It was shortly after his last Super Bowl for Fox in 2011 that a virus struck a nerve in Joe Buck's left vocal cord, leaving his voice weak and raspy for months afterward.
Sunday he will be back doing play-by-play for the biggest game of them all, fully recovered, perhaps sounding better than ever.
"Actually my voice has come back stronger, in a weird way, because I had to work around the deficiency," he said Tuesday. "But I was scared to death. I thought that was it. I think I was brought back to reality, if I ever said it but didn’t mean it, knowing how much I love what I do and how lucky I am and how much fun I should be having.
"Because when I started having to worry about how I was going to talk instead of what I was going to say, how I was going to make a sound and what it was going to sound like instead of delivering information and being exciting and whatever, it shook me to my professional core and really my personal core. It drove me into Hermitville. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. You couldn’t be heard in a restaurant. You couldn’t be heard in a bar. It takes your personality away."
Buck said he and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning discussed their shared experience with nerve damage before a game earlier this season.
"I was fascinated to talk to him about the nerve damage," Buck said. "I had to wait for a nerve to regenerate and nobody can tell you if it’s going to happen in a week, three weeks, three months, six months, a year. After you get to a year they start going, well, if it’s not back by now – and really I got that after six months – it’s probably not going to come back.
"He and I talked about it that week and he said he would get up every day and throw with his dad at 1 in the afternoon just to gauge if it was better than the day before. Every time I opened my mouth I gauged if it was better than the last time I opened my mouth and I could feel in small increments it getting better, but nobody could hear it on the outside.
"I can only tell you it’s hard to recover in public. I didn’t miss a game. But when you feel like you’re not yourself, and my bosses are like, ‘Yeah, we’ll give you a little more time,’ but you just are waiting for them to tap you on the shoulder. It’s a lot of stress and it works against your nervous system regenerating itself. So it’s a vicious cycle.
"So to see where he is; he still can’t feel his triceps. It’s remarkable he’s as good as he is."