Local News Archive
Print Issue: October 4, 1979
Sporting Georgia Catholics, Al Ciraldo - Mr. Yellow Jacket
By Monsignor Noel C. Burtenshaw
(Third In A Series)
It was November 11, 1977. Al Ciraldo, far from his beloved Atlanta and his most beloved Georgia Tech campus, was into his commentary. Unlike the colorful Al, who embroils himself heart and soul in every Tech game, his mind was wandering. All I could think, says the famous voice of Tech, was would he come.
He did. As the game between the famous Yellow Jackets from Georgia and the midshipmen from the Naval Academy progressed, there in Annapolis, into the broadcast booth walked the president of the United States.
He said he would come, remembers Al proudly, but he was having trouble persuading the Secret Service. I motioned him to sit and pointed to the mike. He knew what to do.
And President Jimmy Carter, alumnus of both Tech and Navy did it. For seven pride-filled minutes Al Ciraldo did the commentary and President Carter did the color. It is a tape dearly prized by Al and the most thrilling few moments of his life.
Alfred Joseph (his confirmation name) Ciraldo was born in the tire town of Akron. His father, Alfredo, came steerage from Italy and married Rose Detola. On September 2, 1921, Al, the middle boy of three sons, was born. We lived seven miles from Annunciation Church, remembers Al, so we couldnt go to Catholic School. But Sunday School was a must. My father would say, No Sunday school, no sports. So we went, most times on foot.
Als love for sports led him mostly not to the field of winging balls, but to the pages of books. Ask me and I could tell you who played left field for the Yankees in 1928. I would know. My memory has faded now but I was a whiz in those days.
This powerful love of sports facts led his Italian feet to the door of WJW Radio in Akron at the ripe old age of 15. Amazed at his knowledge and his comfort behind that big mike, they took him on. I would broadcast the first three innings of the Akron Yankees, do the color and everything else. I knew this broadcasting thing was for me.
And after high school, so it was. But not before he would play on General McArthurs team in the Pacific. From 1942 till 1945, he was out there in the jungles. In late 1945, Al came home from the wars to Akron.
It was then that I met this little belle from the South, remembers the smiling Al. She was from Tifton in South Georgia, a devout Baptist and Sunday School teacher. With her and broadcasting on my mind, I decided to come south.
He came to the Southland but not Georgia. Until 1948, Al studied in the University of Florida and received his degree in media. That same year he arrived on the Atlanta scene.
Al Ciraldo and Atlanta have had a sports love affair ever since. With WGLS in Decatur he did high school sports and became a kids hero in DeKalb County. With WBGE he did high school football and - listened to this University of Georgia basketball. Finally in 1954, Al came home to Tech and WGST. There he has remained, the color character of Tech sports.
The Golden years for Tech were the 50s and 60s. Bobby Dodd was a legend, says Al with admiration, he was like Rockne. He also had the love of his players. Players today are faster, better and quicker, because of better diet and better training methods. But coaching under Dodd was magnificent.
Who was the best Tech athlete in the memory of this play-by-play man? No doubt in his mind, it was Eddie Lee Ivory. He is a great runner, a man of fine character, although injured now he will be remembered and has great years ahead. The voice of Al Ciraldo is almost a registered trademark. But its not just the voice that tells the story, its the whole emotional man. Behind the mike, as the well-known phrases bark across the airwaves, Ciraldos feet are stomping, he is involved and like a magnet, he is drawing his audience into the game. It has always been like this, says Al, once the game starts, I want those folks out there involved. High school or college, small game or big game, I want them with me.
And many of his phrases have helped. Kids go round the streets mimicking Als famous kick off phrase and toe meets leather. Listening to basketball, you wait for Als most famous brief but conclusive remark to a score, gut. Its known throughout the sporting country.
In 1950, after his South Georgia belle had taken instructions and become a Catholic, Al and Ruth were married by Father Perry in Sacred Heart in Atlanta. Two of the girls are now married, says Al happily. Al junior is at Tech and hes my spotter at the games and little Barbara is still at IHM. Thats our parish and we sure love it.
Over at WGST, Al is in radio sales and continues very much to be all Georgia Tech Sports. It is still hard to believe that the president acted the part of Howard Cossell at one of his games. It is harder yet to believe that Al Ciraldo, beloved voice of the Yellow Jackets, once broadcast for those nasty Georgia Bulldogs.
All you can say is that to friend or foe, Al Ciraldo is always Mr. Sports Nice Guy.