Robinson: Spanish-language play-by-play man Steelers’ voice for a country
Kickoff is less than an hour away, and the voice of the Steelers is watching the pregame warm-ups, glancing at his pregame notes and double checking the pronunciation of players’ names.
The Spanish pronunciation.
“The European names are the most difficult,” he said, laughing. “Like Paul Posluszny” — the Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker from Hopewell whose last name contains many consonants that require time to master.
Jose Antonio Salazar willingly does so because being the Spanish-language play-by-play voice of the Steelers is a labor of love. As he says, “You don’t have to work to earn money.” Even if it requires quite a bit of work just for Salazar to get to Pittsburgh for home games, especially when the team is playing three consecutive games at Heinz Field, as it currently is.
The popular sports talk show host in Monterrey, Mexico, takes multiple flights the day before the game to cover the 1,900 miles to Pittsburgh, then multiple flights to get back the day after.
The travel is reduced somewhat because road games are called off a TV monitor for Grupo Imagen stations in Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara and www.steelers.com/espanol. But Salazar already travels frequently while doing play-by-play for Mexican soccer, pro basketball, minor league baseball and pro wrestling in addition to hosting his talk show and writing an NFL-based newspaper column.
“(The NFL) is very, very popular in Mexico, and after Mexican soccer, it’s the most-followed league … more than the NBA or MLB,” he said. “And the Steelers are the No. 1 team, then the Cowboys. When the Steelers played the Cowboys in Dallas (in 2012), 10,000 fans from Mexico were there.”
“If the Steelers and Cowboys played a game in (104,000-seat) Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, it would be the largest crowd ever for an NFL game,” said Luis Rodriguez, a Florida-based banker — and former St. Vincent College soccer player — who works alongside Salazar as the color analyst.
NFL games first began being widely televised in Mexico during the 1970s just as the Steelers were winning four Super Bowls in six years, and the team has been popular there since. Now, NFL games are shown on Fox Sports Latin America, TV Azteca, ESPN and Televisa, plus multiple satellite services, so fans in Mexico can see nearly as many games as those in the United States.
“There’s a lot of passion for soccer in Mexico, and (with) the NFL, there is the same passion to watch games,” Salazar said.
So much so that Bill Hillgrove, the English-language voice of the Steelers, sometimes slips a microphone into the Spanish booth to pick up an especially exuberant play call.
“The fans in Mexico are so genuine,” said Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum, who helped put on a fan clinic in Mexico City last spring. “The minute you walk off the plane, we knew the people cared for the Steelers. It was awesome. The whole trip was amazing.”
A similar clinic is planned next spring in Cancun.
The Steelers have had a Spanish-language network since 2005, when broadcaster Fernando Von Rossum, whose dad also called games, and his family established one. He was the play-by-play man until 2012 but now primarily announces games for Fox Sports.
The Steelers are one of a dozen-plus teams with Spanish networks. In cities with large Spanish-speaking populations such as New York, Philadelphia and Dallas, the games are carried on local Spanish-language stations.
Salazar said the language of football adapts fairly easily to Spanish, with some exceptions. There is no translation for safety, so it’s called just that, and a touchdown is announced as a “S-c-o-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-e” — just like the elongated “G-o-o-o-a-a-l” calls in soccer.
Oh, and Steelers in Spanish? It’s “hombres de acero” — men of steel.
That translates in any language.