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When Kevin Cadle was growing up on Southampton Street in Buffalo, he would cut through a friend’s yard to get to War Memorial Stadium to watch the Bills play. One season he had a habit of finding O.J. Simpson and getting him to sign an autograph each week. After a while, Simpson recognized him and asked what was he doing with all those autographs?

“People weren’t paying for autographs back then,” Cadle says. And he had no intention of selling them, but collecting all those O.J. signatures just seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.

Four decades later, Cadle is an NFL analyst for Sky Sports, a group of subscription sports channels that are something like Great Britain’s version of ESPN. In this country, Chris Berman and the late Tim Russert were among our most famous Bills cheerleaders. When you watch American football on British TV, you’ll find that Cadle and his die-hard loyalty to the Bills earn him his fair share of teasing from the other TV announcers.

How did a kid from Buffalo’s East Side become a well-known “sports presenter” across the English Channel? Developing a knack for seizing opportunities had a lot to do with it.

Cadle spent two years at Bishop Ryan High School, which closed in 1971. The summer after he left Bishop Ryan, he attended a basketball camp run by the Buffalo Braves, the city’s NBA franchise. He was voted MVP of the camp and the Braves invited him to be a ball boy at their games. They didn’t have to ask him twice.

“It was Randy Smith’s rookie year,” Cadle recalled last week, speaking by phone from London. “That was truly an eye-opening experience. There were some great guys in the NBA then, and there were also some of the biggest butt-holes you’ve ever seen in your life on some of those teams. Being up close and personal, being able to see all the things that went on with attitudes,” was part of his sports education.

He recalls watching Red Auerbach run each Boston Celtics timeout like it was a one-minute business meeting.

“Then I’m looking at Billy Cunningham and he’s cussing Jack Ramsay out” on the Buffalo bench during a timeout, Cadle recalled. “I’m thinking, what’s going to happen here? With the Lakers, Bill Sharman is talking and Wilt Chamberlain is not paying attention to a word that Sharman is saying.”

Cadle finished high school at Baker-Victory, another defunct Buffalo high school.

“Maybe there’s something about me, because every school I went to closed down,” he said.

Cadle was a first-team All-Western New York player for the 1972-73 season. Colleges paid attention and he was offered a basketball scholarship to Penn State.

Some of his friends didn’t understand why he wanted to play in the shadow of Joe Paterno and his football program, rather than attending a “basketball school.”

“My answer was if I go to Penn State, I’ll get a degree and get myself a job,” Cadle said.

Cadle was a part-time starter for each of his four years in State College. He also got a pretty good basketball education with John Bach as his head coach. Bach was later an assistant with the Chicago Bulls and was part of three straight championships the Bulls won with Michael Jordan.

“What I learned there was that people just want to be respected,” Cadle said. “If you’re 1-15 but you respect me then I will go out and play for you.”

After Penn State, Cadle moved on to graduate school at Texas A&I University. The basketball coach took on Cadle as an assistant, and the first part of his career was set in motion.

“I recruited a guy from Buffalo, Ed Turner,” from Turner-Carroll, “who was basically the best player they’ve ever had in that Lone Star Conference. Ed Turner was an All-American there for three years.”

Cadle later moved on to Angelo State University, also in Texas, as an assistant coach. He called that a great learning experience, but after four years he was ready to move on.

A former roommate at Penn State named Bobby Kinzer was playing professionally in Scotland and his team, Falkirk, was looking for a coach. At Kinzer’s recommendation, the team’s owner called Cadle and offered him the job.

“At that time I was trying for a lot of college positions in the U.S.,” he recalled. “And everyone was coming back with that same line: Great resume, great references, but you need more experience. So I said I would go to Scotland for a year or two, get that head coaching experience, then see if I could come back to the college system.”

But the pro game in Scotland provided unexpected benefits. For one thing, unlike in a college job, there was little recruiting involved.

“I enjoyed the business aspect,” Cadle said. “I would call up a player and say, ‘Do you want to come play for me? This is how much money I can give you. If you don’t want it, see you later, I have to go make another phone call.’

Cadle also found he had a knack for molding his teams into winners. He was voted Scottish Coach of the Year in 1984 and ’85. Stints with teams in England won him English Coach of the Year in 1987, ’88, ’89, ’90, ’91, ’92 and ’96. He coached both the Scottish and English national teams in international tournaments.

Cadle says his years in gyms and arenas all over Europe were a great adventure. One night in Turkey, for example, a bus driver assigned to bring Cadle and his Scottish team to the Turkish arena let them out at the front door, where thousands of basketball-crazed fans started rocking the bus, chanting at the players and throwing a variety of objects.

There were job offers to coach in other countries, too, but Cadle said he didn’t think any other country would be better for his career.

“A friend told me that if I went to Italy or Spain or somewhere, all I could ever be there was a basketball coach,” he said. “But here I get to do coaching, do motivational speaking, and then I got into broadcasting.”

While he was still coaching, Cadle was given the chance to try his hand at being a TV basketball analyst. He realized that was the next logical step in his career.

Cadle was told that a Sky Sports executive named Roger Moody was the man to speak with about a broadcasting job.

“Every time I would call the secretary would say, ‘Kev, Roger’s not here,’ ” Cadle recalled. “Then finally one day, Roger picked the phone up. And he said to me, ‘Kev, if you had stopped calling at No. 34 and didn’t make the 35th phone call, you would not have this job. That’s how I got my job in television, by making 35 phone calls.”

He started as an analyst on British basketball games. Then Sky moved him to NBA games and eventually to the NFL.

He hosts a studio show in London that has a lot in common with the pregame and halftime shows on CBS, ESPN and NBC here.

Sky Sports doesn’t have the rights to NBA games this year, so Cadle’s work has been almost all on NFL broadcasts.

“Since I’ve come in as the host of the show we’ve gone from the 17th most watched sports show on television to No. 6,” he said. “And I don’t think we’re going to jump over the other five. They are like soccer, rugby, things that are always going to be on top in Britain.”

When a high-profile sports figure visits London, Cadle often gets to interview him or her. He has traded NBA stories with Bill Russell and Shaquille O’Neal, and shared memories of Bills games with Ahmad Rashad.

“For me I’m living a fairytale,” he said. “Other guys sit there watching the games but I get paid for it. I just feel truly blessed.”

email: gconnors@buffnews.com