THE BEST SELLERS’ LIST- His Calling: Voices of my sporting lifetime, ranking the best play-by-play guys of all time

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By Thomas Sellers Jr.

The legendary Marv Albert recently announced he will be retiring once the 2021 NBA Playoffs are done. 

I am not the only person who fits into this category, Albert’s voice is the soundtrack of my professional basketball experience growing up. For nearly 60 years, Albert has been behind the microphone in Madison Square Garden and some of the biggest NBA games since 1990.  He will retire from sportscasting after the 2021 postseason from Turner Sports.  We also associate him with being the voice for NBC Sports in 1990, where he worked from 1977 to 1997 and from 2000 to 2002. 

Albert is proof that sportscasters are human. His private life became public causing him to be taken away from the broadcasting booth and the NBA Finals. But his gift could not be denied. 

He worked his way back into the good gracious of the NBA and America to call games again. I’m just glad he got a chance to add to his library of great calls and describing moments that will live in our hearts forever. 

Albert belongs on my list of greatest play-by-play guys ever. Below I will rank the top voices behind the microphone since 1986. The past 35 years has a lot of contenders including these honorable mentions: Mike Tirico,Pat Summerall, Kevin Harlan, Brent Musburger, Mike Breen, Dick Enberg, Curt Gowdy, Mike Emrick, Gus Johnson, Dick Stockton, Jon Miller, Harry Kalas, Brad Nessler, Kenny Albert, Frank Gifford, Chick Hearn and Bob Uecker. 

10. Bob Costas

Primary Sport: Major League Baseball 

Best Call: “Seventeen seconds from Game 7 or championship No. 6. Jordan. Open. Chicago with the lead.” 

Robert Quinlan Costas is a legend in the industry because he is the voice of a network (NBA). He can call any sport with a vast knowledge and smoothness. He is now home with his beloved baseball. But from the Olympics to the NBA, Costas is solid gold behind the microphone. 

After 29 years at NBC, Costas is now part of the MLB Network. He has received 28 Emmy awards as a sportscaster and host of 11Olympic Games (1992-2016). 

9. Jim Nantz

Primary Sport: NFL Football

Best Call: “There it is… a win for the ages.” 

Hello friends, it’s time to write about Jim Nantz. James William “Jim” Nantz III is hard to tie to just one sport. Since the 1980s, his voice and CBS are synonymous. Nantz is the lead play-by-play guy at the network for the NFL, NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball and the PGA Tour. 

From March to the first week in April, Jim Nantz echoes through my home. He goes from the intense NCAA Tournament to the laid back Masters Tournament. 

I look forward to his catchphrase to summarize one team’s journey to the college basketball title and then him call the epic finish on Sunday at Augusta. 

8. Vin Scully

Primary Sport: Baseball

Best Call: “A little roller up along first. BEHIND THE BAG. It gets through Buckner. Here comes Knight and the Mets win it.” 

He called Hank Aaron’s 715th home run and captured the historic importance of the moment with his elegant voice and words. He is the master of simplicity. But the great Vincent Edward Scully knew how to pick up the energy on a call. He is best known for nearly 70 seasons of calling Los Angeles Dodgers games. His run with the Dodgers is the longest tenure of any broadcaster with a single team in professional sports history. Thank God the Dodgers loan Scully’s signature voice to the Fall Classic in October for so many years. He did venture out from baseball as well with some football and golf. But Scully will be associated with Kirk Gibson, Joe Carter and other great baseball moments of the past 35 years. He was a library of knowledge on a call, painted a perfect picture and most importantly, Mr. Scully knew when to be quiet to allow the moment to capture our hearts. 

7. Sean McDonough

Primary Sport: College Football

Best Call: “Stoerner lost the football. Oh my goodness. He stumbled and fumbled. And Billy Ratliff recovered.” 

One of the most underrated play-by-play guys in history, Sean McDonough doesn’t have a commanding presence. But once that voice hits the airwaves, you’re all ears. Sean McDonough is currently employed by ESPN and WEEI Red Sox Radio Network. But just go back 20 years to his work at CBS. The man who looks like your accountant is a master of capturing the moment. He knows how to match the crowd’s energy and he will say what you’re thinking at home during a call. I love his work with college basketball and the NFL. My No. 1 environment for Mr. McDonough is on a fall Saturday in the Southeastern Conference. 

6. Marv Albert

Primary Sport: NBA

Best Call: “Jordan. Woo, what a spectacular move by Michael Jordan.” 

Yes! And he counts as one of the best to ever do it. Marvin Philip Aufrichtig is better known as Marv Albert. Children from my era and even now, can be heard at a playground shouting, “Yes and it counts.” It was the And One call of the 1990s. 

Marv Albert has left his mark on the sporting world and created a culture of signature phrases and words for basketball. His voices was used in movies, video games and he wasn’t afraid to parody himself. 

From his work with the New York Knicks (the iconic Willis Reed call) to helping the NBA on NBC become a phenomenon, Albert’s voice will live on long after his retirement. 

5. Chris Fowler

Primary Sport: College Football

Best Call: “Watson. Touchdown! Hunter Renfrow, little man makes another enormous play. One second remaining.” 

I grew up with Christopher Brady Fowler with College GameDay. I thought he was just a studio host but I’ve learned in the past 15 years he is a master of calling NCAA Football in primetime. In recent years Fowler has been the voice of the National Championship game. Fowler hosted College GameDay from 1990 to 2014. Then he stepped away from his anchor duties to replace Brent Musburger as lead play-by-play for college football. Fowler and analyst Kirk Herbstreit are the perfect tag team on Saturday night. 

4. Jack Buck

Primary Sport: Major League Baseball 

Best Call: “Into deep left center, Mitchell. And we’ll see you tomorrow night.” 

The greatest World Series ever took place in 1991. John Francis “Jack” Buck was the narrator that epic showdown between the Atlanta Braves and eventual champions Minnesota Twins. 

Buck is best known for his work announcing Major League Baseball games of the St. Louis Cardinals. His words to restart sports in 2001 after the 9/11 tragedy are worth a view on YouTube when you get a chance. 

Buck is in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame because he was the bridge between old school baseball and the modern era. He has famous calls with “Big Mac” and of course Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series home run. I found myself saying this a lot after a Buck call, “I don’t believe what I just saw.” 

3. Al Michaels

Primary Sport: NFL

Best Call: “Lays it up for Freeman. And it’s incomplete. Or did he catch… he made the catch at the 15? What are they going to rule it? He caught it? Touchdown! He did what?” 

The Miracle on Ice was a little bit before my time. But the library of Alan Richard Michaels is full of wonderful signature calls. Al Michaels alongside Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf were the absolute best combination for Monday Night Football ever. 

Those three men worked together like a symphony, well-oiled machine and the 1973 Knicks. Michaels was the point guard of that team. Then later in his decorated career, Michaels revitalized the career of John Madden on NFL calls. Michaels manages to sound professional, well-educated and like a fan all at the same time. 

2. Keith Jackson

Primary Sport: College Football

Best Call: “One man. Goodbye… Hello Heisman.” 

“Whoa Nellie,” Keith Max Jackson was the total package as a play-by-play guy. He was a sports commentator, journalist, author and radio personality. He called everything from the World Series to the BCS Championship.  Those affiliated with ABC Sports form 1966 to 2006 know how important Mr. Jackson was to the industry. His distinct Southern voice was born in Roopville, Ga. He took old phrases and metaphors with him around the world to give us amazing calls for 40 years. 

Keith Jackson’s calls are like your grandfather telling you a story and his voice has a way of hugging your soul. He can make your team losing bearable and when your squad triumphs, his words make it a part of American history. 

1. Verne Lundquist

Primary Sport: College Football 

Best Call: “Well, here it comes. Oh my goodness… Oh wow! In your life have you seen anything like that?” “Here’s the pass to Laettner. Puts it up. Yes!” 

Merton Laverne “Verne” Lundquist Jr. was in Happy Gilmore. That energy he delivered his lines to make that fictional character come to life was typical. The iconic Lundquist broadcasted two of the most amazing plays in my lifetime for CBS. God has a way of putting the right person in the right place to capture history appropriately. Mr. Lundquist is the man you want on those types of calls. 

THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to thomas@magicvalleypublishing.com.