Over a half-century, I’ve had the unenviable joy of working with the top-of-the-line broadcasters in all sports.
I can say, without exaggeration, that every one of them were talented and worked hard at their craft.
Obviously, some were better than others, just as I was considered perhaps better than others by some, as well as not being up to the level of others.
That always goes with the territory.
When I’m asked who left an indelible impression on me, and why, I seem to always respond with three names. Amazingly, it ends there.
It’s not because the many greats I worked with were forgettable. Hardly.
If I mention the names, Madden, Summerall, Jack Buck, Aikman, Packer, Raftery, and countless others, you’d quickly say the three are in that group.
They were the stars of their time, for sure. Actually, I was fortunate to have even shared a microphone with all of them.
But this is about coming away with a deep respect for a certain trait each of the three possessed.
All different. But traits they had that have stuck me for decades.
Let’s start with Curt Gowdy.
The old timers who read my columns know who he was.
The younger crowd has no idea.
Curt Gowdy was the most celebrated play-by-play announcer of his time.
He called Boston Red Sox games on radio and TV for 15 years, but achieved national renown for NBC Sports and ABC Sports in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Because NBC had the broadcast rights to professional football, Major League Baseball and college basketball during much of that time, Gowdy, as the chief commentator at that network was the only man in history to call the World Series, NCAA championship game, and the Super Bowl in the same year, when NBC had the game in rotation with CBS.
Gowdy was folksy, and extremely well-liked. Why not?
He was nicknamed “the cowboy”, a native of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the host of ABC’s weekly program, The American Sportsman, which emphasized hunting and fishing. He had a friendly, relaxed style that hit home with viewers.
I did not meet Curt until 1971, and wound up working with him on the 1975 World Series.
Pictured with Curt Gowdy at the 1975 World Series
For a 32-year old coming off his first year as a baseball broadcaster with the Boston Red Sox, I was understandably nervous, or should I say scared to death, sitting alongside the master for the first game of the Series at Fenway Park.
Here I was, sharing the mike for the opening game with the man who Red Sox fans adored for over a decade, much less the millions who watched all over the country.
The plan was for Curt to do play-by-play for the first four-and-a-half innings, then hand it over to me the last half of the game.
I was obviously excited to get the chance to call a World Series game, but at the same time, had butterflies taking over for the great. Curt Gowdy.
We were on-camera as the Red Sox were about to come to bat in the fifth, and any apprehension I felt, disappeared with his introduction.
Gowdy went out of his way to tell the audience they were about to hear a young announcer who had performed more than admirably, the fortunes of the Red Sox during the season. That they would appreciate my work, as he welcomed me to the NBC booth.
I was totally relaxed and confident as I began the inning.
I never forgot the way Gowdy handled my debut. Maybe he sensed my nervousness. Whatever, that moment solidified two beliefs I’ve never forgotten.
One, that the great Curt Gowdy did not possess one ounce of pettiness that, believe me, has existed in my business, especially when it comes to veteran broadcasters and younger announcers breaking in.
And secondly, I would follow in his footsteps, to befriend, and encourage newcomers. Given them advice when asked, and not be paranoid that someone youngster was out to take my job.
The second name on my short list is Lindsey Nelson.
I’m sure fewer people remember Lindsey than Gowdy.
Lindsey Nelson had a lengthy career calling college football, the NFL, and 17 years as an original announcer with the New York Mets, who came into the National League in 1962.
But Lindsey Nelson was all about college football.
In a span of 33 years, he covered 26 Cotton Bowls, five Sugar Bowls, and four Rose Bowls.
He announced syndicated Norte Dame games for 14 years.
What hasn’t been forgotten for me, was the way Nelson was able to concentrate, and memorize the numbers of players in a game, practically without error.
He was a precise broadcaster, who was amazingly consistent.
Consistency is so much an important trait because there is nothing better than to turn on a game and hear someone like Lindsey Nelson, and know exactly what you’re going to hear: an accurate, descriptive account of the game.
Before I advance to play-by-play on CBS, I was what is now known as the “sideline reporter”, the third-man on the team.
Lindsey worked several seasons for CBS, and we were covering a game between the Vikings and the Patriots at Harvard Stadium.
On the ride to the airport after the contest, another person in the car asked Lindsey about a play he had called an hour earlier.
Nelson replied that he had already forgotten the play and the player involved.
At the time, he was calling the Norte Dame game on Saturdays, NFL football on Sundays, and the Monday Night NFL on national radio the next day.
Three games in three days.
What he did, Nelson said, was to learn the personnel of the teams he would call the next day, then totally eliminate the information from his mind after the game and move on to the next.
That took immense concentration, memory and discipline.
When you consider it, how else could Lindsey Nelson have broadcast three football games in three days?
Last on the short list is Hubie Brown.
With Hubie Brown
Not only still around at 87, but still working, doing NBA games for ABC and ESPN.
Hubie is a two-time NBA coach of the year, and was inducted into the
Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster in 2000, one year before I was so honored, and again in 2005, as a contributor.
Hubie and I were together as the lead team the last two years of CBS’ NBA reign.
We worked again at TNT for several years in the early 2000’s.
He was, and still is as prepared for his assignments as anyone I’ve worked with.
For most of his career, as a coach, and as a broadcaster, Hubie Brown has been intense in his style.
Hubie was complete and impeccable in preparing to go on the air.
His research prior to a game was unmatched.
In our brief meetings with the two head coaches in their office two hours before tip-off, Brown never wavered in his approach.
He would first ask about injuries, which opponent a player would defend, who would be getting more time on the court, and who might see their play minimized.
He was relentless in getting the information he needed, and the coaches in the league respecting his work ethic, willingly came forward with the information Brown would use on the telecast.
In this part of the prep for the game, these meetings would usually be about goodwill, and humorous stories.
But Hubie was all business, and it paid off.
Maybe that’s why he’s still on the air at 87.
I’ve had truly outstanding partners in all the sports I’ve covered, but the diligence and persistence of Hubie Brown is unsurpassed.
So there it is. Three people whose unique attributes made an impression for different reasons.
Decades later, nothing has changed.
Curt Gowdy, for his warmth and generosity.
Lindsey Nelson, for his concentration and memory ( and his ability to forget).
Hubie Brown, for his detail and thoroughness.