Behind The Scenes

Tessitore’s penchant for calling upsets spans months, multiple sports

Days before he was set to arrive in Virginia today, Joe Tessitore’s presence was felt.

From pre-Thanksgiving conversations between Tessitore and officials in the Virginia Tech athletic department, he emerged with a new nickname: “The Dragon Slayer.”

It was meant in good fun, no doubt.

Still, the VaTech camp has to wonder if Tessitore’s presence in Charlottesville, Va. this afternoon might spell doom for its No. 5 ranked Virginia Tech football team’s visit to Virginia (3:30 ET, ABC, ESPN2, ESPN3).

Based on his track record dating back at least a year and covering three different sports, Tessitore seems to be the underdog’s best friend and a heavy favorite’s arch nemesis.

“Among the players, coaches, athletic directors, and other media, this has not gone unnoticed at all,” said Tessitore (pictured right), who will call the Virginia Tech-Virginia game with analyst Rod Gilmore just hours after having described the Pitt-West Virginia game in Morgantown on Friday (also, of course, decided late for the 21-20 WVU win).

“They see that it’s our crew broadcasting the game, and there’s the expectation that something outrageous is going to happen, that the upset is going to happen,” he said.

No one should blame VaTech for being a bit nervous with Tessitore in the house.

Since November 2010, the versatile play-by-play announcer has been on the mic for huge upsets in horse racing, boxing and most notably college football.

Now he’s a week removed from describing huge upsets in Ames, Iowa and Waco, Texas in a 24-hour span.

In Week 12, double-digit underdogs Iowa State, Baylor and USC made a mess of the BCS with upsets of then-No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State, then-No. 4 Oklahoma and then No. 5 Oregon, respectively.

On Nov. 18, Tessitore and longtime colleague Gilmore called the host Cyclones’ double-overtime shocking win over 3-plus score favorite Oklahoma State.

The next night, Tessitore and analyst Matt Millen were in Texas to call Baylor’s first-ever win over Oklahoma.

Before the nation could stomach that 1-2 punch, USC shocked host Oregon.

Perhaps it was fitting that the voice of ESPN2’s boxing series Friday Night Fights was delivering the details of two of the stunning knockouts.

“To think that I called two of the three, and two of the three that were the most massive upsets, it seems I was at the right place at the right time,” Tessitore said.

Experts described Week 12 as ‘”the most outrageous and wild weekend college football has seen in the modern era,'” he said.

Even he would like to temper the hyperbole a bit: “When [people] make statements like that, it’s challenging to put it into perspective because it just happened.

“But it was pretty outrageous,” he said.

Still, it seems calling upsets is Tessitore’s calling.

It’s not just limited to this season — or this sport, for that matter.

Horse racing: As host of ESPN’s 2010 Breeder’s Cup coverage, Tessitore was trackside when 19-0 Zenyatta saw her unbeaten streak fall.

Boxing: During ESPN’s 2011 FNF season, Tessitore was ringside to describe the first losses for five prized prospects.

College football: Exactly one year ago today, Tessitore and Gilmore were in Reno, Nev. to describe the end of Boise State’s 24-game winning streak in an overtime loss to host Nevada.

More football follies followed:

In September, unranked Baylor blew a 24-point lead but still outlasted then No. 14 TCU 50-48 and broke the Horned Frogs’ 25-game regular-season winning streak.

Tessitore also described the fall of favorites Missouri and West Virginia to unranked Arizona State and Syracuse, respectively.

Tessitore admits to being superstitious but says that he does not think his presence has any influence on the string of upsets.

Gilmore, his broadcast partner for several years, thinks “Tess” has a sixth sense about some games, however.

“About a half an hour before the Arizona State-Missouri game, Tess puts on the headset and says, ‘Everybody listen up. I am sprinkling the magic dust, and we’re going to have an overtime game,’ ” Gilmore recalled.

Sure enough, host Arizona State blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead before emerging with a 37-30 overtime win.

“It is uncanny the number of fourth-quarter, overtime or close finishes he’s called this year. And even beforehand, he’s telling us, even when it looks like a mismatch,” Gilmore said of Tessitore.

Even some fans of defending national champion Auburn, playing rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl today, are asking online if ESPN can loan Tessitore to CBS to help the Tigers’ chances.

Who knows when the spell will pass.

“It’s been a really fun week. This is why we’re in sports,” Tessitore said. “You have to laugh about how random and crazy sports can be. “

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