Penn State

Fran Fisher, voice of Nittany Lions, dies at 91

Fran Fisher, left, and former Penn State baseball coach Robbie Wine talk during the Coaches vs. Cancer golf tournament in 2006.
Fran Fisher, left, and former Penn State baseball coach Robbie Wine talk during the Coaches vs. Cancer golf tournament in 2006. CDT file photo

Fran Fisher was fond of saying that he offered fans two games for the price of one — the game on the field and the game he broadcast.

It’s always good to open with a joke and Fisher, who has been described as one of the most iconic voices in the history of college football, was known to be quick with a well placed one-liner.

During his long tenure as the voice of the Nittany Lions, Fisher provided color commentary during a time when almost nine out of the 11 Penn State football games were broadcast over the radio, not television.

For fans at home, the real action wasn’t unfolding on a screen but in the timbres of a voice those who knew him say echoed with warmth and humor long after it left the airwaves.

Fisher’s son, Jeff, confirmed his passing Thursday morning. He was 91.

“He’s a guy that’s going to be missed in this community and at Penn State. It’s a sad day,” former Nittany Lions assistant coach Jay Paterno said.

For Paterno, Fisher was and always will be the voice of Nittany Lion football.

As a kid, he remembers listening to Fisher’s commentary over the radio, calling him the lifeline of the action.

“His voice was almost as familiar to you as the voice of your parents,” Paterno said.

That is saying something, considering Paterno’s father also talked a lot about football. Jay Paterno, the son of Joe Paterno, the longtime coach of the Nittany Lions, knew Fisher ever since he was a kid.

Even at 91 years old, Fisher had not changed much.

“He could still recall every bad joke he ever told you,” Paterno said.

Fisher began his Penn State career as a color announcer before he became the play-by-play voice of the Nittany Lions, a position he occupied beginning in 1970. He called his last game when the team defeated Texas A&M in the 1999 Alamo Bowl, and he also produced and hosted sports shows like “TV Quarterbacks” and “Nittany Lion Hotline.”

Away from the airwaves, Fisher’s voice remained just as supportive of Penn State athletics. He was the director of the Nittany Lion Club from 1982 from 1988, when he also retired as the university’s assistant athletic director.

Paterno said Fisher loved to come to football practice and offer encouragement, regardless of whether the team had won or lost that week.

Fisher’s ability to connect with people, on or off the air, may be his greatest legacy.

“His rapport with the fans was unbelievable because he had a very special personality that every fan could relate to,” said Steve Jones, the current play-by-play voice of Penn State football and men’s basketball.

Current coach James Franklin must have felt that connection. He walked into the media room for a September press conference carrying a blue and white cake and singing “Happy Birthday” to the broadcast legend.

Jones called Fisher one of the larger icons in the history of Penn State football, a man whose class, grace and dignity set the bar for the generation of sports broadcasters that followed.

“He’s been a perfect example for us on how we should proceed in broadcasting moving forward,” Jones said.