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ISSUE 119 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 9/30/2005

Inside the Lines: Sound of sport

By Matt Tiano
Contributing Writer

Friday, September 30, 2005

Imagine, for a moment, that you've somehow managed to score great seats to the 2006 NCAA basketball National Championship. Imagine the roar of the crowd after a breakaway dunk, the gusto of the pep band as they struggle to make themselves heard over the din and the howling protests of a head coach as he argues with the referee. Some experience, huh?

Unfortunately, the overwhelimng majority of us will never have the chance to see such an event in person. Instead, we must rely on another person to convey the majesty of that experience to us on television or over the radio: a sports broadcaster.

The bottom line is, without broadcasters, watching sports on television would lose much of its appeal.

What is it that broadcasters add to the viewing experience? The average sports fan can describe a pitcher's best pitch or a quarterback's passing numbers. Yet few people have the gift of a passionate, driven, booming, attractive tone that adds excitement to the event and has the ability to send goose bumps up a viewer's spine.

Although I will be the first to ackowledge the neccessity of the sports broadcaster, it must also be said that there exists a large quality gap between the "best" of the business and the "rest." For every Al Michaels, whose "do you believe in miracles?" call during Team USA's improbable win over the USSR in the 1980 Olympics is one of the most memorable of all time, there are a dozen former athlete "color commentators" who often struggle to form a coherent sentence on the air. Many a fan has simply muted the sound on their televisions rather than listen to such pointless rabble.

That is the reason our greatest broadcasters stand out from the pack so much. In fact, sometimes a particular call can overshadow the very commentator that made it. For example, while every die-hard baseball fan associates the phrase "The Giants win the pennant!" with Bobby Thompson's game-winning homerun in 1951, few people remember that it was a man by the name of Russ Hodges that actually made the call.

Occasionally, a famous call simply cements a broadcaster in baseball immortality. Legendary Los Angeles Dodgers' announcer Vin Scully's call of Kirk Gibson's game-winning homerun in the 1988 World Series will go down in history as one of the greatest ever. Gibson, whose two injured knees left him incapable of running the bases or playing, pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the tying run on base against Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley.

"All year long they looked to him to light the fire and all year long he answered the demands," Scully intoned as a hobbled Gibson dug into the batter's box against Eckersley. "High fly ball into right field... She is gone! In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!"

We don't often realize how much we associate a particular broadcaster with the sport they cover. Love him or hate him, John Madden is still the signature voice of ABC's "Monday Night Football." Fans in Minnesota will forever assocate the down-to-earth (yet strangely endearing) tones of Herb Carneal with Twins baseball on the radio.

So the next time you tune your television or radio into a sporting event, try to appreciate how these broadcasters contribute to America's love of sports. For most of us, their voices have simply become a part of the game.

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