Soccer, Con Pasión

Andrés Cantor is living proof that someone can emerge from very difficult circumstances and become both well known for his accomplishments and beloved for the sheer enthusiasm that he exudes.

Cantor, whose family came to the United States in 1976 to escape from the oppressive regime ruling Argentina at that time, has become a fixture of Latino TV soccer telecasts — first at SIN, then Univision and more recently on Telemundo, where he is a sports anchor. And he’s particularly famous for his “Goooaal” call.

Earlier this month, Cantor received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to Hispanic TV, presented by Multichannel News and B&C at their jointly sponsored annual Hispanic Television Summit in New York. After the presentation, Cantor sat down with Janet Stilson, Multichannel News editor of special reports, and Magaly Morales, contributing correspondent, to talk about his life and his expectations for what lies ahead. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.

Multichannel News: What do you think was the single most important thing you did to become so successful?

CANTOR: I’m a very passionate man about soccer. I think I bring that passion that I have for the game to the screen. I am a frustrated athlete. I would have liked to play soccer with a professional team. I really have that much passion for the game.

I am fortunate enough to be able to verbalize it to our viewers, which culminates, perhaps, in the “goal” call.

MCN: There’s now an Andrés Cantor ring tone for cell phones. What’s up in the future? Do you see further extensions of the Andrés Cantor brand? You’ve got your radio broadcasts; you’ve got your TV broadcasts; you’ve got your ring tone.

CANTOR: Yeah. I was fortunate enough throughout my career to have been the spokesperson for different companies, like Pepsi-Cola. I did a very highly-acclaimed television commercial for them in ’96. I also worked for GM, for American Airlines, for Allstate. I was in a number of television commercials and endorsements throughout my career.

I guess technology’s catching up with my goal call, and there’s a fun way to incorporate that into a ring tone. I wouldn’t want to be the one using it, but I think it’s fun.

I always said that the goal [call] is not a gimmick; it’s the way I feel for the game. I called the goal call the same back in my first game, in ’87, as I did last Saturday.

MCN: So you did that right from the very start?

CANTOR: Yeah, yeah. That is the way I grew up listening to Argentine radio. Most announcers [in Argentina] yelled the goal the same way, because that’s the way, really, we feel the game. So wherever technology takes my goal call, I’ll be happy.

MCN: I understand your parents have a very interesting history. Can you talk a little bit about that?

CANTOR: Sure. My father was born in Argentina; my mother was born in Romania. Both my grandparents left Nazi Germany — my grandparents on my father’s side from Poland, my grandparents from my mother’s side from Romania. My mother was 13 when she left Romania with her folks and ended up in Argentina.

Then we migrated as a family again, pretty much because of — not the same, but almost the [same reasons]. You know, the dictatorship of Argentina in ’76 — it was really unbearable to live there. People were disappearing totally for the same unfounded reasons [as under] the Nazis.

The Jews disappeared in Argentina. So we ended up migrating to the U.S. as a family, and now we’re all U.S. citizens.

MCN: What do you want to do that you haven’t done already?

CANTOR: It’s a good question. I had one challenge, which I was able to fulfill — which was to call the games in English. NBC gave me the opportunity in Sydney 2000 [during the Olympics]. That was a great thrill.

Then, coincidentally, they bought Telemundo a couple of years later. I always tell the joke that nobody understood any of my English-language telecasts, so they had to go out and buy Telemundo so I can do the Olympics in Spanish.

I don’t want to sound like the old cliché, but my main focus is to try to stay focused and healthy. Calling 150 games a year, like I do, takes a toll physically, especially around special events like the Olympics. I literally was on air sometimes 14, 15 hours a day. You have to be physically and mentally prepared for it. So, basically, in the next 18 years, I want to be on edge, be sharp, be as ready as I can be for my next telecast.

MCN: There’s a perception that almost the entire sports department at Univision staged a coup in the year 2000 and joined Telemundo, and that you were a part of that. Is that true, and what were your reasons for leaving?

CANTOR: Basically I think to say that we staged a coup to move over to Telemundo wouldn’t be the right interpretation of all the things that happened. I cannot speak about the others, because probably each one [had his or her] own particular reason for leaving Univision then.

When my contract expired, Univision wanted to renew my contract, so I had two offers. I was the last one to leave Univision from the old team and migrate to Telemundo. It was, I guess, a timely coincidence that I was the last one to leave. Telemundo made me a very good offer. I thought I had perhaps gotten to a point — after calling three World Cups — [where I] felt the need to change environments.

My company had also secured the radio rights of the next two World Cups pretty much at the same time that my contract was up. I wanted to exploit that and be able to call the games of the World Cup on radio. If I [had] stayed on Univision, I probably wouldn’t have been able to. But it was a huge economic undertaking for my company.

MCN: You got very emotional when you talked about your partner, Noberto Longo during the awards presentation. [Editor’s Note: The presentation included video clips of Cantor and Longo together in the announcer’s booth.]

CANTOR: I’m a very sensitive person, and [Longo’s death] was so sudden and so unexpected that, you know, every time I see clips... And I haven’t seen that many of him next to me [for some time].

Every time there’s a comment on a soccer game, I keep imagining what he would have said on a given play. So definitely, you know, I miss him dearly.