In my continuing series on the best behind the mic, the easiest category for me to fill is greatest sports broadcaster of all-time. To be the best broadcaster just in one sport is a great achievement, but to be the all-time best in 3 different sports is mind-blowing. Who is the greatest play-by-play man in NFL, College Basketball, and Tennis history? Hands down it would be Dick Enberg.
Enberg hit the national scene in the late 60’s, doing college basketball for the old TVS network. (which meant he did a lot of UCLA games) To me there is a bigger separation between him and the second best college baskeball play-by-play announcer of all-time, than the gap that exists in any other sport. While most point to the Monday Night Football group of Cosell, Gifford, and Meredith being the best 3-man booth, I believe Enberg’s work with Al McGuire and Billy Packer with NBC was far superior.
There have been a lot of quality NFL play-by-play men, but Enberg sits on top of the list here, as well. His ability to express the joy he felt from the action, without ever being shrill is completely infectious to listen to. Enberg never seems to overhype the event he broadcasts, as he portrays the enthusiasm of a fan, without coming off like a homer. He has worked best with intelligent, non-macho football analysts like Merlin Olsen, Bob Trumpy, and Bill Walsh, who helped show that you don’t have to be brutish to succeed in a brutal game.
Many of you might forget how tennis was a major sport from the 70’s until the early 90’s, as some of the world’s biggest pop culture stars appeared regularly on center court. The mix of charismatic stars like Connors, McEnroe, Agassi, Navratilova, Evert, King, and many others meshed with the poetic way Enberg presented the broadcasts. This was a time before Tiger Woods, when tennis was the sport that could get ratings like the Big 4.
While he never did much college football outside of the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, I have little doubt Enberg would have been right near the top when it comes to that sport, as well. The pure passion that he exudes fits perfectly in college football, as the only college football play-by-play man I’ve heard that I would rate above him is Keith Jackson. And there is no one who would rank higher in a poll of his sport’s best than the Old Hoss, Jackson.
Outside of SoCal, few know that Enberg was a top-notch baseball announcer for the Angels and that his first major professional gig was doing the Halo games. Personally, I’ve only heard him do a few baseball games for NBC, but I do remember thinking he was really good at it, as well.
Enberg also hosted the only sports game show I ever really liked which was called Sports Challenge. Syndicated during most of the 1970’s, Sports Challenge used former athletic greats to compete against each other answering trivia questions. As a young sports nerd, it was thrilling to see some of my idols off the field and at the same time be able to do better answering the questions than most of them could.
Dick Enberg is the best all-around broadcaster in sports history. It’s hard to even come up with someone as a number 2, though I guess it would be between Curt Gowdy, Al Michaels, and Bob Costas. Gowdy was a great football and baseball announcer, but I don’t remember caring much for him doing college sports and like Michaels, I never liked him at all doing basketball. Michaels was part of the greatest sports broadcast ever, the Miracle on Ice, and I rate him as the best NFL play-by-play man next to Enberg, but he is not the greatest in any sport, unlike Enberg who I rate at the top of 3 different sporting fields. Costas might have had a chance to be right there with Enberg, if he would have stayed with a network that had baseball, but between that problem and mainly doing studio work, he is a distant second, at best. Costas is the greatest studio host, hands down, but many of the great moments in sports history will have Dick Enberg featured prominently in the background.
I still feel he is one of the best around, even at the age of 72. Whenever you hear an Oh My proclaimed by Enberg, you realize that he is young at heart. My ultimate sports moment was Larry Bird versus Earvin Johnson. The 1979 NCAA Championship. Big Conference Michigan State against small school Indiana State. David and Goliath on the hardwood. The 2 most versatile players to hit the college ranks since Oscar Robertson. And Dick Enberg behind the mic, handing out assists to McGuire and Packer as effortlessly as Magic did for Greg Kelser and Jay Vincent. I hope Dick Enberg continues on for as long as wants to.