ImpactSpring 2012

Clock watcher

Larry Hanni ’58 has gone to every single Indianapolis Colts home football game for the past 28 years. That’s 282 games, and he’s missed only two preseason games. But Larry hasn’t been able to watch a single game. Why? He’s too busy watching the clock.

In 1984, when the Colts arrived in Indianapolis, Larry applied to be part of the chain crew, the men who handle the first-down measuring chain and the down indicator box on the sideline. Instead, Larry was asked to be one of the timers for the games. After an extremely thorough background check, Larry was given the job of play-clock timer. He’s been at the switch ever since.

During an NFL game, there are three men in the timing booth: one to run the game clock, one to run the quarterback switch, and one to operate the play clock.

Time for a switch

Larry’s job is to start and stop the 40-second clock as needed, watching the back judge and the officials for signals. The play clock counts down the time the offense has to start the play before they receive a delay of game penalty.

“In this job,” says Larry, “I just cannot watch the game. I really have to concentrate on the covering official. There will be times that the crowd erupts and I have no idea why!”

His most stressful game happened in 2009 when the Colts played the Patriots in Indianapolis and the Colts won by one point. That’s a game that will be familiar to both Colts and Patriots fans, at least, and probably to all serious football fans. It’s the one where Patriots coach Bill Belichick famously decided to try to pick up a first down on fourth-and-2 from his own 28, with just 2:08 to go in the game. The Colts stopped them short and won the game a few plays later—after having trailed by 17 points early in the fourth quarter. The game came down to a Brady pass to Wes Welker that ran out the clock.

“I shook hands with the other timer at the end of that game,” Larry says. “That was the wettest handshake ever.”

Though Larry has been fortunate enough to serve as timer in three playoff games, his biggest moment in the spotlight came when he was asked to run the play clock for the Super Bowl. Larry found out last July that he would be the timer at the game as long as the Colts were not playing in it.

“I wasn’t going to believe I was doing it until I was actually there,” he says. “What an opportunity I received.”

On February 5 Larry arrived at Lucas Oil Stadium via police escort (later leaving the same way), along with all the other NFL officials and referees. Since he had to arrive extra early for security reasons, he had time to walk the concourse in the stadium, something he’s never had the chance to do. During the game, everything went well from his point of view, though he says that, once again, his “palms were sweating quite a bit that night!” After the game was over, Larry had the chance to socialize with the referees and officials, many of whom he has gotten to know over the years. And thanks to all the excitement, he couldn’t even fall asleep that night.

“It was such an amazing experience to be there,” he says. “What an honor. It was very meaningful, very exciting, but yet very humbling. “It definitely was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

the authorMarty