As a sixth grader I remember watching the United States hockey team accomplish the impossible and defeat the Soviet squad 4-3 in Lake Placid.
What I remember most about this was Al Michaels’ famous call as the crowd counted down the final 10 seconds: "Do you believe in miracles? YES!" I still get goose bumps every time I see this clip and thank my mother for making me(yes, she made me) watch this game.
What I didn’t know at the time was that the game was tape delayed and that she was providing me with what would become my all-time favorite sports memory.
The sports call is a magical moment that, if done right, can bring you right into the moment even if you are listening to it on the radio. There are too many to mention but some notable favorites (in no particular order) throughout the years have been the following:
1. “Down goes Frazier”—Howard Cosell, 1973 Frazier vs. Foreman
2. “I don’t believe what I just saw”—Jack Buck, 1988 World Series
3. “The Giants win the pennant”—Russ Hodges, 1951 Giants vs. Dodgers
4. "And the band is on the field!"—Joe Starkey, 1982 Cal vs. Stanford
5. “Little roller up along first.”—Vin Scully, 1986 Mets vs. Red Sox World Series
Of these five, I only witnessed two live (Buck and Scully), but I have seen the others countless times and each time, they bring me right into the moment with their raw emotion. You watch or listen and feel as if you were actually there.
What makes a great call? I am sure there are varying opinions but I believe it is capturing the play in a spontaneous, emotional moment. At times the announcer’s voice may crack to the point that it may sound as if he is on the brink of tears.
Those will be the calls that you remember forever. Those will be the calls that bring the goose bumps. If you think back to your favorite calls, you will likely remember who you were with and where you were as if it was yesterday.
There are very few announcers today that have the ability to pull off a great call. Today’s on air talent is increasingly self indulgent and overly rehearsed. Others try to forcibly insert drama into the moment with long-winded speculation.
The spontaneity of the call is what makes them memorable, and not one announcer comes to mind that fits into this spontaneous category.
Today's announcers either have their material prepared hoping for the perfect time to use it, or they are plugging corporate projects and sponsors. My personal pet peeve are those that sit pulling ridiculous stats off the laptop, spewing them back at us like we care that Derek Jeter has never hit a home run with one man on during a day game on a Tuesday!
ESPN, the self professed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” is likely the biggest offender in this category. With a lineup of “reporters” that believe they are the reason people are watching, they choose to place themselves in the forefront of the sports activity that they are trying to cover.
Riddled with smug innuendo and their ridiculous “signature lines” such as Chris Berman’s “back back back………”, listening to any ESPN broadcast is borderline unbearable. Thankfully Berman cherry picks his assignments so we do not have to listen to his ramblings too often.
(Disclaimer: Baseball Tonight and Mike and Mike in the Morning are exempt from this commentary)
As a Yankees fan, I find it disheartening that the team that pays the most for their on field talent makes their fans listen to the likes of John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman, and Michael Kaye. Instead of insightful musings, Yankee fans hear whining and ad placement followed by rehearsed calls and clichés.
Despite my dislike for Sterling and his incessant rambling, he once had a moment to have a very memorable call of his own. In 1991, Mel Hall hit a game-winning home run versus the Red Sox. Sterling’s response was "The Yankees win! The Yankees win!"
It was emotional. It was spontaneous. The problem is that it never ended.
Sterling, is so in love with his own call that he uses it after every Yankee win. Imagine listening to the Yankees complete an 18-0 blowout of a division rival only to hear Sterling’s faux emotion. It has become mind numbing and is the reason that I turn off the broadcast the moment the final out is made.
I hope I am wrong in believing that the best is behind us when it comes to great sports calls. For now, I will cherish those that bring back memories from my favorite sports moments while waiting for the next to hit the airwaves.
Hopefully I will be watching.