By Virgil Scudder
December 23, 2017
Sports broadcasting lost a giant this week but it also lost an outstanding man. Dick Enberg was truly one of a kind. As Reece Davis of ESPN said, “A better person than broadcaster and he’s a legend as a broadcaster.” Another legendary broadcaster, Vin Scully, called him “the greatest all-around sportscaster who ever lived…(he) will never be emulated.”
I agree with both comments.
My first meeting with Dick was when we were both students at Indiana University in the late 1950’s. What was then called the Radio and Television Department (later Telecommunications) was holding auditions to select a play-by-play announcer for the football and basketball games on the university’s new sports network.
While grossly underqualified, I was hopeful of getting the slot. So were a lot of my colleagues, guys who were also undeterred by a shortage of skill and experience.
Nevertheless, we thought we were doing well in our auditions until a big, friendly health sciences graduate student walked in and asked, “Are these auditions open to anyone or just Radio and Television majors?” Some fool responded (correctly), “Anyone can try out.”
So, Dick Enberg sat down and voiced an imaginary game scenario as we other hopefuls dejectedly watched and listened. Right then we knew it was “game over” for us. He was great, even in college.
His broadcasting of Indiana football and basketball from 1957 to 1961 was the beginning of one of the greatest careers in TV sports history.
I did get to work with Dick one time when I did color for his play-by-play for an IU basketball game. Afterward, he was a study in grace, complimenting me on my performance although I knew the praise reflected more Enberg generosity than astute analysis. That’s the kind of warm, supporting individual Dick was. It was several years before I got to be a decent sports broadcaster, long after he and I had headed to different parts of the country.
If you tick off a list of what makes a great sportscaster, Dick would get a check mark on every item.
He was a superb story-teller who loved sports. He conveyed excitement but not hype. He prepared thoroughly for every event. You never heard him say, “tackled by number 71.” He knew the names and he knew something about each player.
He displayed no ego: it was never about him but always about the players and the game. He was fair. Even though he was a devoted fan of IU sports, you would never know it when he called an IU game. A good play-by-play announcer describes the game in such a neutral but interesting way that fans of both teams can enjoy it. Dick’s broadcasts were exciting even when the games weren’t and his preference never showed.
Clichés never passed the Engberg lips. He never uttered such tired and annoying expressions or terms as “Holy Cow!”, the mid-field stripe, pay dirt, twin killing, or the charity stripe. Dick, who had both a master’s and doctorate degree from IU, was a master of the language.
Oh yes, he would often say, “Oh, my!” But, that was his signature, not a cliché copied from someone else.
Dick was a generous man. He endowed academic facilities at both of his alma maters, IU and Central Michigan University.
I agree with Reece Davis and Vin Scully. He was perhaps the best sportscaster ever but even better as a man. I was lucky to have known him. So was everybody else who knew him.