evening, on that night when people looked to the sky and asked why their voice, the one that howled and bellowed “Touchdown!” all these years, was gone.
Burcham looks at the cardboard boxes across the floor.
“This is Rod’s office. I moved in to Rod’s office yesterday,” Burcham says. “It’s been over three months since Rod passed away. We just left the office as it is.”
There’s a lot to unpack, he says, a lot to process before the first home game when he’ll be in the press box, fulfilling a job he never intended to have right now. It’s a job he’s been preparing for since he was a boy in the small town of Nashville, Illinois.
Burcham was six years old when he knew he wanted to be a broadcaster.
“We’d be playing wiffle ball in the backyard … I irritated my friends because I was announcing the game as it was going on,” Burcham said.
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When his grandmother, Naomi Bartley, or Grandma Jane, as he used to call her, gave him a tape recorder, he’d spend hours recording make-believe talk shows, lost in the wonder of capturing a moment through his gift of gab. He kept Grandma Jane’s present until he went to college and got the opportunity to be a color commentator and high school basketball broadcaster.
The gymnasium in Nashville Burcham recalls, was big enough to fit all 3,000 of its residents. Burcham said he never felt intimidated. It was good practice for the first job he would land coming out of college in a place he heard was nicknamed the Plains.
He was the play-by-play caller for Auburn women’s basketball in 1988, the year the team played for a national championship. That year was followed by another championship run.
“By the end of my second year, when it became apparent that we weren’t going to be moving back to Illinois, then I got the opportunity to go to work… doing the locker room for football,” Burcham said.
A few years later, his job grew to calling baseball games with Bramblett and calling a game he’d never followed before in his life — soccer.
“It was hard for me because I just didn't know the game well enough,” Burcham said.
To learn and practice, Burcham would go the team’s training and call their actions out loud.
“I would start calling the game to myself,” Burcham said. “I would verbalize it — that’s why I was by myself, so people wouldn’t think I was losing it.”
As Burcham speaks about his work, his eyes get bigger, his voice picks up speed. This is all he wanted as a boy. He remembers when the tall grass tickled his knees in the summertime, he said, and when the St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster announced to the world that yes, the team had just scored a homerun, and yes, the team was going to win the ballgame, and absolutely yes, it was time to go wild and cheer.
“That always appealed to me,” Burcham said. “The crowd reaction, the passion. How could a kid not fall in love?”
Burcham starts talking about the busy schedule this job can bring when he gets a reminder on his phone that another interview is coming up.
“I’m sorry,” Burcham says as he puts his phone down. “You asked when I get a break?”
He starts talking about July and about summer.
“Well, this summer has been unique,” Burcham said.
He mentions a trip he had planned with his brother and then brings up what he knows will be brought up countless times that day.
“We’d been planning that trip for a year-and-a-half, and then Rod and Paula were killed in May,” Burcham says, taking his gaze to the floor.
He brings up a memory from fall of last year, a Friday night before a home football game. He and his wife Jan were getting dinner with Rod and Paula. They often grabbed dinner on Friday nights before a home game.
After talking about family and football, Bramblett leaned over to the Burchams.
“If something ever happens to us,” Burcham recalls Bramblett asking. “Would you consider being the guardians for our children?”
Burcham was taken aback by the question. He turned to his wife. The two had never had children.
“Absolutely,” Burcham said. “We’d be honored.”
On May 25, Burcham was in a bowling alley in Huntsville, celebrating a family member’s graduation. He received a call, and when he heard the news, everything seemed to go quiet, he said.
“We were consumed after their deaths,” Burcham said. “I’m not sure some of us have dealt with it, quite frankly, or properly grieved.”
Four weeks ago, Burcham drove 15-year-old Joshua Bramblett to his first day of school. Before leaving, he turned to Joshua.
“You know, Josh,” Burcham said. “It’d be against the law if we didn't put a picture up on Facebook.”
They took a quick photo. In the post, Joshua is smiling. It was a sunny morning, it seems. “Rod and Paula would be proud,” the caption reads.
They hopped in the car. Burcham turned up the radio and the two listened quietly. When they arrived, Burcham looked at his best friend’s son.
“Josh, have a good day,” Burcham said.
“Okay, you too,” Burcham recalled Josh saying.
After school, they ate dinner together. Josh did his laundry. A couple days later, Burcham went to a meet-the-teacher day. The next week, Burcham was sat down by Chris Davis. He was told that he would be the next Voice of the Auburn Tigers.
Burcham said he remembers how nervous he was to tell Josh and Shelby Bramblett.
It was a “delicate thing,” he said. “I’m replacing their father, you know. So I had to be delicate in how I handled that.”
The press conference passed, the congratulations came, and all he could think about was the bittersweet nature of the moment — especially for his guardian son.
“They told me they were happy for me, but listen, it’d be natural for them to have some mixed feelings,” Burcham said. “Anytime you talk about that, we all think back to the 25th of May.”
With several days before the first home game, Burcham thinks of the thousands who will tune in, eager to hear their new voice.
“We’ll be back in the home booth where Rod called games for years,” Burcham said. “And obviously, that’s gonna be emotional.”
He looks at a photo of the broadcasting crew from last year. Bramblett’s right there, smack in the middle. He has his arm over Burcham, smiling.
“This is the most important job I’ll ever have, professionally, in my career,” Burcham said. “I don't want to screw it up. That's the bottom line.”
His game plan for Saturday is simple: Pray that he can capture the moment and be himself.
“Don’t try to be Jim Fyffe, don’t be Rod Bramblett,” he said. “Be Andy Burcham.”
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