Friday, December 22, 2017

Dick Enberg: 1935-2017

The fickle fingers of fate and aging silenced Dick Enberg on Thursday, three weeks before his 83rd birthday.

According to San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Bryce Miller, who broke the news on Twitter at 9:32 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, the cause was believed to be a heart attack.

Enberg, who former broadcast partner Dan Dierdorf described as "a monument to sports broadcasting," handled play-by-play duties for eight Super Bowls: at the time he retired, only Pat Summerall had done more (Al Michaels matched Enberg in 2012). He spent nine seasons in the 1980s as the television voice of the Rose Bowl and anchored NBC's Wimbledon coverage for nearly a quarter-century before working all four majors for ESPN and CBS in the new millennium.

Enberg also made his mark on the hardwood, calling half a dozen Final Fours on NBC from 1976-81 after serving as the voice of UCLA basketball for most of a decade prior. For the last four of those tournaments, he was the traffic cop in a three-man booth with Billy Packer and Al McGuire; in 2016, Awful Announcing named that trio the top NCAA Tournament announce team of all-time.

Two decades later, Enberg was reunited with March Madness at CBS: he called 11 straight regionals, the last six with Jay Bilas.

A Mount Clemens, Michigan, native, Enberg spent his entire career in sports, but started out on a different path. He graduated from Central Michigan University in 1957 before matriculating at Indiana University, leaving in 1965 with a doctorate in health sciences (while also voicing the first radio broadcast of the Little 500 bicycle race — think Breaking Away).

From 1961-65, he was an assistant professor and baseball coach at San Fernando Valley State College, which is now Cal State Northridge. In the mid-1960s, he jumped to radio for an 12-year tenure with the Los Angeles Raiders and a 10-year stint with the Los Angeles Angels. KMPC was the flagship station for both teams and used Enberg, Dave Niehaus and Don Drysdale on both of them.

Enberg's network television NFL debut would come on October 23, 1977; with the Rams playing on Monday Night Football, NBC had a seven-game slate that day and paired Enberg with Merlin Olsen for a Broncos-Bengals game in Cincinnati. He made another cameo on December 18, again with Olsen as the Patriots faced the Colts in Baltimore: the Rams had played in Washington the day before.

Curt Gowdy remained NBC's lead announcer in 1978, handling the Super Bowl and AFC Championship Game; however, Enberg and Olsen worked the Thanksgiving game in Detroit and games in the first two playoff weekends.

With Gowdy on CBS in 1979, Enberg slid into the lead chair: he and Olsen worked together 157 times through 1988, at which point only Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell had done more games together. Bill Walsh, Bob Trumpy, Phil Simms and Paul Maguire all spent time in the lead analyst chair over Enberg's last dozen years at NBC.

NBC lost the AFC's television rights to CBS in 1999; after a year away from the NFL, Enberg made the same leap in 2000. While he was never the lead man there, playing second fiddle to Greg Gumbel and Jim Nantz, he spent six further years in the #2 spot, calling a divisional round game every January from 2001-06.

Enberg retired from the NFL with 491 play-by-play appearances, a figure that trailed four men (Dick Stockton, Don Criqui, Charlie Jones and Pat Summerall); Al Michaels has since passed them all.

At NBC, Enberg also drew a handful of Olympic assignments on basketball, gymnastics, and as a studio host; he covered several dozen NBA games as well, including the All-Star Game from 1992-94. He also handled play-by-play duties for close to 50 MLB games, voicing the American League Championship Series in 1979 and the National League set two years later.

From 1978 to 2000, Enberg manned NBC's Centre Court broadcast booth at Wimbledon and the French Open, working alongside Bud Collins (and later John McEnroe and Mary Carillo). While at CBS, he spent 12 years on the US Open, joining ESPN for the other three majors from 2004-11.

In 2010, Enberg made a return to baseball, stepping into the broadcast booth alongside Mark Grant for about three-fourths of the season. That arrangement lasted through 2016.

The media center at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion is named in Enberg's honor; with Curt Gowdy, he is one of two men to win the broadcasting honors of the football, basketball and baseball halls of fame.

Enberg was a nine-time pick for National Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, which inducted him into its hall of fame in 1996. He won 13 Sports Emmys, including the inaugural award for outstanding play-by-play in 1993, and earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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