The proper call from a play-by-play announcer adds to an all-time great sports moment as a perfect wine complements a five-star meal. A vital part of the equation is the call being spot-on for that particular event in history. Sometimes, it means the announcer nearly losing his voice in excitement over that which is occurring before his very eyes.
In other cases, it involves the individual behind the microphone allowing the moment to breathe on its own.
Fate has, throughout the decades, done well to partner the right announcer or announcers with historic sports moments that will live on for generations to come. Men such as Jack Buck and Vin Scully and Bob Costas have, over the years, seen their fame rise above many athletes enshrined in Halls of Fame. One of those announcers is featured in the first call spotlighted in this piece.
Join us as we count down the 10 greatest sports calls in the history of American Sports.
10 MJ's Last Shot
The moment couldn't have had a better setup had it been scripted. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player to ever live, brought the ball up the court for one last time as a member of the Chicago Bulls after he had forced a turnover. MJ, with under ten seconds to play in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, created some room – perhaps via a push-off – before depositing the shot that won the contest and title No. 6 for the Bulls.
Bob Costas, speaking during a timeout, summed up the moment succinctly and without hyperbole.
“That may have been – who knows what will unfold in the next several months? – but that may have been the last shot Michael Jordan will ever take in the NBA.”
In just one sentence, Costas had broken down the big picture. While there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding an era and a player for the ages, Costas took just a handful of seconds to allow viewers to let the moment sink in.
9 The Motor City Miracle
Retaining professionalism is a must for even hometown announcers; most of the time. Mike Keith and Pat Ryan of the Tennessee Titans Radio Network could not contain their excitement during what remains one of the most memorable plays in the history of the NFL Playoffs.
The Buffalo Bills had taken a 16-15 lead over the Titans at Tennessee during a 2000 AFC Wild Card showdown. Lorenzo Neal fielded a kickoff near the Tennessee 25-yard line with 16 seconds left on the clock before handing off to Frank Wycheck. Wycheck took several steps to his right before turning and throwing a lateral pass across the field for Kevin Dyson, and Dyson, upon receiving the ball, darted down the near sideline.
It took only a few seconds for Ryan to see something special was unfolding. “He's got something...” Ryan stated on two occasions. Then, when Dyson crossed the Buffalo 40-yard line, Ryan exclaimed: “HE'S GOT IT! HE'S GOT IT!”
As Dyson crossed the goalline for the historic score, there was only one question left to be answered. Keith eased the minds of Tennessee fans tuning in.
“THERE ARE NO FLAGS ON THE FIELD! TENNESSEE HAS PULLED A MIRACLE!”
8 Tiger Woods at the 2006 Masters
Whenever one opens the Masters iPhone/iPad app, a video appears on the device's screen as the app loads. In some cases, the video offers views of what is one of the greatest golf courses ever made. Sometimes, a shot that was made during a particular Masters tournament is featured.
The chip buried by Woods during the 2006 Masters is one of the moments in the app's vault.
Verne Lundquist, calling the action, quickly began to realize that he was witnessing something special, yelling out “oh my goodness!” as the ball slowly made its way toward the cup. Following a brief battle versus gravity, the ball fell into the hole, causing Lundquist to provide a famous call.
“OH WOW! IN YOUR LIFE, HAVE YOU SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THAT?!?”
7 Down Goes Frazier
Foreman hurt Frazier early on in the fight, and the then challenger knocked the champion to the mat in the first round. Cosell, caught in mid-sentence as Frazier hit the mat, made sports and pop culture history with his call.
“DOWN GOES FRAY-SHAH! DOWN GOES FRAY-SHAH! DOWN GOES FRAY-SHAH!”
40 years later, there has still not been another boxing call like it.
6 Go Crazy, folks!
Ozzie Smith stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth of Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series. Smith pulled a fastball down the right field line and off of the face of the lower deck for a walk-off solo shot that propelled the St. Louis Cardinals to a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Jack Buck, legendary play-by-play man, had the call on that fateful day, and Buck's words during and after the homer are perhaps even more known than is Smith's shot.
“Smith corks one into right, down the line...it may go! GO CRAZY, FOLKS! Go crazy! It's a home run, and the Cardinals have won the game by the score of 3-to-2 on a home run by the Wizard! Go crazy!
5 The Catch
The grab made by Willie Mays in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series changed the course of history. Had he not famously tracked down and caught, via an over-the-shoulder grab, the fly ball hit deep into center field of the Polo Ground, the Cleveland Indians, heavy favorites to win that Series, may have gone on to accomplish that which was expected of them.
It is, for the baseball historian, nearly impossible to conjure up thoughts of Mays' catch without hearing the voice of Jack Brickhouse calling the action.
“There's a long drive, way back into center field, way back, back, back, it is...CAUGHT!”
Brickhouse would go on to say that the play “must have been an optical illusion to a lot of people.”
4 Here Comes Knight, and the Mets Win it!
They are words that haunted fans of the Boston Red Sox for nearly two decades.
Vin Scully, calling Game 6 of the 1986 World Series for NBC, had, along with much of the rest of the United States, witnessed a historic comeback. The New York Mets, trailing by two runs and down to their final out of the Series, had managed to tie the game after Boston reliever Bob Stanley threw a wild pitch past Mookie Wilson that allowed Kevin Mitchell to score.
Scully's call of the 3-2 pitch, the final pitch of the affair:
“Little roller up long first...behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!”
Scully remained silent for several minutes as those at home watched the scenes of the celebrations at Shea Stadium. His first words to air after the historic run was scored:
“If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words.”
3 The Play
College football and American Football in general will likely never again see anything like it.
Stanford, leading Cal 20-19 with four seconds left in a game played on November 20, 1982, booted a squib kick down the field. Receiving the ball around the Cal 45-yard line, Kevin Moen began a sequence of events that saw the ball get lateraled on five occasions. Members of the Stanford band, believing the game was over, began to gather onto the field as Cal continued their journey toward the end zone.
One band member, a trombone player, learned the hard way that Cal had scored when the previously mentioned Moen barreled into the Stanford student upon crossing the goal line.
Just as famous as the actual play are the words spoken by Cal announcer Joe Starkey as the play concluded. “THE BAND IS OUT ON THE FIELD,” Starkey yelled. “HE'S GONNA GET INTO THE END ZONE! HE GOT INTO THE END ZONE!”
Starkey, upon learning that the touchdown would stand: “The Bears have won! Oh my God! The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football!”
2 Do You Believe in Miracles?
It's the most famous question ever asked by a sports announcer.
There will, barring a plethora of unforeseen world events taking place, never be anything close to another “Miracle on Ice.” The days of the Cold War are distant past. Millionaire professional athletes rather than college amateurs participate in the hockey tournament that occurs during the Winter Olympics.
The United States defeating the Soviet Union in Lake Placid was unique for its time, and nothing like it will happen again on the international sports stage.
Play-by-play commentator Al Michaels understood the magnitude of the moment when, as the clock ticked down toward 0:00, one word popped into his head.
1 Shot Heard 'Round the World
There will be young baseball fans in 2051, a century after Bobby Thompson took Ralph Branca deep. Those fans will follow the great players of their day. They will also learn about “Murderers' Row,” Jackie Robinson and what he meant to the sport and to the country, and they will also read up on the so-called “Steroid Era.”
Those youths of the future may not grasp how the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers playing a baseball game shut down an entire city on October 3, 1951. They may not even care about how the Giants had, during the season, rallied from being 14.5 games back in the standings.
They will, however, know of one phrase made up of five words.
The Giants win the pennant!
The Giants win the pennant!
The Giants win the pennant!