There's little doubt that "The Big Ticket" on WFMZ-Channel 69 has become a staple of the high school football scene each fall, with players, coaches and fans alike all making it a fall Friday night habit to check out the highlights and scores of games around the area in addition to their own school's game.
Although he said it was truly a "team effort" in bringing "The Big Ticket" to fruition, former WFMZ sports director Jeff Fisher takes great pride in the fact that something he developed has carved such a niche in his native Lehigh Valley.
This fall, "The Big Ticket" will celebrate its 20th anniversary, and even though he now lives 3,000 miles away in Laguna Beach, Calif., Fisher still keeps tabs on what's going on in the local sports scene.
It's obvious that Fisher, a 1978 Wilson graduate, hasn't left his love for football behind on the East Coast, because he has developed a national Internet show called "High School Football America" and a radio show called "High School Football America — SoCal" on Los Angeles' Fox Sports radio affiliate, AM 570.
"We had a two-year deal with Fox Sports radio, and now we're in negotiations with them and with KABC, which is the first talk station and a very big radio station here in L.A.," Fisher said. "So, we've got written content, video and radio coverage with 'High School Football America.' "
Fisher said the idea is to take what he started in the Lehigh Valley and make this a radio version of "The Big Ticket" on radio stations throughout the country, and, in turn send people to the "High School Football America" website.
Trish Hoffman, Fisher's girlfriend and a former news anchor at WFMZ, is HSFA's executive director, contributing reporter and co-host.
While he is not on TV now, Fisher said: "Ultimately, what we want to do when we take the next step in the next year or two would be to have a Los Angeles version of 'The Big Ticket,' " he said.
"Why Los Angeles? Well, it's simple. Not only is L.A. the media capital of the world, but more importantly, there are more than 600 high schools in just two counties. Even with that large number of schools, high school football out here is under-served.
"We knew if we could come to a place with such high density and quality talent and be able to improve a media market, we could expand to a national level. That's why we're here."
When he left WFMZ in 2000, Fisher became a Fox Sports Net anchor for regional shows that served the Chicago, Bay Area and Ohio markets.
But even while he was doing national stuff, Fisher said there was something missing.
"When August would roll around, I would definitely miss going out to high schools and doing interviews with kids and coaches as two-a-days were getting started," Fisher said. "I would experience a bit of a depression, and it took me a while until I figured out what it was."
That's why Fisher couldn't wait to get back to his roots, even though he admits that California high school football is a little different from the version played in the Lehigh Valley.
"We have more athletes out here from the sheer density of schools, and I think we know a lot more about the forward pass out here than they do in the Lehigh Valley, although I still love three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust," Fisher said. "We have the same passion, the same energy on a Friday night, but with maybe a slightly cooler vibe.
"Out here we had a Homecoming where they had guitar solos by kids who were in their own band instead of a marching band."
Fisher recalls with vivid details the 1986 season opener played at Zephyr Stadium between Joe Gerenscer's Whitehall team and El Toro, Calif., which was coached by Bob Johnson, the father of then future and now former NFL quarterback Brad Johnson. Now he lives about a 15-minute drive from El Toro.
"It's a small world," Fisher said. "When I first got out here and tried to introduce myself to everyone, Bob was a tough one to crack. He was just short and to the point. But I told him 'You know why I'm a legit guy? I can tell you everything you want to know about your 1986 game against Whitehall.'
"When I said that, he warmed up. We went on to talk for about a half-hour about that game and became good friends after that."
One of the first games Fisher saw in California was a game involving El Toro.
"El Toro's quarterback was Conner Manning, who is now at the University of Utah, and Conner threw 66 passes in the game I saw," Fisher said. "That shows the kind of wide-open football they play out here."
When you listen to Fisher's Internet show, he will talk about things going in California, but also around the country. Among the features he has done was one on Pius X football.
Fisher said he will never forget where he came from or how hard he fought to get "The Big Ticket" on air.
He remains good friends with WFMZ's Dave Lesko, whom he called one of the hard workers who helped get "The Big Ticket" started.
Originally, it was just a 15-minute segment at 10:45 on a Friday night that cut into WFMZ's syndicated "Rush Limbaugh Show."
"There was a belief that it could not be pulled off," Fisher said. "So, what we had to do was a run-through show that never hit the air, just to prove it could be done. Ultimately, everyone pitched in and it took on a life of its own. Coaches would tell me how they changed their postgame routine to watch the show.
"When I went to Chicago, it was then that I realized how much it meant to me, and that's because it meant so much to the Lehigh Valley. Now, 20 years later, I am sure it has evolved and it has gotten bigger and better, and that's what I want to do with 'High School Football America.' "
Did you know?
Digger Phelps has announced his retirement from ESPN's "College GameDay" after 20 years. His final appearance came during the national championship postgame last week.
Big Ten gem
The best sports stuff on television these days is the documentaries, whether it's ESPN's "30 for 30" series, the NFL Network's "A Football Life" or the stuff produced by HBO or Showtime.
Just happened to come across a feature on the Big Ten Network called "Tiebreaker," which explores a 1973 controversy when the league voted Ohio State to represent it in the Rose Bowl, even though the Buckeyes lost to Michigan in their season-ending game and the two ended in a tie in the standings.
It was a slight that legendary Wolverines coach Bob Schembechler never forgot.
Just a compelling, behind-the-scenes story featuring one of college football's fiercest rivalries. Even though it debuted last November, you might be able to catch it sometime.
KEITH'S CAN'T MISS … The NHL playoffs begin Wednesday night with some heated rivalries and compelling matchups, including the Rangers taking on the Flyers, starting Thursday. Comcast SportsNet will have Flyers coverage with NBC, NBC Sports Network, CNBC and the NHL Network sharing the national coverage.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun