Last week, we lost the best television sports broadcaster ever in Jim McKay. At age 86, McKay, the longtime host of the Olympics and Wide World of Sports, passed away. It got us thinking about the most notable and influential sports television broadcasters to ever look into a camera and talk into a microphone. They weren't known for one sport, but for their ability to cover any and all sports.
But if they were there, you knew one thing for sure: This was the big event of the moment.
Here is our list of the most notable TV sports broadcasters of all time.
1. Jim McKay
The gold standard. The Edward R. Murrow of sports broadcasting. His prolific work on ABC's Wide World of Sports alone sets him above all others because he wasn't calling just baseball or football. He was calling every sport known to man and a few man didn't know, such as barrel jumping or some such thing. Of course, he had no problem with the big event either. After all, does it get any bigger than hosting the Olympics? In fact, we would argue McKay helped make the Olympics what the Games are today, and his work covering the tragedy at the Munich Olympics in 1972 was legendary. Throw in his smooth, classy and comfortable work on golf and horse racing and you have the master.
2. Howard Cosell
Some of you out there will absolutely hate Cosell being this high on the list, or even on the list at all. But in the 1970s, if it was a big event, Cosell was there. Let's face it, he WAS Monday Night Football. He WAS the World Series. He WAS boxing on TV, especially because of his playful interaction with Muhammad Ali that not only helped make Ali famous, but helped advance Ali's social causes. You watched often not to see the game, but to listen to Cosell. You loved him or hated him, but you were never ambivalent. When you think about it, is there a better compliment than that?
3. Bob Costas
When it's all said and done, Costas likely will be at the top of this list. He has hosted just about every major sporting event from the Olympics to the Super Bowl to the World Series to the NBA Finals. He mixes humor with intelligence and he manages to pull off the difficult task of being a thinking man's broadcaster while relating to the common man. In other words, he appeals to those who read the New York Times and the New York Post. Best of all, he never makes himself bigger than the event he is covering. And he is the best interviewer in sports.
4. Al Michaels
Simply put, the absolute best play-by-play man there has ever been. Timing? Perfect. Emotion? Always just right. Mistakes? Rare, if ever. He's so good that it seems as if he is calling a game that he has already seen and he knows exactly what is going to happen. His call of the 1980 U.S.-USSR hockey game might be the single-best performance ever by a play-by-play announcer. Sure, we all know his signature line of "Do you believe in miracles?'' but go back and listen to that entire broadcast and just how good Michaels was. That was 28 years ago and he has only gotten better since.
5. Curt Gowdy
Maybe there wouldn't have been a Dick Enberg or an Al Michaels if it hadn't been for Curt Gowdy, whose work in the late 1960s and 1970s earned him the well-deserved tag of "the best announcer in the business.'' He had another nickname — "Broadcast of Everything'' — because of his ability to call any sport. He did it all, but saved his best for the World Series and Super Bowl. During the 1970s, Gowdy's football work on NBC — calling classic showdowns involving the Raiders, Dolphins and Steelers — helped turn football into America's favorite sport on television.
6. Dick Enberg
For a good chunk of the 1980s, Enberg seemingly called every sporting event on TV — the baseball game of the week to the top football game each Sunday to the best college basketball games to Wimbledon to the Olympics. While he called a game, he made it sound as if there was no place he would rather be than watching this game with you. Nearly 30 years later, Enberg still can be found at many major events and he hasn't lost a step.
7. Brent Musburger
Wait, don't roll your eyes. Yes, we know Musburger has become the butt of jokes by fans and critics. But don't underestimate his work. "You are looking live at …'' has been a signature call for, don't look now, more than 30 years. And you know what? He's still around, calling ABC's top college football and basketball games, hosting big horse races, as well as major bowl games. With Musburger as host, CBS's NFL Today became the blueprint for the modern-day NFL pregame show. And, say what you will about his style, you cannot deny that Musburger sounds truly excited about whatever he is calling.
8. Chris Schenkel
A pioneer in broadcasting. He might have been the original sports "host.'' For parts of five decades, Schenkel — with his low-key, baritone, smooth style — called it all, but is best known for his work on college football, the NBA and the pro bowlers tour. He was the voice of college football before Keith Jackson. He was the voice of the NBA before Marv Albert. And you can't even think of bowling on television without thinking of Schenkel.
9. Keith Jackson
The voice of college football. If Jackson was calling the game, you knew it was the game in the country on that particular Saturday. But often forgotten is Jackson was the original play-by-play announcer on Monday Night Football and called events such as the World Series, the Indy 500, the NBA Finals, the Olympics and even a few Evel Knievel jumps. His college football work was so outstanding that it overshadowed just how versatile he was.
10. Pat Summerall
Summerall isn't known for covering the variety of events like the others on this list. He is best known for two things: the NFL and the U.S. Open tennis tournament. He called more Super Bowls (16) than any other broadcaster. He was the voice of the NFL at a time when the NFL on TV became the phenomenon that it is today. Plus, he was a former NFL player, which leads us to this statement: Summerall is, by far, the best athlete-turned-broadcaster in the history of sports or broadcasting. That's why he's on this list.