Chris Stewart, the voice of Alabama football for at least the 2022 season opener, wants to make one thing clear.
“This is filling in for him; this is not replacing him,” Stewart said of longtime Voice of Alabama football Eli Gold. “While I’m sick that there is a need for a fill-in, I’m extremely honored that they’ve chosen me to do it.”
On Wednesday, the University of Alabama released a statement announcing that Gold, the Crimson Tide play-by-play announcer since 1988, would be sidelined for the beginning of the football season because of health issues. Stewart was chosen to slide into the play-by-play seat.
Stewart is just keeping the seat warm when the Crimson Tide plays host to Utah State on Sept. 3 at Bryant-Denny Stadium and possibly for more games.
“I’ve listened to Eli the majority of my life,” Stewart said. “I was a kid and couldn’t get enough sports, even in elementary school, when Eli followed Gary Sanders as the Voice of the Birmingham Bulls in the WHA. Safe to say, I was the biggest hockey fan in elementary school in Fairfield in the late 70s, very early 80s. I listened to him on TC and John Ed, doing sports there, and watched him on Fox 6, listened to him doing the Barons. And then, of course like everybody else, have listened to him since 1988 on the Alabama broadcast. It was an unbelievable honor to be chosen to follow him on Alabama basketball 20 years ago, which is incredible to think it’s been that long. I’ve followed him once before, it’s never easy.”
Stewart has made a name for himself in his basketball role, winning Alabama broadcaster of the year five times, and in the booth for baseball, where he’s served on the radio crew since 2000. He played a role on the football broadcast, including a long stint on the sideline and the past three seasons sitting “shoulder-to-shoulder” in the booth beside Gold.
“I’m trying to do my job, seeing the field and contributing when I can, but I’d be foolish if I didn’t glance and watch what he’s doing a little bit,” Stewart said, “given the fact I’m a play-by-play guy and you’ve got a chance to sit next to a Hall of Famer. If you don’t observe what he’s doing and how he’s doing it, you’d be foolish. I tried to do that. We’ve had conversations about the job, not necessarily doing the Alabama play-by-play but just play-by-play in general. We shared thoughts and ideas. It's been an unbelievable opportunity to get to be his friend, get to be a colleague. But just to watch and see how he does it, is really, really special.”
Entering this season, Stewart has served as a temporary replacement for Gold. The second time came in April when Stewart was on the call for the UA Spring Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The first time was a tad bit less conventional.
It came on Dec. 12, 2020, when the Crimson Tide dismantled Arkansas, 52-3, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Gold was at home with COVID-19. No one else on the radio crew had COVID-19 but all had to be quarantined because they had been exposed. So, they set up shop in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Crimson Tide Sports Marketing producer/engineer Tom Stipe was in the team’s radio booth and ran a cable into the visiting radio booth next door, which is where Stewart spent the game. Color analyst John Parker Wilson did his job from the visiting athletic director’s suite.
“We couldn’t see other, we were all watching three separate monitors all synced up together,” Stewart said. “We called the game in Fayetteville while sitting in Bryant Denny. It was far from ideal but nothing blew up and we didn’t get fired, so I guess it was okay. Eli’s absence [that day], while it was extremely odd, he had done over 400 consecutive games, to now you’re the one having to sit in that chair and you’re not even in the same area code or the same state of the game you’re broadcasting. Play-by-play is say what you see. In those circumstances, you are limited in what you see.”
It gets weirder.
After the game, Stewart took off his headset, called UA basketball coach Nate Oats and taped a pregame interview for the Crimson Tide’s game against Clemson in Atlanta. Stewart then slipped the headset back on, basketball color analyst Bryan Passink took over in Wilson’s spot, and it was back to work.
“And, oh by the way, just to add the degree of difficulty, the feed for the ACC Network goes out at halftime,” Stewart said. “They’re late coming back, the half starts anyway and we basically described it off the stat monitor [for approximately the first five minutes of the half]. We were honest with the audience in what was transpiring, but we were reading the play-by-play coming off stat broadcast.”
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