Back in September Purdue football lost former coach Joe Tiller. It was a hard day for the Purdue family, as Tiller resurrected a moribund program and took us to Pasadena after over three decades without a Big Ten Championship. What he was able to do with Drew Brees, Kyle Orton, and a host of others will long be remembered in West Lafayette, and broadcaster Joe McConnell provided the soundtrack to that.
Joe McConnell was a legend in West Lafayette. I remember him as the Purdue football radio guy from when I was growing up. He started in 1994 when I was a freshman in high school and went until 2009. That comprised the entirety of Joe Tiller’s tenure and a wealth of memorable games. Sadly, he passed away today in Indianapolis at age 79.
McConnell was a great storyteller on air. All you need to do is take a few minutes and listen to this compilation of his great calls from over the years:
McConnell started as a broadcaster at Purdue’s WBAA in 1962 after graduating from Franklin College earlier that year. He later served as assistant SID at Purdue from 1965-67. He gained national fame from 1991-95 as the lead voice for the NBA Radio Network. Some guy named Michael Jordan started winning NBA titles and, as a result, McConnell was on all of the highlight videos produced from those first three Bulls championships involving the greatest player to ever play the game.
Overall McConnel spent 23 years as a NFL broadcaster for the Broncos, Vikings, Bears, Colts, and Oilers. He was equally good at both football and basketball, but all Purdue fans will remember him because he was the folksy play-by-play voice that was the perfect compliment to our folksy coach. And he was very good at what he did.
McConnell was Indiana Broadcaster of the Year in 2000 and Illinois Broadcaster of the Year in 1981. He won AP/UPI Play-by-Play Sportscaster of the Year Award five times and in 2009 he received Indiana’s highest civilian award: the Sagamore of the Wabash presented by then Governor Mitch Daniels. This was presented at halftime of his final game, a 38-21 win at Indiana. that’s right: He was so good he received an award in a rival’s stadium.
Here is what several people had to say about his passing today:
I grew up listening to Joe McConnell throughout my childhood calling Purdue games. He had such a way of calling a game, made you feel as if you were there. I always had the games muted on TV so I could listen to him on the radio. Thoughts are with Joe's friends and family, RIP— ISC Purdue (@ISC_PU) April 9, 2018
We mourn the loss of Joe McConnell, radio voice for Purdue University's football program from 1994-2009. Joe was also the play-by-play for the Pacers from 1972-77.— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) April 9, 2018
Pacers Sports & Entertainment sends deepest condolences to his family.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of former #Vikings play-by-play announcer Joe McConnell, who passed away earlier today at the age of 79.— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) April 9, 2018
Peronally, I remember two of his best radio calls because I was forced to leave games early. For some stupid reason when I was in high school Kokomo chose to have its prom in November, not in the traditional April/May. As a result, I had to leave the Michigan game in 1996 and Michigan State game in 1997 early to attend my junior and senior proms. Purdue was tied with No. 9 Michigan 3-3 (and this was a dismal Purdue team) when I left and they went on to pull off the upset. The next year Purdue trailed Nick Saban’s Michigan State 21-10 and had done nothing all day, but I missed the wild comeback and 22-21 win.
Thankfully, there was McConnell on the radio as I was headed back to Kokomo.
By all accounts McConnell was a great guy. He was the soundtrack of the Tiller era and all those great moments: Brees-to-Morales, Ashante Woodyard’s return of a blocked field goal in overtime at Wisconisn, Rosevelt Colvin’s return against Michigan State, the miracle field goal by Travis Dorsch in the Metrodome, and many more.
Thank you very much, Joe. I hope you’re having a good time with Tiller tonight in Purdue heaven.