This week in America saw two sports announcing legends hang up their headphones and microphones for one last time. Whilst legendary LA Dodger announcer Vin Scully took most of the attention and headlines, another sports commentator was finishing up in his final broadcast for the San Diego Padres, Dick Enberg. At 81 years of age Enberg was retiring after a great 59 year career covering a wide range of sports most notably MLB, NBA, Tennis, golf and college sports. But it was his 20 year stint as lead NFL play by play announcer for NBC that most UK fans will have experienced.
In the early 1980’s, as the interest in the NFL began to explode in the UK thanks to Sunday evening highlights shown on Channel 4, the three main network play by play announcers were Pat Summerall on CBS, Frank Gifford (soon to be replaced by Al Michaels) of Monday Night Football on ABC and Dick Enberg covering the AFC contract on NBC. All of them had there own distinct manner and characteristics, many fans still fondly recall the late, great Summerall’s understated minimalist nature – ‘Montana…. Rice….. Touchdown’. But it was Enberg who had a way of grabbing the excitement and pitch of a game few could match. He is of course synonymous with his catchphrase ‘Ohhh, Myyy!’ delivered at points of great drama in the middle of a game, think for example of Earnest Byner’s famous fumble at the goal-line late in the 4th quarter of the 1987 AFC Championship Game. What’s very difficult with a catchphrase is making it sound natural and not a caricature, delivered spontaneously and never forced or planned. Enberg had it down to a tee, but he was also brave enough to let a moment breath when it needed it. The last few minutes of that 1987 Championship Game encapsulates everything that made Enberg such a joy to listen to.
His most famous partner in the booth was Merlin Olsen, the Hall of Fame former LA Rams Defensive lineman. If there’s ever been a more humble and gentlemanly sports announcing pairing I can’t recall it. Together they called some of the greatest and defining moments in the history of the NFL. The Freezer Bowl; The Drive; The Fumble; Super Bowl 23 with the ‘Montana to Taylor’ ending; the 85 Bears Super Bowl; Elway’s Super Bowl triumph over the Packers; my personal favourite the Jets 51-Dophins 45 in 1986 and probably most significant from a British point of view he was the play by play announcer for Super Bowl 17, the first one broadcast live on UK television.
Reflecting on the role of a play by play announcer and his career Enberg, is his self effacing way, mused ‘You’re not the game. You’re there to enhance the experience of those watching or listening to you to enjoy the game all the more. The game has never been about me, it’s been about the privilege of sitting there and talking about the greatest athletes and the greatest games in the world.’
He certainly enhanced the experience of watching all those memorable and defining moments of NFL history. So thank you Dick Enberg for providing a part of the soundtrack to so many of our lives and early love of the NFL. And just to hear it one more time, Oh My.