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Verne Lundquist Has Been Calling The Shots For More Than 50 Years

Verne Lundquist
Verne Lundquist during a live shot for WFAA-TV in Texas Stadium on August 1982.

When Cowboys tight end Jackie Smith famously dropped a third-quarter touchdown pass during Super Bowl XIII in 1979, what sports anchor Verne Lundquist yelled out solidified the moment in sports history.

"Bless his heart! He's got to be the sickest man in America!"

It was one of many memorable calls Lundquist made through a half-century career that ended with retirement last year.

Lundquist got his first big break in Dallas, as sports anchor for WFAA-Channel 8 and as the radio voice of the Cowboys.

He'd go on to serve for 16 years as the play-by-play announcer for SEC on CBS. He's called the Masters and NCAA tournaments, the 1994 Winter Olympics battle between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan and an international horse show in Aachen, Germany.  He also donned a psychedelic wardrobe heavy on leisure suit jackets and coast-to-coast collars at the host of "Bowling for Dollars."

It's all detailed in his new memoir, "Play by Play." For this week's Friday Conversation, Lundquist looks back on more than 50 years calling the shots.

Interview Highlights

On the impact his father, a pastor, had on his broadcasting career

"My dad would deliver every Friday church notes to KRKO in Everett, Washington. They would read these notes [on the air] on Friday. I went with him into the studios, and I was mesmerized by what was going on. Then, we moved to Austin. In the eighth grade, my speech teacher asked me if I'd like to go to the radio house at the University of Texas and play the part of a 10-year-old boy in a half-hour drama that they'd use as a teaching tool. No television. Just radio, and I was hooked." 

On calling Jackie Smith's Super Bowl blunder

"We were in Fort Lauderdale at a hotel on the Intercoastal Canal. Jackie Smith had joined the team early in the season, and he and his wife had agreed to go live with me the Wednesday night before the game ... I asked him, 'What would be the perfect ending for you?'

"He said, 'That's easy. To make a meaningful touchdown catch in the Super Bowl.'

"When he dropped the ball, that's what flashed in my mind ... I just felt empathy for him at the agony he had to have been going through."

On how, at a crucial moment, he makes 'the call'

"It has to be improvisational ... When you get into this craft, I think you hope to be present when something memorable takes place in front of you. Basketball, football, golf, lacrosse, volleyball, figure skating. 

"You hope something happens, but for yourself, you hope that you're up to the moment. That you can verbally enhance the experience of the listener or the viewer. I've been blessed because I've had more than my share of moments, and I think I can end my career without screwing it up."

Lundquist's memoir "Play by Play" comes out Oct. 16. He'll be signing books at the Lincoln Park Barnes & Noble on Oct. 18. These interview highlights have been lightly edited for clarity.

Miguel Perez is an assistant producer at KERA. He produces local content for Morning Edition and KERA News. He also produces The Friday Conversation, a weekly interview series with North Texas newsmakers.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.