ROUGH N' TUMBLE

Ken Hoffman catches up with the new voice of Houston's XFL team

Photo courtesy of Houston Roughnecks

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

The Houston Roughnecks begin their debut season in the XFL (2.0) on Sunday, February 9, at TDECU Stadium on the University of Houston campus. Their first opponent is the dreaded L.A. Wildcats with kickoff at 4 pm. Tickets, starting at $24 for the lower bowl, are available online.

The game will be televised nationally on FOX (that's Channel 26 in these here parts). But even better, this game and the entire 10-game season will be broadcast on ESPN 97.5 FM. The station's morning host John Granato will handle play-by-play duties. Here are 10 questions for the radio voice of the Houston Roughnecks.

CultureMap: What will be your main challenges in calling XFL play-by-play?

John Granato: I don't foresee much in the way of challenges. Meeting with XFL people, they're doing everything to make it a first-class presentation. We'll have everything we need. I haven't done play-by-play in a while but I'm very confident in my ability. It's always been a dream of mine to be the voice of a team so it's more exciting than anything.

CM: How did you get the job? Did you audition?

JG: Actually, I got a call out of the blue from team president Brian Michael Cooper. He said they wanted me to do it and I said yes. I'm thrilled they had this kind of confidence in me.

CM: The press box is pretty far up and away at TDECU Stadium. Will you have a spotter in your ear?

JG: Not in my ear. There'll be someone sitting with us up there working stats and making notes but no one in my ear. It's on me to know the players and the situations.

CM: When was the last time you did play-by-play?

JG: I did a lot of stuff when I was at Channel 51. We produced UH and Rice football, basketball, and baseball games. It was a while ago, but I haven't forgotten.

CM: Have you memorized the rules that are different from the NFL, for example extra points and the kicking game? What do you think of the different rules?

JG: We've gone over them, but it'll definitely be different. I like a lot of the stuff. The games will go faster. There'll be more offense. Kicks and punts are way different and that will take some getting used to, but just because it's not traditional doesn't mean it's bad. I hope everyone keeps an open mind. Who knows? Some stuff might be better and adopted by other leagues.

CM: Are you going to practices to get to know the players?

JG: Yes. I'll be there a lot.

CM: Is June Jones good for quotes and easy to work with, or is he a [New England Patriots head coach] Bill Belichick mumbler?

JG: He's not Belichick, thank goodness. He's been very receptive to helping and promoting the game and the team. We all have to do our part to get the word out. That's why I'm essentially writing this column for your lazy ass. (Ken's note: that's 1, Granato.)

Continue on CultureMap to learn how an XFL broadcast differ from a typical NFL broadcast, and more.

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These next six games will be very telling. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Houston has six games left in the 2022 regular season, two three-game series in which they need just one more win, or a Yankees loss, to secure the top seed for the AL side of the postseason bracket. They've accomplished what they set out to do over the 162-game drudge that is the regular season, so you're likely to see them use the opportunity to get some players off their feet in the remaining games.

Even so, having one of the best teams means that while putting out a lineup with some starters missing, they can still beat most teams on any given day. So then, what could that mean for the teams still vying for postseason spots or positioning in the remaining games?

Affecting the NL playoffs

It's a relatively sure bet that if they haven't locked up that top seed by the time they enter the final three games, they will before that last series is over. That means that when the Phillies come to Minute Maid Park to close out the season next week, Philadelphia will have much higher stakes in those games than Houston.

Under the expanded playoff format starting this season, the two best teams in each league receive a bye, while the remaining four teams square off in a Wild Card series, with all those games taking place at the better seed's stadium. That means teams will be very motivated to secure their best Wild Card positioning.

As of now, the Phillies hold just a half-game lead over the Brewers for the third and final Wild Card spot for the National League. Things could change this weekend, but whether they still lead or have fallen back and have ground to makeup, the games will matter to them against the Astros.

They also sit 2.5 games behind the Padres, meaning that Philadelphia could potentially be looking at a chance to jump into the second Wild Card spot. However, it's questionable if that's an envious position or not. With the juggernaut battle between the Mets and Braves coming down to the wire, with one team winning the NL East and a first-round bye and the other starting with home-field advantage in a Wild Card series, whoever gets the second Wild Card spot is going to be heading to face a really tough, and potentially angry, team on the road.

It will make things interesting for the Phillies when they face the Astros. They could be playing for their playoff lives or jockeying for position. Either way, the games will be meaningful.

Affecting the AL playoffs

There's a similar scenario at play for the American League side of things with the Astros' three-game series against the Rays this weekend. Just like the Phillies, the Rays enter the weekend holding on to the third and final spot in the AL Wild Card race.

Tampa Bay is only 0.5 games back of the Mariners for the second spot and two games back of the Blue Jays for the first Wild Card spot. Farther behind, the Orioles still have a chance for something crazy to happen, sitting five games behind.

So based on the result of their series with the Astros and how the other teams fare this weekend and in the final stretch of games, the Rays have a range of outcomes that could cause havoc in the AL bracket. They could end up taking the top Wild Card spot and hosting a series, traveling to face the Blue Jays, Mariners, or Guardians, or, less likely, missing the playoffs altogether.

This variance in positioning could have ramifications for the Astros directly in the ALDS round as well. The Astros are likely to be favored regardless of the three potential teams they face; however, some matchups would make things easier.

Houston went 2-4 against the Blue Jays this year and are currently up 3-0 on the Rays with the three games remaining in the season series. And while the Astros took the season series 12-7 against division-rival Seattle, that could give the Mariners all the more reason to be ultra-motivated for the ALDS if they faced the Astros.

So, while the Astros may not have any direct milestones to play for other than locking up their top seed, these remaining six games will have plenty of storylines and drama to follow for them and their opponent.

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