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Bob Papa living his childhood dream with Giants

Longtime Giants radio voice Bob Papa.

Longtime Giants radio voice Bob Papa. Credit: New York Giants

Bill Papa remembers how his son "from a very, very young age" would do play-by-play while his mother, Dorothy, cooked meals, using a wooden spoon as a microphone.

So he was listening to and describing sports action while his mother worked in the kitchen? Cute. But not exactly.

"No, it was, ‘Mom just put the carrots in the pot!’" Bill said of a typical cooking call.

Such was his son’s dedication to announcing. Eventually, Dorothy fretted it had become an unhealthy obsession and discussed the matter with the pediatrician.

"People are going to think this kid, there’s something wrong with him," she recalled saying. "The doctor said, ‘He’s got this vivid imagination.’"

Bob is 56 now, and it turns out he was just doing career prep. Among other professional achievements, it has been 25 years since he began calling Giants games on radio in 1995.

That is a run unparalleled among Giants play-by-play men, a roster that includes the likes of Marty Glickman, Ted Husing, Ernie Harwell, Johnny Most, Chris Schenkel, Les Keiter, Mel Allen and Marv Albert.

"It’s really hard to believe that it’s been a quarter of a century that I’ve been calling New York Giants football full time as the play-by-play guy," he said. "When you attach a number to it, it makes me stop and think for a second.

"It’s very humbling, to be quite honest. When I hear the number and people say, ‘You’re starting Year No. 26,’ I’m like, ‘What? I still feel like I’m 26.’ That is a pretty important seat in the New York sports landscape for a pretty long time."

In line with the Giants’ old-school, tradition-rich self-image, it would be difficult to have cast a more appropriate person in that role, given his family history.

Bill and Dorothy grew up across the street from one another in the South Bronx, 10 blocks from Yankee Stadium, where the Giants played from 1956-73. Her brother was his best friend. Their families originally had emigrated from the same area of southern Italy.

Dorothy’s father was a maintenance man at the Bronx County Courthouse, which enabled the family to watch Yankees games from the roof.

Bill’s cousin was a groundskeeper at the Stadium, and he got Bill a job wheeling disabled veterans into Giants games, which allowed him to watch from behind an end zone.

Bob boasted that his mother still can recite the starting defense of the 1956 NFL Championship team, which she did upon request.

"I used to love [Andy] Robustelli," she said. "I met him at a Super Bowl and said, ‘You’ve been an idol of mine.’"

Bill was at the Stadium for the 1958 title game the Colts famously won in overtime, and two weeks earlier for Pat Summerall’s 49-yard field goal in the snow against the Browns to force a conference tiebreaker the next week.

Despite all that history, Bob said doing Giants games was not a specific goal in his youth. He was as much a fan of WNEW-AM radio as of any specific team.

He dreamed of being a part of that station’s sports roster, which included the Giants, Knicks, Rangers, plus "[Frank] Sinatra the rest of the week."

The Papas moved to northern New Jersey when Bob was 5, but his grandparents remained in the Bronx and the family visited frequently.

That made Fordham a natural fit, given his familiarity with the area and the school’s rich announcing history, starting with Vin Scully and including a slightly older group of future stars such as Mike Breen and Michael Kay.

But Dorothy thought Bob would be better off at the University of Delaware, enjoying new scenery and relative safety. He lasted a year there before transferring – without first telling his parents.

It was the right decision, in part because of a connection it created that altered the trajectory of his career.

Papa had worked briefly in upstate Utica and was at the old Sports Phone scores service when then-Fordham athletic director Frank McLaughlin hired him to be the public address announcer at Rams basketball games.

One day when Glickman was doing Seton Hall radio for a game at Fordham, McLaughlin brought Papa over to meet him and introduced Papa as a rising talent.

"Words can’t even describe what it meant," Papa said of his relationship with Glickman, who died in 2001.

Glickman, who was 69 then and arguably is the most influential sports announcers’ mentor of all time, invited Papa to send him tapes. He soon was having the young announcer visit his apartment on Manhattan’s East Side for training sessions.

"Once every two weeks we would sit like we were in a classroom and he would give me pointers," Papa said. "Finally, one day he says, ‘We don’t need to meet anymore.’"

Glickman and his wife had planned a skiing trip in January of 1988, and he recommended that Papa fill in on Seton Hall basketball radio, which he did.

Later Glickman also helped launch Papa’s television career, which over the decades has included boxing, golf, the NBA, the Olympics and a stint as the NFL Network’s play-by-play man for three years in the late 2000s.

"All because of Marty," Papa said.

But there was one other tip Glickman gave him that still resonates, as it did with earlier Glickman proteges such as Albert: National work is great, but never give up your regular local gig, especially if it is based in New York.

And especially if it is with a stable outfit such as the Giants. "One of [Glickman’s] biggest regrets was leaving the Giants and going to take the Jets job [in 1973]," Papa said.

Papa knew co-owner Wellington Mara, a Fordham alumnus, from Mara’s occasional visits to the booth when Papa was an undergraduate.

He first became part of the Giants’ radio crew in 1988, doing pregame and postgame work, the latter of which involved an expanded, popular call-in show.

In 1992 and ’93, he filled in for longtime play-by-play man Jim Gordon, who was ill, on road games against the Rams and Dolphins. Papa succeeded Gordon full time in 1995.

"He would let me stand right behind him in the booth," Papa said of Gordon, who died in 2003. "He was always so helpful, so the transition was fairly seamless . . . Jim was fantastic about it. There was never any angst."

Since getting the job he has worked with the late Dick Lynch and Dave Jennings as analysts, and since 2007 with Carl Banks.

The Giants have had more down years than up during Papa’s term as the lead announcer. They are 1-6 in 2020.

But because in the NFL all television coverage is on national networks, a team’s radio voices are its unofficial soundtrack. So it has been for Papa over a quarter-century, his calls replayed over every memorable moment.

That includes two Super Bowls, which Papa naturally counts among his favorite games, along with the NFC Championship Games in 2001 and ‘08 and emotional games that followed the deaths of Mara and co-owner Bob Tisch in 2005.

"It is still one of those things that no matter how many times you hear it or you’re acknowledged for it, I’ll lose my breath a little bit," he said of hearing his voice on old video. "Put it this way: There is no novelty that’s worn off . . . Sometimes it’s almost an out-of-body experience when you think about it."

Papa, who has four sons – the youngest of whom is 5 – and two stepsons, said he hopes to remain on radio as long as he is "doing it to a standard that I believe befits the job."

There will be two longtime Giants fans from the Bronx listening to their favorite team and favorite announcer the way they always do – with the TV video synched to the radio audio.

"We’ve never watched a game using the TV announcers," Bill Papa said. "That’s never. Not maybe once, not maybe twice. It’s been never."

It has been an enjoyable ride. "To see all this happening, it’s still mind-boggling," Bill said.

Dorothy recalled Bob pulling apart a toy xylophone when one of his two younger sisters was done with it, because it was a pull toy whose handle he could use as another make-believe microphone.

"He’s very blessed; he’s lived a dream that he had as a young boy," she said. "He really had a vision, and he was never going to be deterred from that vision."

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