Steamboat’s golden voice: Lundquist honored with lifetime achievement Emmy
More stories from Uncle Vern
Verne Lundquist has logged 50 years calling the biggest sporting events in the world, broadcasting almost every major event there is to be broadcast. He's been living in Steamboat Springs full time for more than 30 years. He shared his stories about sports and Steamboat with sports editor Joel Reichenberger in a podcast available on the Pilot & Today website and via iTunes and podcast apps. Search "Steamboat Today" or check out this link: https://soundcloud.com/joel-reichenberger/21-pairs-of-shoes-steamboat-sports-and-adventure-vernelundquist
Steamboat Springs — Sportscaster Verne Lundquist considers himself lucky for all the great sports moments he’s been able to broadcast during his career and for the fact that, every time he’s reached down in search of those perfect words for a huge play, he’s found them.
There was the 1986 Masters golf tournament, when a 46-year old Jack Nicklaus sank a putt on No. 17 to all but lock up the tournament.
Lundquist responded with a resounding, “Yes sir!”
He was there 19 years later, when Tiger Woods made magic on the 16th at the Masters, chipping in for one of the game’s most iconic shots. Lundquist waited as the ball oh-so-slowly rolled over the lip of the cup, then bellowed, “In your life, have you ever seen anything like that!”
He called Christian Laettner’s jaw-dropping turn-around jumper to push Duke into the 1992 Final Four ahead of Kentucky.
That got a “Yes!”
And he called the 2013 Iron Bowl, when Auburn cornerback Chris Davis returned a missed Alabama field goal 109 yards as time expired to break a tie and give the Tigers an unforgettable victory over their rivals.
“An answered prayer!” Lundquist shouted, enshrining one of the most unforgettable finishes in college football history.
Lundquist, who’s made his home in Steamboat Springs for more than 30 years, still remembers all those moments, but he said the trick to calling them, one of the keys to his success, is what he didn’t say when those opportunities came.
“I was aware if he sank the putt at 17, he’d have the lead, and it’d be one heck of a story,” he said, recalling that 1986 Masters with Nicklaus. “I remember saying to myself, almost mumbling, ‘Keep it simple, and get out of the way.’
“One of the facets of what we do that is under appreciated is the art of the layout. Just shut up. I’ve been proud of some of the moments I’ve done that.”
After Auburn’s miraculous victory, he was silent for 1 minute, 21 seconds.
His crew didn’t replay Tiger’s rolling chip shot for nearly 7 minutes.
For all he has said and all he hasn’t, Lundquist was awarded Tuesday with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Sports at the 37th annual Sports Emmy Awards.
That’s something that left him with plenty to talk about.
“It’s the culmination,” he said, talking in Steamboat Springs last week. “I don’t think in my craft of sports television you can get any higher acknowledgment than a lifetime achievement award. I look at the list of people who had won it previously, and it was overwhelming.”
Going big down south
The list of those who’ve won the Lifetime Achievement Award is, of course, a who’s-who of sportscasting, including luminaries such as Howard Cosell, Pat Summerall, Al Michaels and Jim McKay.
Lundquist’s path to that elite tier wasn’t exactly straightforward.
He got his start in Austin, Texas, and when he was denied the sports job at a Dallas TV station, he opted instead to broadcast news from San Antonio.
He did eventually get that job, and by 1967, was working the Dallas Cowboys broadcast. He was the voice for America’s Team until 1984, serving eight years as the team’s lead play-by-play announcer and calling its run to the 1977 Super Bowl championship.
That was just the start.
Lundquist worked for ABC, TNT and, last and longest, CBS, during his career, calling everything from the NCAA basketball tournament to the Winter Olympics.
He’s called events big and small since, but his biggest break may have come with a change he initially questioned.
He said he’d long been the second banana in his business, drawing the No. 2 NFL game for CBS or the No. 2 college basketball assignment.
That changed in 2000, when CBS asked him to shift from the NFL to college football, specifically, the SEC.
“I was a little resistant,” he said. “Life in the NFL was nice. There are no Ritz Carltons in Tuscaloosa.”
He got in at the right time, just as the sport was growing, and in the right place, the SEC, which was on the verge of winning seven consecutive national championships.
That’s meant 15 years of calling the biggest game in that conference, which has often meant the biggest game in the nation.
“Once I got into the SEC, I became immersed in it,” he said. “I was doing a national telecast for what had previously been a mostly regional sport. Then, the success of the SEC made it such a prominent part of the weekend landscape on television.”
Lundquist has received plenty of acclaim through the years, including being inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association in 2007.
Still, the Sports Emmy came as a surprise.
“It’s hard to imagine,” he said. “I’ve never won the sportscaster of the year award for the Emmys. I’ve only been nominated twice, so for this to come up, I thought, ‘who made that mistake?’”
Home in Steamboat
One thing he’s never been shy about sharing on the air is his love for Steamboat Springs.
Inspired by seeing Frank Gifford mention his home in Vail, Lundquist frequently works Steamboat into his broadcasts.
“I thought, ‘He’s a bigger guy than I am in this business, so if he can get away with it on Monday Night Football, I can get away with it on Saturday afternoons,’” Lundquist said.
His influence doesn’t stop there. When video of the More Barn or the Steamboat Ski Area gondola welcomes viewers back to a CBS Denver Broncos game on Sunday afternoon, it’s not an accident.
His story of arriving in town isn’t terribly different than that of most others.
He first came for work, in 1971, and has a picture from that trip interviewing Billy Kidd at the base of Steamboat Ski Area. He came back soon after for a ski trip and was hooked. He soon bought a vacation home in town, but didn’t make the move permanently until 1984.
“I got a call from CBS, and they said, ‘We’re going to move you out of college football and into the NFL, and your new partner will be Terry Bradshaw,’” Lundquist said. “That had all kinds of ramifications, and flying back to Denver, I began to think, ‘Wouldn’t it be great.’”
“It” was moving to Steamboat full time. He was still on the Cowboys broadcast, was still working through the week doing nightly sports in Dallas and had just started with CBS.
His wife, Nancy, was already in Steamboat for the weekend, and he sprung the idea on her.
“I came over Rabbit Ears Pass about sunset, and I got taken in by the beauty, as we all do every time it’s clear. When I got to our little A-frame that night, I sprung the idea on Nancy that we ought to move to Steamboat,” he said. “By the time the week was out, we had convinced ourselves we needed to do it.”
The 32 years since have been filled with plenty of worrying about impending weather.
He and Nancy own a condo in Denver, which helps, and CBS lines them up with a place in Atlanta during the SEC season, which also helps.
He still remains glued to the weather forecast when he’s expecting to travel, and he’s never missed an event.
“I’ve come close,” he said. “I walked into a basketball game at University of Indiana 45 minutes before they tipped it off, but that’s as close as I’ve come.”
Play a central role in the football-obsessed SEC, and people speculate on just about everything about you.
Lundquist reads stories about himself, even the critical ones, but has learned to avoid anything without a byline, including comments at the end of those stories.
“I love the, ‘I don’t read that stuff,’” he said. “Well, I read that stuff, except for the commenters.”
He’ll be 76 years old when football kicks off again, and he’s well aware people wonder about his retirement.
It’s been speculated about in articles in SEC country, and there’s been plenty of wondering about his replacement, potentially Brad Nessler, who was hired by CBS away from ESPN this spring.
“I just signed a contract, so I’m back for next year,” Lundquist said. “After that, we’ll see.
“I know if they choose the guy they’re speculating about, it’ll be great.”
When he does retire, it’ll mean a lot of things, he said, very much including more time in Steamboat Springs.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs School District plans to bring middle school students back to school full time and in person in two weeks on March 22.