It was October in Nebraska. The leaves were beginning to catch fire, leaf kindling leaping to autumnal flame, and the air only just starting to whisper quietly about the winter yet to come. The kind of fall evening where the setting sun turns the light to gold leaf that could make King Midas jealous and plates the air in a quiet brilliance.
Out came the cooler, the chairs, and the holy grail of youthful campouts: the s’mores supplies. My family and my best friend and I were at Pioneer’s park. Night was just beginning its warmup laps around our prairie sky, darkness kissing the edges of the vast expanse above us, and we had come to stay until darkness. With a crackling, we fired up the portable radio, battered black edges sliding along the equally requisite and equally dented aluminum picnic table near the fire ring.
Scanning through country tracks from pre-Chris Gaines Garth and past the sounds of a pop music blasting pre-crazy Britney, we landed on the right station. The motherload. The Husker broadcast. We maxed out the tinny, small speakers so we could throw our own Nerf football while listening to the sounds of the game. I don’t remember the other broadcasters voices, not now and not clearly anyway, but I do remember Adrian Fiala. His voice’s unmistakable timbre, auditory pointillism dotting out each important moment, expanding though the night air like the smoke from our Journal Star clippings as they sparked our wood to a blaze.
We were young and it was Saturday. Life itself was not to be pondered. Not while there was a game blasting, a fire going, and football in the air. Not while Adrian Fiala was talking.
Image courtesy of: netnebraska.org
On Monday afternoon the radio clicked off.
The voice, that iconic deep-chested rumble, came to a stop.
On Monday afternoon, Adrian Fiala passed away.
I didn’t know Adrian Fiala personally. He probably has no idea that he impacted my life in a small way; that his gilded baritone voice lacquered many a Husker Saturday for me, enhancing the product beneath but not ever trying to change it completely. He probably doesn’t know that, when the Huskers played a severely overmatched opponent and the pay-per-view games were too pricey for my parents, I would crank my parents’ cable dial way up to the pay-per-view channel in an attempt to watch the scrambled lines of distorted gamedays even though we hadn’t paid for it and I would listen to him explain the shifting patterns as I desperately tried to make out whether that was actually Scott Frost running with the ball or not.
I didn’t know Adrian Fiala. But he did know me.
He knew me because he knew Nebraska. He knew me because he knew the players and he knew the tradition. But above all, he knew the fans. He knew that the blood in our veins had a particular hue to it that can only truly be described if you’re seated in Memorial Stadium on a crisp fall day in the capital city of Nebraska. And he knew how to describe exactly that. To crystallize a moment in a game and blend it with his football-mind and tumble out words like a timpani drum roll. Regal and majestic.
When silence was called for, Adrian Fiala let it reign. His silence over the air waves of my youth were just a momentous as his voice. When Fiala let a moment simmer, you didn’t taste the stew until he was ready to ladle it back out again. And that was how it went. In a time of blurry pictures and pay-per-view games that were out of my parents’ price point: Adrian Fiala’s voice was high-definition. It was slow-motion replay. It was all the things that make nostalgia and sports blend together into a fine wine that ages gracefully and with dignity.
I’m no longer young. And life is now, certainly, open to be pondered. But one thing is for certain: come Saturdays in the fall, Adrian Fiala’s voice won’t be gone. It will be remembered in the breathless recanting of a die-hard sports fan as he passionately remembers Fiala’s voice launching him into his traditional Saturday sprint into the front yard to celebrate a Husker touchdown, rocket-fuel for the youthful fan. It will sound in the hearts and minds of those who loved him and knew him and were touched by his love in FM, AM, and in real life encounters.
On Monday afternoon, the radio clicked off.
On Monday afternoon, that iconic voice – braille to a generation of fans that could not see the action on the field – came to a stop.
But make no mistake: that voice, the voice, will continue to echo for quite some time.
(Feature image courtesy of: omaha.com)