‘Voice of the Buffs’ Mark Johnson makes all the calls during whirlwind week

Hectic holiday weekend included overnight drive, furious cram session

Maddox Daniels talks Mark Johnson during ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Maddox Daniels talks Mark Johnson during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

Mark Johnson doesn’t want to complain, and in his long broadcasting career he has called games in all sorts of less-than-ideal situations.

Still, to say the veteran voice of the Buffs burned the midnight oil over the past few days would be a colossal understatement.

It was a whirlwind week for Johnson, who drove himself to Manhattan, Kansas to call two victorious Colorado men’s basketball games from the rafters of Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum before driving through the night back to Boulder just in time to call Saturday’s 20-10 win by the CU football team against San Diego State at Folsom Field.

Even if the original plan for football had unfolded with a trip to USC that ultimately was canceled, Johnson was planning to return to Boulder anyway, as he is calling the road games this season from the Buff Vision studio at the CU Events Center. Yet he nonetheless was happy the kickoff time changed from a 1:30 p.m. start at USC to the mid-afternoon kickoff on Saturday. That switch meant a little extra sleep for Johnson after he hit the road immediately following the basketball team’s 76-58 win on Friday night at Kansas State.

“This is just my little world,” Johnson said. “The facilities people are doing the same thing. The turf people are doing the same thing. The football staff is doing the same thing. It was a mad Thanksgiving scramble.”

While CU’s football team spent the bulk of two work weeks preparing for USC, so, too, did Johnson, who ended up spending much of his trip to Kansas cramming to learn the personnel, tendencies, and name pronunciations of the San Diego State program. Johnson estimated he spends about 20 hours doing that sort of work for a typical football game. Given Johnson also was busy this past week with the basketball team, that prep time for Saturday’s football team was reduced to just a few hours.

“When we finished up with that Stanford game (on Nov. 14) I thought I was going to be in a perfect position,” Johnson said. “I knew I was going to be out of town with basketball, so I really worked ahead on the football. I did quite a bit of what we call board preparation. For the play-by-play you make your own spotting board, and that’s kind of your cheat sheet. I was working way ahead on that as much as I could. Really felt by the time we got to Kansas I was in a great position. Then as the week went on I kept thinking that all might have been a waste of time. So you just throw that in the trash can and start a new one very quickly.

“It’s lucky I’ve been doing this for this long, because it does make it a little easier.”

Johnson’s in-person appearance to call the basketball games at Kansas State was an anomaly, as he is scheduled to call Wednesday’s basketball game at Arizona, as well as the multi-team event in Las Vegas later in December, from the Buff Vision studio. Coronavirus protocols forced Johnson to the rafters at K-State’s Bramlage Coliseum, but the less-than ideal vantage was just another challenge to roll with in this most unique of sports seasons.

“For basketball, I like being on the field because you can kind of feel it,” Johnson said. “That’s why people pay so much for those courtside seats. It was a challenge. It’s not a bad vantage (at the top of the arena), but you do miss a lot. There’s an essence of sitting courtside that you miss by sitting up there.”