Commentary

The best of the best; ranking all-time top Super Bowl play-by-play voices; From Al Michaels to Ray Scott

Father-son and brother combos; Number of Super Bowls called by each voice; Oddities; The 2 voices still alive who called game # 1 in 1967

25th anniversary of O.J. Simpson working Super Bowl sidelines for NBC. Months later he faced murder charges

The truth is that there’s not a bad play-by-play announcer in the lot; covering all Super Bowl voices since game one in 1967. A listener really has to be fastidious or finicky to be critical of these seven. Styles of these play-by-play announcers varied, but viewers would have to think long and hard to identify a real critical or material mistake any of these pros made in the fifty plus years of the big game.

Top play-by-play: Announcers who did three games on network television or more:

  1. Al Michaels doesn’t over-talk and let’s the game come to him. Yes, Al did years of baseball, some basketball and perhaps his most famous call was doing Olympic hockey (“Do you believe in miracles?”) Still, it’s football with which he will always be remembered, particularly by younger fans. He picks his spots to opine and share an occasional story. He never gets in the way. Michaels doesn’t shout or let a bad game or blowout weaken his focus. His concentration is unshakable. At 73, a year ago, he sounded as good on his 10th Super Bowl broadcast as he did in 1988 when he called his first at age 43. You’ll almost never hear complaints about Michaels.
  1. Dick Enberg produced goosebumps, finding the right phrase or word to caption the joy of human accomplishment or the pain of failure. Enberg always sounded like he was smiling, like he was having a good time. Although he could sound almost professorial, Enberg was a hit among both the blue collar and the elite, those with a passing interest in the game or those who play fantasy football. He always perfectly underscored the dramatic moment.
  1. Curt Gowdy was network’s first dominant play-by-play announcer. NBC owned all the major rights for years, baseball when it was the national pastime, the AFL which became the NFL, the NBA and the NCAA Tournament. Gowdy was engaged in all. He had a hearty and avuncular sound, a comfortable style and was an easy listen. Gowdy presided over 7 Super Bowls from 1977-79.
  1. Pat Summerall had a great understanding of the game, played it, was a student of it. Pat actually did 15 Super Bowls, serving as a color commentator 4 times before doing 11 as a play-by-player. He worked with Tom Brookshier and prominently later with John Madden. Summerall looked up to Ray Scott, Dr. Minimalist whose terse play-by-play style he mimicked. In 1980, when Madden was first set up with Vin Scully, the powers at CBS felt, right or wrong, felt that the verbose Madden would be best paired with Summerall not Scully who was viewed as poetic and talkative and wouldn’t give Madden the necessary runway he needed.
  1. Joe Buck is an acquired taste. Amazing, for someone not even 50, he’s done 5 Super bowls, doing each one with self-confidence, even as a 35 year old when he started at Fox. Right from the start, Joe’s style was get to the point, to the heart of the matter and report the result of each play succinctly. Serve as the mind of the fan watching at home; summarize and project what’s next, all in an economy of time. Fans didn’t warm up to him at first because his play calling almost sounded harsh, if not pithy. More and more, fans seem to have warmed up to him. Joe’s solid!
  1. Jim Nantz is smooth and spot-on. Some say he sounds gushy and schmaltzy. Others have said he sounds corny. Richard Podolsky wrote on these pages that sometimes Nantz’ work sounds like he’s calling the back nine at Augusta. I suppose it’s his personality. There’s a warmth to it. Credit Nantz for doing an effective job contributing to Tony Romo’s skyrocketing popularity. Sean McManus, CBS boss, says that Nantz is a selfless broadcaster, a team player.
  1. Ray Scott began in the 1950s. I’m not a fan of the extreme minimalist style. In my view, Summerall and Scott presided over soporifics. Scott grew up in television in the 1950s, making the transition as many broadcasters did then from radio. TV producers then dictated to all, Red Barber, Mel Allen and even Vin Scully, not to over-talk. Be succinct they said. This isn’t radio. Scully told me he can hardly bear listening to his own World Series work of the 1950s. True, he sounded more like a public address man than a play-by-play announcer, Summerall took Scott’s approach. It worked well through his years because Madden could be loquacious and dominant. In other words, no one noticed that Summerall provided little more than bare bones. Scott’s goal was to basically say nothing. If you subscribe to that style, good for you. It didn’t work for me.

Tidbits about Super Bowl broadcasters:

Father and Son broadcasters: The Bucks, Jack and Joe. Both did many. Jack did one on network television and many on network radio. Joe still has years ahead of him. He’ll do next season’s Super Bowl in Miami.

Those who worked either play-by-play or color on both network television and radio: Jack Buck, Boomer Esiason, Bob Trumpy, John Brodie and Pat Summerall

Done it all, sort of: Pat Summerall worked radio color, TV color and TV play-by-play

Broadcasters who’ve done both play-by-play and color on network television: Pay Summerall and Frank Gifford

Brothers who’ve worked Super Bowls: Greg Gumbel on CBS and Bryant Gumbel did periphery work for NBC on the day of the Super Bowl

Unwanted History,25 Years Ago -1994:

O. J. Simpson worked the sidelines for NBC. Some four months later he was charged with murder

Only team to do back to back broadcasts. Dick Enberg and Bob Trumpy did back-to-back Super Bowls in 1993 and 1994

Most play-by-play: Pat Summerall,11

Most analyst John Madden,11

Most times hosting Super Bowls – Brent Musburger (9 on CBS TV and 6 on CBS Radio) and Bob Costas  (7 on NBC TV and once on NBC Radio) and Greg Gumbel (5 on network TV and 3 on CBS Radio)

Play-by-Play numbers by my count: (including 2019)

Pat Summerall  11; Al Michaels 10; Dick Enberg 8; Curt Gowdy 7; Jim Nantz 5; Joe Buck 5; Ray Scott 4: Greg Gumbel 2; Jack Buck 1, Jack Whitaker 1, Frank Gifford 1

Only two national broadcasters still alive from game one in 1967Jack Whitaker, 94, split play-by-play with Ray Scott and Tom Hedrick, 84, who worked CBS Radio Network

**

Rams coach, Sean McVay, is a grandson of former New York Giants coach John McVay, 88.

In 1977, Vin Scully was doing football for CBS. The eccentric and unpredictable Alex Hawkins was his commentator. One day, Scully referenced him as the Intergalactic Alex Hawkins. “Yes, Vin, I’m from a little town in the south named Intergalactic,” Alex said.

At some point early in that game, a Niners’ running back was decked by Giants linebacker Brian Kelley. Leave it to Vin to invoke the apt caption. He did: “Has anybody here seen Kelly?” Vin spewed. It might have gone over the head of many viewers unless they were familiar with the British music hall song.

Scully was so good on football, CBS should have experimented, allowing him to do a game alone!

I was in Atlanta this week and saw the stadium from the outside. It looks something like a mix of an oversized ski lodge and an asymmetrical edifice you’d see in a 1960s science-fiction film.

Enjoy the game!

Tom Hedrick, 84 and Jack Whitaker, 94, are only two voices alive from ’67 inaugural Super Bowl

Ken Levine: “The highlight was clearly Gladys Knight singing the National Anthem”

CBS’ telecast: Voices make the best of a Super Bowl with little material

Dan Mason on the CBS Telecast: Nantz gets a B+, Romo was limited because it was a defensive game

Through 53 Super Bowls, the networks have never had an African-American analyst in the booth

A List of the 53 announcers who’ve brought us joy, calling Super Bowls on network TV and radio

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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

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ChasG
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ChasG

For me, it’s Curt Gowdy for the #1 spot on calling the Super Bowl (along with College Bowl games and the World Series). He had such a good feel for the follow of the game and when there was a big play Gowdy knew how reacted to it and not try to be heard over the play like some many today.
Second best was Dick Enberg with such a smooth voice, delivery and perfect words at that big moment.

Michael Green
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In his time, if it was a big game, it had to be Curt Gowdy. But so much depends on the pairing for someone like Summerall or Scott, whose minimalist approach really demanded a loquacious analyst (perhaps not Brookshier, but definitely Madden). Maybe Scully benefited from a quieter analyst, but it would have been interesting to see how he and Madden would have developed as a pair if given the chance. It’s certainly a tribute to Al Michaels that he has been great with very different analysts. As for Vin going it alone, he could have, but I think others… Read more »