Mac Engel

Retiring Lundquist should be the standard for sports broadcasters

Sportscaster Verne Lundquist, left, greets Alabama head coach Nick Saban on Friday, a day before the SEC championship football game in Atlanta.
Sportscaster Verne Lundquist, left, greets Alabama head coach Nick Saban on Friday, a day before the SEC championship football game in Atlanta. AP

Hipsters may be ruining the coffee house experience, but they do deserve credit for bringing back vinyl records not to mention book stores and bell bottom jeans. Please may they add to the list broadcasters who grasped it’s not about them.

Men like Vin Scully and Verne Lundquist.

Sports and television are joined now more than ever – the media covers ESPN as if it’s a sports league – and the announcers who call the games are often bigger than those who actually play the games.

This year two of the best to ever call a game have, or will, step away – Vin, and now Verne.

The former radio voice of the Dallas Cowboys, who still is known for his time on the local TV game show Bowling For Dollars, will work his last college football telecast for CBS on the Army/Navy game on Dec. 10.

Verne will still do some work on college basketball and PGA golf, but college football without Verne is akin to losing Keith Jackson.

Trying not to sound like an older guy whining about how life was perfect when we were younger, sports TV is much better when men like Keith Jackson, Vin and Verne call the games. They all grasped that it is a visual medium which often requires no description.

If so many sports fans agree that the late Pat Summerall, Vin, Keith and Verne are the standard then why aren’t more of the younger generation trying to emulate them? Why are the current and new generation of broadcasters over-talking during a game’s greatest moments.

Just shut up and let the us, the viewers, simply enjoy the highlights without an announcer stating the obvious – “What a shot!”

“Uhh ... I don’t want to take any shot at young broadcasters but I completely agree with you,” Lundquist told me in a recent phone interview. “Pat (Summerall) was the greatest counter puncher I ever met. He was one of the reasons John Madden was so successful.

“You can still be eloquent if you are the headline writer. That’s what (TV announcers) should be; we have 65 or 70 technicians and all of these angles that allow you to paint the picture. A lot of younger people in this business forget about that.”

Try nearly all of them.

Say what you want about Joe Buck of Fox, but the man knows when to stop talking.

When Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz hit his walk-off grand slam to beat the Detroit Tigers in the 13th inning of an 2011 ALDS playoff game, this was all Buck said: “In the air to left. Down the line. This ball ... ends it.”

Neither Fox announcer said a word for the next 70 seconds, and it was perfect.

When Verne called Jack Nicklaus’ famous birdie putt on the final 17th hole of his record sixth Master’s championship in 1986, all he said was “Maybe ... yes sir!” and then closed his mouth.

It was Verne at the mic for Christian Laettner’s game-winning overtime shot in Duke’s win against Kentucky in the 1992 regional finals of the NCAA basketball tournament; all he said was, “There’s the pass to Laettner; puts it up ... YESSSSSSS!” and then nothing but the pictures and images themselves.

“One of my least favorite are those who try to talk over the guy walking up the 18th fairway with a victory in hand – what are you going to say?” Verne asked rhetorically.

These days too many of the calls sound too rehearsed and too scripted; it’s as if the announcers are working overtime to create language that will ensure their own place on a highlight reel.

And yet the very best highlights in sports history have been all been, mostly, guided by men who understood their best play – voices like Curt Gowdy, Summerall, Jim McKay, Jackson, Dick Enberg – was to know when to put down the mic.

We don’t need a “Boo-ya!”

After Scully called Kirk Gibson’s game-winning walk off home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series with a “High fly ball into right field - she is gooone!,” he put down his headset and walked up the stairs to drink some water – during the telecast.

The attraction of sports as entertainment is forever the chance to witness the improbable to the dramatic finale that can’t be written much less predicted. It is in the most memorable moment of sports TV that play-by-play is at its most unwanted.

In the now highly competitive world of TV sports media, younger broadcasters are trying to elevate their profile by providing description at all times, even when none is necessary.

Verne knew from the time he left the Cowboys’ booth in 1983 to take a job at CBS that you can raise your profile by understanding what we in sports media need to remember – the game is always bigger than the writer, the columnist, the analyst or the announcer.

Sports is a giant entertainment circus, but it’s those in the ring all of us are watching.

Perhaps that’s what makes Verne so eternally endearing – his humility is not an act. He always knew he was just a fan, too.

He did what all announcers should do – shut up and let us enjoy the game.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.