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Dick Enberg: the Call of Calls

Oh, my!

Dick Enberg
Dick Enberg

I’m from Northern California. Moved to Orange County in 1969 for graduate school. Didn’t think much of the region: mostly scrub, ragweed, and rabbit hills back then. But — the sportscasters!

Vin Scully made Dodger games mellifluous. Chick Hearn a jackhammer for the Lakers, and a phrasemaker. With Scully you remembered full paragraphs, clusters of images, a bigger picture. With Hearn it was nuggets: “no harm, no foul,” “the Jell-O’s jigglin’.”

Also Jerry Doggett. Scully’s near-invisible sidekick always had a sharp observation. Every interviewer in sports media today could take a lesson from Doggett’s selfless technique: the microphone was never under his chin. He’d say maybe two or three words and point the mike at the interviewee. And there it stayed.

One of the great joys in those days: every Tuesday and Saturday during basketball season, click on KTLA, Channel 5 in Los Angeles, and watch the UCLA Bruins dismantle an opponent systematically. Regardless of what else was going on in the world, it was a certainty that, twice a week, order would prevail, the cosmos would stabilize. Okay, except when Austin Carr threw in 46 and Notre Dame stopped the Bruins’ win streak at 88 games.

Throughout this period the broadcasts had such a capable announcer you wondered why a national network hadn’t grabbed him up. Dick Enberg combined the verbal talents of Scully with the savvy of Hearn and the self-effacing modesty of Doggett.

He never called attention to himself. Bill Walton grabs another rebound, Henry Bibby steals a pass, or Keith Wilkes sinks a jumper with that eerie, left-ear release: the words accompanied the action in terse and precise detail. He made it clear, without saying so, that he loved this stuff: Bruin basketball, sports in general, and his job. He appreciated a good play regardless of who made it. And he was never judgmental, never editorialized.

Okay, except that one time. Which to my mind remains one of the three greatest calls in sports broadcasting: the other two being Russ Hodges’s “The Giants win the pennant!” back in ’51, and Al Michaels’s (who called UCLA games when Enberg went national) “Do you believe in miracles?” at the 1980 Olympics.

But Enberg’s wasn’t a call. It was a song. I forget the year, but it was before the shot-clock and the Five Seconds Closely Guarded Rule. So teams could stall. Just lob the ball around, kill time, and drive Bruins fans bonks.

Word had it even Dean Smith, guru of the North Carolina Tarheels, devised a “four-corners” offense — aka a stall! — and used it fairly often.

Well, Coach John Wooden (whose record shrivels Smith’s) would never resort to such shameful comportment!

Then he did. Four players ran to the corners. The point guard dribbled near half-court, as if on important business. Then he’d pass to somebody, they’d pass back, and he’d dribble near half-court. The UCLA Bruins, who often beat teams by 40 points, were playing “keep away”?

What the…? It was like watching a chess match in slow motion. If hell froze over no one would have noticed. This was Coach Wooden, Mr. Pyramid of Success, toe-to-toe basketball maestro doing a STALL??? Come freaking ON!!!

Enberg was mute — surely as aghast as the rest of us. What to say? Maybe they’d just toss the ball back-and-forth a few times? You know, make a statement about Smith’s cowardly BS? No. They kept going. And Enberg kept silent.

Finally, he’d had enough. In a soft voice, he sang “Raindrops keep falling from my head.” Without being judgmental or editorializing, at least in a court of law, his message was clear — and one of the most eloquent calls in sports.

Oh, my!

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Dick Enberg
Dick Enberg

I’m from Northern California. Moved to Orange County in 1969 for graduate school. Didn’t think much of the region: mostly scrub, ragweed, and rabbit hills back then. But — the sportscasters!

Vin Scully made Dodger games mellifluous. Chick Hearn a jackhammer for the Lakers, and a phrasemaker. With Scully you remembered full paragraphs, clusters of images, a bigger picture. With Hearn it was nuggets: “no harm, no foul,” “the Jell-O’s jigglin’.”

Also Jerry Doggett. Scully’s near-invisible sidekick always had a sharp observation. Every interviewer in sports media today could take a lesson from Doggett’s selfless technique: the microphone was never under his chin. He’d say maybe two or three words and point the mike at the interviewee. And there it stayed.

One of the great joys in those days: every Tuesday and Saturday during basketball season, click on KTLA, Channel 5 in Los Angeles, and watch the UCLA Bruins dismantle an opponent systematically. Regardless of what else was going on in the world, it was a certainty that, twice a week, order would prevail, the cosmos would stabilize. Okay, except when Austin Carr threw in 46 and Notre Dame stopped the Bruins’ win streak at 88 games.

Throughout this period the broadcasts had such a capable announcer you wondered why a national network hadn’t grabbed him up. Dick Enberg combined the verbal talents of Scully with the savvy of Hearn and the self-effacing modesty of Doggett.

He never called attention to himself. Bill Walton grabs another rebound, Henry Bibby steals a pass, or Keith Wilkes sinks a jumper with that eerie, left-ear release: the words accompanied the action in terse and precise detail. He made it clear, without saying so, that he loved this stuff: Bruin basketball, sports in general, and his job. He appreciated a good play regardless of who made it. And he was never judgmental, never editorialized.

Okay, except that one time. Which to my mind remains one of the three greatest calls in sports broadcasting: the other two being Russ Hodges’s “The Giants win the pennant!” back in ’51, and Al Michaels’s (who called UCLA games when Enberg went national) “Do you believe in miracles?” at the 1980 Olympics.

But Enberg’s wasn’t a call. It was a song. I forget the year, but it was before the shot-clock and the Five Seconds Closely Guarded Rule. So teams could stall. Just lob the ball around, kill time, and drive Bruins fans bonks.

Word had it even Dean Smith, guru of the North Carolina Tarheels, devised a “four-corners” offense — aka a stall! — and used it fairly often.

Well, Coach John Wooden (whose record shrivels Smith’s) would never resort to such shameful comportment!

Then he did. Four players ran to the corners. The point guard dribbled near half-court, as if on important business. Then he’d pass to somebody, they’d pass back, and he’d dribble near half-court. The UCLA Bruins, who often beat teams by 40 points, were playing “keep away”?

What the…? It was like watching a chess match in slow motion. If hell froze over no one would have noticed. This was Coach Wooden, Mr. Pyramid of Success, toe-to-toe basketball maestro doing a STALL??? Come freaking ON!!!

Enberg was mute — surely as aghast as the rest of us. What to say? Maybe they’d just toss the ball back-and-forth a few times? You know, make a statement about Smith’s cowardly BS? No. They kept going. And Enberg kept silent.

Finally, he’d had enough. In a soft voice, he sang “Raindrops keep falling from my head.” Without being judgmental or editorializing, at least in a court of law, his message was clear — and one of the most eloquent calls in sports.

Oh, my!

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