Monday, October 15, 2018

Books: Announcer Verne Lundquist Looks At His Career In "Play By Play"

PLAY BY PLAY: Calling the Wildest Games in Sports – From SEC Football to College Basketball, The Masters, and More
By Verne Lundquist
William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers; Hardcover. $28.99; available Tuesday, October 16

Renowned announcer Verne Lundquist, or “Uncle Verne” as many know him, has one of the most recognizable voices, and faces, in sports and enjoyed a remarkable 50-plus year career in broadcasting. He has called NFL games, The Masters golf tournament, and College Football and Basketball.

Lundquist's broadcasting career began at KTBC-TV in Austin, TX. He joined CBS Sports in 1982, and during his tenure he covered more than twenty sports for the network. He was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in 2007, and in May 2016 he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Sports at the 37th annual Sports Emmy Awards. He lives in Steamboat Springs, CO.

Verne has always seen himself as a teller of stories, and he doesn’t hold anything back in his new memoir, PLAY BY PLAY. 

"History has a funny way of sneaking up on you," Verne writes. "One day you're sitting at a radio control board in Austin on November 22, 1963, having your boss shouting at you to put him on the air, and then seemingly seconds later you're talking with your bosses about winding down your days covering South Eastern Conference Football. No, it doesn't happen that fast, but it sure feels like it in retrospect. At first you're eager to get on the air to make a name for yourself, and then before you know it, you're contemplating how to exit gracefully, avoid hanging on for too long.
"So when Sean McManus and I had those first conversations in the spring of 2016 about my ending my seventeen-year relationship with America's premier football conference, I was ready to figure things out with him. I was grateful to Sean and the rest of the management team at CBS for allowing me to have some input into how my career would wind down. Corporations don't always do that, and I understood and appreciated another unique opportunity they were offering me. I was also pleased that they'd let me know early on in the process that Brad Nessler would be filling my role. Not that my opinion carried a lot of weight, but I agreed wholeheartedly with the choice. Brad is a great sportscaster, had worked with my partner and friend Gary Danielson before, and I was familiar with his outstanding work.
"I am proud of what we built at CBS in covering the SEC all those Saturdays, and it was comforting to know that the games would be in great hands, in the booth, in the truck, and back in New York. After the announcement was made that the '16 season would be my last, I went about my business as usual preparing for another great season of NCAA football. At our annual pre-season seminar, I made it clear to everyone that business as usual was how I wanted things to go. This was no farewell tour; this was no victory lap. The games were the thing, the student-athletes and their coaches and families the storyline.
"Everyone nodded and agreed.
"Seems like some people had a different idea, and as the season went on they wanted to recognize my years covering the SEC. I was okay with that; just as long as what people chose to do for me didn't interfere with all of us getting the job done in telling the most compelling stories we could about a game and a league we all loved.
"I don't mind telling you that as I sit here in my office back home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, many of the mementos I received from last year are hung on the walls or have taken a prominent place elsewhere in the room. Jerseys, footballs, plaques, and other memorabilia mean so much to me. I'm an avid collector (okay, I'm a rat-packer and have copies of rosters and other things dating back to my first days in radio), so these things mean a lot to me. More than that, much more, in fact, they are a reminder of the wonderful people I met along the way. I've been blessed that people seem to like me in this world. I know that I was called Uncle Verne by SEC Football fans, and sometimes derisively. But I consider that a warm compliment. I like being in people's homes and I never take that for granted.
"When I think of all the names and faces, it can get pretty crowded in here - Archie and Peyton Manning, Steve Spurrier and Jeremy Foley, Nick Saban and Joe Namath. Heck, the entire University of Georgia band is crammed in here spelling out 'Yes, Sir!' I apologize in advance for not listing and naming everyone and every school that showed me such great kindness. That would take up an entire book on its own. I am enormously grateful and humbled by the time and attention that went into those various salutes. I could not have imagined back in my first days in radio in Austin, and before, that I'd receive that kind of a send-off for simply doing something that I so dearly love to do."

Verne takes readers behind the scenes of some of the most important, unbelievable sports moments that he has been a witness to the past five decades, including:
·  Jack Nicklaus’ legendary one-stroke victory at the 1986 Masters Tournament 
· Christian Laettner’s buzzer beater in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, which sent the Blue Devils to the Final Four
· Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Winter Olympics
· Tiger Woods’ astounding comeback at the 2005 Masters Tournament
· The “Year of the Upset” – the historic year when an unranked or lower-ranked team defeated a favorite 59 times over the course of the 2007 regular season, including teams lead by Tim Tebow (University of Florida) and Matt Flynn (LSU)
· Tennessee-Alabama in 2009, when Terrence “Mount” Cody blocked two crucial kicks to bring home another Crimson Tide victory
· The Kick Six Iron Bowl of 2013, where the Auburn Tigers delivered a shocking blow to the heavily favored University of Alabama

Verne also takes a look at the friendships he’s made along the way, and shares personal, surprising anecdotes about his life both inside and outside the booth, including:
· Verne’s lifelong fascination with radio, and the call that brought him into a radio booth for the first time (surprise: it had nothing to do with sports)
· The small, but important, role Verne played as a KTBC-AM (Austin) employee on November 22, 1963 – the day JFK Jr. was assassinated
· Why Verne initially viewed the SEC play-by-play gig as a demotion, and what made him realize it was actually the most significant assignment of his career
· The conversations Verne had with Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach about his recurring concussions and how they might impact him down the line
· The legendary broadcaster who convinced Verne to host Bowling for Dollars – and why
· Why Verne disagreed with President Carter’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the 1980 Moscow Olympics
· Verne’s unlikely love affair with figure skating, and his longtime friendship with Scott Hamilton
· Why Verne agrees with many that University of Alabama’s Nick Saban is the greatest college football coach to date
· The time Verne found himself in the middle of a near altercation between Bob Knight and Tommy Heinsohn
· Happy Gilmore – how Verne came to be part of the famous film, and how he learned he was second choice to Pat Summerall
· Why Verne feels so passionately about the Army-Navy game, and why he chose it as his final college football broadcast

Verne writes of how his most famous call, "Yes, Sir!" was born at the 1986 Masters, "Jack Nicklaus was forty-six years old in 1986. He had not won a tournament in two years. Quite famously, a columnist named Tom McCollister, who has since passed away, had written a column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the Tuesday of Masters week in 1986, ranking the ninety or so competitors.He didn't put Jack dead last, but he was in the bottom quadrant. Most people did not think Jack had a shot.
"Jack Grout, one of Jack Nicklaus's golf teachers, who was either staying with the family or was visiting the Nicklaus home that week, saw the column, cut it out, and put it on the refrigerator door. Jack saw it every day. He never took it down.
"So here he was, at forty-six, and he was not a factor in anybody's coverage. I mean, we put him on the air because he was Jack Nicklaus. But he was not in any kind of a featured group. No one, to my recollection, was writing sidebars about him. It was just like, okay, the five-time winner of Augusta is in the field. Billy Kratzert had the lead after thirty-six holes of the tournament. With a big smile Billy will say today, 'I don't get it, nobody ever mentions me.' On that Sunday, no one had Jack in their sights. Nobody. He was four back at the start of Sunday's round...
"Jim Nantz was on 16. Par three. Jack hit a five-iron. Never looked up. Jackie (Nicklaus' son) said, 'Be good.' Without looking up at the green, Jack said, 'It is. The ball rolled across the cup - he almost got an ace. So now he had an eagle and a birdie.
"They came to 17. He would have been two back at that time. Jack hit a very poor tee shot. He hooked it left over near the seventh green. So here is a little tidbit about our coverage: No one has ever seen that tee shot. We had a camera operator on a tower behind the green, but he lost it in the setting sun. You never see it. We go away. When we come back, Jack is standing 120 yards away to the left near the 7th green. We never saw the tee shot.
"As he was standing over the ball, Seve (Ballesteros) back at 15 had hooked it into the water, and wound up taking a double bogey. So Jack was over this tee shot 120 yards out. If he could birdie 17, he'd have a chance to take the lead.
"He hit his nine-iron shot, and I've never seen galleries respond like they did that day. From the time Jack got into the chase until he won the tournament I experienced the most electric feeling I've gotten from any group of fans anywhere. It was just magnificent. Jack hit it twelve feet from the hole. Seve had now double bogeyed. They were tied. If Jack made the putt, he'd have the lead.
"The platform then on 17 was directly behind the green. We had two levels on it. I was on the top one probably twenty feet up in the air. My thought process: Just get out of the way. We bounced around the course, and then we came back. Jack was about to line up for the putt and I thought: Don't screw this up. So I said, 'This is for sole possession of the lead.'
"He stood over it for quite a while. He finally stepped up. It had a very subtle double break. He hit the putt, and with the ball about a foot and a half away I said, 'Maybe.' Then it dropped in and I hollered, 'Yes, sir!' I've probably seen in five thousand times over the years.
"What I think made it work so well was the simplicity. If you watch the replay as I'm saying, 'Yes, sir,' Jack is pumping his arms almost in synchronicity with the words. It's like he's punching the air to underline the emphasis on 'Yes, sir.' It's perfect. He was giving an orchestra a downbeat."

That story is one of many that you will appreciate from one of the greatest broadcasters ever.

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