The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders lost to Illinois 27-25 Saturday in Champaign. While it was an exciting game and an almost big win for Conference USA over the Big Ten, it was even more special due to an excellent radio broadcast in Mandarin Chinese.
Starting this season, Illinois football has a student radio broadcast of all home football games in Mandarin Chinese. As is the case with most people from the United States, I am not at all fluent in that language. I had previously found out that touchdown was "Da zhen" so I knew to look out for that.
I went into this game somehow thinking that I would be able to pick up a word or phrase here and there. That was an insane thought. The only words I could pick up were words like fumble, player names, sack, and many other football specific terms that could not be translated.
I have listened to way too many low quality student radio broadcasts, so my expectations for sound quality were at a minimum. Surprise, surprise, the sound quality was excellent with both commentators able to be heard clearly. My only complaint would be to allow some noise from the game into the broadcast. At times it felt like they were not even in the stadium.
The first thing I noticed before kickoff was the distinct differences in pace by the announcers. The play by play man had a slower, more deliberate pace, while the color man spoke with speed and excitement of a roller coaster ride on every occasion.
The Chinese booth loves special teams. While kickoffs, punts, and field goals are a time for many viewers to check their phone or head to the restroom, this booth would have none of that. The opening kickoff started with a slow, quiet call as the ball flew through the air. An eruption of excitement came from my speakers as the ball was kicked for a touchback. The excitement level grew exponentially with every return, whether it was a gain of one, or a gain of 10.
I nearly forgot, Illinois blocked a punt and recovered for a touchdown. I cannot even express in words the sounds that came from the booth during that play. The game had gotten into a bit of a lull and then BOOM, my speakers nearly overload with the joy and passion of the best Chinese Radio booth in college football.
I expected to get long silent moments during the television timeouts, but what I got instead was amazing radio. Hearing a stream of words in Chinese followed by Martin Lawrence and Bad Boys 2 caught my attention. I have zero idea of the context in bringing up that cinematic masterpiece, but I don’t really care.
Let me repeat, Martin Lawrence was brought up in a Chinese radio broadcast of American Football. Let that sink in for a moment. Several other pop culture ideas came during television timeouts, including a "Field of Dreams" reference, a call out to ESPNU, and for some reason, Soldier Field. If you were listening and heard any I missed, list them in the comments section.
Da Zhen, Da Zhen, Da Zhen!!! Who cares who scored a touchdown, it is a chance to hear Da Zhen screamed at the top of the announcing crew’s lungs. It is the Chinese take on "Gooooaaaallll" by Spanish language announcers in soccer. Football would be so much better if the rest of the announcing community would scream Da Zhen rather than touchdown when team crosses the goal line.
V’Angelo Bentley of Illinois was a star in the radio broadcast. Bentley was used as a punt and kick returner, as well as on defense, for the Illini. Despite only touching the ball eight times in the game, Bentley’s name was mentioned at least 20 times. Maybe they really like the senior’s contributions to the game or maybe they just liked saying V’Angelo. Either way, he was a superstar on Saturday in the broadcast.
SACK!!! Almost more exciting than a touchdown call, when the quarterback went down, the booth went crazy. It didn’t matter if Stockstill or Lunt was being dragged to the ground, it was all about the quarterback sack call from the booth.
The ending. You think you heard a wild call at the end of the Florida-Tennessee game when the field goal was no good? All I can say is no, just no. Hearing a pair of student announcers lose their minds with MTSU missing a game tying 43-yard field goal may be up there with any sports call of the year. Did it matter that it was in Chinese? Not at all, sports transcended language on Saturday and it was glorious.
Full disclosure, I did watch the video of the game on ESPN News with the sound muted.