NFL Broadcaster Wolfley Follows His Heart
Ron Wolfley has made a pretty successful career out of following his heart and trusting his instincts.
First in college at West Virginia University, and later in the NFL with the Cardinals, Browns and Rams, Wolfley was the face-painting, Pink Floyd-listening, Edgar Allan Poe-reading gridiron assassin who liked nothing better than to decompress after a weekend full of violence by penning a little poetry.
A football player who also enjoys writing poetry? Come on. Sports Illustrated once did a story about Wolfley’s passion for literature back in 1991 titled “The Poet.” It described him as pro football’s “Rambo in shoulder pads” who spent his weekends knocking out players (as well as himself) on the football field, and then away from it writing poetry as a means to come to terms with his sadistic vocation – a personal therapy session on paper, if you will.
Sounds awful calculated and contrived, doesn’t it? Far from it, says Wolfley.
“I’m a guy that follows my heart and feels my way through life – what feels right and what doesn’t feel right instead of making these plans and plotting the future … I’m just not really big on that,” Wolfley said from his home in Phoenix earlier this week. “My whole life is sitting in a room with four walls and a door by each wall and when a door opens I walk through it and then I sit back down.”
These days, you can find Wolfley sitting down in the KTAR studios each weekday afternoon co-hosting the No. 1-rated sports talk show in Phoenix with Doug Franz, “The Doug and Wolf Show,” and also sitting in the radio booth high above University of Phoenix Stadium on fall Sunday afternoons describing Arizona Cardinals games for the Cardinals Radio Network. Wolfley is paired with Cardinals voice Dave Pasch, who, coincidentally, once briefly worked in Morgantown for the West Virginia Metro News Radio Network before his career took off.
“He’s just the best thing in the world,” said Wolfley of Pasch. “This is a guy who is so talented that he’s going to be doing Monday Night Football at one point down the road – he’s that good.”
For that matter, Wolfley is not too bad himself.
The former All-Pro special teams player is quickly becoming an iconic sports figure in Phoenix the way Myron Cope once was in Pittsburgh for those of us who follow the Pittsburgh Steelers. But whereas Cope’s shtick included such gimmicky and odd-ball things as “The Terrible Towel” and catch phrases “yoi” and “double yoi" in a voice that sounded like he was gargling thumb tacks, Wolfley’s “Wolfleyisms” - as they are known in Phoenix - come straight from the depths of his “multiply-concussed brain,” as he so aptly puts it.
Here is a small sampling of his Wolfleyisms, courtesy of Arizona Living’s Richard Ruelas …
- While describing defensive tackle Gabe Watson’s helmet jarring tackle of Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew: “He stuffed him into his belly button!”
- After one of All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s logic defying catches: “Like a falcon on a finch, he stabbed it out of the sky!”
- Prior to a preseason game against Pittsburgh: “It’s time to rip somebody’s lips off and paste them to their forehead!”
- After witnessing a violent collision in a preseason game against San Diego: “You wake up the next day and you look like an eggplant with eyes.”
- Coming to terms with a vicious hit made on a Green Bay Packers player: “That guy got lit up like Juice Newton’s penthouse!” And later in the same game: “He got lit up like Pompeii’s peddler!”
Pompeii’s peddler? Juice Newton’s penthouse? How many of his listeners these days even know who Juice Newton is?
“Who cares,” laughed Wolfley. “I know who Juice Newton is!”
After years of reflection and contemplation, Wolfley, now 50, also knows who he is.
“I’m a writer and that’s what a lot of people don’t know,” he said. “I love to write. I write fiction all the time and part of writing fiction is coming up with these word pictures and if, in fact, I come up with Pompeii’s peddler, not only is there great alliteration there, but I also think people understand that the guy was lit up.”
“Why not speak in color? And that’s what I am – I’m a color analyst, and by the way, it’s who I am. That’s the stuff that floats around this grey matter that is my concussed mind.”
After completing that thought, Wolfley put down his cell phone for a brief moment to pick up his three-year-old son Vetter to give him a kiss good morning before once again revving up his concussed brain.
“I have a real affinity for literature and poetry,” he continued. “If I had to do it all over again I would have applied myself in college and applied myself in high school and I would have been an English major. I enjoy reading it, I enjoy thinking about it … yeah, it’s just me and that’s who I am.”
“Yeah, I could have seen myself as an English professor,” he said.
The personable announcer is by no means a lone wolf, but he’s also not someone who considers himself part of a broadcasting fraternity of ex-football players doing announcing work in different cities throughout the country – a growing number of those guys, by the way, being ex-Mountaineer players.
In addition to Wolfley, former tight end Anthony Becht is doing NFL commentary for Pro Football Talk on NBC Sports Network and is also a radio analyst on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pre-and-postgame shows, former safety Mike Logan analyzes arena football league games while also working for ESPN 1250 in Pittsburgh, ex-defensive tackle John Thornton and one-time cornerback Charles Fisher are doing radio work in Cincinnati, and even WVU’s Oliver Luck once spent 10 years doing commentary on NFL Europe broadcasts. And, of course, longtime Washington Redskins color analyst Sam Huff recently announced his retirement after spending nearly 40 years in the booth.
Wolfley is aware of what those guys and others are doing, but it’s just not his nature to pick up the phone and get another pro team’s radio analyst on his show to talk about the upcoming Cardinals game on Sunday.
“I’ve never been a guy who was like, ‘man, I can’t wait to go hang out with the guys – I can’t wait to be part of a group,’” Wolfley said. “Maybe it’s one of the reasons why I was a team captain at West Virginia and was captain for eight of the 10 years I was in the NFL. The only time I wasn’t a captain was my rookie season with the Cardinals and my first year with the Cleveland Browns. I wouldn’t call myself a loner because I certainly wasn’t – and I think my teammates would say I was an excellent teammate – yet at the same time I marched to my own drum.”
As a talk show host, Wolfley must stay on top of everything in order to keep his listeners informed and entertained, which, unfortunately, leaves very little time for much else.
“When you talk about having to know what’s going on in major league baseball, the NBA, golf and everything … your whole life is prepping,” he admitted.
In addition to four grown children from a prior marriage, Wolfley has two young children with his second wife, Stephanie. He also owns and operates Wolfley’s Neighborhood Grill in north Phoenix. Then add to that all of his Cardinals work and the daily planner fills up pretty quickly.
“Especially during the season I do a ton of stuff for the Cardinals,” Wolfley said. “That is a full-time job alone – two radio shows, two televisions shows and the travel. It’s balls to the wall.”
Wolfley just signed a new deal with the Cardinals that will take him through the 2016 season and he is getting ready to renegotiate his contract with KTAR later this summer. And he's also not the only Wolfley using his mouth to make a living. Older brother Craig is a sideline reporter on the Pittsburgh Steelers Radio Network and also does some sports talk work in Pittsburgh (younger brother Dale is starting to get his feet wet in the radio business in Morgantown as well).
“There are people who have moved down here from Pittsburgh and they come here and they say, ‘Oh my gosh, I turned on the radio and I thought Craig had moved down here,’” said Wolfley. “The sound of our voices is very similar (think deep Western New York formed from years of eating hot chicken wings).”
That may be, but what comes out of their mouths is oftentimes quite different.
“I don’t think Craig appreciates the musings of Edgar Allen Poe,” Ron joked. “I just don’t think he’s a big Poe guy, there’s no doubt about that. He doesn’t dissect the lyrics of Kurt Cobain either.”
Recalling his WVU days in the early 1980s, when the Mountaineers were in the midst of rebuilding their football program, the Orchard Park, N.Y., native says he has nothing but fond memories, particularly of his coach Don Nehlen.
“I’m very proud to be a Mountaineer and Don Nehlen had a huge impact on my life,” he noted. “That man, I love him to the deep recesses of my heart because of the man that he is and the things that he taught me. To this day, I tell everybody this and it’s so true: if Don Nehlen walked into a room and he told me to do something I guarantee you I would do it, even if that means driving you into the ground.”
Wolfley recalled one instance when the Don Nehlen Way transcended football in a manner that turned an uncertain and undersized 19-year-old fullback into a Mountaineer disciple.
“My dad died in training camp and Don Nehlen, (assistant coaches) Paul Krasula and Carl Battershell got on a plane and flew up to Buffalo to be at my dad’s funeral and I will never, ever forget that. (Nehlen) was at my dad’s funeral when I was NOBODY on that football team. That’s just the kind of man he is.”
Upon further reflection, Wolfley admits the winds of life have gently carried him in a direction away from his alma mater and his Western New York roots.
“Man, the more I talk to you, the more I feel like I’m on an island,” he sighed. “I guess life gets in the way a little bit.”
It certainly can.
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