Longtime Penn State football voice, program inexorably linked
STATE COLLEGE — Among the many pieces of Penn State-centric photos, art and memorabilia that comprise much of the décor of Fran Fisher's townhouse is a framed photo of two of his grandchildren.
But they're not wearing Nittany Lions jerseys — Casey and Alex Fisher are adorned in Pirates caps.
Fitting, because long before Fisher grew into a Penn State icon, he was just a kid in Greensburg who loved the Bucs.
“My father used to tell me that I'd pretend to broadcast Pirates games because we were devout Pirates fans,” said the 90-year-old Fisher, whose two tenures as Penn State football's radio play-by-play man spanned three decades. “After I got involved in broadcasting, which wasn't originally what I had in mind, he said, ‘It's no wonder, because you used to pretend you were Rosey Rowswell.' ”
Fisher, who was born in Ohio and spent part of his early life in Dormont, originally wanted to be a speech therapist. He attended Pitt for a time and once dropped out of Penn State to join the Navy during World War II.
Decades later, Fisher arguably is the university's most distinguished living ambassador.
“Fran Fisher is a Penn State legend,” former Lions coach Bill O'Brien said. “Personally, my friendship with Fran and the Penn State history that he has taught me is something I will always cherish.”
Fisher, who last broadcast a Penn State game in 1999, still regularly attends Lions' sporting events. A longtime friend of late coach Joe Paterno, Fisher and O'Brien built a relationship of mutual respect beginning with Fisher's appearance at O'Brien's introductory news conference.
Although illness prevented him from attending new coach James Franklin's introduction, Fisher was there two weeks later when the Lions' assistants were named.
Fisher lost his beloved wife, Charlotte, five years ago. He needs a walker to help get around these days. But despite his self-effacing protestations to the contrary, his familiar baritone voice remains. And even at 90, Fisher is far from retired. Along with sons Jeff and Jerry, he runs Fran Fisher & Sons, an advertising and marketing consulting firm.
The firm's clients are the only outlets to which Fisher still publicly lends the voice that provided the soundtrack for some of the great moments in Penn State football history. Fisher was the Lions' radio play-by-play man from 1970-83 and 1994-99.
He also has worked for the university in various capacities, including assistant athletic director. He even was chief among the group of people who developed the university's now-ubiquitous logo.
Fisher loves Penn State, but many of his warmer early-life sports memories involve the Pirates. He was at Forbes Field for its two most famous moments: Bill Mazeroski's World Series-ending home run in 1960 and Babe Ruth's final three home runs May 25, 1935.
“When I was maybe 9 years old, my father ... was a friend of ex-Pirates pitcher Wilbur Cooper,” Fisher said. “And he got us on the bench before a game. We're sitting next to the water cooler, and a bowlegged guy came over and tasseled my head, and my father said, ‘Do you know who that is? That was Honus Wagner.' ”
Fisher's remarkable life has stretched long enough that he has interacted with sports icons that spanned the turns of two different centuries. He can tell countless stories about Penn State greats and, of course, Paterno.
“He had a sign on the locker room, ‘Remove your hat before entering this building.' Little things like that,” Fisher said. “He would even say to a kid if he was walking with a young lady on the street, ‘Don't put her next to the curb! You walk next to the curb, and she walks on the inside!'
“Now, what the hell does that have to do with being a good football coach? I think that has something to do with it. I think that discipline carries over.
“And those guys remember. ... The guys that have rallied behind Joe Paterno now are the ones who hated his guts when they played. Unbelievable.”
Hanging in a large room that serves as Fisher's office and living room is a large print honoring Penn State football. It was a retirement gift from Paterno, who signed it with the note: “Dear Fran, I hope this will always bring back fond memories for you.”
Collecting fond memories? Fisher has spent nine decades doing just that.
“I am a very, very, very, very lucky guy,” Fisher said. “I'm the perfect example of a guy being in the right place at the right time.”