He is as iconic as the star on the helmets of the Dallas Cowboys, and as familiar as the cheerleaders who parade the sidelines in their fashionable outfits.
But Brad Sham shies away from talks of his importance to the Cowboys.
Now in his 38th season as a radio broadcaster for the Cowboys, Sham arguably is as identifiable with the Cowboys franchise as Roger Staubach, Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman.
“I say literally daily prayers of gratitude,” Sham said of his job, which is the envy of many. “I could be not doing this, or I could be doing this for a different franchise that didn’t matter.
“It has its ups and downs, it has its areas of drudgery like any other job, it has its challenges, and I work for what I get. But I am eternally grateful and daily in a very direct way with my maker that I’ve been given the opportunity to do this and to do it in this particular place.”
The Cowboys host Green Bay in an NFC divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Sunday. Sham will be there calling the game on KRLD FM/105.3 The Fan.
Sham started on the Cowboys’ broadcast in the middle of the 1976 season as the color analyst to play-by-play man Verne Lundquist. When Lundquist left to do NFL games, Sham was promoted to become the Cowboys’ play-by-play voice in 1984.
“We worked together from ’76 until ’83, and then I left and he moved over from the co-pilot’s seat to the pilot’s chair and he’s had one terrific career ever since then,” Lundquist said. “Brad and I remain very, very, very good friends.”
Lundquist and others acknowledged that Sham’s knack for being overly prepared is what sets him apart from associates in his craft.
“His work ethic is terrific,” Lundquist said. “He’s always been as well prepared for a broadcast as anyone I’ve ever known, and that continues to this day.
“And his standard of preparation and his standard of on-the-air presence is as good now as it was then.”
Others in Sham’s line of work marvel at the way he calls a game with the grace of a ballet dancer.
“I think he’s phenomenal,’’ Dallas Stars play-by-play announcer Daryl Reaugh said. “His historical recollection of what’s going on with the Cowboys is interesting, it’s poignant.
“He seems to be able to pull things up at the right time and draw upon all those years in the booth. I think he has a terrific way of conveying what’s going on in the game on the radio to where when you’re listening to the game you’ve got a very vivid picture of what’s going on and a sense of how the game is going.”
Chuck Cooperstein, hired by Sham at KRLD in 1984, noted that his mentor is at the top of the food chain for play-by-play announcers.
“He is incredibly descriptive and extraordinarily prepared, and you can hear that in the broadcast,” said Cooperstein, the radio play-by-play voice for the Dallas Mavericks. “You can hear that he has been talking to coaches and players and has a feel for what the Cowboys want to do in the course of games, which is what a great local announcer does.
“He is in tight with the team — not that he’s watching film with those guys — but he certainly has a sense of what they want to accomplish and how they want to accomplish it. I don’t know that there’s anyone who does it better than he does.”
Sham, in fact, is so critically acclaimed that he has won the prestigious Texas Sportscaster of the Year 11 times. He’s also been inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame.
But Sham let it known he didn’t get into the radio business to collect awards.
“I think most of us are competitive, we like to be recognized for our efforts and for our achievements, but it’s not why you do it,” Sham said. “You just try to be as good as you can be and anything else that happens is gravy.”
A Cowboys treasure
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is very fond of the way Sham’s voice resonates with his audience. He also is fully aware of Sham’s overall importance to his organization.
“Brad is a treasured asset for this organization, a real jewel,” Jones said. “His voice connects generations of Cowboys players and fans in a way that only a gifted story teller can.
“He’s with us every day, from the very first day at camp, and he wears his passion for our team and his pride in his profession right out there on his sleeve. He is a very valued and appreciated member of the Cowboys family.”
Sham’s broadcasts and accompanying skills are awe-inspiring to Babe Laufenberg, who is a former Cowboys quarterback and Sham’s color analyst on the team’s radio broadcast.
“I just think he has a great cadence to his call,” Laufenberg said. “A 2-yard run sounds like a 2-yard run and a 5-yard run sounds like a 5-yard run and a 50-yard run sounds like a 50-yard run.
“And sometimes I’m listening on the radio and I’m hearing a 2-yard run, but the announcer is so excited it sounds like a 72-yard run. I think [Sham] just has a great feel for when to get excited and when to call a 2-yard run a 2-yard run.”
WFAA-TV sports director Dale Hansen was the color analyst on the Cowboys’ radio broadcast with Sham from 1984-95. Hansen has a keen sense of what separates Sham from other play-by-play broadcasters.
“There’s no question that Brad wants the Cowboys to win, and he’s got a great enthusiasm for the game itself,” Hansen said. “I’ve never seen Brad have a bad day.
“When it’s game day, I’ve just never seen a guy that is so excited about what’s coming. But the best part that he always said to me — it was one of the best lessons I thought that explains it perfectly — is that Brad always prides himself on doing an objective broadcast from the Cowboys’ point of view, and I think that’s genius.”
Hansen playfully describes Sham as “obsessively prepared’’ when it comes to a broadcast.
“He’s over there with mountains of paper work and notes about when a player played in junior high and high school, and I’m over there with basically one sheet of paper trying to figure out who we’re playing today,” Hansen said. “But I think it worked out pretty well.
“The thing that he has said before, and I think there’s some truth to that, is that he taught me how to work a little bit harder at the job and I think I taught him how to have a little more fun with the job. And I think over the years that we were together were some of the greatest days of my life.’’
A graduate of the University of Missouri, Sham actually left the Cowboys to become part of the Texas Rangers’ radio broadcast team from 1995-97 before he returned to the Cowboys’ broadcast booth in 1998.
While with the Rangers, Eric Nadel would do the play-by-play chores for five innings and Sham would do the other four innings — and they would subsequently serve as each other’s color analyst in this rather unique format.
“I loved working with Brad,” Nadel said. “Brad was a guy that I looked up to from the time I moved to Dallas and he was a guy that I totally respected and admired.
“The learning curve for him in learning how to do baseball really was a pleasure for me to watch. It was really an indication of what an incredible professional he is and how smart he is and how quickly he adapted to the different style of doing baseball. He was just a sponge.”
Nadel said he was completely “blown away” by Sham’s work ethic and by how the “Voice of the Cowboys” seamlessly transitioned into broadcasting baseball games.
“When he started doing baseball it was during a strike season in 1995, and the players on strike were locked out when spring training started,” Nadel said. “So the first 20 games that Brad and I did together were exhibition games using replacement players — that was Brad’s introduction to being a baseball radio announcer.
“The diligence that he showed in learning about those players and getting to know as much as he could about those players really showed in the broadcast. Our broadcast sounded like we were doing real games and it was partially because of that approach that he brought.”
To Nadel, that approach by Sham amplified his skills as a consummate professional.
“It didn’t matter what he was announcing,” Nadel said. “He was going to do it in a totally first-class major league manner and that included preparing.
“And it included all the time watching games that we weren’t broadcasting, or watching practices.’’
The twist to Sham’s skillfulness as a play-by-play announcer comes from thousands of Cowboys fans who will watch the game on TV, but turn down the volume so they can listen to Sham’s radio version of the game. That’s a testament to the respect they have for Sham.
Oddly enough, when Sham left his public relations job with the Chicago Sting of the North American Soccer League in October 1976 to work for KRLD, it was to become a sports talk show host.
“Working with Verne [Lundquist] on the broadcast was just part of the job,’’ Sham said. “[Cowboys Hall of Fame defensive tackle] Bob Lilly was doing color on the [Cowboys’] home games.
“But Bob Lilly had a Coors distributorship in Waco and he didn’t want to travel, so I did color on the road and I did pregame, halftime and postgame at home. But I did that talk show that was on KRLD, and that was really the main part of the job.”
Sham, who served in the Army and was part of the National Guard unit in Kansas City, Kan., pointed to his faith as being the main source of why he’s been able to last so long and be so successful in a business that can be cynical at times. Sham discussed the importance of having a passion for his job and being open-minded about it.
“In the last 11 or 12 years, my faith has been much more important, the spiritual journey that I continue to be on has become much more important to me,” Sham said. “I would want to make sure to tell people that you can be a person of faith — personally I recommend it.
“And not only does it not have to interfere with your professional life, it probably will enhance it. It has for me.”
That faith is one of the reasons Sham, who is 67 years old and has broadcast four Super Bowls, hasn’t even considered retirement.
“When you’re really blessed to do something that you truly love, it doesn’t get harder, it gets more enjoyable,’’ Sham said. “People ask me sometimes about retiring.
“I will die at the microphone — or get fired — but I’ll never retire. It’s just too much fun. I’m doing what I love and I’m doing it well enough to have them keep asking me back. I look forward to it more than I ever did.’’