Dick Enberg had special flare for play-by-play
December 26, 2017 3:30 PM
by Robert Mann
The sudden, unexpected passing last week of renowned sportscaster Dick Enberg puts all true sports fans and sports bettors in the pause mode for at least a little while. Then we have to worry about cashing the next bet.
Our motives are pure!
Sports bettors must have won and lost a significant number of wagers and the cash that goes with it watching and listening to Dick Enberg. It’s safe to guess that billions changed hands over his 60-year career in a sports world for which he provided a significant portion of the sound track.
For most, the death around Christmas and New Year’s of the famous always provides a touch of additional pathos beyond the usual sadness.
Enberg, 82, succumbed to an apparent heart episode just before a planned trip to the East Coast from his San Diego home. Family members say he was just about to leave for the airport. It was a fitting but melancholy ending to a universally admired media icon who must have earned millions and millions of frequent flyer miles over the years.
It’s not too hard to familiarize oneself again with Enberg’s many years in Southern California calling UCLA basketball, Angels baseball and Rams football. He fortified his national exposure calling NFL games including numerous Super Bowls, and even a short stint doing pre-game and some play-by-play in the early 1980’s on MLB’s Game of the Week. Younger sports fans may recall his dulcet tones at many Wimbledon championships with the unpredictable tennis maven Bud Collins, a Boston newspaper columnist and an uncommon character of the first degree.
When it comes to calling a sporting event, Dick Enberg could do it all.
His death brought accolades and tributes from other sportscasters in addition to the fans for whom his omnipresent and soothing voice resonated only to be elevated with his famous “oh my” after a special play or an athletes’ moment of brilliance.
My moment of pause, precipitated by Enberg’s sudden death, got me thinking about not only his work, but also the work of some of his colleagues. What makes Enberg so memorable? How does anyone in such a competitive business achieve such popularity with sports fans? Who is on my Mount Rushmore of sportscasters?
Not in any special order, as I’m gazing up at my Mount Rushmore, are Enberg, Jim McKay, Al Michaels and the newly minted Las Vegan Brent Musburger. The four are special to this observer because important common threads connect them.
McKay and Enberg are now gone, but Michaels and Musburger are still quite active. Michaels continues on Sunday night football and Musburger is busy with a new gambling radio/television network.
All four had a unique ability to call all the major sports, but also had an appreciation of the gambling world. Enberg was the first Breeders’ Cup host. McKay was a long-time Kentucky Derby host and the founder of horseracing’s Maryland Million Day. Michaels’ appreciation of the gambling world is well known through his clever asides during his play-by-play work and his horseplaying days with handicapper extraordinaire Professor Gordon Jones while a student at Arizona State. Musburger, after a remarkable and extensive career covering football, basketball and nearly everything else has now morphed into the lead host at the Vegas Stats and Information Network (VSiN) the new gambling-centric network at the South Point in Las Vegas.
There are other elements more important than their understanding and appreciation of the gambling world.
All four always did their homework with a keen knowledge of the sports they covered. As our surrogate at the game, they presented the fans’ point of view, quickly parsing each play into a meaningful narrative. The play-by-play was always factual but also interpretative. All showed the ability to tell us what just happened as well as what it means.
All had, or have as in the case of Michaels and Musburger, a mental nimbleness that seems to be lacking in some of the newer sportscasters. Now, announcers have a screen in front of them in which producers provide all manner of information and data for them to read as if he or she just thought of it. This reliance on the information flow from the broadcast production center bogs down the show and lacks the feel for the contest that Enberg, McKay, Michaels and Musburger always gave us.
Too often a sense of naturalness and context is missing from today’s telecasts. I miss these elements.
Don’t you think if you had a chance to meet Enberg or McKay or get an opportunity to meet Michaels or Musburger they’d be happy to talk to you for a little while? Having met Musburger and listened to him in his new role, he continues to emanate a pleasing sense of warmth. The others did the same, I’m sure.
Enberg, McKay, Michaels and Musburger continue to foster veneration and respect and are most deserving of it, as well.