My Top 10 Play-by-Play Television Broadcasters in My Lifetime
I put together this list of my 10 personal favorite play-by-play announcers.
My criteria was as follows:
First, I was born in 1976, so I do not have a true memory of broadcasters before then. The broadcaster had to at least be on TV
Second, the broadcaster had to have a national spotlight. I love a lot of local announcers, but that is a column for another day.
I tried to keep each announcer in their one sport where I thought they excelled. It was not easy.
I hope this is the start of a friendly debate and not the end of it. I would love to hear some of your favorites that I left out.
Honorable Mention to Jack Buck. Jack was a terrific announcer who has had some memorable calls in my lifetime. But, he never did the World Series on television.
I always thought Jack Buck and Hank Stram in the 1980s on the NFL on CBS were as good of a tandem as there ever was.
10. Jim Ross - Professional Wrestling
I know professional wrestling technically is not a sport.
But, to me, Jim Ross is a special broadcaster. Ross has announced wrestling since 1986. He deserves a spot on my list.
He started with Mid-South Wrestling and moved on to World Championship Wrestling (WCW). In 1993, when Eric Bishoff was named executive producer, Ross demanded and received his release.
Jim Ross was hired by Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation that year. He would take the place of legendary wrestler turned announcer Gorilla Monsoon at Wrestelmania IX.
In the late 1990s and into the early part of the 21st Centuryl Ross really hit his stride. He has been the voice of “Monday Night Raw” and has played a part in making that program one of the highest rated shows on cable television.
Many networks wish they had a team as talented as Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler.
He turns something contrived and makes it almost believable. Believe it or not, there are still some people who believe that. Like this guy.
That is pretty good in my book.
Oh, and more thing, he does all of this while suffering through Bell’s Palsy.
Ross also had a stint as the play-by-play announcer for the Atlanta Falcons.
Ross has been named Announcer of the Year 12 times by Wrestling Observer.
What wrestling fan hasn’t said, “Oh my goodness, King” or “The Carnage!”
Honorable Mention in the Category: Gordon Solie – I know to old wrestling fans he is their Howard Cosell; I just was not that old when he was at his best.
9. Chris Schenkel - Bowling
Many Saturday afternoons in the winter of my youth were spent watching bowling at 3:00 eastern time on ABC.
His smooth, deep, Midwestern voice was a perfect fit for bowling. Never too dramatic; Schenkel usually had an economical choice of words that fit the moment.
Schenkel spent 36 years as voice of the Pro Bowlers Tour on ABC.
He and his partner on the broadcasts, Nelson “Bo” Burton, Jr., were as good of an announcing team as you could find in sport.
The Player of the Year award in the Professional Bowlers’ Association is named after Schenkel. Is there any other announcer who has an award named after him for Player of the Year?
ABC Sports declined to continue its bowling coverage in 1997, despite very good ratings. ABC’s Saturday afternoon programming has never held the ratings
ESPN now broadcasts the Pro Bowlers’ Association. Dave Ryan and Rob Stone have taken the roles of the play-by-play announcers. The two have tried hired, but they get a little too gimmicky with their calls.
Schenkel not only did bowling. He was well versed in many sports, especially pro football. In 1992, he was the recipient of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This is football’s equivalent of the Ford C. Frick Award. Schenkel was a broadcaster for the New York Giants in the 1950s and 1960s.
Contrary to popular belief, Schenkel was the lead anchor on ABC’s Olympic Coverage in Munich in 1972. Jim McKay has the most famous announcement when he told the country that the Israeli athletes held hostage were killed.
Schenkel sometimes gets forgotten in the ABC Sports mix that had Howard Cosell, McKay and Keith Jackson.
But, to bowling fans, there is only voice in bowling, and that will always be the unforgettable Chris Schenkel.
8. Jim Nantz - Golf
I only selected him for golf because I do not think he is great at broadcasting the NFL. I was very upset that Greg Gumbel and Jim Nantz switched places in 2004. Gumbel seemed like a better play-by-play announcer and Nantz fit “The NFL Today” studio show better.
Nantz does a decent job at college basketball.
But where he shines the most is on the verdant course.
What makes Nantz great at golf is that he played the game at a pretty high level. Also, his knowledge of the history of the game is immense.
He was Fred Couples roommate at the University of Houston. The two were teammates on the golf team in the late 1970’s.
Nantz has been the host of the Masters on CBS since 1988.
His gentlemanly voice is well suited for the game. He is far from a screamer. It is hard to believe that he grew up in New Jersey!
While, Nantz has announced two of the biggest events in sports, the Super Bowl and the NCAA Men’s Final Four, he may be best known for his work at the Masters. Nantz said that wherever he goes, the question he comes across most on a daily basis is about Augusta.
“A tradition unlike any other”. What is true for the Masters should also be true for Nantz. I can only hope that we can see and hear Jim Nantz from the Butler Cabin describe Amen Corner and the rest of the action at Augusta National for years to come.
7. Keith Jackson - College Football
“Oh let me tell you about a Georgia man named Keith Jackson.”
College football has its greatest roots in the south. A man with a deep Southern voice would fit the game pretty well. Keith Jackson fits college football broadcasting like tailgating before the games, and the band in the stands.
Well from 1952 until 2006, Jackson only missed once season of broadcasting college football. That was because he was part of the first Monday Night Football booth in 1970. He was an ABC broadcaster beginning 1966.
Keith Jackson reminds me of what is good about college football. He knows the history of the game.
He semi-retired after the 1998 season, but that would be temporary. He stayed mostly on the West Coast to broadcast Pac-10 games.
The best national announcer in college football got a fitting game to be his last. That game was the 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC. Texas won the game 41-38 on a Vince Young touchdown with just 19 seconds to play to capture the National Championship.
Penn State head coach Joe Paterno said of Jackson: "I don't think you could say that there is any one person who is not a coach, athletic director or administrator who has done more for college football than Keith Jackson". Paterno is two years older than Jackson.
He is credited with nicknaming Michigan Stadium, “The Big House.”
Those two achievements are good enough for me to have him as my top college football broadcaster.
6. Dick Enberg - Tennis
Listening to Dick Enberg is equal to sitting with your uncle describing an event. I think he would not want it any other way.
He is a wonderful storyteller who truly seems to be a fan of the sports that he covers. He has called eight Super Bowls. His most notable partner was Merlin Olsen.
I think Enberg shined the brightest when he and Bud Collins would broadcast “Breakfast at Wimbledon” on NBC. They peaked in the 1980s with the rivalry of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. If you got up early on Saturday mornings you were treated to great tennis and great announcing.
Collins would say, “Chrissy, Martina” and Enberg finished it with an “Oh My!” Not much else needed to be said. The great play did the talking. Enberg knows when to announce and when to keep quiet.
He is a wonderful storyteller who truly seems to be a fan of the sports that he covers.
At 74, Enberg is still going strong at CBS. He does the NFL, the US Open and NCAA men’s basketball. He is still very sharp and one of the best announcers on CBS’ staff.
My favorite memory of Dick Enberg is when he hosted a game show called Sports Challenge that had Enberg as the host with players from two teams competing in a sports trivia contest.
The show would show clips of past games and the teams would be questioned on that clip. The funny part about the show was that Enberg did the voiceover broadcasts.
Some of those voiceovers were better than the original broadcasts. Few play-by-play broadcasters are as versatile as Dick Enberg.
5. Mike Emrick - Hockey
The Doctor is in the house. Mike Emrick’s nickname in the booth is Doc. Emrick received his Ph.D in Communications from Bowling Green in 1976.
This one has a little bit of bias for me. I am a New Jersey Devils fan and Mike Emrick has been the team’s play-by-play guy for over 20 years. He was the Devils first voice in their inaugural 1982-83 season.
From 1988 to 1993 he was the Philadelphia Flyers broadcaster. He returned to the Devils in 1994 and has been the play-by-play announcer ever since.
Emrick has been the signature play-by-play voice of nationally televised hockey in America. He has announced five Olympic Games.
He was the lead play-by-play voice for the NHL on FOX in the late 1990s, and currently is the lead man for the NHL on NBC. Overall, he has called 11 Stanley Cup Finals for national television.
One great thing about Emrick is that he does not show bias. As a Devil fan, he really is not that much of a homer. He calls an even game. He may yell is patented “Score!” calling a little louder, but not much.
Mike Emrick received the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award that entered him into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008.
Emrick will never get the credit he should because the sport he announces is poorly rated in the United States. Also, he’s never had a great color commentary person.
What makes hockey so difficult to announce is the speed of the game. I have tried to emulate Emrick, but I cannot talk that quickly and still be coherent.
4. Marv Albert - Pro Basketball
Yes! From Downtown (well, Brooklyn anyway) The Voice of NBA Basketball is Marv Albert.
Albert was a student of the great Marty Glickman. Glickman graduated from Syracuse University and was one of the forerunners of the many sports broadcasters that have graduated from Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.
As versatile an announcer as there has ever been. Albert has done play-by-play for the NBA, the New York Knicks, the New Jersey Nets, the New York Rangers, the NFL on radio and TV, boxing, horse racing, baseball, tennis, etc. Albert could broadcast the phone book and I would still want to listen.
Albert has a great sense of the moment and gives a very even broadcast even when he announces for the teams he is paid to cover. In 2004, Albert was fired from the Knicks for criticizing the poor play of the Knicks.
He follows the pace of the action as good as you will ever see. He knows when to raise his voice, but he does not scream and does not sound like a carnival barker.
Personally, the best part of Albert’s announcing is the way he can insert a breath. Whether it’s his signature, “Yes, (breath) and it counts!”, “Robert (breath) Horry” or “Oh, (breath) a spectacular move by Michael Jordan!”
His calls are a big a part of NBA basketball in the Jordan era. For Knick fans, it is something they have had for nearly 40 years.
Albert also does a very good job announcing the NFL on radio with Boomer Esiason. Albert has announced six Super Bowls on national radio.
I know the sexual assault charges in 1997 have hurt his career and his name has dropped from many lists. Embarrassing as it was, he has not been in the news again for something like that.
I was not going to have him or a Patrick Ewing rejection take him off my list.
3. Howard Cosell - Boxing & Battle of the Network Stars
Probably the most imitated broadcaster in sports history.
Just his opening line of saying “This is Howard Cosell” has been repeated by lovers and haters at least a billion times. The most magnanimous voice is sports broadcasting.
Without a doubt, the broadcaster that sports fans loved to hate. But, as much as he was disliked; he was liked more than he probably knew.
The relationship that Cosell shared with Muhammad Ali is extremely rare between a reporter and an athlete.
His most famous call was in the Joe Frazier-George Foreman title fight when Foreman knocked Frazier down six times in the first two rounds.
Cosell’s call of the first knockdown:
“Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”
Unfortunately, he did not get to broadcast the great trilogy of Ali and Frazier.
If Howard Cosell was broadcasting a fight, it was a big event. He did broadcast Ali’s (then Cassius Clay) victory over Sonny Liston, giving Ali the heavyweight title for the first time in his career.
He was the original host of Monday Night Football in 1970. Cosell was the ringleader of the circus that would take place in the broadcast booth between himself, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford.
You watched Monday Night Football for the game, but you kept tuned in because you never knew what was going to take place in the booth.
My fondest memories of Cosell are when he hosted ABC’s “Battle of the Network Stars”.
Howard hosted this series from 1976 to 1988. For those of you who did not grow up with that show, I will try to briefly explain it.
“Battle of the Network Stars” pinned stars of the three major networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC against each other in sporting events with male and female competitors from the popular shows on those networks. It was chaos, calamity, comedy and pretty good competition.
Here is a clip of one of the broadcasts, led by Cosell.
There was no way any broadcast executive could have imagined that the show would last for over a decade. It blew away any of the reality shows that sort of mimic it today.
Cosell took the broadcasting as serious as any sporting event he ever covered. I truly believe that his broadcasts made this show such as a huge success.
He probably makes my list on those broadcasts alone.
But, his legacy is so much more. Good thing for sports fans is that Cosell did not become a lawyer, despite having earned his Law degree from New York University.
His famous line was to say, “I’m just telling it like it is.”
No one ever told it quite like Howard Cosell.
2. Al Michaels - Pro Football & A Certain Hockey Game
While, Al Michaels did not immediately replace Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football, he sure made you forget about the awful trio that was Frank Gifford, Joe Namath, and O.J. Simpson.
His voice is excellent; he knows when to get excited and when to be subdued. Al has a great vocabulary and in the 30 years he has been broadcasting on television, I can't recall a time when I was really upset at a call he made.
One part of Michaels’ repertoire that I love is penchant to always know the gambling line during a football game. The NFL would like to pretend that gambling does not exist.
I am sure there is a lot of cringing going on in the commissioner’s office when they hear him mention something gambling related.
Michaels was actually traded from ABC/ESPN to NBC in 2006. NBC gave Disney the parent of ABC and ESPN, Friday coverage of the Ryder Cup, an increased usage of Olympic highlights and the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a cartoon character created by Walt Disney. NBC got a steal for its play-by-play announcer for Sunday Night Football.
There are two moments that truly define Michaels, and neither one of them have anything to do with football.
One moment came as he was beginning ABC’s coverage of the 1989 World Series in San Francisco. Michaels, a longtime California resident quickly realized that an earthquake was taking place.
It was not his call of the earthquake, but his account of everything that happened that night that would win him an Emmy.
His most famous moment will always be a hockey game that cements his legacy. The 1980 Olympic hockey game between the USA and the Soviet Union would cement Michaels’ legacy forever in sports.
“Do You Believe In Miracles?”
Personally, I still really like Michaels’ call after team USA won the Gold Medal in the final game against Finland. Michaels’ said, “This impossible dream has come true!”
What other announcer has ever had a movie named after one of his calls?
I still believe in miracles and I still believe in the quality of Al Michaels announcing.
1. Vin Scully - Baseball
Vincent Edward Scully in a word. Golden.
He still sees the game better than just about anyone. A great example of this came just this week in a Dodger game against the New York Mets. The game went 11 innings with the Dodgers winning the game on the Mets’ fifth error of the game.
The legendary Red Barber in Brooklyn trained Scully. Barber mentored Scully and told him that if he wanted to be a successful sports announcer he should never be a "homer,” never listen to other announcers, and keep his opinions to himself. I doubt Scully ever forgot that.
His first World Series broadcast came in 1953. He was 25 at the time. Scully still holds the record as the youngest person ever to broadcast a World Series game.
While some have said that the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles was a crime. Possibly, the biggest crime of all would have been leaving for Los Angeles without Vin Scully.
Scully’s voice is as natural to baseball as the dirt and grass. He is very economical with his calls. When a home run is it, “She is gone!” His best calls may be when a batter drives in a run, he will say, “In comes (Insert name)”. He knows when to let a moment speak for itself.
In a strange tidbit, Scully spent more years on national television broadcasting football than he did baseball. He did play-by-play for the NFL on CBS from 1975 to 1982.
Scully left CBS to work at NBC where he would be the play-by-play announcer from 1983 to 1989. He would only call three World Series on TV.
But, two of those World Series games were legendary. Scully was on the call for game six of the 1986 World Series between the Mets and the Boston Red Sox.
Then, it would be his turn with his own Dodgers. In 1988, Scully was the television broadcaster for Kirk Gibson’s walk off home run that gave the Dodgers game one victory over the Oakland A’s.
Scully would call the national World Series broadcast for CBS radio from 1990 to 1997.
If you do not live in an area where Dodger games are televised and you have $150 free to spend. Consider buying the MLB Extra Innings package to listen to this golden voice. You get every baseball game, but just to her Vin Scully announce a game on his own is a bargain.
I only wish he was still doing baseball on national TV again. He would blow away what the major TV networks presently use for play-by-play announcing.
2009 is Vin Scully’s 60th season with the Dodgers. It is the longest tenure that any broadcaster has ever spent with one team.
We talk a lot about unbreakable sports records; here is one that looks pretty good to untouchable.
What motivated me to write this column was the call he made just a couple of nights ago.
As the Mets’ throw to the plate sailed way wide of the catcher and the Dodger runner scored, Vin would say, “It was signs of the 62 Mets and Marv Throneberry.”
He even chuckled afterwards. The call was made not to insult the Mets, but to really just say it like you saw it. The Mets were awful that night and it was completely reminiscent of that 1962 team that had the worst record in modern baseball history.
Scully is 81 and he nailed the call perfectly.
Listening to Scully is a trip back in time, and one I do not want to end anytime soon.
I hope Vin Scully can add even more years to his record.
Hold the trophy up high Vin Scully, you deserve it!