The Sports Announcer Column (Pt. 1)

This will not be the first time I have written about announcers in this space, but it is the first one I have written having realized that I have a very clear criteria of what makes a good announcer in my book: an iconic voice. Sounds pretty shallow, eh? Yet, I don't really listen to the announcers too much, and I bet you don't, either.

We don't need the announcer to tell us that it's 2nd-and-10, or if he noticed that Adrian Peterson just made a great run. We might pay slightly more attention to the analysts, but even then, there's more than enough "You want to get a first down here because it can help build momentum," for you to start turning them out.

So what that means is I value a voice that provides good background music to the game. This criteria is highly, highly subjective. A voice that is music to me might grate you terribly. With that out of the way, my icons are the following:

1. Pat Summerall

There will never be another like him. He was truly the voice of football. He was the voice. He never showed any emotion. His deadpan, just-the-facts delivery will always resonate in my mind. "Touchdown, 49ers." "Interference, and he caught it anyway."

He should've left the game being triumphantly hoisted on the shoulders of others, but instead, he is merely fading away. He retired in 2001, and then unretired a year later to just do Cowboy and Texan regional telecasts, close to his home.

Since then, he's strictly been a mop-up man, filling in where needed. He covered for Mike Patrick at ESPN in 2004 when Patrick recovered from heart surgery, and has been an emergency substitute teacher of sorts for FOX a few times after that, most recently when he called the Bengals/Rams game just this past December.

Now, I realize this is probably his call. I imagine that he doesn't mind working occasionally, but at 77, doesn't really have it in him anymore to work week in and week out. I also realize that his age shows in his broadcasts. He occasionally seems to get behind or make mistakes that are gently corrected by his booth partners or producers.

I don't care. They let Harry Caray broadcast until he died, but he was already really hard to listen to the last few years, when he sounded out-of-it and confused.

I'd like the same for Summerall, for him to still find work until he dies. I think he's earned that work-as-long-as-you-want golden ticket. I never catch these games where he materializes to be the emergency longman for the network's 13th commentating crew or whatever, but I hope to before he hangs it up for good. We need to give this man a proper goodbye, but we also have to appreciate that he's still calling games every now and then.

2. Vin Scully

He's another one that is now quite old (80), but is still logging part-time duty as the radio announcer for Dodger home games and road games west of the Rockies. He became my baseball iconic voice as the lead NBC baseball announcer from 1983 to 1989.

3. Keith Jackson

Whoa, Nelly!!! Would rather hear him call a college football game than anyone else. Hidden behind the folksy aphorisms was the fact that he was very articulate, smooth, and clever. He's yet another one that went from national work to regional to cut down on travel before hanging it up altogether.

4. Chris Cuthbert

He's the only guy on this list that is not retired and not nearing retirement. Unfortunately, he's the only one here that most Americans never heard of and likely never will.

Longtime readers know that I prefer the CFL for my offseason football fix, and Cuthbert is the lead announcer for Canadian sports station TSN, whose CFL product is made available in the U.S. on regional sports networks.

I've only been watching the CFL for a couple years, but he somehow struck a chord with me right away. Here's a YouTube sample of him, if you want to judge for yourself. As an aside, he works well with his broadcast partner, whose name escapes me, but the Canadian announcers seems much more willing to criticize and be frank in their analysis, which is evident in the clip at around the one-minute mark ("Oh! You know, I just hate the call. I just hate the call." "Yep.").

Cuthbert is also a big-time NHL announcer, and was part of NBC's NHL broadcast team the last couple of years. Now that NBC has trimmed their NHL schedule down to a single weekly game, he's on the sidelines in terms of American broadcasting, waiting to mop-up if needed. Along, I suppose, with Summerall.

Comments and Conversation

May 4, 2008

Milos Cihelka:

Since we now have many European NHL players, it would be a great idea to conduct for the hockey announcers a summer seminar on pronounciation of foreign names . The Canadian announcers are better at it, but in the U.S. many need help. Thank you.

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