It doesn't take much detective work to find broadcaster Bob Papa – all you have to do is look or listen. He's somewhere on the airwaves, although it's more accurate to say he's everywhere. You can start with the Giants' radio broadcasts on WCBS, where Papa has been doing play by play since 1995, and then step into the rest of his universe.
There's the NFL Network, the MSG Network, HBO, the Golf Channel, ESPN and NBC, among others. Papa likens his career to "a Swiss Army knife" with multiple layers. The former Dumont resident and Bergen Catholic graduate is hardly kidding when he says, "I try to stay busy."
Not for one second does Papa worry about overexposure or viewer or listener fatigue. That's good news for his public. There'll be no shortage of Papa's electric play-calling, which media critics describe as a synthesis of informed, passionate and smooth all at once.
To those who detect a trace of Marv Albert's cadence, that's no coincidence. Ever since Papa was a kid dreaming of becoming a broadcaster, Albert was larger than life. "Marv was the guy I tried to impersonate," Papa says. "He was such a huge figure to anyone who loved sports."
Papa is quick to admit he's still a fan, not just of Albert's, but of the sports he so colorfully describes. Yet Papa knows there's a fine line between emotional investment, which lends itself to gripping play-calling, and hometown-rooting – the scourge of the profession.
Part of Papa's charm is his familiarity; it feels like he's been with the Giants for a generation – a lifetime, even. Papa's association with Sunday football is not unlike Michael Kay calling Yankee games or, on a larger scale, Vin Scully welcoming you to another Dodger broadcast.
Luckily for Papa, the long marriage to the G-Men hasn't taken the edge off his commentary. To the contrary, he's been unafraid to tweak the Giants when necessary, and does so with the team's blessing.
"The Giants are my hub, but [former owner] Wellington Mara told me years ago it was OK to criticize as long as it wasn't personal or mean," Papa says. "Our fans know the difference between good and bad football. You're not going to be fooling anyone by saying, everything's great. This isn't a college town; the crowd isn't afraid to boo the home team."
There was obviously a little conflict last season when the Giants won the Super Bowl. Papa body-surfed his way through the kinds of broadcasts radio men dream about – thrilling games that were decided late and in dramatic fashion. Giants fans were still woozy months after the 21-17 victory over the Patriots, although Papa had already downshifted into golf mode by April, traveling to Augusta, Ga., to call the Masters.
Ask Papa why he devotes himself to golf, and his answer is simple and unpretentious.
"Because I love it," he says.
The better question is why Papa works so hard. He's a success story at 47 and could easily reduce his footprint without affecting his Q-rating. But Papa wouldn't dream of coasting. He's currently got football, golf and boxing percolating in his blood, and before that, he was the voice of the Nets on WOR and YES. Papa even dabbled in baseball, calling games for the Staten Island Yankees a decade ago.
The machine is fueled by the advice Papa once received from the legendary Marty Glickman, who was the voice of the Knicks, Giants and Jets from the late '40s until 1992.
"Marty said, 'Stay diverse, be versatile,'" Papa recalls. "He also says it was important to keep your roots with a local team, the way Marv did with the Knicks. That's what I've done with the Giants."
Papa's vibe is pure, unforced cool, like some '40s-era jazz musician. Even in his college days at Fordham, Papa was free of angst. YES analyst Jack Curry, who like Papa studied at the Rose Hill campus in the late '80s, says, "The first time I met Bob, he was wearing a jacket and tie. That's who he was. Even early on in his life, he was making an impression."
Maybe that's because Papa was so focused all along. Even the decision to attend Fordham after a year at the University of Delaware was designed to pay a dividend. The school boasted its well-known student-run radio station, WFUV, which spawned a generation of media stars that included Scully, Kay and Curry, as well as MSG Network's John Giannone and Mike Breen.
Papa was the station's program director, although his father, a civil engineer who worked in Fort Lee, insisted he major in finance and marketing. "My parents paid for me to go to Fordham on the condition that I had a fallback position [from broadcasting]," Papa says.
Of course, there was no chance he'd ever use the safety net. Papa knew he was destined for the media – he was practically born with the gene. "When other kids used to go for players' autographs," he recalls, "I looked for the announcers' autographs.
"Remember," he says, "this was pre-cable, so when my parents' radio was locked on WNEW for the Knicks and Rangers, I was captivated. I was a big Yankees fan, too. I remember Phil Rizzuto, Bill White, Frank Messer. I mean, I did play-by-playing when I was in the middle of a game on the basketball court."
Papa has similarly warm memories of Dumont, where his parents lived from 1969 to 2009 after moving from the Bronx. The upbringing and environment goes a long way in explaining Papa's work ethic and appreciation for his job.
"Obviously, on the socioeconomic level, we weren't on the high end in Dumont," he says. "But as a kid, you never realize that. All I knew is that I could ride my bike to school. It wasn't until I went to Bergen Catholic that I started meeting other kids from the other towns [in Bergen County]. That's when it was like, holy cow. But Dumont was a great place to grow up. It was very emotional for me when my parents finally sold the house three years ago and moved away."
Today, Papa lives in Chatham with his wife, Jennifer, and their three sons, Christopher, 14, Will, 12, and Nicholas, 10. Papa doubts there's a second generation of broadcasters in the family, although there's still hope of a professional encounter someday. Christopher is a fencer and hopes to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team.
If so, he'll find his dad in the booth, because Papa has been working the Olympics since 1992. It's all part of the impossible pace of his life, although he has a little secret for Long Beach Island residents on the Fourth of July. Anyone who runs into Papa should pinch themselves. It's a miracle: Papa is actually on vacation.