Visiting with Verne Lundquist

Loran Smith's picture

NEW YORK – Verne Lundquist has been around, but the changing of landscapes — owing to the changing of addresses by his father, a Lutheran minister, and his work as a national network broadcaster — has not changed the likable announcer.

A genial sort, Verne ranks his many and varied friends as important as the memorable games and events he has covered during his versatile career. He has a remarkable recall of places and people, ever the raconteur with a penchant for good humor.

Take, for instance, the time he not only had to share a room, but also a bed with his friend Blackie Sherrod, columnist for the Dallas Morning News. “Be careful how you explain that,” he interrupted a note-taking friend one night last week at dinner at the Ocean Prime Restaurant in Atlanta.

But back to the story. Verne and Sherrod were among several Dallas-area media guys invited to Europe by the late Lamar Hunt, founder of the American Football League, for a European tour of soccer domains.

Hunt, notoriously tight when it came to spending money, was promoting soccer in the United States and wanted to promote his team in Dallas. When he invited the media, he thought nobody would mind having a roommate.

Verne can laugh about his experiences with personalities like Hunt and can really laugh when he recalls having to share a bed with Blackie. “I’ll be facing east and you better be facing west,” Sherrod said.

The voice football fans heard on Saturday that delivers play-by-play for CBS’s coverage of Southeastern Conference football is mellow and comforting. Verne knows his stuff, he prepares, and he stays on top of the action.

You also hear him during NCAA basketball season. When the Masters gets under way, you’ll hear Verne calling the action at No. 16. He also works the PGA Championship and has called 20 different sports in his career with ABC, TNT, and CBS.

A member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Verne has claimed just about every broadcasting award out there. He is in New York this week to be honored by the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame for “Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football,” along with Brent Musburger of ABC.

After paying his dues, as they say, he reached the enviable status of having the spring and summer off a few years ago. He and his wife, Nancy, live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but will jet most anywhere to enjoy a new landscape and experience. They are particularly fond of cruises. A month on an ocean liner is balm for their souls.

About those friendships — Verne grew up idolizing Doak Walker of Southern Methodist and later the Detroit Lions. When he met Doak, he had to tell him that he got in fist fights as a kid at recess when he couldn’t be Doak Walker in pickup games. They became the best of friends.

Verne can easily tell you the toughest time he has ever had came when he had to eulogize his friend, who died from a skiing accident. “He was such a gentle man,” Verne says with the deepest of reverence.

Verne, who lived next door to the great Longhorn coach, Dana X. Bible, in Austin, found it particularly rewarding when he was first assigned for play-by-play of the Cotton Bowl. “I grew up on that game, so you can imagine what that meant to me.”

When CBS took SEC games national, Verne was ecstatic. “I love football and I love the SEC,” he says. He is not reluctant to identify the place he enjoys most.

“No question,” he says. “It is Athens, Georgia, and Sanford Stadium. How we love working a game between those famous hedges. We love the town, we love the ambience and the feel. We love the people. It is just a great place to spend a fall Saturday afternoon. The campus is so beautiful and charming, and the people at Georgia are so accommodating.”

Then he winked, “You guys need to win more often so we can come to Athens more often.”

[For 36 years the sideline radio reporter for the Georgia Bulldogs, Loran Smith now covers a bigger sideline of sports personalities and everyday life in his weekly newspaper columns.]