Crew Q&A: Duncan Oughton on Dwight Burgess

Following Monday’s announcement that Dwight Burgess is stepping out of the broadcast booth after 24 seasons, I wrote this piece about The Voice of the Crew.

On Wednesday, I also caught up with one of his former broadcast partners, former Crew midfielder Duncan Oughton, to chat about his experiences with Dwight. As always, it was a pleasure to catch up with everyone’s favorite Kiwi.

*****

As a player, I’m sure you did interviews with Dwight for various radio or TV shows. So as a player, what were your recollections of Dwight as a broadcaster?

As a player, you go back and watch games to watch yourself, but to be honest with you, I didn’t often have the commentary on. I didn’t want to be clouded when I was watching a game, whether it was the home commentators or the away commentators. It was probably more seeing him around or doing the odd interview or at team events and things like that. It wasn’t until I really got into the booth with him that I got to know Dwight on a more personal level.

We drove for hours to Cleveland and back to broadcast games. We were driving at all hours of the night, especially after west coast games. I remember stopping halfway at some petrol station and there was some special milkshake at McDonald’s and he’d get one. It was not cool to drive two hours to the studio and two hours back, especially for a west coast game, but he managed to make it a positive experience. You really get to know someone when you spend 70 hours in the car with them over the course of a season.

He helped me a lot when I got into broadcasting. My baptism by fire was 30 minutes in a studio in Columbus not even calling half a game. I commented on a bit of a game I was part of and they were like, “Okay, you’ve got the job. Dwight, this is Duncan. Duncan, this is Dwight. Okay, now GO.”

When you’re thrown into the deep end and you’re partnered with someone you respect and they know everything that’s gone on throughout the years and they’ve got a great insight into what’s going on not only on the field, but what’s gone on off the field, in the club, throughout the community and the region and all that, basically I was sitting next to a wise owl.

A wise, featherless owl.

Exactly. He had those big eyes watching right over me. If I was at a loss for words, which doesn’t happen often as you know, he would jump right in. It was comforting to have someone like that sitting next to you and helping you learn the ropes on the fly. He was something to hang onto.

I’ll say this to anyone—I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just talking. He made it easy. He would lead you into the conversation. It was great to be with someone who wasn’t there for personal gain. He was there to make a good broadcast for the club and to make sure everyone knew what was going on. It made it easy for me coming into that role because he was someone who loved the club as much as I did and is someone who has been there since day one and can educate you on the club. It was pretty cool.

I guess from the way you’re describing it, it’s similar to when you’re a rookie player and there’s that veteran that takes you under his wing.

Yeah, it was like that. There was never any ego. It wasn’t like, “I’m Dwight Burgess and this is how we’re doing it.” It was more like, “I’m so excited to work with you.” It was smooth and easy because of him.

Did he have any broadcasting advice for you as someone who was just thrown into the fray?

“Don’t screw it up” was probably one thing he told me. “Don’t swear” was another one because he’d probably heard me swear on the field from all the way up in the booth because I was swearing like a madman. But it really wasn’t like “you need to do this, this, and this.” He just said to me, “You know the game, you’ve been out there rubbing shoulders with all these guys and you’ve done it out on the field, so now you just need to talk about it. I’ll lead you into it and we’ll make it fun.” There weren’t really any rules apart from don’t screw it up and don’t swear. That leaves a lot open for me. I can come up with colorful ways to use my words.

It wasn’t any set thing he did. It was more about the comfort level he put you in to have a conversation on TV. It’s really what it was. It was just a conversation about something we both loved, except it was on TV.

I was actually going to bring that up. That was always my impression of those broadcasts. It was just guys who loved the Crew talking about the game as it happened.

One thing he did say was, “We’re the hometown commentary team, but we need to do this properly. We’re not homers like some people out there. We have a black & gold sway to what we’re doing, but when it comes to the game, we have to be honest.”

I thought that was really good information. And look, at that time I was coaching too as one of the many hats I wore for the organization, and I would go into training on Monday or Tuesday and guys would be like, “Why did you say this? Why did you say that?” I’d say, “It happened in the game. Go watch it. It’s nothing different than I’d tell you in person.”

I could have gone the other way and been a big homer for the team. It certainly would have made my life easy on the training field, but I thought it was great advice from Dwight. You can go into the booth with black & gold in your heart, but you have to be neutral when you call the game. I would just call it like I see it because Dwight and I had talked about that stuff and he made it easy.

Any particularly memorable conversations in your drives with Dwight? He can be a fun person to talk to. Or a pain in the ass person to talk to, but in a fun way. It just seems like you two would have a lot of fun conversations.

Sometimes if I had a bad day, like if I coached the guys who didn’t travel and it was a rough day, I’d go into that drive to Cleveland all pissed off or whatever, or some days happy, but when we got together, we’d do some preparation in the car. Or if we got up there early—which we always did because he is the consummate professional—we’d go to Panera and talk with optimism about the upcoming game. Then if the result didn’t go well, he was frustrated and he’d be asking why. There was never a lack of conversation. Sometimes I didn’t want to be asked what was going on at training because I was pissed off that the team lost and the last thing I wanted to talk about was soccer, but he was interested in the team.

And with Dwight, there’s always that level of trust that is there when you talk about that stuff. It’s more for his own understanding.

There was a comfort level. It wasn’t just about the team. It was about the club and the bigger picture.

I remember when the scoreboard caught on fire. I couldn’t stop laughing. There was only one thing in that stadium older than the scoreboard and it was Dwight. He’d been part of that stadium longer than the scoreboard. The scoreboard is on fire and he’s looking at me like “This isn’t really funny but I’m laughing on the inside and I can’t believe you are openly bursting out laughing right now.”

I remember on the air, you said something like, “I know I shouldn’t be laughing…but I can’t stop laughing.” And then you kept laughing.

It was the last game before I left to join the coaching staff at Toronto FC. It was my last game and the scoreboard burned down.

Before I let you go, is there anything else the world needs to know about Dwight Burgess?

As a player, you have a skewed perception of commentators because they call it like they see it. So you’re like, “That dick.” And then they want to come and interview you the next week. But with Dwight, I think it was always professional. It was his job and he was doing what he was meant to do. There was no arrogance about it.

A lot of people have reached out to me about this because it’s a sad day when it gets announced that he won’t be back. I don’t think he’s gone for good, hopefully. Hopefully there are still more interactions with the team, the club, the community, and the sport.

For me, I used to get a lot of good comments about what I was doing on the broadcasts, but that’s because Dwight made it easy. I can’t thank him enough for all that he did for me personally during my time in the booth.

My home was on the field and his home was in the booth, but he made my time in the booth feel like home. He made it feel like OUR booth, not HIS booth. It was massive.

Although occasionally, when the sun shined the wrong way at Crew Stadium, I had to squint because of various reasons. I’m not saying he waxed the top of his head, but it was something. Sorry, Dwight. Sorry, mate.

 

*****

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Email: sirk65@yahoo.com
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