To the younger generation of Bay Area sports fans, Lon Simmons is probably best known for his tenure as a broadcaster for the San Francisco Giants or the Oakland Athletics, as he had long stints with both teams.
He is a highly regarded announcer and started calling 49ers games back in 1957, and joined Russ Hodges when the Giants moved out west the next year. For me, he will always be the guy who made some of the best calls in 49ers history.
This might come as blasphemy to most 49ers fans, especially the younger ones who mainly know Joe Starkey as the voice of the 49ers. Starkey has some legendary calls to go along with his trademark phrase, “What a Bonanza!”
He had the wonderful, if somewhat simplistic call of Terrell Owens’ greatest Football play, screaming “Owens! Owens! Owens! Owens! Owens! Owens! He caught it! He caught it! He caught it!” and his call of Roger Craig’s great run against the Rams in ’88 is spot on. But Simmons will always have the best calls in my book.
In 1964, he stepped into highlight lore for all time with his call of Jim Marshall running the wrong way for a safety. He undoubtedly had numerous other great calls during his first stint with the team, which sadly ended the year before "The Catch."
Fortunately for 49ers fans, and for highlight reels, Lon Simmons would return for one last shot, a two year stint where he finally got to call a Super Bowl, and he made it count.
The 1988 season is littered with great plays from heart stopping games. While Simmons was great anytime one of the offensive stars broke free, calling out the yard lines as Rice or Taylor or Craig streaked passed them, there were specific moments where Simmons shined the brightest.
The first such moment came with a minute to play in a critical early game against the vaunted New York Giants, when on third and ten, down by four, Joe Montana found Jerry Rice for 77 yards.
Hearing Simmons relatively calm demeanor change drastically as he made the call, “Montana to throw, steps up, long for Rice. HE’S GOT IT! HE’S GONE THE THIRTY, THE TWENTY, THE TEN, TOUCHDOWN 49ERS! A 77 YARD TOUCHDOWN PASS TO JERRY RICE!”
Any reel of the Super Bowl drive is filled with Simmons doing his finest work. His voice matching the tempo of the team: Slow and methodical at first, finding a huge burst with Rice’s catch on 2nd-and-20, sounding exhausted on Craig’s ensuing catch, and perfectly punctuating the drive with the exclamation point: “Back to throw Montana, he Steps up, throws, TOUCHDOWN 49ERS!”
Of course, I skipped a play chronologically for the simple fact that it is the ultimate call of one of the greatest plays in football history. Steve Sabol describes the play as the best run in the history of the game, and Brian Murphy accurately said, “[There’s] almost no way to describe it other than to see it OR listen to Lon Simmons’ radio call.”
Simmons himself actually felt bad about his call of this spectacular run because he felt as though he was being repetitive, but the call stands for itself: “In trouble, he’s gonna be sack, no gets away. He runs, gets away again! Goes to the 40, GETS AWAY AGAIN! TO THE 35, CUTS BACK AT THE 30, TO THE TWENTY, THE FIFTEEN, THE TEN, THE FIVE, HE DIVES, TOUCHDOWN 49ERS!”
Lon Simmons is a Hall-of-Famer when it comes to broadcasting, and his baseball calls were great. Yet, his ability to describe the 49ers streaking down the sidelines is my reason why he will always be a legend.