This morning news broke of the sad passing of one of the great NFL announcers, Dick Enberg. By all accounts he was one of the most generous, modest and gracious men in an industry of egos. Dick was 82 years old and had only just hung up his microphone in 2016 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 UK fans will remember most fondly.
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. Summerall’s understated and minimalist delivery – ‘Montana…. Rice….. Touchdown’. Al Michaels still today the grandest and smoothest of voices in the booth. But Dick Enberg’s speciality was that he was able to meet the crescendo of some of the most iconic moments in NFL history with commentary that only enhanced the excitement and magnitude of the play.
He was of course synonymous with his catchphrase ‘Ohhh, Myyy!’ delivered at points of great drama in the course 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. It’s nigh on impossible to use a catchphrase like that whilst making it sound natural, delivered spontaneously and never forced or planned. Enberg could do it better than anyone, he had it down to a tee. But as a hallmark of only the greatest commentators, 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 one. 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; the Jets 51 Dolphins 45 shootout 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 mused, in his self effacing way, ‘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 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…’