Hall of Fame Inductee Profile: Curt Gowdy

By Carolyn Braff

In
the history of sports broadcasting, few figures have had the power to
legitimize an event simply by attending it. For 40 years, Curt Gowdy
was that figure. Over the course of a career that spanned five decades
and all three broadcast networks, the “Cowboy at the Mike” called
hundreds of football, basketball, baseball, Olympic, and outdoorsman
events on his way to becoming one of the most heralded sportscasters of
all time.
“When
you heard Curt Gowdy on a football game or a baseball game, it didn’t
matter who was playing; it was like listening to the Super Bowl or the
World Series,” explains Dennis Lewin, former SVP of production for ABC
Sports. “You knew it was a big event because Curt Gowdy was there.”
Curtis Edward Gowdy was born in Green River, WY, and maintained his cowboy roots in every broadcast booth he entered.
“Curt
had a very down-home way of presenting things,” Lewin says. “He could
really reach out across America with a warmth, a love, and an affection
not just for his audience but with his audience.”
A
gifted basketball and tennis player at the University of Wyoming, Gowdy
suffered a spinal injury in World War II that forced him off of the
court and invited him into the broadcast booth. Thanks to his mother’s
insistence that he take elocution lessons at age 10, when the manager
of KFBC radio in Cheyenne asked Gowdy if he was interested in calling a
six-man–football game, the young sportscaster was ready to take the
stage ⎯ or, as it turned out, the milk crate.
On
a 40-degree day in 1944, in front of a crowd of no more than 15 and
without a roster, jersey numbers, or yard or goal lines, Gowdy called
his first game perched atop a couple of milk crates, making up player
names as he went along.
“That
game was the height of his creativity, as he said, because he just made
up the whole thing,” explains Curt Gowdy Jr., former executive
coordinating producer for ABC sports and currently SVP production and
executive producer of SportsNet New York.
Gowdy
graduated from six-man to Oklahoma University football, calling Sooners
games for three years before landing a job alongside Mel Allen,
broadcasting New York Yankees baseball. After two years in New York,
Gowdy switched sides, embarking on a 15-year stretch as radio and TV
play-by-play announcer for the Boston Red Sox.
“He
liked to give you the view of the fan,” Gowdy Jr. says. “He wanted it
to feel that he was sitting next to somebody and that he would poke
that person in the ribs and get excited. He and his analyst partner
were just two guys going to a game.”
The
plainspoken low-key baritone’s talents could not be contained in
Boston, however, and the meticulous Gowdy soon became Mr. Everything.
The voice of college football when it premiered on ABC in the early
1960s, Gowdy soon lent his talents to the American Football League,
eventually calling nine Super Bowls, including the first in 1967. In
1966, he voiced the NBC Baseball Game of the Week for the first time,
eventually calling 16 World Series and 16 baseball All-Star games.
Among Gowdy’s other star-studded credits are 12 Rose Bowls, eight
Olympic Games, 24 NCAA Final Fours, Ted Williams’ last at-bat in 1969,
the “Immaculate Reception” in 1972, and Hank Aaron’s 715th home run in
1974.
Gowdy’s
most personal productions came during his 20 seasons as host of The
American Sportsman. His co-executive producer, ABC Sports President
Roone Arledge, allowed Gowdy’s inner cowboy to flourish on that show as
he hunted and fished around the world with his friends ⎯ Ted Williams,
Bing Crosby, and Jimmy Carter, to name a few. Originally introduced as
a competitive-fishing segment, The American Sportsman spanned three
decades and enshrined Gowdy’s reputation as the consummate outdoorsman.
The
Cowboy was, first and foremost, a family man. Gowdy always made time
for his wife, Jerre, and three children, two of whom are now deeply
involved in the television business.
“Not
only was he a man of all seasons from the broadcast side, he was a man
of all seasons on the personal side,” Gowdy Jr. says. “He always made
time for everybody, not just his family, and particularly other people
who were interested in getting into the business.
Gowdy
earned 13 Emmys over the course of his career, including six for The
American Sportsman. He was presented the Lifetime Achievement Emmy
Award in 1991 and is the first individual sports figure to win the
Peabody Award for Outstanding Journalistic Achievement.
Perhaps
the most prolific broadcaster ever to step into a booth, Gowdy spanned
decades, sports, continents, and networks, and his supreme talents will
never be duplicated.