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Say 'hola' to Texas' Spanish-language broadcast crew

AUSTIN, Texas -- You know you're good when Dr. Rubén Pizarro-Silva gives you a nickname.

Like Colt "Pistolas" McCoy. Jordan "La Liebre" Shipley was The Hare. Derrick Johnson was "El Comandante," The Commander. Charlie Strong is simply "El Jefe."

Texas running back D'Onta Foreman doesn't really go by any nicknames on a daily basis, but surely college football's leading rusher deserves one. That one came easy for Pizarro while admiring Foreman's running style.

Listen to a Longhorns en Español broadcast on Saturdays this fall and you'll hear Pizarro excitedly bellow it out:
"TOUCHDOWN LONGHORNS! TOUCHDOWN D'ONTA 'EL BÚFALO' FOREMAN!"

Pizarro is the Spanish-language voice of the Longhorns, serving the fútbol americano fans of a state in which nearly 40 percent speak Spanish. He's been doing this since 1995, long before this service became more popular in college football.

Funny enough, it's really his side job. Pizarro is a medical physician during the week. He got into sports broadcasting to help pay his way through his residency in Monterrey, Mexico, almost 30 years ago.

"The broadcasting, I don't know, it's just very addictive," Pizarro said. "You want to do it better every day, every time you go on the air. God provided me with a skill set I didn't know I had."

He got to Austin on a whim, selected in a casting call for a co-host gig of "Super Show Deportivo," a Spanish sports show in 1994 and 1995 sponsored by NFL Films. He'd sworn off the media side when he finished his residency, wanting to focus on the sports medicine profession. But the broadcasting business sucked him right back in.

Pizarro has called NFL games, Stanley Cup finals, all-star games, even minor league baseball, but he fell in love with Texas football. He attended the Longhorns' 1978 Sun Bowl game in El Paso, Texas, and says he was captivated by the logo, the helmet, the brand.

He'd never been to a Texas home game until 1995, his first year of the job. He began this humble operation as the color commentator for select games, then shifted to play-by-play after a few seasons. By 1997, Texas was broadcasting all games, home and away, in Spanish. What started with one local AM station has grown and grown. Austin became the state's first market to have a Spanish-language sports station a decade ago.

"I know the Dallas Cowboys had Spanish broadcasts in the 1990s, but it was a novelty back then and it was an unusual thing," said Craig Way, Texas' English-language play-by-play man. "And you never heard about it in college football. When it started here, I thought it was Texas being ahead of the curve."

Today, Texas' Spanish-language calls are available to an international audience thanks to online streaming, and some games get picked up by Sirius XM. Pizarro continues to be amazed by the growing distribution and acknowledges that, when he started, he was doing this for almost no money and "for the spirit more than the pocket."

That worked for him, because this is still just one of his many jobs. Pizarro never strayed from the medical field. He works with a local cardiologist in the mornings. Then he preps for his three-days-a-week sports newscast on Univision. He has a 30-minute Sunday night show, too, called "Contacto Deportivo Extra" for which he hosts, produces, writes, edits and "turns the lights off when I finish."

"With three or four jobs, I've raised three daughters and paid for college for them," he says proudly. "It's been so good."

On Saturdays, he's at his finest. Pizarro calls games with his color commentator, Jesus Mendoza, and producer Oscar Meza. His youngest daughter, Daniela, joins him in the booth to do the ad reads and serve as a spotter-in-training.

The best way to describe his broadcasts might be pure enthusiasm. Way, the English-language voice of the Longhorns, appreciates the more passionate and narrative nature of the way Pizarro sees and calls games.

"The way he calls a game is different, and the whole Spanish style of calling it is different," Way said. "Rubén is a bit more of a storyteller with it. It's a different way of telling it, but it's the way that translates best to his audience. He knows his audience."

He's still a bit of a rarity even in the Big 12. TCU started doing Spanish-language broadcasts in 2010, and Oklahoma began its operation last year. The press boxes they visit usually aren't meant to accommodate an extra radio crew, so they've accumulated a long list of tales from their road trips with the Longhorns.

Pizarro called Texas' BCS title game win over USC from the roof of the Rose Bowl, right underneath the light towers and right next to the snipers in place as a precaution to watch over the crowd. He's confident he kept them entertained.

"They'd hear us raising our voices and getting agitated during the game," he said, "and they smiled."

A roof over his head can be a luxury some Saturdays. Over the years, he jokes, he's become a "rooftop specialist." He's called a game in the snow in Lincoln, Nebraska. He once sat in a black trash bag to stay warm in cold drizzle and hard wind at the Cotton Bowl. He laughs about the time some inebriated and confused Iowa State fans heckled him in Ames, Iowa. This season, at Cal, he couldn't get a radio booth so he and Mendoza loudly called the game from press box seats next to the NFL scouts.

He's leaned on and learned from Way, whom he calls "my English brother." Way calls him "Doc" and has a deep respect for his counterpart's work ethic. His devotion to his role is pretty amazing, Way says, when you realize Pizarro still considers himself a physician most days of the week.

"I didn't expect to get to this," Pizarro said. "But what I have done is do your next show like it will be your last one. Make it the best, because you don't know if you're going to be there tomorrow. If you do it that way, you're going to keep improving."

Pizarro has cherished seeing Spanish-language college football broadcasting slowly spread to more schools. He dreams of making Mexico the "loudest burnt orange fans outside of the United States" and hopes to convert more Texas fans throughout the world, one passionate touchdown call and nickname at a time.