Ex-Illini is on call for Pack

 

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DALLAS – The first career worked out pretty well for Larry McCarren, and it came as no surprise to those who watched him grow up in south suburban Park Forest.

The heralded high school football star captained two Illinois teams during his collegiate career from 1970 to '72 and was an All-Big Ten center for coach Bob Blackman.

He'd go on to play 12 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, where he started 162 consecutive games as their center.

That was the easy part. The second career, as a broadcaster, is the one McCarren struggled with out of the gate.

"It's like getting at-bats. I was god awful when I started television, and luckily I got some at-bats because I didn't want to be a failure," said McCarren, the color analyst for Green Bay broadcasts on the Packers' radio network. "I got enough at-bats where I got comfortable and got better. The part of the country where I'm working, the familiarity helps because the folks are comfortable with you."

He'll take part in his third Super Bowl today – all as a radio broadcaster – when the Packers face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. The Packers never reached the Super Bowl during his playing career – they reached the postseason just once during that time.

"It's fun being a broadcaster and doing the Super Bowl, but it's two different things," McCarren said. "I don't know what it's like from a player's perspective, but it's fun every time I get to do this. You're just kind of along for the ride, and it's really been a ride this year."

The 59-year-old has been calling games on the radio since 1995, but that's only part of McCarren's second career. He hosts the "Larry McCarren Locker Room Show," a weekly telecast with interviews and features on Packers players and coaches. He's also the sports director at WFRV-TV, the Green Bay CBS affiliate and serves as its sports anchor on the 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts on weekdays.

You can say, after what he calls a rough start, that the second career has worked out OK for McCarren. Four times – 1994, 1996, 2002 and 2007 – he's been named Wisconsin's Sportscaster of the Year by a group of his peers. Not bad for a guy who never imagined he'd be involved in broadcast media during his collegiate days.

"Thankfully I had bosses who were comfortable enough to let me grow on the job and let me work some things out. It certainly wasn't like I took it by storm and had all the answers from the get-go," he said. "It was a growing process, and the people in charge let me do the growing and that certainly helped. Every day you can either be good or not very good. It's a live performance and you can't take it back.

"When you're up there, it's like, 'Whoa, I'm broadcasting the Super Bowl and I was a physical education major. I didn't go to school for this.' "

As good as he is in front of the camera, McCarren was just as good as a player. He was named to two Pro Bowls and is a member of the Packers' Hall of Fame. It's a group that includes Vince Lombardi, former Illini Ray Nitschke, Bart Starr and Reggie White.

"It's a real honor, especially when you look at the people you're in there with, some are true legends of the game," he said. "I kind of look around at the other names and it's really humbling more than anything else. I look up there and I'm like, 'What the heck am I doing up there?' There are some talented men up there who came before and after me."

McCarren also was honored at Illinois in 2008 as one of the school's 10 best offensive linemen. His hectic schedule doesn't allow for many trips back to Champaign, but he keeps an ear out for how his alma mater fares each week during the football season.

"I'm kind of all-day-long pro football, and my weekends are so consumed with pro football that I'm trying to get ready for the next one and the next opponent," he said. "I'm certainly aware of how Illinois did on a particular weekend, but unfortunately I don't know a whole lot of people who are involved there anymore.

"The first 10 years or so when you're gone there are still people in the program one way or another who you were close with, coached by, went to school with. Then all of a sudden there's no more of your crowd left. I certainly pay attention, though."

McCarren's not apologizing for being locked in on the Packers – and he doesn't need to.

"I like doing color and everything I'm doing right now," he said. "It's a role I really enjoy and something I'm having a lot of fun doing."

Air in their ways

Here's a look at the top five former Illini covering football in the broadcast world:

Bob Trumpy - Current WestwoodOne analyst and former tight end called Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII for NBC and has covered the Olympics.

Larry McCarren - Former offensive lineman in 16th season as Packers' color analyst on radio

Doug Dieken - Longtime Browns tight end has served as the team's color analyst on radio since 1985.

Howard Griffith - Two-time Super Bowl champion running back is a Big Ten Network analyst and does Chicago Bears coverage on Comcast SportsNet

Kurt Kittner - Former quarterback has teamed with Brian Barnhart each of the last four seasons to call Illinois games on the Illini Sports Network.