Ray Christensen says he has no regrets about his decision to retire in 2001 as the radio voice of Gophers football and basketball. Nonetheless, the prospect of returning to the booth today for the inaugural game in TCF Bank Stadium has him almost giddy.
"Being able to broadcast play-by-play in all three stadiums -- Memorial, the Dome and now TCF, that's great,'' Christensen said this week. "I'm looking forward to it. It makes me feel more important than it should, I fear.''
Christensen, 85, will call the action on the Gophers' first offensive series of the second half. It is a cameo appearance, to be sure, but one that he is not taking lightly.
Christensen has gone to the past two Tuesday Gophers media luncheons to prep for the assignment. He's also been reading about both Minnesota and Air Force, and cutting out pertinent clippings to have at his disposal.
"That's vintage Ray,'' said Gophers radio analyst Dave Mona. "Ray will never go in unprepared.''
Christensen graduated from the university in 1949 and broadcast Gophers football for 50 years and 510 games. He also broadcast more than 1,300 Gophers basketball games over 45 seasons.
"It was the right decision,'' he said of retiring after the 2001 basketball season. "I went out still at my best.''
It was Mona's idea to have Christensen return to the booth for the first game at TCF. Mona sought the approval AD Joel Maturi -- "There are a lot of no-brainer ideas, and this was one of them,'' Maturi said -- and then Mona went to Christensen.
Mona made his pitch while Ray and his wife, Ramona, were having dinner.
"It was kind of cute,'' Mona said. "Ray said, 'Well, I would have to think about it,' and Ramona said, 'He'll do it.' A little later that night Ray came back and said, 'Well, I thought about it and I'm flattered. But only the first Gophers series of the second half.'"
Christensen started recording books for the blind a couple of years before retiring and recently recorded his 100th such book. He also reads to young students in his local parish school.
He said he will approach today's assignment as he always did, calling the action straight. No gimmicks. No frills.
"I'm not a great one for getting excited over and over again,'' he said. "There aren't that many exciting plays, and then you don't do the good ones justice if you're already going, 'Hey, he just made 2 off right tackle!'"
Christensen anticipates feeling no different today than he did for any of his previous 510 Gophers football games.
"I'll be a little nervous, but I always was,'' he said. "Before the opening kickoff I was always nervous, and then someone caught the ball and I was OK. I'd always be worried if I didn't have butterflies. It was like, 'What's wrong with you, Ray? Aren't you excited?'"
That will not be a question Christensen expects to have to ask of himself today.
"I'd say it's my last hurrah,'' he said. "There's not going to be another new football stadium.''
And he has no desire to see Williams Arena -- home of the basketball Gophers -- go the way of Memorial Stadium.
"Williams has a charm all its own,'' Christensen said. "Memorial Stadium didn't have that charm. In retrospect, they talk about it now, but it really didn't have that charm that Williams has.''