Thursday, October 11, 2018

"Starr. To Taylor. Touchdown."

Voice of the Baltimore Colts -- Chuck Thompson
The NFL is well underway. There are even articles NOT about the protests in the papers. But I must say, watching games now I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic for days gone by when I watched as a kid.

The NFL’s first commissioner, Pete Rozelle, was a brilliant guy. One of the things he instituted was a national TV deal. Every team received the same amount from the TV rights. So unlike baseball, there is parity. Small market teams like Green Bay get just as much money as the New York Giants. Granted there are less than 20 games a season as opposed to baseball where every team plays 162, but Rozelle smartly realized that there needed to be consistency in how the game was presented.

So here’s how it worked in the late ‘50s and ‘60s – if you had an NFL team in your market you saw all of their road games. The weeks they were home you saw a different game. If you didn’t have a team in your market you got a variety of games. CBS broadcast the games.

But unlike today, CBS had no assigned announcers. Each team had their own play-by-play man. So if the Rams, for example, played a road game in Cleveland the Rams announcer Bob Kelley called the game. If Cleveland played the Rams in Los Angeles then Browns’ announcer Ken Coleman called the game.

There were several advantages to this arrangement. First off, your announcer knew way more about your team than a network guy who just flew in for the game. Secondly, and most important, each team’s announcer back then was distinctive and gave his team a real character.

I used to love listening to these men who all had very different voices and styles. Compare that to today. Especially if you get the B or C team the games are called by generic interchangeable announcers who offer nothing but rudimentary play-by-play.

Bob Kelley had a great whiskey voice and a real sense of urgency to his broadcasts. Chuck Thompson of the Colts brought an elegance to his call (and always wore his signature hat). Ray Scott of the Packers was the voice of God just punctuating plays with two or three word sentences. “Starr. To Taylor. Touchdown.” Jack Brickhouse of “da Bears” had a friendly fatherly quality, Ken Coleman of Cleveland and Van Patrick of Detroit had signature voices, and then there was Chris Schienkel of the Giants who I never liked. We rarely got 49er games so I don’t remember who called them but I’m sure he was on the same level as these other gentlemen.

Were they homers?  Some were.  But so what?   So were all the fans in the stands.  

The three number one network NFL guys, Al Michaels, Jim Nantz, and Joe Buck all are exceptional announcers. But I bet even they would agree with me. Today the games are in glorious HD color with drone cameras and amazing angles and telestraters and whiz-bang graphics – but there’s something missing – personality, localization, familiarity, team identification. Sorry but I’d trade the first down stripe for Chuck Thompson.


J Lee said...

Ray Scott was the first really 'national' NFL announcer for CBS. He was the Packers' guy during the Lombardi years, so he was on lots of telecasts aired nationally, but even after the Packers declined following Lombardi's departure, he was kept as their main national guy, paired with either Frank Gifford (before he left for ABC) or Pat Summerall, who ended up with the main play-by-play job when Scott decided to semi-retire from doing the CBS national games in the early 70s.

(Just as a side note, here's the CBS opening from their NFL telecasts from the 1969 season, with Don Criqui doing the voiceover. It's the one that used the song "Confidence" as its music bed, and for what's now a 49-year-old piece of video, the quick cutting between images and the use of bold colors is surprisingly modern.)

Toledo said...

Bob Fouts did the games for the 49ers. The others were Jack Whitaker for the Eagles, Jack Drees for the St. Louis Cardinals, Jim Gibbons for the Redskins, and Joe Tucker for the Steelers. After expansion in 1961, Herb Cameal did the Vikings and Frank Glieber did the Cowboys.

Ted McCarthy said...

Ain't the beer cold!

Anonymous said...

I think you misquote Ray Scott. It was probably "Starr..McGee...Touchdown." No superfluous "to" in there.

I often think of Scott when watching any sports event. I can SEE what's happening, thank you, I just can't read the jersey numbers right away. Just tell me who has the ball. It's even worse in baseball where the play-by-play announcer is really unnecessary. The worst is when the radio guy fills in for the TV broadcaster and does a great radio call but on TV. Shut up already!


blinky said...

In the 1960s the Saturday nation baseball game of the week was announced by Dizzy Dean and Peewee Reese. They were the ultimate characters. They would immediately start talking about Dizzy's fishing trip to catch bass or hunting for ducks. They would occasionally break from the stories if Mickey Mantel hit a home run or Whitey Ford picked off a guy on second. Best announcers of all time in my book.

Mike Barer said...

Jerry Kramer, Green Bay guard during the 1960s, was finally inducted into the NFL Hall Of fame this year and the blessing was the contrast between his speech and the speeches of players almost young enough to be his grandchildren.
While the contemporary inductees mostly wore flashy clothes and for the most part, had long self aggrandizing speeches (long enough that my VCR ran out, I had to watch the Kramer speech on YouTube), Kramer was humble, and talked about the NFL in the 60s, what is coach meant to him and the struggles of the period. Even though, Kramer was inducted 40 years too late, it was beautiful to see the contrast.

Tom said...

I recall Ray Scott doing CBS games with Paul Christman; as a kid I liked when they did Bears games. Never cared for Jack Brickhouse, especially on the radio with Irv Kupcinet ("Dat's right, Jack," he'd mutter with his cigar in his mouth). The press box at the old Soldier Field was so far away, it seemed sometimes like they couldn't see the game. That was reinforced one game where Brickhouse said something like: "That's the shortest punt I've ever seen! Wait a minute! IT'S A FAKE!"

Michael said...

Growing up lived about half way between New York City and Albany, NY. The Albany station showed the Giants home games that were blacked out on NYC station, so my father bought and installed a rotor that would change the direction of the antenna on the roof in order to pick up the Albany signal just for these games.

Rob said...

Ray Scott was the best football play by play guy ever. Period. Fd

Janet Ybarra said...

I would agree with that, because you still have that localization in baseball, and if done well, really enhances the game--especially to keep a mediocre game interesting.

What gets me is here we are in 21st century, with the ability to broadcast on many multiple channels--and we are still locked into our "local team."

What if I grew up elsewhere and still wanted to watch that team?

And, yes, I know about DirecTV and it's "Season Ticket," but I have no interest in satellite TV.

If the NFL really is losing it's TV audience, then the league does need to think about new TV watching paradigms and options.

Also, I've always wondered why the NFL season is so small in terms of games played, relative to baseball. This is why generally I consider baseball players superior athletes because they have to be "on" and play so many more games.

And, then, Ken, I'd be curious as to what folks in LA think about having gone from zero NFL teams, now all of a sudden, two.

Bob Sharp said...

Sorry, Ken. Rozelle wasn't the first NFL Commissioner. That was Elmer Layden who was followed by Bert Bell and then Pete Rozelle. Before Layden there were three NFL Presidents, the first of whom was Jim Thorpe in 1920. He served for only one year. The first AFL Commissioner was Joe Foss, a WWII fighter pilot awarded the medal of Honor.

I was a Packer fan and loved Ray Scott. He was also the voice of the Twins in the 1960s, teaming up with Herb Carneal and Halsey Hall.

benson said...

Wow, some memories here.

I didn't know Brickhouse did TV football back in the 50's and 60's. My first memories of him doing football were on the radio with color man Irv Kupcinet, the showbiz columnist in the Chicago Sun-Times. He seemed to always be saying "Dat's right, Jack". I learned years later he actually had been a quarterback for the Eagles for a season, in the mid 30's, and then an NFL referee.

Jack Drees is also an interesting footnote. He became the White Sox play by play man after they committed business suicide and moved their games from WGN-TV (Ch 9) to UHF (WFLD-Ch 32) which hardly anybody got in Chicago and thus a whole generation of kids were doomed to be Cub fans.

BTW, not to nit pick but Pete Rozelle was not the first commissioner of NFL, but his experience as PR guy with the Rams, etc; put into effect many of the moneymaking policies that made the NFL the monster it is today.

Michael said...

Actually, CBS moved some people around. Jack Buck did the Cowboys for a spell, too, and loved to tell of how the Cowboys had a player named Pettis Norman. He always called him Norman Pettis. He said, "That's why in Dallas, they call me Buck Jack."

In the late 1960s, CBS changed to the kind of system they have now, and Ray Scott was #1. It appears that he quit in 1974 in part because the new regime there wanted him to change his style. It's interesting that Summerall obviously reflected his influence.

Jon Miller, who does the world's second best Vin Scully impression, also would do a great Chuck Thompson. As I recall, his line about Ray Scott, who he greatly admired (and by the way, Scott did the 1965 World Series with The Vin) was that it sounded like he was doing play-by-play of the Persian Gulf War!

Joseph Aubele said...

It's nice to know I am not the only one who could not stand Chris Schienkel -- I remember him as a college football announcer for ABC (dreadful), and the Pro Bowlers Tour (much better).

Mike Bloodworth said...

How could you leave out Dick Enberg? And I liked Chris Schenkel, at least when he was doing the PRO BOWLERS TOUR on ABC.

Annie C. said...

And now we get ... Tony Romo. Sigh.

He spends more time telling us how much he knows than what is happwning on the field.

VP81955 said...

Many of these announcers were better known for baseball, such as Chuck Thompson (mostly the Orioles, but a few years with the original Senators in the late '50s and 1960 after Baltimore changed beer sponsors). Someone already noted Ray Scott and Herb Carneal worked the first few years of the Twins (which the aforementioned Senators became in 1961), though I never knew Carneal did football. And in addition to succeeding John Facenda as the voice of NFL films, the great Harry Kalas called assorted games on network radio once Phillies season ended.

Met Ray Scott in 1984 -- the first year after the Supreme Court ruling in the Georgia-Oklahoma case lifted NCAA control over college football -- when Iowa State hosted Kansas State as part of the Big Eight's new TV package. Nice fellow, and he still had that aura about him.

VP81955 said...

I like having two NFL teams, and am looking forward to the new stadium n Inglewood. As for me, I like the Rams (would like them better if they returned to their classic royal blue and gold uniforms of the '50s), but love the Chargers (guess it's the part of me that backs the underdog). I wish LeBron James had had the courage to sign with the Clippers and not the Lakers, but he wouldn't have dared.

Oh, and if a majority of baseball players weighed close to 300 pounds and had to block and tackle players similar in size, the baseball season would be far closer to 16 games than 162.

Coram_Loci said...

Your local shares in the triumphs and tribulations. He's there every week for you...your son...your grandson. He's part of the tradition. He's what helps sports be the unifying force it can be.

Coram_Loci said...

Jon Miller quipped that Chuck Thompson's voice was so smooth that he could make anything sound good. To that end, Miller had a bit impersonating Thompson during a fan giveaway promotion. It went something like this: “The seventh inning is brought to you by United States Airforce. This afternoon's contestant in the Bucks for Bombs contestant is Ruth Stevens of Arbutus. Should any Oriole hit a home run, or should global thermonuclear war break out, in the seventh inning, then Ruth will win $50 and an autographed Cal Ripken glove courtesy of the USAF. Good luck, Ruth.”

Ken likely remembers the bit better than I do.

Tom said...

Irv Kupcinet (going to transition now to calling him what everyone did: Kup) worked in the 40s simultaneously as an NFL referee and as a sportswriter...not considered much of a conflict of interest in those days, I guess. Kup was one of the officials in the most one-sided win in pro football history: the 1940 Chicago-Washington NFL championship game that the Bears won 73-0.

Tom said...

Remember the diss of Chris Schenkel in Cheech & Chong's "Basketball Jones"?

Bill Russell, sing along with us.
Chick Hearn, sing along with us.
Chris Schenkel, don't sing nothin'.

Coram_Loci said...

Ahh, here's better, more accurate of the Jon Miller Chuck Thompson story I was trying to tell.

Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun

“He recently had an Orioles gathering in tears of laughter as he finished a long evening by imitating Orioles TV broadcasters Chuck Thompson and Brooks Robinson covering a White House press conference.

(The important news was not that the president might declare nuclear war, but that if he did, Mrs. Bertha Nicely of Lutherville would win $1 million in Equitable's Grand Slam Nuclear War contest.)”

Michael said...

Mike Bloodworth, people who heard Enberg on TV don't always realize how great he was with the Rams. When I was growing up in the 1970s, he was doing the Angels, mostly radio, with Don Drysdale and Ken's dear friend Dave Niehaus, who once said, "Three of us against Vin, and we lived to tell the tale."

Blinky, at the time Dizzy and Pee Wee (and before Pee Wee, Bud Blattner) only aired outside major league markets. When MLB changed that and did the Game of the Week, I recall reading that the ratings actually DROPPED, and it was simple: viewers missed Ol' Diz putting on a show. But it also wasn't that far afield from the likes of Bob Prince in Pittsburgh, who would start telling a story--on radio--and then say, "By the way, Clemente grounded to third, Stargell flied to right, and that's the inning."

sanford said...

I have been a Bears fan since 1960. If Brickhouse was doing bears games on tv I didn't know that. According to Wikipedia he was the radio voice from 1953 to 1977. It is possible he did a tv game or two. He did Cubs and Whites Sox, plus he was the announcer for the Bulls for 7 or 8 seasons. I am not sure if he did radio or tv for the 1954 World Series. But if you watch the catch by Mays it is Brickhouse calling the play.

Anonymous said...

You probably heard those Brickhouse Kupcinet broadcasts at Wrigley Field.
They did them there much longer than at Soldier Field.

Andrew Morton said...

Hi Ken -- a Friday Question: I've been rewatching a lot of CHEERS on Netflix, and noticed at a certain point that the character of Paul was featured almost as a regular. Was there a reason he was brought in so frequently? He's always fun, but for a show that had so many main characters to service, it had me wondering if there was a behind-the-scenes reason for his prominence.


Mike Bloodworth said...

When I was a little kid in the 60's, the Rams wore the blue and white uniforms. Those were the days of Roman Gabriel, the Fearsom Foursome, etc. So I'm happy that the "new" L.A. Rams have returned to those colors. The Chargers could wear garbage bags for all I care.

VP81955 said...

They moved from Wrigley to Soldier Field in 1971, the same year the 49ers left Kezar Stadium for the expanded Candlestick Park, the Eagles moved from Penn's Franklin Field to the Vet and the Boston Patriots said goodbye to Harvard Stadium for their first stadium in Foxboro and the new name of New England Patriots.

Janet Ybarra said...

These days being an NFL referee is still a part-time. Gene Steratore, for instance, was a ref before retiring this year and moving to TV commentator, also runs his own business--Steratore Sanitary Supply in his native Pennsylvania.

Toledo said...

The Bears announcer on CBS in the late '50s and/or early '60s was Red Grange.

Jeff Boice said...

I grew up in Washington State. We usually got home from church in time for the 1PM game. Since Seattle's NFL team was only a dream at the time, we mostly got a Rams game. I second the comment about seeing the Rams now playing in the Coliseum in white unis. I imagined Deacon Jones as this huge ram knocking people off mountain tops. Only occasionally did we get a 49ers game. All I remember of those is seeing all those seagulls flying around Kezar. Most of us were Rams fans. The town had a few Niners fans, and a couple miscreants who liked the Raiders.

The announcers were there to describe a football game. Period. You can find the original telecast of Super Bowl III- during the 30 minute pre-game show, Al DeRogatis says the Jets have a very good offensive line. He predicted that if the Jets got 100-130 rushing yards they would have a whale of a chance of pulling off the upset. The Jets ran for 143 yards. Then the following year, Jack Buck nailed Super Bowl IV, by telling the audience before the kickoff that the Chiefs were big and physical-the biggest team the Vikings would meet all season, and could the Vikings a lot of trouble. So in less than 30 seconds DiRogatis and Buck nailed those two games. I think of those two when I watch these telethons called pre-game shows today.

Mike Barer said...

NBC's Jim Simpson was a favorite of mine.

Mike said...

I grew up in Baltimore during the 1970's listening to Chuck Thompson call both the Orioles and Colts games on local radio. Mr. Thompson is deservedly in the baseball HOF, but he also did the best football play-by-play on the radio that I've ever heard. Most radio football announcers explain the plays after they happen, but Chuck described them in real time as they were happening! Just fantastic listening!