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Getting to Know ... Phil Schaefer

Phil Schaefer has been a first-hand witness to 45 years of Atlanta sports history, first as sports director of WSB Radio. He has collected his memories of those years and his broadcast beginnings at Ohio State into a new book, "Sins of a Southern Sportscaster." Schaefer, who called Hawks games on radio and worked with the Georgia Bulldogs for a number of years, moved to Dacula from Dunwoody after retiring from the DeKalb Public School System. He sat down with staff correspondent Guy Curtright recently to talk about his book and his many years behind a microphone. "Sins of a Southern Sportscaster" can be purchased at southernsportscaster.com and will be available in bookstores soon.

GC: Your book is a very interesting read. What prompted you to become an author?

PS: When I retired, I decided I was going to do two things - build a model railroad and write a book. Both were really to share with my grandchildren. With the book, I wanted them to be able to look back someday and learn a little about my life. I'd love to be able to know more details today about my grandfather.

GC: Is it true that you wrote out your book in longhand and that your wife transcribed it for you?

PS: I was a broadcaster. Unlike you newspaper guys, I can't think on a keyboard. I did write it all out on longhand and then Karen did the typing.

GC: How long did you spend working on the book?

PS: I didn't push myself, so about a year. I took a while to do some research and check facts.

GC: You came to Atlanta in 1963 to work for WSB Radio. Could you imagine then how the area would grow and what a big-time sports city Atlanta would become?

PS: No, not hardly. At that time, all you had was Georgia Tech and minor league baseball with the Crackers, plus the race track south of town. That was it. But it quickly changed. The Braves came to Atlanta in 1966 and the other teams followed.

GC: You did radio play-by-play for the Hawks in some of their early seasons. I'm sure you have a lot of memories of Pete Maravich.

PS: I talk a lot about Pete in the book. He was a magnificent basketball player and quite a controversial figure in his early years in the NBA. He was phenomenal to watch. But it was a tough transition for him from college, where he had set all the scoring records, to the NBA. Playing for his dad at LSU, the whole team was built around Pete. But with the Hawks, the team came first. It was a difficult time for him.

GC: Your first love growing up was baseball. You are remembered for your work broadcasting basketball and football, but you did get to call one major league game on radio.

PS: Milo Hamilton was going to miss a Sunday game for some reason and I was asked to fill in. The Braves were playing the Expos and I went to Gary Carter, then a young catcher, to learn as much as I could about the Montreal team. I had done minor league baseball and it was a thrill to do a major league game. But I was never asked back.

GC: As a young teenager living for a few years in Washington, D.C., you became close to a number of the old Washington Senators. It would certainly be hard to have that kind of access today.

PS: I was very fortunate to live close to where a lot of the players lived and you could go over to their apartments and visit with them. Eddie Yost, Pete Runnels and Gil Coan lived together. They'd invite me in and we'd talk baseball until they were ready to go to the ballpark. For a 13-year-old, it was the most exciting thing that you could imagine.

GC: You would also go to the hotel lobby of visiting teams and get autographs of every player. When the Yankees came to Washington, you had a memorable meeting with Mickey Mantle.

PS: Oh, yeah. There is even a chapter in the book about that.

GC: What did he ask you to do? Weren't you supposed to pass a message to someone?

PS: (Laughing). Just let me say this. There is a chapter in the book entitled "Pimping for the Mick."

GC: You had a long connection with Georgia, doing basketball play-by-play for the Bulldogs and working with Larry Munson on the football broadcasts. You called the basketball games when Dominique Wilkins played and there was also the stunning trip to the NCAA Final Four in 1983.

PS: That trip to the Final Four was a real surprise. That team had had just a so-so SEC season, but it blew everyone away in the SEC tournament and just kept it going. We went up tp Syracuse and beat St. John's and then defending champion North Carolina, which had Michael Jordan. The Bulldogs got knocked off in the Final Four by eventual champion North Carolina State, but that was an unbelievable run.

GC: You didn't get to be a part of a national championship in basketball with the Bulldogs, but you did in football.

PS: Oh, yes. What a great year 1980 was. Herschel Walker was really something. He just carried the team. But the defense was also very good. People forget that. It was a great time to be around Georgia football.

GC: It was also a great time for you to be a student at Ohio State years before. That's where you got your start in broadcasting and you called the games for the great Buckeye teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Didn't you even miss your college graduation because you were working the NCAA tournament?

PS: (Laughing) When I was supposed to be getting my degree, I was actually in Iowa City doing the Buckeyes play-by-play for a Columbus radio station. Those were some great teams, with Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek. Bob Knight was also on the team. They were my classmates and I got to call their games. I got a great break to do that while I was still in college. The Buckeyes won the NCAA championship in 1960 and lost to Cincinnati for the title in 1961 and 1962.

GC: You didn't get to see many victories when you were the PA announcer for Falcons games at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for 20 years.

PS: (Laughing again) That got to be torturous at times. And I always had to make this one announcement every week telling people not to drink. Of course, I was booed every time. What else did they have to do? Sure they were going to drink.

GC: For a number of years, you worked CBS Radio national broadcasts of college football and basketball, including the NCAA tournament. But longtime Atlanta residents remember you for WSB's weekly coverage of high school football.

PS: That was great, and what was amazing is all the people we got to go on the broadcasts with us. The guest announcers included Vince Dooley, Hank Aaron, Norm Van Brocklin, Steve Bartkowski, Bill Curry, Erk Russell and on and on.

GC: You must have had a big budget to pay all that big-name talent.

PS: (Laughing) Are you kidding? We had no budget. They all did it for nothing.

GC: Dale Murphy wrote the foreword for your book. I know that you are still very close to him and many other athletes. Most of them helped you with your fundraising efforts for the Huntington's Disease Foundation. Do you have a favorite athlete?

PS: I have a lot of favorites. Dale is certainly one of them. He is a class person. I met Jack Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, in college at Ohio State. Jack is a favorite. It was great being with him at The Masters every year. But I don't want to leave out people like Phil Niekro, Kevin Butler, Fran Tarkenton or Jeff Blauser. They have all been wonderful to me and they have done so much.

GC: After more than 40 years observing the local sports scene, what do you see for the future?

PS: Well, I thought the Falcons would never go to the Super Bowl in my lifetime. It might have been a little bit of a freak situation, but they did that. I thought that the Hawks would be the first Atlanta team to win a championship, and that still hasn't happened. Of course, the Braves had a great run with 14 consecutive playoff appearances. But I'm afraid that they are slipping back to be just another team. That disappoints me.

GC: Is there a piece of memorabilia from your long sports association that means the most to you?

PS: I have a couple of things. They are all things that were given to me directly by individuals. For example, I have a driver that Jack Nicklaus gave me. I also have a jersey from John Havlicek. Those things mean a lot to me. I go back to my college days with them and they are two of the greatest athletes ever.

GC: Now that you've finished your book, what's next? It seems like you've almost seen and done about everything.

PS: I've been very fortunate. In 1990, I remember thinking that I'd been to everything but the World Series. So I got tickets to the Series between the Reds and A's and what happens? The very next year the Braves make it. My timing was off by a year. Like everyone else, I didn't see that coming. What a miracle turnaround. After that, I really had seen it all.