End of an era for Penn Football

Philadelphia Sports Writers Association member Joe Kadlec sent this along. It is a true tribute.

C.T. Alexander (l) with son John, U of P C'87.

Don’t forget, tickets to the 2011 PSWA dinner are on sale at www.pswa.org. Honored guests include the Phillies’ Roy Halliday and Shane Victorino and Eagles’ legend Bill Bergey.

[To comment: larry@larrylitwin.com]

Posted on Saturday, December 25 2010

C. T. Alexander was not a public-address announcer. He was the Voice
of Franklin Field, and at the University of Pennsylvania, that
qualified him as a celebrity.
When he walked into the Faculty Club at the Inn at Penn, a table of
Quakers basketball fans stopped eating their breakfast to stand and
shake his hand. He waved to passersby while strolling the Locust Walk
on Penn’s campus on a recent Saturday. Later, Gov. Ed Rendell, a proud
Penn alum, greeted Alexander.

Franklin Field has been deemed by the N.C.A.A. the oldest stadium
operating for football games. And for 50 of the stadium’s 115 years,
Alexander was behind the microphone in the press box, joined by his
son and daughter as the spotters who help him to identify the players.

But a Penn tradition came to a close on Nov. 13 when Alexander, 76,
called his final game at Franklin Field.

“I just think it’s time,” Alexander, who graduated from Penn in 1956,
said over coffee that morning. “A lot of people don’t decide it’s time
until it’s too late. Fifty years is a nice round figure.”

But for 50 more years, those at Penn might have stories to tell about
Alexander. With a wink and a knowing smile, he built his legend.

He claimed the secret to his vocals was his triple rinse with
mouthwash before each game (not true). He carried a foam microphone in
his briefcase (true). He jokingly boasted about being named the
best-dressed public-address announcer in the Ivy League (not true). He
and a Penn assistant once lined up cultural attachés from Europe in
Franklin Field to teach them about American football (true).

“He’s the kind of person, if you were stuck on a desert island, you’d
want him,” Barbara Alexander, his wife, said. “He’d figure out how
you’d eat, how you’d get shelter and how you’d get home.”

John Charles Thompson Alexander — called C. T. by members of Delta Tau
Delta who wanted to differentiate him from another freshman, John W.
Alexander Jr., who was also rushing the fraternity — has a personal
history that belies steady cadence at the microphone.

After graduating from Penn, Alexander served two years in the Marines,
then nine years in the active reserve. He worked as the senior vice
president of a Philadelphia bank from 1962 to 1969. The Wall Street
Journal wrote about the “bankruptcy party” Alexander hosted at his
home in 1982 to lighten the mood during tough economic times.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan appointed Alexander the director of a
professional and cultural exchange program for the United States
Information Agency. From 1989 until 1993, Alexander served as an
appointee in President George H. W. Bush’s administration as the
director of a grant program for the Department of Education.

But Alexander, now working as a handyman in suburban Philadelphia, has
one bullet point on his résumé that outlasts the others: the Voice of
Franklin Field.

Alexander’s favorite memory was Penn’s 23-21 defeat of Harvard in 1982
for the Ivy League title on a second-chance field goal with no time on
the clock. He built a reservoir of historical perspective: he attended
all but three games in 50 years.

In 1994, Alexander crossed the globe in one day to get to a game. In
Kyrgyzstan while working abroad for his consulting business related to
international education (another of his many past occupations), he
flew to Kazakhstan, then to Moscow, then to New York, then took a
train to Philadelphia. He arrived roughly 30 minutes before kickoff
after the 24-hour whirlwind.

“It takes great discipline,” Alexander, whose payment came in the form
of credentials and a parking pass, said of his attendance record.
“Like it takes discipline not to use so many words when announcing.
It’s the same thing.”

In 1960, the Penn sports information director asked if Alexander
wanted to take over for Ray Dooney as Franklin Field’s public-address
announcer. Alexander agreed, but he never could have known he would be
at it decades later — or that it would later become a centralizing
force for his family.

His son, John Alexander, joined him in the press box in 1976. At age
12, the younger Alexander fit snuggly. More recently, Linda Alexander
Rocca, one of Alexander’s daughters, made it a threesome. Through the
years, they sat alongside their father, working as spotters with
binoculars and rosters at the ready.

“My father and I through the years were very tight, and we’ve had some
years where we ran into some difficulties,” said John Alexander, who
graduated from Penn in 1987. “But no matter what, there was no
question we’d be together five weeks every fall. That never wavered.”

Now that his father has stepped aside, John Alexander, 46, hopes to
become the new voice of Franklin Field, carrying on a tradition that
has become as much a part of the family as it has Penn. He filled in
during the games his father missed, and called half of Penn’s victory
over Dartmouth on Oct. 2, but no successor has been named.

“He’ll definitely be in consideration,” Steve Bilsky, the Penn
athletic director, said in a telephone interview. “If that happens, it
would definitely be cool. We also want to make sure the person is
professional. That’s what Penn and Franklin Field deserves.”

On Nov. 13, Penn played Harvard with the Ivy League title at stake, a
dramatic game that seemed an appropriate conclusion to Alexander’s
eventful career. He wore a sweater vest, khakis and a hat that
included his initials and his title, “The Voice.”

A number of Alexander’s classmates were in attendance to share the
moment, one of them giving him a bottle of Champagne as a gift. Many
more Quakers fans stopped to offer Alexander good wishes. Rendell, who
was also in attendance, wrote a letter of recognition to mark the day,
extending “my gratitude, respect and admiration on behalf of all

After a slow start, Penn pulled away from Harvard and cruised to a
34-14 victory to claim at least a share of its 15th Ivy League
championship. (Penn clinched the outright title by beating Cornell,
31-7, on Nov. 20.) While watching the Quakers celebrate on a beautiful
fall night here, the Voice of Franklin Field, his microphone turned
off for good, made his final announcement to no one in particular.

“I’m going out on top,” he said.  (source New York Times)