There is chicken soup for the soul and there is chicken soup for survival.
Greg Papa will tune in this final Saturday night before taking on radio play-by-play duties (KNBR-680 AM) for the 49ers in their divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Temperatures are expected to drop from the low 20s earlier in the day to 15 degrees with near-zero wind chill at kickoff at 5:15 a.m. (PST).
Dad admits he’s toying with the idea of closing the press box window, but chances are he’s wrapped up in enough clothes to look like the Michelin man and put himself in the same elements as the 49ers and the Packers.
“It’s important for me to feel the game, otherwise it feels like an aquarium,” Papa said in a recent interview.
Dad recalls the chicken soup available to the media helping him get through December games at Lambeau with the Raiders in 2007 and 2011. The 2007 game, which was 15 degrees at kickoff, was so cold that coach Lane Kiffin refused to put rookie quarterback JaMarcus Russell in an explosive loss.
Russell never came off the bench, but dad, of course, finished the game. He was the Raiders’ radio voice from 1997 to 2017 and in the past three seasons with the 49ers, so he’s called his share of cold-weather games.
Growing up in Buffalo, he isn’t too worried and looks forward to Lambeau’s aura and story.
“I’m going to wear multiple layers and treat like I’m going skiing,” Dad said. “With travel and weather, you get a sore throat and the voice quality might not be what you want it to be, but I’m not going to worry too much about the weather.”
Of more concern than the temperature is snow, which is not expected in Green Bay on Saturday. The January 19, 2002 “Tuck Rule” game, in which the Raiders lost 13-10 in overtime to New England, presented some problems with first down distance.
“It wasn’t cold at all. I remember sticking my head out the window and breathing it all in,” Dad said. “It was 25 and clear and the snow was beautiful. It went straight down. But it was difficult because you couldn’t see the yard lines.
Dad, 59, is known in the industry for his borderline fanatical preparation. But few have peeked behind the curtain to see how dad actually functions on game day. A brief film clip of Dad at work during the 49ers’ win over Dallas and posted to Twitter provided some insight.
Crazy game, crazy finish.
Listen to two minutes of Sunday’s best calls, via Greg Papa 📻⬇️ pic.twitter.com/0hdLR6wcDz
– KNBR (@KNBR) January 17, 2022
The voice you hear that borders on madness depending on the circumstances of the game comes from a constantly moving body. He uses binoculars occasionally, moves around the broadcast booth and gesticulates wildly on big touchdown calls.
Given analyst Tim Ryan’s level of excitement, the energy emanates from the show in a way that would be inappropriate for TV but makes radio intense. Dad did both, but he’s old school when it comes to radio.
“I don’t sit down. I support the whole game. I can sit during breaks,” Dad said. “For me to physically get the words out, it kind of propels me out of my body. It’s almost like a theater actor on stage. If I sat down, it wouldn’t come out of my diaphragm the same way. I have to be able to project.
During play-by-play radio for the Warriors from 1986 to 1997, season ticket holders earned dad belts due to his penchant for standing tall during action.
“I had fans sitting behind me and they were getting angry,” Papa said. “I tried to stay seated most of the time, but there were times when I just had to get up”
The days leading up to a football broadcast are made much easier by modern technology. When playing Raiders play-by-play, he carried a bag of VHS tapes with a television to his bedroom on the road to play them.
“Now it’s so much easier to prep because I can watch them all on my iPad,” Papa said. “I remember when I started playing with the Raiders in 1997 and asked Bill King how to study. He said he would carry a team roster with him, stop at a light traffic and would say, “Howard Twilley is No. 81 for Miami, Manny Fernandez is No. 75” and would memorize it that way.
And when Dad says “everything”, he means it. He watched all of Green Bay’s games in chronological order, both game broadcasts as well as All-22 which shows all the players in each game. Calling the process “downloading my brain,” Dad will watch for his 90 minutes a day on his treadmill, while taking out the trash and other places he’d rather not mention.
“There’s nothing better than watching it over and over and over again, as many games as possible, and then having a clear idea of what they’re going to do in certain situations, like what Fred Warner is doing in getting ready to play against a team,” Dad said. “He can diagnose a game before it happens. For me, it’s easier to call. You can’t take your eyes off the field, if you look at something the ball will come back into play and you will miss it. The goal is to be instantaneous.
When the game is over, Dad watches it again so that he and John Lund, the co-host of their daily KNBR radio show, can analyze it again.
But first, Dad will pour all the prep work plus chicken soup into a show for over three hours.
“There’s a magic element to it,” Papa said. “I played matches from August to December, but never in mid-January. The history of this place is so amazing. It’s gonna be fun.”