I’m big on traditions. Things that are passed on from
generation to generation. Sports have traditions. Teams have traditions.
College football has a lot of traditions.
Texas has the hook’em horns hand gesture. Purdue has the
world’s largest drum. Clemson has the rock and the hill. Ohio State has the
dotting of the “i” in Ohio by the band.
Many schools have the so-called “walks” — rituals of sorts during which
the team heads into the stadium on foot through the fans a couple hours
before kickoff. One could go on and on.
Another tradition is the play-by-play announcer who has
carved out a certain identity with the team.
Thursday night on my radio show, “From the Booth,” I
interviewed a gentleman who wrote a book on longtime play-by-play
It seems that the South has more of these guys than the
other parts of the country. I think there is a reason for that. There
weren’t any major league professional teams in the South for many years
until Atlanta broke through in the sixties. The prime play-by-play jobs were
the college jobs.
It was a different story in the Midwest and Northeast. Many
of those guys over the years were college play-by-play announcers and then
moved up to the pro level.
Did you know Harry Carey did Saint Louis University Billiken
basketball before moving on to the Cardinals? Jack Buck did college sports.
A lot of the Midwest guys came through places like Peoria, Topeka and
Kalamazoo on their way to major league jobs.
The South was different and that’s why Matt Fulks has
written a book entitled “The Sportscaster's Dozen.” It’s an off the air story
of Southeastern legends.
The twelve guys featured are Otis Boggs at Florida, the late
Al Ciraldo at Georgia Tech, Jack Cristil at Mississippi State, Woody Durham
at North Carolina, Paul Eels at Arkansas, John Ferguson at LSU, John Forney
at Alabama, Bob Fulton at South Carolina, Bob Harris at Duke, the late,
great Cawood Ledford at Kentucky, Larry Munson at Georgia and Jim Phillips
Most of these guys are still working. Cristil has the
longest tenure, I believe. He started in 1953. This is his fiftieth year as
the “Voice” of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
As in any profession, there are fascinating stories about
the characters involved.
Munson, the longtime “Voice” of the Georgia Bulldogs,
actually broke into the business in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and followed Curt
Boggs has a cousin… baseball great Wade Boggs.
Fulton worked with and knew some of the greats in the
business — Gowdy, Vin Scully, Jack Brickhouse, Al Helfer and the one and
only Dizzy Dean. Bob worked the old Mutual Radio Network baseball game of
the week with ‘ol Diz.
Did you know Durham and Harris have known each other since
their high school days back in Albemarle? Woody was hired by Homer Rice
thirty-two years ago as the “Voice” of the Tar Heels when Rice was North
Carolina's athletic director. Years later Rice would become AD at Georgia
Tech and guess who he would hire as the “Voice” of the Yellow Jackets?
Woody’s son, Wes.
Phillips answered an ad in Broadcasting Magazine in 1968 and
has been the “Voice” of the Clemson Tigers for thirty-four years.
Ledford was a beloved legend in the state of Kentucky who
loved horses as much as hoops.
Cawood passed away a few years ago and was raising miniature horses on his
farm in Kentucky.
Ferguson after many years as the “Voice” of LSU worked in
fund raising for the Tigers.
All of these guys have one thing in common and that is a passion for what
they do. They love broadcasting and they love sports.
To my knowledge, none of them are millionaires. That’s one
of the myths about our business. Guys don’t make as much money as some
people think they do. I tell young people starting out that about one
percent make big money, about twenty percent make a decent living and nearly
80% starve. That’s pretty much the deal.
Money isn’t everything and I dare say that these
distinguished gentlemen wouldn’t trade their memories and the respect they
have in their communities for a CEO’s salary.
I look up to these men. They’ve all persevered and become
great credits to their profession.