Fever Pitch: Gus Johnson on His Greatest Soccer Freakouts

The Fox Sports commentator looks back on a year of calling the beautiful game

Fox Sports commentator Gus Johnson.
Paul Warner/Getty Images
May 22, 2014 2:15 PM ET

"Passionate" is an adjective frequently used to describe Fox Sports commentator Gus Johnson. "Bombastic" is another. But a less-polite way of putting is this: When the big moment hits, Gus Johnson is nothing short of an absolute, blazing, whack-a-doo nutjob.

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He breaks into the kind of rabid hysterics that drive sound engineers nuts and remind the jaded masses Right! Sports are amazing! It's how he made his name in broadcasting – his March Madness calls have become the stuff of legend – and why Fox threw him into the soccer hot seat about a year ago, charging him with a heavy responsibility in the process: to give the world's game its first distinctly American voice.

That didn't sit particularly well with soccer fans used to the silky style of English commentators like Martin Tyler or Ian Darke (the purists undoubtedly use a different set of adjectives to describe Johnson), and early on, he didn't do much to silence his detractors. But a year into the gig, Gus has found his legs, delivering rolling match commentaries that crescendo in a trademarked Johnsonian eruption every time the ball hits the back of the net.

On Saturday, he'll call the final of Europe's most prestigious tournament, the Champions League, which sets the stage for next month's World Cup in Brazil. And with Fox having scooped up the rights to the next two World Cups, you can bet Johnson's going to be the man calling the big games in 2018 and 2022, whether soccer snobs like it or not.

As he wraps up his first year behind the mic, Rolling Stone spoke with Johnson about his greatest calls, each delivered in that passionate, bombastic, insert-your-favorite-adjective-here style he's become famous for.

"The tactics were the key in that scenario. Arsène Wenger had two subs left. He brought on Rosický as well as Jack Wilshere. They were fresh, and everybody on the pitch was exhausted, especially those Hull players. Ramsey in that first period of extra time had two good looks at goal, but when Rosický  and Wilshere as well as Yaya Sanogo came in, they just changed the tempo of the game and you saw the quality."

"Vidić is the captain, playing his final season at Manchester United. Nobody really gave United a chance to defeat the European Champions, with their new manager in Pep Guardiola, their focus on possession and the talent on that side ... [they're] just a star-studded team. United were also playing without Robin Van Persie, so they were undermanned. Old Trafford erupted in jubilation. They felt they were finally having some great luck. They took a one-nil lead. They thought the game was theirs."

"I guess what I'm trying to work on with my soccer broadcast, now that I'm pretty comfortable with the basics, is seeing things ahead of time. So this goal was a treat for me. The ball was on the far side of the field, and they switched sides and just laid it up for Patrice Evra perfectly. He blasted the top shelf, right corner, and he got everything on that strike. There was no way Neuer was going to be able to stop that from going in. Beautiful teamwork, the fluidness of that play in particular stood out in the match. Evra, one of the veterans of the club, stepped up when he needed to. It was just a great goal. He got it all."

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