The average Pittsburgh Steelers fan may know who Ben Roethlisberger or Hines Ward is, or that the team owns six Lombardi Trophies, but may not be able to identify a David DeCastro or a Steve McLendon if they ran smack into them in a grocery store. Such is the case with John “J.D.” Fogarty, the spotter for the Steelers radio team since 1968, who entered into eternal rest yesterday.
Back in the early days when Fogarty began, the Steelers franchise wasn’t even the most popular in it’s own city, let alone in the NFL landscape. “There wasn’t that much interest in the Steelers at that time,” Fogarty said, according to Chuck Finder in a 1998 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article. He even added that KDKA, the station who gave him his first shot, would air the Steelers’ games on a tape delay, after Pirates’ broadcasts. Little did anyone know it would go on to become one of the most popular across the entire world of sports, and Fogarty had a hand in that.
He first stepped into the radio booth in the summer of 1968, for the fourth preseason game versus the Green Bay Packers. His father, Francis, was the general manager of the team from 1951 up until 1968, so J.D. figured he would be working in another area for the team, but he was told to report to the radio booth as a spotter. For those of you that don’t know, a spotter is basically an assistant to the sports announcer who helps identify the players on the field for the announcer. It’s rumored that Fogarty was so unprepared for his new job that he had to borrow glasses from running back Rocky Bleier. However, it didn’t take him long to prove he belonged.
By 1970, the team took it’s radio broadcasting rights, along with play-by-play announcer, Jack Fleming, to WTAE-AM. This is where the Steelers’ world first was introduced to an integral part of their history, the legendary Myron Cope, who was the brains behind what we’ve all come to refer to as the “Terrible Towel.”
“He was refreshing because he was well prepared and well read,” Fogarty said of Cope. “He was sort of a surprise early on, and there was a chemistry between him and Fleming that was unbelievable.”
In 1998, after 29 seasons together, the three reflected on the myriad of glory days they had witnessed together, including four Super Bowl titles, eight Hall of Famers and only two coaches. Fogarty went on to recollect Super Bowl X in Miami, where the team faced off against the Dallas Cowboys.
“Cope’s Terrible Towel goes to another level,” Fogarty says of the event. “NBC asks Cope to come to the field to do a spot. We’re on our way down through the Orange Bowl seats, and all the vendors say, ‘Hey,Mahrn,’ (mimicking Cope’s voice) and they all have Terrible Towels. They were all the vendors from Pittsburgh; they came down to work so they could see the game.”
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree for the Fogarty’s either, as J.D.’s son, Sean, is also a spotter, for Steelers’ radio on WDVE-FM, where it headed after the great run by J.D. and company on WTAE-AM. Sean spots for longtime play-by-play analysts Bill Hillgrove and former-All Pro tackle, Tunch Ilkin.
However, it was that WTAE broadcast, along with the likes of Fogarty, that helped blaze the trail for what we now know and love as modern-day Steelers radio.
“It has been one of the greatest rides,” Fogarty said in ’98, after 29 years at the station. “It’s going to be hard ending the WTAE-AM years, but … these are the times. You sign off as the best, and you’ll be the best, no matter what the call letters are.”
J.D. will certainly be missed by many in Steeler Nation. A link to his obituary can be seen below.