The greatest moments in sports history are memorable for two reasons: the action on the field of play and the call of said action by a skilled announcer. The perfect call can take an already incredible moment and elevate it to new heights, and fortunately sports fans have been privy to hundreds of iconic calls over the years. Al Michaels' call of the Miracle on Ice is particularly memorable and inspired the name by which that massive upset is best known. With that in mind, and with the 40th anniversary of that game upon us, let's take a look at the best announcer calls in sports history.
It’s one of the most famous home runs in baseball history, and it has one of the best calls to boot. Bobby Thomson’s walk-off blast to propel the Giants to the pennant in the decisive game of a three-game tiebreaker is known as the Shot Heard ‘Round the World, and announcer Russ Hodges did the play justice, making a simple, truthful exclamation chill-inducing. There is a good chance that when you think of that play, five words spring to mind: “The Giants win the pennant!” There’s a reason for that.
The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics did battle in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals, and the series went the distance, with the Celtics prevailing, 110-109, in Game 7. The game is well remembered for Celtics radio announcer Johnny Most’s call of the game’s pivotal play. With the Celtics clinging to their one-point lead but Philadelphia inbounding the ball under its own basket with a chance to take a lead, Havlicek jumped the inbounds pass and tipped it to teammate Sam Jones. Most’s delirious “Havlicek stole the ball!” is arguably the most iconic radio call in basketball history.
It wasn’t the eloquence of Howard Cosell’s words that made his call in a 1973 heavyweight title fight between George Foreman and Joe Frazier so memorable. Rather it was the way he delivered them that etched them into history. Foreman dominated an overmatched Frazier, knocking him down six times in total in the fight. Cosell’s surprise was evident when Frazier was floored for the first time, as he simply exclaimed, “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” The fight itself lasted just two rounds, but Cosell’s call has achieved legendary status.
It’s hard to make a rout interesting, let alone deliver an iconic call, but Chic Anderson’s performance at the 1973 Belmont Stakes was pitch perfect. With Secretariat widening his lead by the second, and well on his way to a Triple Crown-sealing victory, Anderson captured the majesty and dominance of the moment with an electrifying, immortal call. “Secretariat is widening now! He is moving like a tremendous machine! Secretariat by 12! Secretariat by 14 lengths on the turn!” As great as Secretariat was, Anderson more than rose to the moment to match him.
Al Michaels, take it away.
When Stanford took a 20-19 lead with a late field goal in the 1982 edition of its rivalry game with Cal, the Bears looked sunk and needed a kick return touchdown to win the game. That’s exactly what they got, after a frenetic series of laterals, some controversy and the indelible image of the Stanford band coming out onto the field while play was still ongoing. Cal announcer Joe Starkey’s play-by-play reflected the insanity of the moment, as he reacted to the band perfectly: “Oh, the band is out on the field! He’s gonna go into the end zone! He got into the end zone!” Once a touchdown was officially signaled, Starkey went into a descriptive treatise about the ending of the game, but his original shock at seeing the band is perfect.
I’m no fan of Billy Packer’s commentary, and never have been, which is why it pains me to concede that his call of the winning basket in North Carolina State’s stunning upset of Houston to win the 1983 national championship is tremendous. Packer, doing color commentary for the game, captured the frantic nature of the final seconds and Lorenzo Charles’ winning basket perfectly, simply saying, “They won it! On the dunk!” As for the rest of Packer’s work? Let’s not talk about it.
Bill Raftery is a colorful character and one of the best ambassadors of college basketball there is. He has dozens of signature calls, but none is more famous than his reaction to Pitt’s Jerome Lane shattering the backboard with a fast-break dunk in 1988. Lane took a feed from Sean Miller and threw down a one-handed power dunk over a Providence defender, destroying the backboard in the process. After pausing first to ooh and ahh at the play (a nice, underrated part of the whole thing), Raftery simply exclaimed, “Send it in Jerome!” Perfect.
Ozzie Smith had never homered as a left-handed hitter when he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NLCS. Los Angeles pitcher Tom Niedenfuer tried to sneak a fastball by him inside, and Smith turned on the pitch, lifting it over the right-field wall at Busch Stadium and giving the Cardinals a 3-2 win. Broadcaster Jack Buck captured the moment with a simple command: “Go crazy, folks, go crazy!”
Jack Nicklaus was 46 years old when he found himself four shots off the lead heading into the final round at The Masters. Nicklaus made a spirited charge in the final four holes — an eagle on 15, birdie on 16 and then, on 17, staring at an 18-foot birdie putt for sole possession of the lead, Nicklaus stepped up and drained it. Verne Lundquist’s call mirrored the mood of fans, who were clearly pulling for Nicklaus. A tentative “Maybe…yes sir!” was a great way to capture the moment, and Lundquist’s call remains one of the most memorable parts of Nicklaus’ celebrated win.
The Red Sox had already frittered away a lead against the Mets in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, but they had a chance to escape the bottom of the 10th inning with a tie when Mookie Wilson hit a dribbler up the first base line. Boston first baseman Bill Buckner misplayed the ball, and Ray Knight scored the winning run to force Game 7. The inimitable Vin Scully’s incredulity was evident when he said, “Little roller up along first…behind the bag, it gets through Buckner, here comes Knight and the Mets win it!” It was a great call by a legendary broadcaster, who was just as surprised as viewers at home.
Kirk Gibson’s home run to beat the Athletics in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series is, for my money, the most dramatic moment in sports history. And while Vin Scully’s call is outstanding, Jack Buck’s is even better, and it more accurately captured the sentiment of fans watching at home, who were led to believe that Gibson could barely stand, much less swing a bat. After describing the home run, Buck said simply, “I don’t believe what I just saw! I don’t believe what I just saw!” Neither did anyone else.
Noticing a trend, yet? Jack Buck was pretty great at this announcing stuff. When Kirby Puckett blasted a ball out to deep left-center field to propel the Twins to a 4-3, 11-inning Game 6 win over the Braves in the 1991 World Series, Buck simply said, “We’ll see you tomorrow night!” It was an incredible, understated call of an incredible moment. Not only that, but it was extremely, extremely cool. Buck proved that when it comes to describing a great moment, less is usually more.
Another appearance for Verne Lundquist, who has a habit of being around for incredible moments. After Kentucky took a 103-102 lead with 2.1 seconds to go in the 1992 East Regional Final, Duke was in deep trouble. The Blue Devils needed to go the length of the floor, and victory seemed unlikely. Lundquist’s call was tremendous and did a great job of capturing the improbable nature of Grant Hill’s fullcourt heave and Christian Laettner’s shot. The call was spare and simple and all about tone: “There’s the pass to Laettner, puts it up…yes!” Even if you hate(d) Duke, it was hard not to get caught up in the moment.
As always, this game hurts to reference, for your author was a 7-year-old Pirates fan in 1992. The Braves were trailing, 2-0, heading into the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. The Pittsburgh Pirates were three outs away from a World Series. The Braves cut into their lead, making it 2-1 with two outs and runners on second and third and little-used Francisco Cabrera at the plate. Take it away, Sean McDonough: “Line drive and a base hit! Justice has scored the tying run! Bream to the plate…and he is safe! Safe at the plate!” Sigh.
Only Bill Mazeroski has ended a World Series Game 7 with a walk-off home run, but Joe Carter did give the Blue Jays the 1993 Fall Classic with his Game 6 walk-off. Blue Jays play-by-play man Tom Cheek put appropriate context to the moment with an exuberant call of Carter’s blast off Mitch Williams: “Touch ‘em all Joe; you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”
The only drama at the 1997 Masters concerned Tiger Woods’ final margin of victory. Woods blitzed the field, ending up with a 12-shot victory, and as he knocked in a short putt on the 18th hole, Jim Nantz captured the enormity of the moment, for the golf and sports world alike, with a simple, elegant call: “There it is…a win for the ages.” Nantz may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but in that moment, no one could have been better.
Today’s kids might not believe it, but once upon a time, Gonzaga was a plucky underdog that no one believed in. The 1999 team put the school on the map with its run to the NCAA Elite Eight. The Bulldogs got there with a thrilling 73-72 victory over Florida — one punctuated by a then-unknown Gus Johnson’s exuberant call. After the Bulldogs went ahead on a late tip, Johnson called Florida’s last gasp and coined an all-time line: “Shannon, from the corner…and it’s over! Gonzaga! The slipper still fits!” It was a phenomenal call of an upset that felt truly special.
The Titans were desperate after Buffalo took a late lead in the wild-card matchup on Jan. 8, 2000. The score was 16-15, and there were just 16 seconds left. Tennessee’s Lorenzo Neal fielded a Buffalo squib kick and handed the ball to Frank Wycheck, who lateraled across the field to receiver Kevin Dyson, who was all alone near the sideline. Dyson took off with a convoy of blockers and went into the end zone for a touchdown. Tennessee broadcaster Mike Keith’s call was great, but because there was worry about whether Wycheck’s lateral was legal, his punctuating line was the best part: “There are no flags on the field; it’s a miracle!” Yes, yes it was.
Syracuse was a heavy favorite over Vermont in its first-round NCAA Tournament matchup in 2005. With Vermont up 56-55 and barely a minute to play in overtime, the Catamounts’ T.J. Sorrentine dribbled down the shot clock and then decided on a deep heave against the Orange zone. Gus Johnson was all over it, with a hiss of anticipation leading into a great call: “Oh my goodness! Sorrentine hit that one from the parking lot!” Suffice to say, it’s doubtful anyone outside of Syracuse was unhappy to hear those words.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were trying to even up their Eastern Conference semifinal series with Boston at two games apiece. The Cavs were up, 82-75, with under two minutes to go in the fourth quarter when LeBron James iced things in emphatic fashion, dunking over a helpless Kevin Garnett. TNT’s Kevin Harlan had a tremendous, out-of-nowhere turn of phrase for the occasion: “Oh! LeBron James with no regard for human life!” It was a strange, quirky thing to say, and yet immediately, fans loved the raw energy in Harlan’s voice, as well as his fan-like surprise at the suddenness of the play.
Jack Buck was famous for his, “We’ll see you tomorrow night,” call from Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, and his son Joe paid homage to his late father in an understated, moving way during Game 6 of the 2011 World Series between the Cardinals and the Rangers. Buck was on the call with Tim McCarver, who was also doing color commentary in the 1991 game, and when David Freese launched a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to force a Game 7 for the Cards, Buck’s call was note-perfect: “We will see you tomorrow night.” It may have gotten a little dusty for fans watching at home.
The Iron Bowl is one of the biggest rivalry games in college football, and the 2013 game had the craziest ending in the series’ history, when Auburn’s Chris Davis returned a potential game-winning Alabama field goal 109 yards for the winning touchdown. Auburn play-by-play announcer Rod Bramblett’s call was great, with rising excitement as it became clear what was happening, and it was punctuated by a perfect ending: “They’re not gonna keep ‘em off the field tonight!” A surreal ending got a call that matched it in every way.
Jim Nantz is known for his golf work more than anything, and some fans grouse that he doesn’t always deliver the proper excitement level for other sports. There can be no criticism of his 2016 national title game call, however. With Villanova and North Carolina tied at 74, the Wildcats raced the ball upcourt for a chance at a game-winning shot. When Ryan Arcidiacono found Kris Jenkins for an open look at a game-winning three, Nantz was all over the call, adding the perfect touch to let viewers know the exact stakes: “Gives it to Jenkins, for the championship…yes!” Nantz got so excited that his voice may have cracked, but that made the moment even more authentic.
The Mets may have the best local broadcast team in all of sports. Every member of the crew is outstanding, and when portly pitcher Bartolo Colon socked his first career home run in May of 2016 against the Padres, play-by-play man Gary Cohen was all over it, with a call that was equal parts humorous, shocked and memorable, and he managed a winking nod to Vin Scully’s call of Kirk Gibson’s famous home run in the process. “Colon, looking for his first hit of the year. He drives one, deep left field, back goes Upton, back near the wall, it’s outta here! Bartolo has done it! The impossible has happened!” It was a fantastic call of a truly memorable moment.
You'll receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams.
Emailed daily. Always FREE!