If you’re any kind of sports fan, you’ll have to admit you’re at least a teensy bit jealous of La Jolla resident Dick Enberg. And why not? You sit in your living room, watching the game, barking comments into space that will be heard by 4 people. Even if you’ve got 30 people watching, no more than 4 will hear you. It doesn’t mean your insights or opinions aren’t worth it. It just means that you’re no Dick Enberg.
Enberg commands an audience of millions. When the Chargers are marching down the field, he’s the one who’ll fill you in on the story behind the picture. He’s the one who’ll tell you why the linebacker is dedicating this victory to his mother, or how the quarterback has overcome being cut from his high school team, or why this Chargers team evokes stirring memories of those air-bound days of Dan Fouts and Kellen Winslow, John Hadl, and Lance Alworth.
From his perch in the broadcast booth, Enberg’s got the best seat in the house, an intimate view from inside the stadium, surrounded by a nice assortment of TV monitors. Then he does the same thing you do: talk about the game. He’s been brought to that CBS broadcast booth by a limousine. When he’s hungry, someone will fetch his meal. He gets paid lots of money for this too. It’s a job he’s had for decades, broadcasting everything from the Super Bowl to NCAA basketball to the World Series, Wimbledon, and more. For a quarter century, Enberg worked for NBC. Since 2000, he’s been with CBS. Says Pat Haden, the former USC and Los Angeles Rams quarterback who worked with Enberg for many years, “He loves those magical moments that sports bring to people. Watching people defy the gods is so remarkable, and Dick communicates that with great enthusiasm.”
When sports-loving children say they want to be in television, it’s Dick Enberg’s job they want. When they grow up and learn about the other jobs that make up the world of television and sports, it’s Dick Enberg’s job they want. When disgruntled adults think they should have pursued another career, it’s Dick Enberg’s job they want. No one ever dreams of becoming an assistant director or a graphics operator or any of the dozens of positions behind the scenes that ensure a seamless delivery of Enberg’s words. They dream of Dick Enberg.
Why do they want that job? In many ways, announcers like Enberg are the bards of our time, weaving tales that we can follow and appreciate. It’s a rare posting. As a culture, we have arrived at a point where so many story lines are complicated at best, nasty at worst. Global politics? The economy? Health care? Laden with nuance, ambiguity, statistics, and confusing protagonists. But sports offers refuge. Best of all, sports remains the only plot line where surprise is a good thing. “They’re our messengers,” HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg says of people like Enberg. “They’re the ones that send the tingle up your spine during a dramatic game. It strikes an emotional chord with you, the viewer. And it’s a good emotion.”
Now might come the point in the story where the reader is informed that behind the glamour there’s another side, that Enberg’s days and nights have stacked themselves one on top of the other, his life a ceaseless cacophony of cantankerous producers, lackluster hot dogs, and dreary airplane rides. Surely, at the age of 68, after 40-plus years schlepping to stadiums and arenas during weekends, Enberg is weary, a crusty barnacle who’s forgotten more about sports than most people remember and is tired of enthusing about a bunch of emotionally challenged man-children barely able to add the digits in their zillion-dollar contracts.
Indeed, these are times that try sports-lovers’ souls. We’re a long half-century away from the days when Chief Justice Earl Warren remarked that while the rest of the newspaper told of what man couldn’t do, the sports pages were where you went to read about man’s accomplishments. Sports has become so integrated into our society that in many ways, it’s lost its mark of distinction. Financial fiascoes, sexual scandals, corruption and commercialism — the plot lines that aren’t so easy to follow — commingle with batting averages and free-throw percentages. Surely you’d guess the cumulative weight of all of this would harden Dick Enberg’s heart.
The guess would be wrong.
Dick Enberg is still a lover. He’s every bit as awestruck by the struggles and triumphs of athletes as he was when he was a boy on his family farm 40 miles north of Detroit. Back then, he’d play an entire baseball game by himself on a made-up field, announcing every at-bat in hopes of emulating the feats of his hero, San Diegan Ted Williams. Frequently hitchhiking to Detroit to watch the Tigers play, on those days when Williams’s Red Sox came to town, Enberg would arrive hours early to watch Teddy Ballgame take batting practice. “It was like watching Michelangelo,” says Enberg. Back home, he’d taught himself to bat left-handed in hopes of mimicking his hero’s swing. Says Enberg, “Here I am, an old man, and to this day, I still have this fantasy that it’s the bottom of the ninth, down three with the bases loaded, and I hit a home run.”
As Enberg speaks, he’s sitting at a table at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. Like the sports that dominated his childhood — baseball, basketball, football — tennis is another athletic endeavor he’d like to be better at. The truth, Enberg freely admits, is that he never got very good at any sport he played. In high school, at 5´ 11˝, 145 pounds, he was a center in basketball, a quarterback in football, a pitcher in baseball. Attaining these positions wasn’t too hard since there were 33 boys and girls in his high school graduating class. As a freshman at Central Michigan University — hardly an athletic powerhouse in any era — Enberg rapidly saw that any dreams of an athletic career were frivolous. “Golly, I didn’t even earn a college letter,” says Enberg. Regarding his tennis travails, Enberg’s wife Barbara notes that he’s been known to be a sore loser, constantly aggravated at his perennial shortcomings.
All is different with a microphone in his hand. Fun as the job may seem, working a broadcast booth is no easy task. Enberg commands a broadcast booth like an orchestra conductor. During a football game, Enberg must keep track of 22 players at a time, telling viewers who made the tackle, which obscure lineman was called for the penalty, who’s going out of the game, who’s coming in. He’s also constantly teeing up questions so that his ex-jock analyst sounds smart. Concurrently, there’s a producer talking in Enberg’s ear about the need to read promotional copy for upcoming shows that have nothing to do with the game. It also helps to have a strong bladder and spend three hours taking 30 seconds at a time to eat. A goodly proportion of the vocational pleasure TV crews get derives from tales of announcers who refract these pressures by blowing their stack, most frequently at lower-ranked interns and production assistants. Producers who’ve worked with Enberg swear he’s never lost his cool.
On this La Jolla morning, Enberg is enjoying his off-season. Two nights previously, he was in New York for the Emmys. He didn’t win one this year, but he figures his tally of 13 is plenty. He’s just finished an eight-month stretch working on college basketball and pro football, interspersed with golf and tennis events. Greeting a guest, he apologizes for the fact that the new 10,000-square-foot house he and Barbara are building isn’t quite ready for entertaining. Perhaps a little later, though, a quick trip and tour of the house and some of his sports memorabilia might be in order after all.
With all profile subjects, there is always an elephant in the room, a grand question lurking under the surface of author and object. Does the actor have any intellectual substance? How come the athlete never won the Big One? Is the successful entrepreneur a tyrant? The scientist a fake? The artist a one-shot wonder? With Dick Enberg, the question is: How the hell did you get that job so many people want? Here he is, smiling, wearing a warm-up suit on a sunny day in one of the most elegant clubs in the world. He tells sports stories — both of his life and those of famous athletes and broadcasters — with candor, humor, friendliness, and the most genuine mix possible of self-deprecation and respect. How does a nice, simple guy like this get the gig so many sports fans dream of? “When you consider all people who climb over each other to get ahead in TV, and all the rudeness of executives and producers, it’s an incredible testimony to Dick’s character that he’s done it his way,” says Ross Schneiderman, a producer who’s worked with him for 20 years, first at NBC and for the past three years at CBS.
The answer is that Enberg did it with love, diligence, and kind words for just about anyone he’s ever met. Let the other announcers — the shock-jock broadcasters like Jim Rome, whom Enberg deplores — let them rip the losers for choking. Dick Enberg prefers getting choked up.
Bringing out his emotional side was a notable triumph. His father, Arnie Enberg, was Finnish. Like most Scandinavians, Arnie was reticent, frugal with compliments. Dick was the oldest of three, all of whom stayed with Arnie on their Michigan farm when Arnie and Dick’s mother, Belle, divorced when Dick was 14. Arnie’s remoteness vexed young Dick. “I was doing all I could to be a good student, a good athlete,” says Enberg, “and he hardly ever said anything.” One night after a high school basketball game, Dick came home pleased with himself for scoring a career-high 23 points. Arnie tersely noted that the man Dick was guarding scored 25. An upset Dick began crying, at which point Arnie shoved him through a doorway and declared, “The day you think you’re so good and can’t improve, then you can only go one way.”
But no matter how cold Arnie could be, Enberg’s capacity for empathy makes him see the world through his father’s eyes. “He was a hard-working farmer, a man who never made more than $8000 a year,” says Enberg. How could Dick dare expect Arnie to understand his love of games?
Only a chance encounter with an official from Central Michigan University, backed with a whopping $100 scholarship, gave Dick the chance to attend college. Arnie would have been just as happy to see Dick stay on the farm. Working his way through college, Enberg’s love of sports continued. A PE major, his goal was to become a coach. Earning a dollar an hour as a janitor at the campus radio station WCEN, Enberg was offered a job at the same rate as the weekend DJ. His qualifications: high marks in a speech class that had helped him hone his debating skills. Others such as Richard Nixon would use debate as a launching pad for conquest. Not Enberg. As he recalls, “The hot topic that year was free trade. But it wasn’t the topic that mattered. I was good on the team, but I wasn’t the star debater. But the lessons learned were so invaluable and still are. No matter how hard someone argues and how much they think they’re right, there’s another side of the issue. And you’ve got to take time to appreciate that.”
So inept with mechanical objects that he once locked himself in a bathroom, Enberg somehow learned how to spin records and hook up his amplifier in the bleachers of basketball arenas, football stadiums, and baseball parks. Calling a high school football game, he noticed the only yard lines marked were the 50, the two 20s, and the end zones. Another time a game was called off when a player broke his leg and his team had no replacements. As Enberg recalls, “As long as you pronounced the names correctly and got the final score correctly, then you did a good job.”
Enberg was a workhorse. Many days he’d be on-air 12 straight hours, earning enough to occasionally treat himself to a five-dollar steak dinner. But the rewards paled next to the work itself. “It was love at first sight,” he says. “I tasted the blood.”
But as much as Enberg loved everything that accompanied broadcasting — covering the games in his small community, keeping up to date on sports teams throughout Michigan and America — he envisioned a more pragmatic career path. Upon graduation from Central Michigan in 1957, Enberg headed to Indiana University to pursue a doctorate in education.
Little did Enberg know that at this same time revolutions in communications and travel were transforming the landscape of sports. As American affluence accelerated through the ’50s, television made the country smaller and larger all at once. And sports grew right along with TV. Had Enberg come along ten years earlier, he would have found himself in a sports media world dominated by regionalized radio broadcasts of baseball games and college football. Ten years later, and the infrastructure of sports broadcasting was well-established. But in the late ’50s, the link between Madison Avenue, television, sports, and rapid air travel was a bubbling brew primed to boil over.
Arriving at Indiana University in the fall of ’57, Enberg became the voice of the school’s sports network. “Suddenly I’m in a whole other league,” he says. “It’s the Big Ten. I’m flying on DC-3s with the team, we’re going to places like Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Columbus, Ohio. And that’s where you finally got to feel, ‘Hey, I might be pretty good at this.’ ”
This was the time when Enberg created the personal comment that has become his standard. “I’m thinking I’m kind of a big shot,” he says, “you’re in the big pen, and the whole state can hear me. I need a punctuation mark.” The pet saying was a staple of many broadcasting legends. Down in St. Louis, Harry Caray, the voice of the Cardinals, was known for “Holy cow.” Red Barber of the Brooklyn Dodgers referred to “the catbird seat.” Mel Allen of the Yankees favored “Well, how about that.”
So it was that Enberg trotted out the phrase “Oh, my.” As he recalls, “In Michigan it’s a common Midwestern expression. People say, ‘Oh, my,’ all the time. My mother said it a lot, and when you go back there, you’ll hear people say, ‘Oh, my, wasn’t that a good movie,’ or ‘Oh, my, did you hear what somebody said about so-and-so.’ So I figured ‘Oh, my’ could work for me because it’s usable in a bad play, a good play, a surprising play, an exciting play.”
Hours after unveiling the phrase on-air during a football game, Enberg headed back to his dorm for dinner. “Hey, Enberg,” several students called out, “oh, my.” With that friendly bit of recognition, Enberg figured he’d stumbled on a winner. “The funny thing is that I never use the phrase socially,” he says. “It’s just something I let spontaneously come out when I’m doing a broadcast.” Only later would Enberg find out that everyone from a baseball-broadcasting colleague to a University of Florida announcer also employed the phrase. “There’s nothing new,” says Enberg.
During this time, Enberg began to see that maybe coaching wasn’t the most practical career choice. Broadcasting wasn’t even in the picture. He began taking more health-education courses. Keenly adept at math, Enberg authored a 450-page dissertation on the analysis and synthesis of research and professional thought on the prevention of athletic injuries (oh, my). In the spring of ’61, on the verge of earning his doctorate, Enberg figured he was a lock to earn a position at Indiana. Even now, at 68, his eyes light up at the notion of teaching on a college campus. And he doesn’t mean a sunshine-laced venue like UC San Diego or San Diego State. To Enberg, college is all about the bell ringing for the big game, students in sweaters, young minds ambling through the quad, hunkering down into their books on afternoons that turn into evenings increasingly earlier with each passing autumn day.
Back to 1961. Dean Daniels, head of Indiana University’s school of education, invites young Dick in for a meeting. Though Enberg had feelers out to places like South Carolina and his alma mater, Central Michigan, his heart was in Indiana. Aware of all this, Daniels kindly offered Enberg an observation: You look like a shaved prostitute. End of conversation. “Here I was, thinking I was going to get a job,” says Enberg, “and he was basically telling me I looked too young. It was like he hit me over the head with a two by four.”
Exploring schools all over the country, Enberg arranged a meeting with Obiatt Delmar, head of education at San Fernando Valley State, a young college in L.A.’s Northridge community. Enberg by then figured he’d be spending his life in the classroom. But Delmar also had another demand. The school needed an assistant baseball coach. Would Enberg mind taking on that post? “How perfect is that?” asks Enberg.
In the fall of 1962, with his wife Jeri, Enberg moved to L.A. The job paid $4200. Knowing he’d need to supplement his income, Enberg explored broadcasting. Here’s where the growth of sports worked in his favor. It had been barely five years since baseball’s Dodgers had relocated to L.A. The basketball Lakers had migrated from Minneapolis only a year previously. The baseball Angels were a newly minted expansion team. Knocking on the doors of every radio and TV station in L.A., Enberg couldn’t even get past the program director’s secretaries. Then he found a new use for his graduate degree. “Dr. Enberg is calling,” he’d tell the gatekeepers. The tactic worked. Soon Enberg was filling in intermittently on radio stations all over Southern California. In due time, he so impressed one station that he was offered a full-time job for $9000 a year. It was a staggering offer for a man whose idea of splurging in those days was to spend 95 cents eating a hamburger, salad, and beer at the Trails Inn in Chatsworth.
“I couldn’t just give up my career in education,” says Enberg. “All these people had helped me get this far, and now I’m teaching, I can’t.”
Instead he balanced two careers, teaching by day, and on weekend nights broadcasting a sports round-up show. Throughout 1963 and ’64, Enberg became a ubiquitous figure on L.A.’s blossoming airwaves. The major sports were easy, but there were even more challenging assignments. “TV station Channel 11 called and wanted somebody for a water-polo match,” says Enberg. “My name was suggested, and of course I said yes. Then I had to learn about water polo. There I was, scampering to the library, talking to the water polo coach.”
During those days it seemed like Enberg was living 32-hour days. He’d teach, coach, read, watch, cover. When broadcasting legends like Detroit Tigers voice Ernie Harwell came to town, Enberg cultivated them, learning various tricks of the trade. The local talent was pretty good, too, with stars such as Vin Scully of the Dodgers, the Lakers’ Chick Hearn, and Bob Kelly of the Rams making L.A. one of the finest sports-broadcasting markets in the country.
By 1965, it was clear to Enberg that his back-up career was the love of his life. He’d denied it for so long, but as the opportunities surfaced, he began seeing that his mark would be made less as a college professor and more as a broadcaster. It all came to a head that year when TV station KTLA offered Enberg $18,000 to become a staff sports announcer. Meeting with the president of his college, Enberg was racked with guilt. “I feel like Benedict Arnold,” he says. “I’m about to get tenure. So they make an incredible offer. They offer me a year’s leave of absence. If it doesn’t work out, I can return.”
They’re still waiting.
Chomping for a chance to prove himself as a play-by-play announcer, Enberg was dejected when his first gig was handed to him. The sport was boxing. “This was in the wake of a big controversial fight between Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali,” says Enberg. “Everyone was saying that boxing was fixed. So here I am, thinking I’m about to work on a sport nobody wants anymore.”
As it turned out, Enberg’s work on boxing at L.A.’s Olympic Auditorium spawned a massive following. For reasons he’s still stumped by, his boxing show became a cult favorite. According to Enberg, after three seasons it became the highest-rated Thursday-night program in Los Angeles.
And all along, Enberg’s diligence helped him ride L.A.’s massive sports wave. Soon he was working on UCLA’s basketball games. This was the time when the John Wooden–led Bruins were in the middle of a run that would earn them ten NCAA titles in 12 years. Sports programmers were only just coming to terms with the massive audience demand for sports. KTLA decided it was worth it to televise every UCLA road game live and every home game on tape delay. Are you kidding? asked Enberg. Who’s going to stay up and watch a replay of a blowout? This proved to be a case where Enberg was wrong. “After the game we’d be in the locker showering, laughing, and joking,” says Bill Walton, a UCLA star in the early ’70s (and a lifelong San Diegan). “We had a pool among ourselves to see how many ‘Oh, mys’ we’d get out of Dick.”
By 1966, barely a year after his nervous meeting with his college president, Enberg was in full bloom, his voice and face showing up on boxing, UCLA basketball, Angels baseball pre- and postgame shows, Rams football. Though he regrets the toll these ambitions took on his personal life (he and Jeri were divorced in ’74), the energy he brought to this period could fuel a spaceship. It was a time not just of great success, but, as you’d expect from a professor of education, a period of learning. Cozying up to such legends as Wooden, Enberg spent hours immersed in the subtleties of the game and, most important to him, absorbing the emotional journeys of each player. All of it would weave its way into his broadcasts. According to Lesley Visser, a CBS colleague, “His warmth and excitement remind me of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice to America: ‘Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.’ And Dick has the same passion for players, coaches, managers, or colleagues. No one escapes his interest.”
Which leads to Enberg Principle Number One: The best announcers cut their teeth on radio because they do more than recite what’s on the screen. “You’ve got to tell the whole story when the audience can’t see any of the game,” says Enberg. “You’ve got to give a sense of what the pitcher is doing, and the batter stepping out of the box, and the movements in the infield, and the human-interest stories that make the players come to life.” With TV such an omnipresent part of the sports world, Enberg admits he feels like a “dinosaur” with his radio background. “If I were young, I’d probably head right to TV, too,” he admits. “But you can tell right away who’s worked in radio and who knows how to tell a good story.”
Now comes Enberg Principle Number Two, a variation on a comment John Kennedy made after the Bay of Pigs fiasco: Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan — and because of that, Enberg believes broadcasters earn their keep far more with losers than winners. He learned this firsthand when he was spending winters on UCLA’s basketball dynasty and summers with the hapless California Angels baseball team. It was no problem keeping the audience attuned to the UCLA empire. But the Angels were another matter. “Try keeping people interested when it’s August and the team is way out of contention,” says Enberg. One enchanted evening with the Angels, Enberg captured the sublime: the night in the summer of ’73 when Nolan Ryan pitched a no-hitter in Enberg’s home park, Tiger Stadium. All too often, though, Enberg would trot out a hodgepodge, entertaining frustrated Angel fans with everything from historical anecdotes to recipes for date-nut bread.
Even with UCLA, Enberg’s national breakthrough came during a rare Bruins loss. It was the spring of ’68. UCLA’s dynasty was roaring, paced by Lew Alcindor (later more familiar as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), a center so dominant that the NCAA banned slam-dunking. Up against the University of Houston in a sold-out Astrodome, UCLA was upset, 71–69. More significantly for Enberg, the game was carried on national television. It was his first big countrywide splash. “I was a teenager, sitting in my room,” says HBO Sports president Greenburg, “and you could hear the command and compassion in Enberg. His was a voice you wanted to keep listening to.”
Enberg Principle Number Three: We start in sports for love, so let’s stay in sports for love. All his life, Enberg had idolized Ted Williams. It was an intriguing obsession. Enberg’s sensibility was one of kindness, loyalty, and humble, understated common sense. He couldn’t take on a pretense if you paid him. Those who come in contact with Enberg speak frequently of his good-natured qualities.
In contrast, the San Diego–raised Williams was a hunk of breathing smoke. He’d grown up in a broken home, then gone on to be a cocky, volatile jock and fighter pilot who often seemed at war with everyone he met. Williams’s relationship with the media was particularly strained. Great a player as he was, during his career with the Boston Red Sox, Williams had suffered under the Boston area’s excessive public scrutiny. Most frequently he was lamented for his inability to match the winning ways of Joe DiMaggio’s Yankees. Many an afternoon at Boston’s Fenway Park, fans had booed Williams. He’d responded with anger, spitting back into the bleachers, constantly castigating journalists. When he hit a home run in his last at-bat in 1960, so embittered was Williams that he declined to don his cap and accept the crowd’s cheers. As John Updike wrote in “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” a New Yorker piece on that day, “Gods do not return phone calls.”
None of Williams’s vitriol diminished Enberg’s love. Nineteen sixty-nine was Enberg’s first year broadcasting Angels games. It was also the year Williams returned to the game as manager of the Washington Senators. Eager to at last interview his idol, Enberg plotted the best means to crack Williams’s thick skin. He knew Williams could hardly be bothered to answer stock questions about his pitching staff or the batting order. He also knew Williams had talked about his own career to the point of nausea. Digging into Williams’s autobiography — aggressively titled My Turn at Bat — then scratching deeper into statistical archives, Enberg discovered that Williams had once pitched one and two-thirds innings versus the Tigers.
The night the Senators came to Anaheim, Enberg spotted the great Williams. No one dared approach. Writers were circling like vultures, but none had the courage to ask the first question. Then Enberg, skipping down the stairs, toting his little tape recorder, walked closer. From a foot away, Williams stared at him with disinterest. Enberg began explaining himself, telling Williams how much he revered him and that he believed Williams was the greatest hitter in baseball history. Williams remained unengaged.
Dr. Enberg stepped up. “If you talk to me,” he said to Williams, “I promise I won’t ask one question about hitting.” Suddenly, Williams’s eyes flickered. “I want to ask you about 1941,” said Enberg, “and your pitching stint versus the Tigers.” Kindly grabbing Enberg around the shoulders, Williams said, “Come here, meat” — “meat” being Williams’s term of endearment. From then on, Williams’s door was always open for Enberg. Whether on the road or when Williams would come to San Diego, the two would dine frequently, Enberg grateful for the chance to soak up stories and insights for hour after hour.
As fate had it, Enberg would eventually settle in Williams’s hometown. When Williams died in 2002, Enberg led the charge for San Diego to host a memorial service. Speaking at Balboa Park, Enberg delivered a 45-minute eulogy that, says Walton, “had all the poetry and beauty of a novel. It was perfect.”
Success brought Enberg to San Diego. He’d been hired by NBC in 1975 to work on nationally televised football and college basketball games. Soon other sports entered the mix, including tennis and golf. No longer bound to a local team’s schedule, Enberg relocated to San Diego 20 years ago. He and Barbara, a production manager he’d met at NBC, were married in 1983 and had three children (he also has three by his first marriage). When NBC stopped broadcasting pro football, Enberg joined CBS in 2000, where he’s now firmly in place on its AFC telecasts.
Enberg’s La Jolla home is still under construction, but there are already signs on its walls of a man who’s lived a fine life in sports. Stroll into one room and there’s a picture of Enberg with Warren Beatty from Heaven Can Wait. The autograph by Beatty reads, “If you’d stuck with it, you’d have been bigger than Brando.” There’s a Leroy Neiman drawing of Enberg. There are photos of Enberg at the Olympics, Wimbledon, NCAA basketball, Super Bowls, a golf event featuring former presidents Bush and Clinton — on and on it goes. There’s Enberg’s star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. There are two original seats from Tiger Stadium that Enberg bought when the legendary ballpark was torn down. There are honorary degrees and awards.
Yet as he shows off all these impressive rewards, Enberg remains humble. “I have to ask myself all the time why I’ve been so lucky,” he says. To which Walton notes, “All of Dick’s grace is the residue of his incredible work ethic.” All that discipline is somehow mixed in with relentless compassion. Touring through the house, showing off the wine cellar, the children’s rooms, the back yard, and the many works of art Barbara has brought in, Enberg makes his way to his office. Once football season starts, it will be filled with research binders thick as phone books, brimming with information on players, newspaper stories, and Enberg’s notes. “To do Dick’s job you have to be able to weave so much in at so many times,” says Walton. “It’s the game, it’s the players, it’s their lives, it’s the right delivery.” Added to this is the constant travel. Enberg admits that during football season he can hardly keep track of anything but the NFL.
But when he and Barbara built the house, he insisted that his office be located just off the kitchen. “I didn’t want to retreat,” he says. “I wanted to be near my family. I want to be close to it all.”
He’s been that way his entire life. At the risk of engaging in armchair psychology, consider that Enberg is always pursuing the emotional connection to people and events that is the precise opposite of his father’s withdrawn manner. Even that tale has a twist. Arnie Enberg moved to California and spent the last eight years of his life living with Dick. Though Dick sensed Arnie appreciated what Dick had done, the father remained close-lipped. There are times when Dick even wondered if Arnie thought Dick should have done something else. Shortly after Arnie died, Dick came across a box. Inside it were 400 tapes of Dick’s broadcasts. It would have been easy for Dick to get duplicates of any game, but Arnie had never made a request. Instead he’d held up a tape recorder to the TV screen, then carefully marked up each tape. “Imagine that,” says Enberg.
Greater broadcasts still await Enberg. Each season brings another sport, another set of notebooks, folders, and delicately prepared index cards. He’s become a master of the televised “rollout” piece, an event-ending montage of music, pictures, and words. Enberg’s been known to spend hours on end in darkened TV trucks combing for just the right image, be it a late-afternoon blade of grass on a golf course, a triumphant expression from a coach, a joyous catch by a receiver.
Shortly after seeing Enberg in La Jolla, I came across a compendium of comic strips from another sensitive sports-lover, “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz. In one strip, Linus regales Charlie Brown with the story of one of the most incredible football games he’s ever seen. The home team was down 6-0 with three seconds to play and the ball on its own one-yard line. From behind his goal posts, the quarterback threw a perfect pass. The receiver eluded four defenders and scored a 99-yard touchdown. “People were jumping up and down,” says Linus, “and when they kicked the extra point, thousands of people ran out onto the field, laughing and screaming! The fans and players were so happy, they were rolling on the ground and hugging each other and dancing and everything! It was fantastic!”
A staggered Charlie Brown paused, then turned to Linus and asked, “How did the other team feel?”
Dick Enberg would know.