When Jaime Moreno played college football in Mexico, his coach taught the team to celebrate every achievement, not just touchdowns.
When he and his nephew, Luis Moreno Jr., call Carolina Panthers games for the Spanish radio broadcast, they put that theory into practice.
Anything and everything can and will be celebrated.
“The coin toss. The first down. The good pass of 3 yards. The good run of 3 yards,” Jaime Moreno said. “We’ve got to celebrate it so we can get excited to get into the end zone. And I think that culture for three or four years for playing for that coach and how we celebrated things, that helps me get into the games and celebrate every little detail.”The duo has brought the flair of Latin American soccer announcers to the NFL, and six years into their project they are becoming cult heroes among English-speaking Panthers fans, and rock stars to Spanish speakers.
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Their exciting calls on 102.3 FM of a game-ending interception, a Cam Newton touchdown flip or a Greg Olsen touchdown have been replayed everywhere from local sports radio to ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
The Panthers are one of 16 teams in the NFL with a Spanish-language radio broadcasting team. And on Sunday, they’ll be broadcasting the Super Bowl between the Panthers and the Denver Broncos in California.
Nearly a decade after Jaime Moreno first had the dream of calling Panthers games, he and his nephew are as popular as they’ve ever been.
Both men have had a deep passion for the game for years despite American football not being well-received in their home country. With that knowledge, they’ve made the game more palatable for fans by infusing soccer-style announcing in their broadcasts as audio hints for listeners still learning the game, plus some of the more interesting nicknames in sports.
A broadcast team is born
Of course, it all started at a soccer game.
Jaime Moreno, 54, had been working at a local Spanish-speaking AM radio station but wanted to get his foot in the door with the Panthers. His son was a goalkeeper for North Mecklenburg High in 2007, and at one of the games he met Amy Martin, who’s the Panthers’ broadcast coordinator.
The Panthers played the Houston Texans early in the 2007 season and team officials heard the Spanish radio broadcast for that game. Then-team president Mark Richardson got involved and it seemed like the project would take off, but issues with the radio affiliate eventually shelved the idea.
About that time, Jaime Moreno brought in his nephew to talk American football on his radio show on Mondays.
Luis, 37, was introduced to the sport while living in Mexico before moving to the United States at age 14. He starred as a fullback and linebacker for Charlotte Catholic before going on to play at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.
Luis brought an understanding of the game that some of his uncle’s co-workers did not have.
“I have five guys working for me and every time I talk about the Panthers, you could hear a pin drop because they didn’t have any knowledge of it,” Jaime said. “I called Luis and said you need to come help me out on Mondays. So the first day I got him over there when we finished and everything went well, the listeners called me and said, ‘Who was that kid who was with you today?’ I said, ‘He’s my nephew.’ They said, ‘Man he rocks.’ ”
The idea for a Spanish broadcast came up again in 2009, when Danny Morrison took over as the Panthers’ team president. Morrison had come from Texas Christian University, where they recently had started a similar broadcast.
The Panthers contracted their independent group to cover games, and they partnered with Norsan Media Group to broadcast on the flagship station.
In 2010, Jaime and Luis went on the air for the first time.
Football, but soccer-style
When they got the job, they studied all the Spanish-speaking broadcasts from Houston, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Dallas and New Orleans.
They liked Arizona’s the best, but something was missing: the excitement of the soccer broadcasts their listener base is so accustomed to.
Soccer, or fútbol, is far and away the most popular sport among Hispanics. The NFL has tried to get into the Mexico market since the late 1960s, with limited success. As recently as 2014, Hispanics made up 0.7 percent of the NFL player population, according to the Racial and Gender Report Card by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.
Spanish-speaking soccer announcers are known for their buildup on plays in the low-scoring sport. And when a goal is scored, listeners can expect the announcer to bellow out a “GOOOOOOOL,” holding the syllable until he runs out of breath.
But it wasn’t enough for Jaime, the play-by-play commentator, and Luis, the color analyst, to just scream out the plays. They had to know the game.
“That’s the thing. It’s not about being bilingual. It’s about being bicultural,” Luis said. “We went soccer style because if you think about it, they celebrate so many things because there’s so little going on. If you use that formula for football, it works. You have the first down, a sack, a fumble recovery, interception. It’s celebrated.”
Their rise has coincided with more ways than ever for fans to engage in games. Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who’s half Puerto Rican, said members of his family in Puerto Rico listen to the broadcast online.
A growing audienceIt also comes at a time when the Hispanic population in Charlotte is growing. Between 2010 and 2013, the Hispanic population in Mecklenburg County grew by 11 percent, twice as fast as its white population. In 2013, Nielsen designated Charlotte as the fastest-growing market among Hispanics for markets with more than 200,000 people.
Taking from soccer broadcasts, Jaime and Luis will give shoutouts to some of the listeners who use Twitter, Facebook or Instagram as a way of engaging more fans.
As the population has grown, so has the interest in the sport, Jaime said. His listeners might not know what the red zone is, but when he imitates a bell noise – ding ding ding la la la la – they know the Panthers are close to scoring.
Again, the listeners — like many English-speaking football fans — might not understand all the penalties. So when the yellow flag comes out, Jaime reverts to soccer-style broadcasting that regularly places blame on officials and calls the referee el gorrito blanco – the little white hat. That’s the cue that something is amiss.
All this happens while Eric Fiddleman, the Spanish-language radio general manager and spotter for the two announcers, is telling them what he’s seeing on the field but saying it in English.
“Honestly I’ve worked on over 300 games in my career – NFL, college and even a couple of high school games for ESPN – and I will tell you that hands down it is the most exciting thing that I’ve ever been involved with from a broadcasting standpoint,” Fiddleman said. “There’s an energy in the booth that is palpable from kickoff. It’s a unique thing from my standpoint.
“I’m basically an extra pair of eyes that does not speak or understand much of Spanish. Having worked with a bunch of broadcasters, some of whom get distracted by a bunch of hand motions, for me to be able to speak a different language to them in their headsets and they translate it on the go like that, it’s amazing to me.”
Launched by the Dinosaur
After five-plus years of calling Panthers games, Jaime and Luis finally got national attention for their call of Cam Newton’s touchdown rush against the Houston Texans, when he flipped into the end zone.
“He’s getting in!” Jaime Moreno shouts. “You’re flying like Superman, my dear dinosaur! Fly like you can, fly like you can! Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown! Dance, dance, dance my dear dinosaur! The Panthers add six more points to the score!”
The call was played on local sports radio station WFNZ and started getting traction. The Panthers’ social media director put it out on their Twitter and Facebook accounts and it took off, eventually getting onto ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
The nickname Dinosaurio (Dinosaur) is what Newton asked them to call him during his first training camp with the Panthers in 2011, because “Ace Boogie” wouldn’t translate well to Spanish. They call cornerback Josh Norman El Bandolero, meaning “the bandit” because he robs the other team with his interceptions. His victory-sealing interception against the Saints in Week 3 was their second big call of the year.
The third call came when tight end Greg Olsen scored the winning touchdown against the Seahawks in Week 6. Translated, it went like this:
“You’re getting in, Greg!” Jaime Moreno screams. “You’re getting in! You’re getting in! Touchdown! Touchdown! Dance, dance, dance! Mayonnaise, mayonnaise! Whip it like mayonnaise, my dear Greg! Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown! The Panthers put numbers on the board and are trying to make the Seattle Seahawks fly away!”
Wait. Does that mean the nickname for Olsen, a white tight end, is Mayonnaise?
“I told him, you know I’m the one that has to go explain to everybody what did you mean by that,” Luis joked.
Mayonesa is a song from 2000 by the Uruguayan band Chocolate. The song, which was played at Luis’ wedding, is a dance song where you whip it like mayonnaise. Jaime even mimics the rhythm of the chorus when screaming out the word mayonesa.
“And I think of how big that moment was, not just last year (in the playoff loss against Seattle) but against that franchise in particular, it was perfect,” Luis said. “And yes it might need a little explaining at times. But that’s what analysts do.”
Catching on everywhere
Jaime is being compared by the listeners to Enrique “El Perro” Bermúdez, a popular Mexican soccer announcer who has called 10 World Cups in Spanish.
When Jaime answers the phone, callers will be surprised he picked up. Employees at his son’s high school ask to take pictures with him.
Luis says it’s a blessing the two finally are getting their recognition, but attention isn’t new to them.
“The past few years we’ve taken a football camp to Mexico and the turnouts were 1,000 to 1,200 kids,” said Jaime, who has been joined by former Panthers Frank Garcia and Eugene Robinson. “So we’ve kind of been accustomed to being the center of attention at some point. So we’re very humble about it because to us, going to Mexico to the camps, it was as much about the camps as it was about the visits to orphanages or homeless shelters.
“Now that we’ve received all this, it’s great. We’re very thankful and blessed. But we’ve received that support that has been behind us for six years now. This is like the combination of what we expected.”
The excitement even has caught on inside the locker room. On Mondays the team gathers to watch film, and the coaches will play one or two highlights from the previous day’s win.
Early in the season, as Jaime and Luis’ popularity grew, the coaches decided to change it up. Now when the team meets to watch the highlights, they’ve dubbed the Spanish broadcast call onto the video highlight for the team.
“I think it’s cool,” said Norman, who loves his Bandolero nickname. “Why can’t they just do it the full time? Shoot, those guys go mayhem. I love it just to hear it in Spanish. It gives you chills just listening to it because it gets you so hype.”
Sergio Tovar and Rogelio Aranda contributed to this article.