Texas Ranger broadcaster, Eric Nadel, with Dick Enberg (Photo courtesy of Nadel).
Has there ever been a more versatile network sports broadcaster than Dick Enberg? As voice of NBC Sports, Curt Gowdy certainly covered a significant number of events; Jim McKay over at ABC also had a remarkably diverse career, but neither has Enberg’s prodigious track record.
Here is a short list of Enberg’s achievements:
- 10 Super Bowls
- 28 Wimbledons
- 9 Rose Bowls
- Multiple Tournament of Roses Parades
- 3 U.S. Opens (tennis)
- 5 Masters
- 5 French Opens
- 8 NCAA Championships
- 4 Olympics
Also, he served as long time voice of the Los Angeles Rams, The California Angels, ULCA Bruins and The San Diego Padres. These are just highlights of a much longer list.
The net result of this body of work: fourteen Emmy’s (only announcer to win Emmy’s in three categories – writing, broadcasting and producing); nine Nation Sportscaster of the year awards. It is also worth noting that Dick Enberg and Curt Gowdy are the only two broadcasters in the NBA, NFL and MLB Halls of Fame.
There are a plethora of great Dick Enberg stories, but this blog will only concern itself with two. If you have an interest in more, check out his book Oh My!
The most historically significant broadcast Enberg ever did took place in January of 1968 at the Astrodome. The UCLA Bruins played the Houston Cougars in the first college basketball game ever shown nationwide in prime time. Up to that point, network executives paid scant attention to college hoops: even the important games were mostly of the stuff of regional, independent television.
The brilliant producer, Eddie Einhorn, along with the sports information directors for Houston and UCLA put the package together to be syndicated through Einhorn’s company, TVS television network. UCLA insisted that Einhorn use Dick Enberg as the play-by-play man.
The Cougars edged the heavily favored Bruins by 2 points, ending UCLA’s then 47 game winning streak. Termed “The Game of the Century,” this very highly rated broadcast completely changed men’s college basketball culture. The following year in 1969, NBC broadcast the first national network NCAA Championship game — March Madness, with all of the millions in revenue it now entails, was born.
Below is a YouTube video wherein Enberg discusses UCLA’s, John Wooden, one of his closest mentors.
Although many of Enberg’s broadcasts were of great prominence (and impressively well done), my own personal favorite was the January, 1987 AFC Championship game between the Denver Broncos and the Cleveland Browns. This game featured “The Drive,” where quarterback John Elway led the Broncos on a 5 minute plus, 98 yard spectacular march which eventually threw the proceedings into overtime. Denver finally came out on top by 3 points (23-20).
But it was not just the drama of Elway’s fantastic 4th quarter performance that caught my attention: there have been many exciting NFL games, but none, in my opinion, so well called. The full panoply of Enberg’s skill was on display. The big game voice, depth of historical perspective, inspired choice of words, obvious arduous preparation (his score cards and spotting boards were preposterously detailed), and contagious, enthusiastic delivery were quintessential Enberg. I was so impressed that I wrote him a letter about this magnificent effort – below is a copy of the letter he sent back to me.
Now that he is stepping down from his play-by-play duties with the Padres, Enberg is apparently considering offers from major colleges to return to his original love, teaching (he has a PHD from Indiana University). At 81, Dick Enberg remains the diligent perfectionist we viewers have been lucky enough to appreciate for so very long.
During and NBA telecast, he once described Magic Johnson as having an “incandescent joy.” I think the same can be said about Dick Enberg.
A special thanks to Eric Nadel for the above photo. A Hall of Famer himself, Nadel reminds me a lot of the man with whom he is pictured.