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ESPN’s Butera shares long TV journey

BEAVER TOWNSHIP — The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) debuted its first broadcast on Sept. 7, 1979.

Later that fall, it broadcast its first college football games, and New Waterford native John Butera was instrumental in the network’s successful launch. Albeit, he did it behind the scenes when he served as a spotter, provided game notes and kept statistics for the game’s initial broadcast team.

Fast forward 41 years, and Butera still is working for ESPN where his gameday duties have expanded to now include pro football, men’s and women’s college basketball and Major League Baseball.

“The thing you have to remember is that I am a freelancer, so during my 40-plus year career, I’ve also held another job,” Butera told the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s weekly meeting at Avion Banquet Center. “First and foremost, I thank God every day for the things that I have been able to do.

“I had great parents and the best sister anyone could ever have but have always regretted that my father passed away much too young to enjoy this ride with me. My mother and sister, however, were able to enjoy this incredible journey. One of my most memorable moments was having them attend a Pittsburgh Steelers game with me. They actually sat in a box and visited with former Kansas City Chiefs-New Orleans Saints head coach, Hank Stram.”

Butera said his job doesn’t always feel like work because of how much he enjoys what he does for a loving.

“I laugh when I hear about hard work,” he said. “Trust me, 90 percent of this is having good luck and being blessed. I’ve had both in large amounts.”

A 1974 Crestview High School and 1982 YSU graduate, Butera’s career began as a sports correspondent for The Vindicator, and since 1977, he also has worked for other national networks including CBS, FOX, NBC and ABC.

“The stats job has changed so much since I first started,” he said. “Back in the early 1980s, it was all pencil and paper, but now it’s all computer. Some people don’t know that we even have pencils anymore.

“Also, it’s funny to me when I hear people complain about the travel. That’s something I’ve really enjoyed and because of it have garnered several perks. Last year alone I was able to travel to Ireland and Alaska .”

Butera has worked over 1,000 high school, college and professional games, including 40 post-season contests. He’s worked 26 bowl games — in 1996, he worked four bowl games in six days — the Big Eight basketball championship, Mid-American Conference football championship, NCAA women’s basketball regional, 15 first- and second-round games of the NCAA men’s basketball post-season tournament and also the AFC championship game.

“I have worked many memorable games, but two that really stick out are the Robert Morris upset of Kentucky in the NIT’s first-round back in 2013, and when Kansas State upset Oklahoma in football last year to ruin their FBS playoff hopes,” Butera said. “I enjoy any game played in the Rose Bowl or Los Angeles Coliseum, plus I’ve worked three games in Hawaii. I’ve also attended eight Super Bowls and two Rose Bowls as a fan.

“Rivalry games that I have worked include Michigan-Ohio State, Auburn-Alabama, Army-Navy, UCLA-USC, Pitt-Penn State, Georgia-Georgia Tech and Michigan-Notre Dame. Another really great game and weekend was YSU’s big, 40-38 win over Eastern Washington in the 2016 FCS semifinals in Spokane, Washington. It had special significance to me because that was the 100th different college campus that I had the opportunity to visit.”

Noted broadcasters that Butera has worked with include Gary Bender, Craig Bolerjack, Terry Bradshaw, Don Criqui, Lanny Fraterre, Curt Gowdy, Jack Ham, Harry Kallas, Bobby Knight, Sean McDonough, Ara Parseghian, Digger Phelps, John Sanders, Lynn Swann, Steve Zabriskie, Bob Valano and Bud Wilkinson.

“I’ve worked with 10 pro football hall of famers and there’s a reason they are hall of famers,” Butera said. “Jack Ham, John Sanders, Harry Kallas, Gary Bender and Craig Bolerjack are ultimate professionals and rank among my favorites.

“Working with Ara Parseghian was a major highlight for me, as was meeting President George H.W. Bush and NBA hall of famer Magic Johnson.”

Butera said the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the way ESPN and other major networks conduct business.

“I was the happiest guy around last March,” he said. “I had the first-round of the NCCA tournament coming up, the NEC women’s championship game, West Virginia University spring football game and five Pitt baseball-softball softball games. Because of the pandemic, that and so much other stuff was wiped out.

“Football this fall has been a fraction of what it usually is so right now, I’m looking ahead to the upcoming basketball season.”

Next Monday, John Kolb, a 13-year NFL veteran with the Pittsburgh Steelers and four-time Super Bowl champion will be the featured speaker.

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