Craig Way is missing.
It’s a Friday night in Austin, the Texas Longhorn baseball team is taking the field against the Kansas State Wildcats, and Way’s familiar voice is markedly absent from the AM frequency air waves.
His voice is as much a part of Longhorn tradition as their distinct burnt-orange uniforms. No matter the sport, no matter the place, Texas fans are accustomed to “Hookin’ ‘em” while listening to Way on the radio.
The Longhorn faithful can always count on Way bringing his games to life so vividly, putting the listener in the stands even if they are miles away. Yet on this night, he was M.I.A.
Missing, at least, from his familiar perch in the press-box of UFCU Disch-Falk field on this warm April evening.
Instead of being in the booth with his on-air partner Keith Moreland, Way was moonlighting with the Vista Ridge Star Steppers. Way’s daughter, Haley, is a senior and part of the dance team at Vista Ridge High School. She challenged her dad to participate in this year’s daughter-father routine a year ago.
"Tell you what I'll do," said Way in his online blog. "If the Longhorns are home (this) year, your senior year, and I don't have to miss more than one game to do the show, I'll do the dance with you."
Turns out that seemingly improbable scenario played out perfectly for Haley.
Way began working with the Texas Longhorns in 1992 as a color analyst for the football and basketball teams. Until 1997, he remained in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area and traveled to work the games. It was then that he took a job with AM 1300 and finally moved to Austin with his wife, Laurie, and four kids, Andy, Haley, Julianne, and Jason.
Before you actually see Way, you most certainly would envision him being an older man. His southern accent emanates through the air waves with a certain mild quality. His words are saturated with a wealth of knowledge that is unmatched by most of his peers, and he never comes across as arrogant or brash.
Yes, the youthful, 40-something Way is vastly different, and refreshing, from the Jim Romes of the world.
Rare is the occasion that Way can be found hanging around his KVET office. He has his daily radio sports talk show, The Craig Way Show, which airs from 2 PM to 4 PM. He does the play-by-play for almost all of UT’s athletic events, including football, baseball, softball and women’s basketball.
He has been known to do his show in Austin, and at 4 pm, jump in his car and head north on I-35, fighting traffic all the way to Waco just in time to call a 7 PM basketball game that evening.
During the fall, he will call a high school football game on Friday night, then turn around and host High School Extra Live with Ric Renner (and his Vanilla Ice-like hair) a few hours later on Fox Sports Southwest.
Way has been part of every special moment in the recent history of the Longhorn program. From the site of the Longhorn’s first ever Rose Bowl appearance, with their 800th win hanging in the balance as Dusty Mangum’s wobbly kick bent through the uprights, Way was there to set the scene.
His call from the 2006 Rose Bowl, as Vince Young scampered across the moist Pasadena field, still raises the hairs on the back of any Longhorn fan’s neck. The Kenton Paulino three-pointer to beat West Virginia and send the Horns to the Elite Eight in 2006. The baseball championships in 2002 and 2005. Craig Way has seen and called it all.
“Every time I hear his call from a game, even an old game, I still get excited,” said Ashley Haney, a UT graduate. “He always seems to setup the moment so perfectly. I think I’ve listened to him from the end of the Rose Bowl 100 times, and I still get goose bumps from it.”
And when he isn’t up in the press box, he’ll sneak down to the field at Darrel K. Royal Memorial Stadium so he can bang on Big Bertha, the world’s largest bass drum, after Longhorn touchdowns with the UT band students.
Or he’ll walk by the crazies in the O-Zone at the Drum and exchange high-fives with the painted-up frat boys. So you can see how Way is somewhat of a cult hero to the Burnt Orange Nation.
And after the rare incidence of missing a game, Horns everywhere are certainly glad to have their Craig Way back.