Masters of the Mic

The broadcasting and television world lost a beloved member last Friday.

Walter Cronkite, known by many as “Uncle Walter” and voted “the most trusted man in America,” passed away at the age of 92 in his New York residence.

Cronkite joined the United Press in 1937 and instantly became the top news reporter during World War II while covering the North Africa campaign as well the Battle of the Bulge. Edward R. Murrow recruited Cronkite to CBS in 1950 and, in 1962, would become the lead anchor for the CBS Evening News. Holding the position for 19 years, Cronkite covered the Apollo space missions, the JFK assassination, the Vietnam War, the Watergate Scandal, the Camp David Accords, various Cold War flare ups, and numerous presidential elections.

As a testament to Cronkite’s influence, President Lyndon Johnson, responding to questions regarding Cronkite’s “Vietnam: Who, What, When, Where, Why?” editorial report, said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” Two months later, Johnson announced he would not seek reelection.

Not many people can have that effect on the most powerful person in the world.

Cronkite’s integrity, steadiness, and neutrality made him the iconic broadcast figure of the 20th Century as he paved the way for guys like Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Brian Williams, and Charles Gibson.

At Fox College Sports, we thought we would honor Uncle Walter by giving you our list of the top play-by-play and color personalities of all-time. Apologies to Dick Enberg, the late Al Magurie, Len Elmore, Brad Nessler, Bob Griese, Paul Maguire, Gary Danielson, and Mike Tirico for not making the list.

Top 5 Play-by-Play Announcers

5A. Jim Nantz

The consummate professional. Known as one of the good guys in the business, Nantz is known as a guy who puts in the extra effort to make sure he gets the facts straight. Nantz is the voice of the NCAA Tournament, handling the Final Four with Billy Packer from 1991-2008 and now with Clark Kellogg. There is nothing overly spectacular about Nantz but that is what makes him so special. Expect a solid outing every time from this stud.

Signature Call: “A tradition unlike any other”
Most Memorable Call: “Azibukeeeee, short…Sparks, once last chance, it issssss…yes, yes…Can you believe it!” (Kentucky’s Patrick Sparks’ in-and-out-and-in miracle three-point heave as time expires to force OT against Michigan State in the 2005 Elite Eight)

5B. Gus Johnson

In March, when there is a close college basketball game, Gus is the guy you want at the mic. We should have known he was destined for glory when he called the Princeton-UCLA upset on his first day of covering the NCAA Tournament for CBS in 1996. His long list of upsets and thrilling finishes includes Gonzaga’s Cinderella run in 1999 to the Elite Eight, Ohio State’s upset of 29-0 Illinois in 2005, Vermont’s shocker of Syracuse in 2005, UCLA’s unforgettable comeback against Adam Morrison and Gonzaga in 2006, Ohio State’s overtime win versus Xavier in 2007, and Davidson’s miracle run to the Elite Eight in 2008. His stature has increased steadily in the blogosphere, predominantly thanks to ESPN.com writer Bill Simmons, and, after being relegated from Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight coverage on CBS in 2007, was instantly reassigned back to the second weekend of NCAA Tournament coverage following a myriad of online petitions.
Signature Line: “Ha-Ha, young fella!”
Most Memorable Calls: “Gonzaga!…the slipper still fits!” (Following Gonzaga’s upset of Florida in the 1999 Sweet Sixteen)
“Oh!…my goodness!…Sorrentine…hit that one from the parking lot” (Vermont’s T.J. Sorrentine’s upset-clinching three-pointer versus Syracuse in 2005)

4. Verne Lundquist

Anyone who was fortunate enough to watch the Villanova-Pittsburgh Elite Eight game this past March had the chance to see just how excellent Lundquist handles the play-by-play role. Currently, Lundquist serves as the lead play-by-play man for CBS Sports coverage of SEC college football and also handles the network’s NCAA Men’s Basketball coverage. Lundquist called the amazing Duke-Kentucky Elite Eight game in 1992 and George Mason’s unbelievable upset of Connecticut in the 2006 Elite Eight. Just a pleasure to listen to him call games on Saturdays down on the bayou or in Gator Country. Gives you a little sense of Cronkite with his historic references.
Signature Line: “Yes!”
Most Memorable Call: “Here’s the pass to Laettner…puts it up…YES!!!” (Duke’s Christian Laetnner’s GW shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional Final)

3. Sean McDonough

Here is a guy that goes pretty much unnoticed. When he first started with CBS Sports in 1990, McDonough entered as the son of legendary Boston Globe writer Will McDonough. By the time he left CBS in 2000, McDonough had ten years of college basketball and college football announcing under his belt. Scooped up by ABC/ESPN in 2000, McDonough continues to handle college basketball and college football duties. Not many people could make it through a six-overtime game like McDonough did this past March when calling the Syracuse-Connecticut Big East Tournament thriller, his second game of the day. He has developed a perfect relationship with Bill Raftery over the years, one that has seen them call UConn’s Richard Hamilton’s buzzer beater to eliminate Washington in the 1999 Sweet Sixteen. McDonough has a wonderful sense of when to get excited and when to let the game call itself.
Most Memorable Call: “And here’s Warren Morris…he hits the ball deep down the right field line, that ball is…GONE!!! LSU wins the College World Series!” (LSU’s Warren Morris’ walk-off HR to win the College World Series in 1996)

2. Brent Musberger

“Hello, I’m Brent Musberger.” Gotta love the intro! Musberger has really taken off over the past several years as ABC’s lead man in their primetime college football coverage. Love him or hate him, Musberger has made a name for himself by voicing his own opinions, exhibiting great courage. “I’m a fan of his colloquial speaking style, every other sentence beginning with “folks” or “partner.” His voice will always be associated with some of the sport’s most memorable modern moments,” says Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel. He has formed a spectacular booth relationship with Kirk Herbstreit and the two of them continue to work as the premier duo in college sports today. Additionally, Musberger has performed admirably courtside, calling mostly Big Ten games for ESPN during the winter while forming a great quinella with Steve Lavin. He is often credited with inventing the term “March Madness” during his Final Four years with CBS, where he called the famous 1985 and 1987 National Title Games, won by Villanova and Indiana respectively. Bottom line: when USC invades Columbus on September 12, I want Brenty opening the telecasts with, “you are looking live at a sold out Horseshoe.”
Most Memorable Calls: “Juggled, diving…touchdown Nebraska!” (Matt Davison’s diving touchdown score off a kicked ball to force overtime at Missouri in 1997)
“Holy Buckeye!” (Craig Krenzel’s GW touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins on 4th and 1 at Purdue in 2002).
“Flutie flushed…throws it down…caught by Boston College!…I don’t believe it!” (Boston College’s Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary against Miami in 1984)

1. Keith Jackson

The granddaddy of them all and boy do I miss him. I still get shingles thinking of Jackson’s intros to kickoff ABC telecasts. (Just check out these two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTSvbv9uLlY&feature=related and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpJLmG3qcFE&feature=related) Keith Jackson was college football for so many years, fifty-three seasons to be exact. During that time, Jackson called National Championship Games, Rose Bowls, Orange Bowls, Fiesta Bowls, and other unforgettable games from South Bend to Berkeley to Ann Arbor to Tallahassee. When Keith Jackson talked, you listened. Jackson also served alongside Dick Vitale as the lead crew for ABC’s college basketball coverage from 1987 to 1992. What a duo that was. Jackson debated retirement for many years but his love for the sport kept him from doing so and we, as fans, were blessed to hear him for those extra years, even though he stick to mostly West Coast games. As a fitting end to his career, Jackson called the 2006 National Championship Game between Texas and USC at the Rose Bowl, one of the best games in college football history. No contest here, Jackson reins supreme.
Signature Lines: “Whoa, Nellie” and “Fumb-LEEEE”
Best Calls: “Hello Heisman!” (Following Michigan’s Desmond Howard’s Heisman-clinching punt return against Ohio State in 1991)
“Stewart with time…he’s got three people down there…the ball’s in the air…CAUGHT!…TOUCHDOWN!…INCREDIBLE!” (Colorado’s Kordell Stewart’s Hail Mary to Michael Westbrook for a 64-yard GW touchdown to stun Michigan)

Top 5 Color/Analyst Announcers

5. Kirk Herbstreit

The new kid on the block so to speak. Herbstreit does an awesome job on ESPN’s College GameDay on Saturday mornings and an even better job in the booth with Brent Musberger on ESPN’s College Football Primetime Game. He often flies hundreds of miles from a College GameDay site to a separate campus so he can work the primetime game. Talk about a workhorse. Herbstreit knows the ins and outs of the game and does an excellent job of relaying his insight to the audience. He should be a staple for years to come as ABC/ESPN will take over exclusive coverage of the BCS in 2011 from FOX.

Best Attribute: Unlike Lou Holtz, Herbstreit masks his emotions towards his alma mater, Ohio State.

4. Jay Bilas

Bilas does the research, and better yet, has the connections within the college sports world to break news stories. A well-respected man, Bilas, a former Duke standout forward, continues to shine for both ESPN and CBS and uses the telestraighter better than anyone, doing so in an extremely unproblematic way for the audience. “Nobody tells you more about the game that you didn’t know beforehand,” insists Sports Illustrated‘s Grant Whal.
Most Memorable Line: “Well you’re wrong…this is a meritocracy…if you are a little guy and you don’t have enough good games in your conference, you have to go out and test yourself and play…and the truth is, it might not be fair but that’s the world we’re living in” (Defying Dick Vitale during a debate about mid-majors place in the NCAA Tournament in 2009)

3. Billy Packer

Wahl puts it best: “he may be aggravating, sexist and an ACC homer, but his eye for hoops nuance is the real thing.” While many across the college basketball world felt indifferent about his departure as the lead color man for CBS’ Final Four coverage, his impact was truly observable when Clark Kellogg took his place and failed to provide the pizzazz and the non-sugarcoated scrutiny America had become used to out of Packer. He made plenty of enemies throughout his 35 years with CBS, most notably mid-majors and St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli when he criticized their place in the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and 2006. Either way, his knowledge and acute eye of the game is sorely missed.
Most Memorable Call: “Simon says…championship” (In reference to Arizona’s Miles Simon when Arizona won the 1997 NCAA Title)

2. Bill Raftery

Raftery can bring even the dullest of games to life by adding his signature smile and some chutzpah. A man that just loves the game of basketball. Working for both ESPN and CBS, Raftery has become the ¿captain of color’ in the college basketball world and continues to be the most revered analyst in the game. Even with his landmark lingo, “the catchphrase master never lets his shtick become bigger than the game,” contends Wahl.

Signature Lines: “A little nylon,” “A little lingerie,” “Dagger,” “We’ve got a nickel-dimer here,” and “The kissssss”

Best Line: “Send it in, Jerome!” (Pittsburgh’s Jerome Lane shattering backboard dunk in 1988)

1. Dick Vitale

Yes, he a Dookie lover. Yes, he favors the ACC. Yes, he can be obnoxious sometimes but he is still the face of college basketball when it comes to television. Whether he is in the booth or in the studio, you know Dicky V has something up his sleeve. Dicky V gets what collegiate athletics are all about. The pageantry, the tradition, the passion, and, most importantly, the students. That is what makes him great. Yes, he overdo things but he still is great to listen and remains the college’s best ambassador, especially with his ongoing fight against players who forgo their eligibility to enter the NBA draft. Vitale also should be commended for the outstanding job he does with the “V Foundation” and their awareness to cancer research. Say what you will but college basketball just would not be the same without Dicky V.
Signature Lines: “He’s a PTPer,” “Daiper Dandy,” “He’s awesome, baby, with a capital “A”,”and “Dipsy-doo Dunk-a-roo”

Did Adam nail his picks like a Tiger Woods 15-foot putt at the Masters or is Adam circling pluto right now? Let him know how you feel. Email Adam Frank.