Johnny Holliday reflects on 20th anniversary of Terps title and Helen Hayes acting career

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Johnny Holliday (Part 1)

Exactly 20 years ago, the Maryland Terrapins men’s basketball team went the distance in March Madness to win the NCAA national championship over Indiana on April 1, 2002.

Johnny Holliday, the team’s broadcasting voice of 43 years, joined WTOP to reflect on that magical season, as well as his side hustle as a Helen Hayes Award-nominated actor.

“It seems like yesterday we’re sitting in the Georgia Dome, you got 50,000 people, you got a chance for Maryland to make basketball history,” Holliday told WTOP. “You can close your eyes and visualize the final couple of seconds of the game, the shot that Juan Dixon took, the shots that Steve Blake took, Lonny Baxter, Chris Wilcox, it feels like yesterday.”

The team was battle tested, having lost to Duke in the Final Four the previous year.

“We lost to Duke after having a big lead,” Holliday said. “That was something that really stuck with all these guys. They were absolutely destroyed to have given that game away. They thought they should have won it, they thought they should have won the whole thing. After that game, they all said, ‘We got this far. … Let’s win the whole darn thing next year.'”

The Terps’ 2001-2002 season was an impressive display of dominance.

“It was a marvelous, magnificent journey,” Holliday said. “To win 32 games, to lose only four games in a murderous schedule, then to go through the teams that they had to beat just to get to Indiana was incredible — Siena, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Connecticut and Kansas. You talk about teams with tradition, teams that had won national championships.”

Coach Gary Williams elevated his squad of lovable overachievers.

“There was not one McDonald’s High School All American on that roster,” Holliday said. “It was just a bunch of guys that blended together, played together, and like their coach Gary Williams, a Hall of Famer who was Coach of the Year, had a chip on his shoulder. Every guy on that roster reflected Gary. … He got to the tournament 12 consecutive years.”

This year, the Maryland Terrapins sadly missed the tournament, struggling to stay afloat after head coach Mark Turgeon resigned midseason. Holliday is now optimistic for the new incoming head coach Kevin Willard, who built quite the reputation coaching at Seton Hall.

“Mark Turgeon walked away … he was not fired, he chose to leave … I thought he did a pretty good job,” Holliday said. “Kevin Willard reminds me of Gary Williams. He’s got that same drive, that same desire. … His vision is to get Maryland back to where it was when Gary Williams was coaching and they won the national championship.”

When hoops aren’t in season, Holliday stays busy calling Terps football games.

“Bobby Ross and then Ralph Friedgen, those were the highlights,” Holliday said. “[Current coach] Mike Locksley was on Friedgen’s staff as his offensive coordinator and he has the utmost respect. … Friedgen won the ACC Championship, he was Coach of the Year, he got the Terps to bowl games on a consistent basis, so that’s the goal of Mike Locksley.”

Holliday’s sportscasting resume also includes covering the Olympics and hosting the Washington Nationals pregame and postgame shows. Still, what’s most amazing is that he did it all while moonlighting in theater shows, a passion that began in high school growing up in Miami and became a side profession starting with “Finian’s Rainbow” in Cleveland.

“This producer would bring in big names for musicals,” Holliday said. “Dion did ‘Wish You Were Here,’ he brought in Bobby Vinton for ‘The Music Man.’ He asked if I did any acting. I said, ‘Some in high school.’ He said, ‘You’d be perfect for Og the Leprechaun.’ … I realized it was a great promotion for me to get more potential listeners for my [radio] show.”

After performing in “Oklahoma” in Cleveland, he took a radio gig at 1010WINS in New York City before moving to San Francisco. There, he starred in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which he reprised at Longworth Dinner Theatre in D.C. in 1969.

“I did about 13 shows at the Harlequin [in Rockville]: ‘Music Man,’ ‘Finian’s Rainbow,’ ‘Same Time Next Year,’ ‘Odd Couple,’ ‘Me and My Girl,’ ‘Carnival,'” Holliday said. “Then I did a couple of shows for Toby’s [Dinner Theatre], ‘Follies’ and ’42nd Street,’ then I did the first show in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland.”

In 1991, his role in Harlequin’s “Me and My Girl” earned a Helen Hayes Award nomination.

“I was up against Stacy Keech and Tony Roberts — and none of us won,” Holliday said. “A small little theater in Washington, they won it, I think they sat about 120 people, so that just goes to show, even if you have a big name like Stacey Keech or Tony Roberts.”

His final roles were in “Follies” and “42nd Street” at Toby’s in Columbia, Maryland.

“One of the most challenging roles I had was in ‘Follies’ at Toby’s,” Holliday said. “Toby Orenstein was directing it. … She said, ‘Oh, Johnny Holliday is afraid of the role? You’ve given me four different excuses why you can’t do the show, so obviously you don’t feel you can pull this off.’ … She said, ‘Do it! It’ll be the best thing you ever did.’ And it was.”

He gave up acting to host baseball coverage for the Washington Nationals in 2006.

“When baseball started I couldn’t do any shows because I was doing the pregame and postgame,” Holliday said. “I started the second year they were at RFK Stadium, so I did it 13 years, then I stopped the year we won the World Series, got a ring and that was it. … I went from baseball to football overlapping with basketball. … My wife and kids went nuts!”

Has he ever thought about getting back on stage in recent years?

“I have, but I love to play golf, to go with my buddies different places, and if I’m doing shows, I couldn’t do any of that,” Holliday said. “I really like what I’m doing now. The role would have to be perfect to do it. They’re thinking about doing ’42nd Street’ again at Toby’s … but I don’t know if I want to tie myself up for eight shows a week for three months.”

Until then, you can read about his many hats in his book “From Rock to Jock.”

“Tony Kornheiser does the foreword and Dick Vitale does the afterword,” Holliday said. “It’s stories about all the things that I was able to do so far in my career and how I’ve done all these things with nobody teaching me. Everything is self-taught. Never got a degree in college. … Just the right place, right time, believing I could do anything thrown at me.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Johnny Holliday (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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