Despite 'worst' sportscast, Collins says he'd try again

Brian Collins, as he looks now. AP Photo

Just in case you forgot, his name is Brian Collins. That's him to the right. Nice guy, too. Bad goatee, but nice guy. He's the kind of guy who travels to Appalachia and helps build houses for Habitat For Humanity. Wants to make a difference in the world.

On a March night in 2005, the nice guy volunteered to anchor the "Newslink @ Nine" sportscast on the Ball State University television station. The scheduled anchor had canceled, so Collins, a 19-year-old telecommunications freshman from Milan, Ohio, offered to help. He had never done a sportscast, but how hard could it be, right? You read some scores, breeze through the highlights, and before you know it, you're back in your dorm room doing English Lit homework.

But what happened next was, well, you can watch for yourself. Click on the link next to the column. I can wait.

Done? Sort of like watching someone perform open heart surgery on themselves, isn't it? It might be the most spectacularly painful 3 minutes and 54 seconds in sports broadcasting history. As we approach the two-year anniversary of the telecast, communications scholars everywhere now refer to it as, "The Collins Incident."

First of all, the teleprompter didn't work. Well, it worked, but there was a new person on the prompter who accidentally fast forwarded through the script. So Collins could pick out only a word here or there before it disappeared from the prompter screen. He sounded as if he were deciphering WWII secret code from the Germans.

But wait, he had the typewritten script pages in front of him for emergencies. Yes, he did. Except that the pages were hopelessly out of order. That's when Collins remembers thinking, "You know, tonight's not going to be a good night."

It didn't help that Collins kept looking at the wrong TV monitor during the highlight packages. Or that someone walked behind him during the telecast. Or that every nanosecond of the sportscast seemed to last a leap year.

"The one thing I was proud of, I didn't just get up and walk out," said Collins. "I didn't die. I took it until the end."

What was your favorite moment? The tortured script reading? The long silence punctuated by the sounds of frantic paper shuffling? The labored breathing? The heartfelt, plaintive sigh during the middle of the nightmare? The part where Collins glances to someone off camera and mouths the words, "I'm so sorry?"

It was so dreadful, so tragically funny, and best of all, so human. And yet, Collins somehow gathered himself during the botched Nets-Pacers' highlights and delivered the ad-lib line which became You Tube legend.

"Later he gets the rebound … passes it to the man … shoots it … and boom goes the dynamite."

Collins hasn't done a sportscast since. He did a gig on David Letterman (Letterman, a Ball State alum and financial contributor, donated a plaque to the school that reads, "Dedicated to all 'C' students before and after me!"). There was the CBS morning show appearance where he helped do the weather report. And there were some interviews with assorted newspapers and radio stations.

ESPN "SportsCenter" anchor Scott Van Pelt e-mailed Collins and told him, "If this is the worst thing that ever happens to you, life will be good." And then Van Pelt paid homage to Collins by using the "Boom" line on the air.
He still does on occasion.

Other Ball State students did double takes when they saw Collins on campus. But apparently the chicks didn't dig his fame or appreciate the brilliance of his ad lib. He got zero dates out of it.

"I'm the, 'Boom Goes The Dynamite Nerd,' " he said.

Nah, I tell him. It was inspired stuff.

"Oh, c'mon," he said. "It was nerdy."

Collins is 21 now. He's finishing up his junior year at Ball State, has a girlfriend, lives off campus with four buddies, and begins an internship this summer at Indianapolis' WTHR-TV. He'll be working with the station's investigative team. Boom goes the hidden camera.

Collins would like you to know he's doing fine. Better than fine. The sports talk radio stations don't call anymore, and his last print interview was almost six months ago. But just to be on the safe side, he wouldn't agree to this interview until he confirmed it was really someone from ESPN.

"You'd be surprised what people would try to do," he said.

He still does on-air work, but mostly as the weather guy. When he graduates next spring (major in telecommunications, minor in political science), Collins wants to find a job on the news side. But before he leaves the Muncie, Ind., campus, Collins is considering one final sports encore.

"You know, I might try it," he said. "Just to get back up there and do the sports … end that chapter in my life. The thing that concerns me is that it would come back and haunt me if I tried to get a job somewhere."

Haunt him? If I'm a station manager somewhere, I hire Collins because he's totally fearless. The kid became must-see video disaster, but had the stones to survive it. And now he's thinking of a one-time sportscast return? The ratings would be huge.

"Don't be surprised if I come out swinging," said Collins, who reminds me a little bit of Kenneth on "30 Rock" (but in a good way). "It's a big world out there. I've taken a few shots, and I'm ready to take a few more … Yeah, things went wrong and everybody got a good laugh. But things have changed since then."

Here's the deal, Brian. Set the date for your return to the anchor's chair. Maybe we can get Letterman to punch up the script. Van Pelt can co-host. I'll work the teleprompter. We'll do it up right.

But you'll need a new catchphrase. "Boom" is so, well, 2005.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.