Bill Blair looks on during a media timeout at Doyt Perry Stadium. Sentinel-Tribune Sports Editor J. Patrick Eaken won third place in the AP contest for best sports feature writing and this was one of the stories submitted. (J.D. Pooley | Sentinel-Tribune)

By J. Patrick Eaken

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Bill Blair is known as “the most hated man in football,” and he’s well aware of it. That does not stop him from doing what he is doing.

The 81-year-old Blair, a Bowling Green native and longtime radio broadcaster, is now the red hat guy on the football field during media timeouts.

You know the guy — because you don’t like it either when he halts a college football game for three minutes so the national television company can broadcast commercials for people watching at home from their living room couches.

But think about Blair’s situation for a minute. It can be dangerous, and we are not talking about the fans who wish he was not walking onto the 20-yard line during a media timeout.

On one occasion, Blair literally became Jack Lemmon’s character in the 1966 movie, “The Fortune Cookie,” without the lawsuit.

Lemmon, playing a television cameraman from Toledo, gets run over by a Cleveland Browns running back and his brother-in-law, a lawyer played by Walter Matthau, wants Lemmon’s character to sue the running back, the Browns and the NFL.

“I’ll tell you, we see a different game, but I’m always busy. I got wiped out about two years ago on an end run, and I said, ‘If he pitches this ball, I’m dead,’” Blair said.

“About then he did, and the running back hit me, and I went flying. It knocked off my head gear, my glasses and everything else, and I landed on my back,” he said.

“People were coming over to me and asking if I was OK. My son, who lives down by Cincinnati, sends me a picture that he’s taken off the television broadcast, and ESPN kept showing it over and over during the game.”

Now, Blair says he makes sure to get out of the way when the play is approaching.

“I don’t move nearly as fast as I used to.”

Dedicated to BG

Blair is well known to BG residents. He played football and wrestled at Bowling Green High School, and then majored in radio and broadcasting at Bowling Green State University.

For 18 years, Blair broadcast BGSU basketball and football for multiple radio stations, including WFOB.

His first radio broadcast as a student was when a Nate Thurmond-led Bowling Green team defeated nationally ranked Chicago at Anderson Arena.

“It was the greatest basketball game I ever did. You could not hear a thing,” Blair said.

Blair was the official scorer for BGSU men’s basketball for over four decades, and he was the BG plant division manager for a 105-year-old paper distribution company based out of Fort Wayne.

There was politics and city government, too. Blair was elected to three terms as a Bowling Green councilman and then served 18 years as the city’s public works director.

He also worked with former Sentinel-Tribune Sports Editor Dean Roach and on the Blade sports copy desk, traveling with sportswriters when BGSU teams played on the road.

Plus, the friends he associated with are among a who’s who of BGSU coaching greats.

“I was friends with a lot of the coaches over the years,” Blair said. “Football, I became real good friends with Doyt Perry. He and his wife Loretta used to spend Thanksgiving with us on Sanibel Island.

“I played a lot of poker with Doyt. Don Nehlen played poker with us. Pat Haley and I were the best of friends — we played a lot of golf together. It was a lot of fun.”

Blair said when you associate with coaches and sports media, it is like being in a fraternity.

“It was just something to do. I enjoyed those guys. You know how it is — it’s not a fraternity but it is. These are the guys you work with, but you become friends with them,” Blair said.

Staying involved

Blair was spotting for the BGSU football public address announcer at Doyt Perry Stadium when he was asked to become the red hat guy.

Blair says the job is more complicated than it sounds. It starts with the “110 Meeting,” called that because it is held 110 minutes before kickoff.

“It’s pretty involved. We must be there about two hours before the game and I’m able to communicate with the (television) truck while we are doing the broadcast,” Blair said.

“We’ve got a meeting where we meet with the officials. I am responsible to call the timeout — I am the messenger. In order to do that I have to get the back judge’s attention or the referee. The referee is the one who is going to give me the timeout.

“So, whatever is going on in the game, they are telling me from the truck, ‘Yes, they want to go for a commercial,’ or ‘No, they want to stay.’ I must communicate that information, hopefully a play ahead of time, to the referee or to the back judge.”

After Blair served his first game as the red hat, ESPN sent him a check, but he almost threw it away because it came from ESPN’s parent company, Disney. He was not aware of that at the time.

“It tricked me a little bit with the ESPN job. It is sort of funny,” Blair said. “I get an envelope from Disney. What do I know? I don’t know anything about Disney. I don’t want any information about Disney.

“I’m not interested in Disney, and I almost threw it away. Then I opened it up and it was my check for being (the red hat). (The amount) depended on the game and the date and time and whether we were going to be on ESPN, ESPN2, or ESPNU, ESPN3 and so forth.”

In more recent years, the Mid-American Conference has taken over contracting with the red hat, but Blair stayed on. Matter of fact, he’s getting a good reputation as a red hat, which has put him in demand.

“Last year, I get a call at the last minute, and it is to work the bowl game up in Detroit, and it was ESPN contracting out the broadcast,” Blair said.

“This broadcast unit was out of Detroit, and they had to broadcast four games during the regular season, and I got to know the producer and director. So, they called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry this is the last minute, but I need a red hat for the Motor City Bowl.”

Blair accepted, and it paid $400, far more than he ever got paid by ESPN or the MAC.