Football Voices

Up here in Wisconsin this fall, we’re in the football business. The Green Bay Packers are 8-and-0 going into their game with Minnesota tonight, and crazy talk about an undefeated season has begun—although the talkers ought to be dissuaded by the experience of the Wisconsin Badgers, who were once undefeated and who looked unstoppable until two last-second defeats at Ohio State and Michigan State. But the Badgers remain in the hunt for the Big Ten championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl, so our football business is good.

On the subject of football, the NFL Network is currently running a program counting down the top 10 football voices—the play-by-play men (and they’re all men) who give the game its unique sound on television. It won’t spoil the show for anyone when I tell you that John Facenda, the voice of NFL Films, is #1, or that other highly ranked broadcasters include Pat Summerall, John Madden, and Howard Cosell. The list isn’t without its flaws—I’d have found room for a couple who were mentioned among “best of the rest,” including Dick Enberg and the mighty Ray Scott.

It’s fashionable to criticize Joe Buck, currently the top baseball and football voice of Fox Sports, for his minimalist style, but Ray Scott, who called Packer games and four Super Bowls for CBS in the late 60s and early 1970s, was sports broadcasting’s original minimalist, always letting the game unfold and the broadcast breathe, never using two sentences when one would do, or six words when five were enough. But Scott’s great gift (and where Joe Buck often fails) was in effectively capturing the drama of the game with those well-chosen words. For a young boy just beginning to follow the NFL, it was Scott, not Facenda, who was the voice of God. He seemed larger than life and made the games seem that way, too. I can hear him now: “Starr brings the Packers to the line on third down and 14.” Even in memory, I sit up a little straighter and lean in closer to see what happens next. There are not many play-by-play guys working today who can do that.

The Mrs. and I are headed to Green Bay for the game tonight, our first trip to the shrine in nine years. The best thing about the trip is that we won’t have to listen to ESPN’s broadcast of the game. ESPN has forgotten, if it ever understood, that the game is more important than anything the announcers have to say about it, and their incurable need to junk it up with an overabundance of voices who add quite literally nothing has rendered Monday Night Football almost completely unwatchable. The Scotts, Enbergs, and Summeralls of the world knew their place, and it was clear in every word they uttered—or didn’t.

There’s surprisingly little Ray Scott video at YouTube. Here’s the opening of the fabled Ice Bowl, the 1967 NFL championship game at Lambeau Field, when the temperature at kickoff was 13 below. Scott, seen with Jack Buck (father of Joe) and Frank Gifford, scores extra points for using the word “raiment,” which probably hasn’t been used by a sports broadcaster again, ever.

And for chrissakes, Frank, put on a hat.

4 responses

  1. And, as it turns out, you were right – again. Listening to the ESPN broadcast of the game is barely tolerable. Everything must be commented on, replayed, re-analyzed, rehashed. The lead-in – the “pre-game show” – is like corn flakes sprinkled with Louisiana Hot Sauce: desperate attempts to spice up a program that should run about 30 minutes max, all-ecompassing Chris Berman assing it up constantly, constant little chunks of non-relevant information. Berman has become a parody of himself, and listening to what he tries to do with his voice these days is like undergoing waterboarding.

    Ray Scott and John Facenda forever.

  2. As a relative young’un, I don’t remember: Did Facenda ever do play-by-play, or did he just narrate the NFL Films productions?

    I’m trying to imagine what an entire 60 minutes of Facenda would be like.
    Seems to me it would be a little much to take — especially on those Sundays where the Eagles were getting thrashed, and all tension or suspense was gone five minutes into the game.
    (There were a lot of those Sundays in Philadelphia back then. Now they wait ’til the fourth quarter to piss it away.)

    Funny thing how the old-timers never needed sideline reporters for a good broadcast.

    1. Facenda was a Philadelphia TV newscaster and NFL Films was based in Philly, so the fit was a natural. The way NFL Films used him, having him declaim occasionally purple poetry amidst martial music, went along way toward making him into the Voice of God .

  3. Ray Scott was the best football announcer of all time……bar none.

    He mirrored the Green Bay Packers……to the point…..no fluff.

    He didn’t insult the listener’s intelligence like so many of today’s football “broadcasters.”

    R.I.P.

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