The role of a play-by-play announcer in a sports broadcast is a delicate one.
The good ones strike this balance of emotional detachment and personal involvement. They’re not supposed to betray who they want to win nor even offer many opinions on what is occuring on the field or court — that’s the role of the “color” commentator.
Yet to keep viewers’ attention, they have to communicate the drama they are watching as well as give background information that lets viewers feel as if they somehow know the players who are competing.
And above all, they have to have a voice. A voice that hooks and holds the viewer with its resonance and variety.
With all that, here are my five favorite from a variety of sports … though, as you might expect, football dominates.
5. Don Criqui, football. Criqui’s career has floundered in recent years, but he called two terrific games in the early 80s: Chargers-Dolphins in the ’81 playoffs and, most memorably, the 1984 Orange Bowl with Miami & Nebraska. I always felt the timbre of his voice enhanced the natural drama of the game.
4. Keith Jackson, college football. Whoa Nellie! Fumble! Alabama! For a lot of us, Keith Jackson is collge football.
3. Charlie Jones, football. Charlie Jones always broadcast the late afternoon games played first in the AFL and then the AFC. If it was a war between the Raiders and the Chiefs, or a playoff with a West Coast team vs. the Jets, Charlie and his rich, melodic voice were on it.
2. Joe Buck, football, baseball. Buck comes under a lot of criticism these days, and I can’t figure out why. Whether he’s with Troy Aikman in football or Tim McCarver in baseball, his cerebral, understated approach somehow makes the games feel larger than life. I hate what happened in the clip below but love what Buck brings to it.
The talent runs in the family:
1. Dick Enberg, football, basketball, tennis. Oh my. It’s the versatility — and the love for Wimbledon — that clinches it. Unforgettable voice and a brilliant essayist.