"The Thrill..." Is Gone: Jim McKay Passes at 86

Adam AmickSenior Writer IJune 7, 2008

Some may know the words by heart, and can hear the voice in reading them.

"Spanning the globe to bring you a constant variety of sports. The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC's Wide World of Sports."

Back in the day, before ESPN or even cable existed, this was where many a fan got their weekly fix from the sports kingdom. From black and white to color, and the most rudimentary of on-screen "graphics," if you could call them that. (Compared to today's multi-line scrolling updates and headlines, it is like seeing the classic "Pong" video game aside the latest MMORPG.)

But there was one voice that was associated with the show, Jim McKay.

And what a voice it was.

He was born James Kenneth McManus on 24 September, 1921. Jim received his bachelor's degree from Loyola College in 1943, and served with the U.S. Navy in World War II.

Taking the professional name of Jim McKay, his television career began in 1947, and would move from CBS to ABC and host "Wide World of Sports" starting in 1961—a position he held until 1998.

From the Indianapolis 500 to the Kentucky Derby, from the Grand Prix of Monaco to the Olympic Games—Wide World seemed to cover it all. I think at one point I recall motorcycle ice racing, and even a bizarre game of soccer played on motorcycles from the Soviet Union.

McKay was the host of hosts.

He set his footprint in history as he described the dramatic events surrounding the hostage crisis in Munich during the 1972 Olympiad. After the tragic conclusion, when Israeli athletes were killed along with the terrorists who had taken them hostage, a somber McKay simply said, "They're all gone."

In 1980 he was host as ABC delivered the brilliance of U.S. athletes at the 13th Winter Olympics from Lake Placid, New York. When Eric Heiden was the fastest man on skates, and the "Miracle on Ice" would bring our country out of the malaise it was in, as we finally beat the Soviets.

I recall the day Howard Cosell, McKay's colorful colleague at ABC passed. A legend from my youth, a hero of sorts, would transcend the sports world into another life. His was a unique voice and delivery, and I remember imitating him as a child.

But anything Cosell said was always balanced smoothly by McKay, who was the consummate professional.

And now he is gone, leaving his mark on the sports world like few can.

McKay was not a character, as so many of today's sportscasters attempt to be. There was no schtick, no misplaced adjectives, no desire to draw attention to himself or his delivery, he just, as Cosell was fond of saying, told it like it was.

Many of us in the sports world owe a debt of gratitude to Jim. He saw sports broadcasting go through a revolution as aviation did from the Wright Brothers to jet travel.

I hope that Jim McKay and Howard are enjoying some good viewing and sharing stories of thrilling and agonizing moments at that great sports bar in the sky.

God speed, Jim McKay, and thanks for the memories.