If you are very lucky, you will discover what you want to do with your life at an early age, and you will do it all of your life.
I am very lucky.
I was put on this earth to describe sporting events. This fact dawned on me slowly as I grew up in New England. The 1970s were a classic era of New England sports. The Red Sox of Carl Yastrzemski, Fred Lynn and Jim Rice. Always good, but not quite good enough. The Bruins of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. The Celtics of Red Auerbach’s cigar and John Havlicek and Dave Cowens. The Patriots of……never mind.
As much as I admired those teams and athletes, what really excited me was the announcers who brought them to the transistor radio in my northern New Hampshire bedroom. Red Sox broadcaster Ken Coleman, who always had just the right words. One of the thrills of my life was getting to know Ken and getting to tell him that I hoped to be like him someday. Ned Martin, former marine, whose catch phrase was “mercy” and who quoted Shakespeare when the Olde Towne Team was having a bad day, “when sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.” Gravel-voiced Bruins broadcaster Bob Wilson and voice of the Patriots Gil Santos, whose football play-by-play heavily influences mine to this day.
There was one other sportscaster who was a big influence. One of the quirks of growing up in mountainous northern New Hampshire in the pre-cable era was that our TV had two options, ABC and off. Because of the terrain, we could not get the NBC or CBS affiliates, but we could get ABC. That meant Saturday afternoons with Keith Jackson. “Whoa, Nellie” he would exclaim. He brought us Bear Bryant, Joe Paterno and Bo Schembechler. While he’s most closely associated with college football, he was the voice of the NBA for ABC for a number of years. He called Reggie Jackson’s three home run game in the World Series, Mark Spitz’ seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics and even covered a political convention. Keith just passed away at 89.
Those of us who do play-by-play are painters. We have only our eyes and our words with which to paint. I am a painter, but Keith Jackson, you are Rembrandt. Keith Jackson wasn’t there because it was a big game, it was a big game because Keith Jackson was there. Thank you for helping me be what I am.