by John Furgele
We lost three giants this past week in the world of broadcasting. First, was former ABC Wide World of Sports host Jim McKay. McKay was the voice of ABC for nearly 30 years, covering Wide World, and anchoring ABC’s Olympic coverage through the 1988 Calgary Winter Games. His anchoring of the 1972 Munich Massacre will be his signature moment, and his three words, “they’re all gone,” his signature line.
My favorite memory of McKay came at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games and it came on February 22, 1980, the day the United States hockey team beat the Soviet Union 4-3. As most of you know, that game was played at 5 PM, but ABC decided to tape it and show it in prime time at 8 PM. At 8 PM McKay came on live, but he had this grin on his face, well, because he had already seen the game. And, in the background (there was glass behind McKay), there were “pumped up fans “getting ready to watch the game.” Of course, those fans were pumped up for another reason: the United States had already won the game. Even with that grin, McKay was able to pull it off and keep most (unless you could get Canadian television) in suspense.
Second, was the devastating loss of NBCs Tim Russert, the host of the Sunday political show, “Meet the Press.” This loss was a tough one for me, because like Russert, I am from Buffalo, NY. People from Buffalo are very proud of their hometown, critics be damned, and Russert was a guy who never left Buffalo even though he had moved to Washignton, DC. I have watched many sporting events, but the most dramatic non-sporting event I ever watched was Election Night, 2000. As we know, most of the networks, including NBC had given Florida to Gore, and Russert had said that Florida would be the key to deciding who would succeed Bill Clinton. An hour later, Florida was taken away from Gore and Russert and his dry erase board kept viewers in touch throughout the night with scoreboard updates. That “game” didn’t end until 4:00 AM, when George W. Bush became the president-elect. What a night for the nation and for Russert.
He usually ended his fall shows by saying, “Go Bills,” in reference to the Buffalo Bills, the four time AFC Champions who then went 0-4 in Super Bowls. In 2004, the Triple A Buffalo Bisons won the International League championship and on the Today Show, Russert found a way to give the Bisons a plug. In 2005, the Bisons had Tim Russert Bobblehead Day and yesterday, Buffalo mayor Bryon Brown ordered the flags at city properties to fly at half-staff. If that doesn’t indicate the respect of a man, I don’t know what else does?
Third, and relaitvely unnoticed was the passing of former NBC sportscaster Charlie Jones. Jones had golden pipes and called many games for NBC. When the AFL was formed in 1960, Jones was one of the pioneer broadcasters. He went on to call NFL games for 38 seasons and worked with analysts such as George Ratterman, John Brodie, Paul McGuire, Len Dawson and Bob Griese. He won the Pete Rozelle Award in 1997 for outstanding broadcasting.
In addition to football, Jones called the 1986 World Cup Soccer Final as Argentina, led by Diego Maradona beat West Germany, and also called Ben Johnson’s famous 9.79 100 meters at the Seoul Olympic Games. Of course, two days later, Johnson was stripped of the gold after testing positive for steroids.
Jones was never the number one announcer at NBC or ABC, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t one of the best, because he certainly was.
McKay, Jones, Russert. All broadcasters, different genres, but each great at what they did. Hopefully, St. Peter is sitting back and listening to the great stories.