Local Bengals super fan Robert Lee grateful to have Sunday off from ESPN duties

Robert Lee, right, with wife Victoria, left, and daughter Gabriella decked out in Cincinnati Bengals gear.

Robert Lee, right, with wife Victoria, left, and daughter Gabriella decked out in Cincinnati Bengals gear.

Surround yourself with the things you love.

For ESPN college basketball play-by-play guy Robert Lee, who has been calling more games remotely from his basement instead of on-site lately, that means backdrop photos of Saratoga Race Course and of Siena’s Ronald Moore right after his “Onions! Double order!” 3-pointer upset Ohio State in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

And this week, Lee added a teddy bear in a Cincinnati Bengals shirt.

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and time to get nervous for those who root for the Bengals and Los Angeles Rams, and fortunately for Lee, who lives in Guilderland with his wife, Victoria, and children, Gabriella, 6, and Paul, 4, he’ll actually get to watch the game for a change.

He has a day job in East Greenbush at the Center for Internet Security, but his sideline gig with ESPN has created major interference with the Cincinnati native’s desire to watch his beloved Bengals in the playoffs.

Lee’s broadcast schedule this weekend included the Kent State-Akron game on Friday night and Davidson-Rhode Island on Saturday afternoon, then it’s all clear on Sunday, so he and his wife will be attending a Super Bowl party in a suburb of Boston

“It’s actually been kind of nice, because I’ve been so busy getting ready for these ESPN games that I really haven’t had any time to think about the game, which is probably a good thing,” Lee said on Friday morning. “I haven’t read any stories. Why do I need to read another story about Joe Burrow? There’s nothing else to say about it at this point, just play the game.”

Well known to Siena fans as the radio voice of Saints basketball for 15 years, Lee was hired by ESPN in 2016 and still occasionally gets to do a Siena game for TV, including a Jan. 30 win over Quinnipiac at MVP Arena that was broadcast on My4 Albany and tipped off at 2 in the afternoon.

Just one excruciating problem: The Bengals were in the AFC Championship game – the AFC Championship! – against the Kansas City Chiefs, with a 3:05 p.m. kickoff.

We’ll get back to that.

“The week before, they had played the Titans, and that game started on a Saturday at 4:30, and  I had a game in Northern Iowa at 6,” Lee said. “That was actually worse. I’m sitting in Northern Iowa, I have the game pulled up on my computer and I watched  about a quarter, quarter and a half, and I didn’t see any of the rest of the game.”

What Lee missed in the AFC Divisional round was the Bengals blowing a 16-6 lead in the second half, only to pull out a 19-16 victory on a field goal with four seconds left that was set up by an interception with 28 seconds left.

“My phone’s blowing up,” Lee said. “They make the game–winning field goal, and I have, like, 36 texts or something like that. And I even tweeted, ‘I’m calling a game, did something happen in the Bengals game?’ with a wink emoji. Because I had seen on the sports tracker that they had won the game.

“So I missed, basically, most of that game.”

At least he knew he could watch the second half (or, ahem, more) of the AFC Championship game, since Siena-Quinnipiac likely would be finished by 4.

And he missed the bad part.

The Bengals fell behind to the Chiefs 21-3 in the first half, but came back and tied it on an Evan McPherson, went ahead 24-21 on another field, then gave up a game-tying kick late in the fourth quarter before McPherson finally won it in overtime with a 31-yarder.

“The audio guy has the game on his phone two feet away from me, so during commercials I’m peeking over, seeing what’s going on,” Lee said. “One of the plays I saw during commercial, Patrick Mahomes broke, like six tackles and threw a touchdown.

“But I think with Joe Burrow, you never totally lose faith. It was nerve-racking. That’s why I think Sunday will be a close game. Every game has been close.They crushed a couple teams, Pittsburgh, notably, and Baltimore. But every game comes down to a field goal. So, it’s nerve-racking. And I am on heart medication. I take cholesterol medication every day.

“This is certainly not helping.”

This is Giants and Jets country, so Lee is used to getting creative if he wants to watch a Bengals game.

For 15 years, before he and Victoria had kids, he haunted Smoky Bones on Central Avenue, where they subscribed to the NFL Sunday Ticket, no matter how awful the usually awful Bengals were.

“And they knew I was coming, they’d put the Bengals game on,” he said.

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Lee hasn’t lived there full time since shortly after he graduated from Syracuse University, but his Cincy roots still run deep.

For instance, a homemade version of legendary Skyline Chili – that strange mountain of spaghetti (“pulverized,” as Lee describes it), chili and “three inches of cheese” – makes an occasional appearance on the Lee dinner menu.

“It’s a love-or-hate thing, and I’ve taken a lot of my friends there, and they hate it. From out of town, they think it’s disgusting,” Lee said. “The first time I took my wife to Cincinnati, when my folks still lived there, I’d been telling her about Skyline Chili.

“We’re driving in from the airport, and they have this giant billboard of a three-way [spaghetti, chili, cheese], and she says, ‘You want me to eat that?’ ‘Yeah. Yeah, it’s delicious.’ To her credit, she loves it, we have Skyline Chili night at our house sometimes.”

After the Bengals beat the Raiders in the Wild Card round on Jan. 15, Lee tweeted “The Cincinnati #Bengals have not won a playoff game since I was 13 years old. I am now 44.” 

As he wrapped up the Kent State–Akron ESPN broadcast on Friday, Lee reprised the signature Bengals fan mantra, “Who dey think gonna beat them Bengals? Nooo-body. Enjoy the Super Bowl”

On Sunday, he’ll be able to enjoy it without being entangled in a TV gig at the same time.

He and Victoria will attend the Boston Celtics-Atlanta Hawks at TD Banknorth in the afternoon, with a chance to watch former Siena ballboy Kevin Huerter of the Hawks, whose father, Tom, was Lee’s longtime Siena radio partner.

Then they’ll head to the suburbs to the home of one of his college pal’s friends for a party that, if all goes well, will end with self-admitted cryer Robert Lee in a puddle of his own making.

Which would be a bad look if he was in the middle of a basketball broadcast..

“It’s almost unfathomable that they just have to win one more game,” Lee said. “My wife said, ‘What are you going to do if they win?’ I’m definitely going to be crying uncontrollably. She said, ‘Really?’ Yeah. I’m a big cryer, to be honest with you. Tears of joy if they win.

“I’d just kind of resigned myself that it’s never going to happen, and it still might not happen, even though they’re close.”

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