Most Underrated Sports Broadcasters
Vin Scully. Curt Gowdy. Howard Cosell. Al Michaels.
Whenever the discussion turns to greatest sports broadcasters, these are a few of the names that spring to mind.
For hardcore sports fans, the voices who brought famous moments to life are often as memorable as the athletic feats themselves. Many would be hard-pressed to remember the stars on the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team, but nearly everyone familiar with the "Miracle on Ice" recalls Michaels’ legendary "Do you believe in miracles?" call.
While announcers such as Michaels gained fame on a national stage, other broadcasting greats either toiled in local markets with limited audiences or were overshadowed by better-known peers in their signature sports.
Our list of the 20 most underrated sports announcers in history doesn’t include any of the names on the American Sportscasters’ Association rankings of the Top 50 of all time, but these greats also have left an indelible mark — and countless memories — through their long, distinguished careers behind the mic.
Andres Cantor: The Sound of 'Gooooooooal!'
Even if you’re not a soccer fan, chances are you’ve heard Cantor’s vocal cord-stretching cry of "Goooooooooal!" at one time or another. The Argentinian-born, Spanish-language broadcaster still calls some 200 matches a year, and has done play-by-play at nine consecutive World Cup tournaments.
Cantor already was well known to Spanish-speaking soccer fans when he burst onto the American scene during the 1994 World Cup, even earning an invitation onto "The Late Show with David Letterman" to reenact his iconic call.
"Basically, I've lost my identity," Cantor said in a 2018 CNBC story. "Many people know me by name, but many people say, 'Hey, you're Mr. Goal!' so it's like, 'OK let me change my last name from Cantor to 'Mr. Goal.' "
Jane Chastain: The Pioneer of Women Sportscasters
Chastain is widely considered the pioneer of women sports broadcasters, paving the way for the likes of Donna de Varona, Lesley Visser, Robin Roberts and others.
After early television work in Georgia and North Carolina, Chastain got her big break in 1967, when she was hired by Miami’s WTVJ and rose to host her own show and become a station sports anchor.
In 1974, she was hired by CBS and became the first woman to ever serve on an NFL broadcast. She also worked some NBA games for the network, as well as tennis and bowling. She only spent one year at the network, however, before ending her sportscasting career as an anchor in Los Angeles.
In the 1980s, Chastain left sports for the world of political commentary, where she remains active today.
Linda Cohn: The Voice and Face of 'SportsCenter'
Linda Cohn has spent more than a quarter century at the anchor’s desk of "SportsCenter," ESPN’s iconic sports news program, hosting more episodes than anyone in history. In February 2016, she reached a milestone with her 5,000th "SportsCenter" broadcast.
Although best known for her "SportsCenter" anchor duties, Cohn also has filled a number of other roles during her long career at ESPN, ranging from reporter to commentator to writer.
Before joining ESPN in 1992, Cohn anchored WABC's "Talk Radio" from 1987 to 1989, where she was the first full-time female sports host on a national radio network.
She began her television career in 1989 for SportsChannel America, then an ESPN rival.
Don Criqui: The Ironman of Sportscasting
No broadcaster spent as many years calling NFL television games as Don Criqui, a streak that ran for 47 years (1967-2013) on CBS and NBC.
Along the way, he partnered in the broadcast booth with such Hall of Famers as Frank Gifford, Norm Van Brocklin and Sonny Jurgensen. Among the legendary games he called was Tom Dempsey’s record 63-yard field goal in 1970 and the epic Miami Dolphins-San Diego Chargers playoff game in 1982.
Counting the 11 years he spent as the radio voice of Notre Dame football, Criqui called play-by-play for 51 consecutive years.
Although best known for his football broadcasting, Criqui’s versatile career also included stints calling NBA and college basketball, track and field, horse racing, figure skating, gymnastics, soccer, tennis, swimming and diving.
He also preceded Marv Albert as the voice of the New York Knicks, calling the team’s games in 1966-67.
Donna de Varona: From Olympic Champion to Broadcasting Pioneer
Donna de Varona was fresh off winning two swimming gold medals at the 1964 Olympics when she picked up a microphone as a 17-year-old and launched her career as a sportscasting pioneer.
Since then, she has won Emmy and Gracie awards, covered 17 Winter and Olympic Summer Games and was included among the first class of the Museum of Television and Radio’s "She Made It" initiative.
"My decades in the business began in 1964 when I called ABC network swimming producer Chuck Howard and told him the only way I could deal with retiring was if I could work on swimming telecasts," de Varona wrote in 2017 in Variety Magazine. "A few weeks later, with no training and a work permit in hand, I joined Jim McKay for ABC’s live coverage of the men’s national swimming championships. At 17, I was making history as the youngest and one of the first women to enter the sports broadcasting field."
That was just the start. Over the years, her roles in sportscasting have encompassed analyst, commentator, host, writer and producer.
Woody Durham: A Carolina Institution
The legendary voice of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, Woody Durham called countless memorable moments from the university’s basketball and football games from 1971 to 2011. He died in March 2018 from complications of a neurological disease that had robbed him of the voice that had become so well-known to generations of North Carolina sports fans.
"He quickly won over listeners with his elegant, simple delivery, and over the years Durham came to be synonymous with some of the great teams, coaches and players whose triumphs he put into words,” said Durham's obituary in The News & Observer.
His signature voice lives on for Tar Heels fans, as his call of Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot against Georgetown in the 1982 national championship game plays before every North Carolina home game.
Durham was inducted into the National Sports Media Foundation’s Hall of Fame three months after his death.
Tom Hammond: Mr. Versatility
Few sportscasters have excelled in as many sports as Tom Hammond, who has been a staple of NBC’s coverage for decades. If you’re a horse racing or track and field fan, you’ve likely become well-versed in Hammond’s smooth, conversational style calling Triple Crown and Olympic Games over the years.
Hammond has called the track and field competition at every Summer Olympics since 1992, and was the longtime host of its thoroughbred racing coverage.
In addition, he spent over a decade as the television voice of Notre Dame football, and has called NBA and NFL games, figure skating and gymnastics for the network.
Mike Emrick: Ice Hockey’s Coolest Voice
While Al Michaels may have the undisputed greatest call in ice hockey history, Mike Emrick is the undisputed voice of the sport. He’s the only hockey broadcaster ever to be honored with an Emmy Award, having collected six of them. And in 2011, he became the first media member to be inducted in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.
Emrick spent 21 years as the voice of the New Jersey Devils before moving to the national stage as NBC’s lead play-by-play announcer on NHL telecasts in 2011. He has called more than 3,000 hockey games in his illustrious career, including 40 consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs, 20 Stanley Cup Final series and 12 NHL All-Star games.
Ned Jarrett: From Behind the Wheel to Behind the Mic
Known as "Gentleman Ned Jarrett" during his standout NASCAR racing career in the 1950s and '60s, Jarrett went on to become the most famous voice in auto racing, starting a radio show in North Carolina before becoming a fixture on television broadcasts.
After serving as a pit reporter from 1979 to 1984 on CBS, Jarrett served as a color analyst from '84 to 2000, calling some of the greatest moments in NASCAR. One of his signature moments came at the 1984 Firecracker 400, when he interviewed President Ronald Reagan live on the radio during a race best remembered as Richard Petty’s 200th career win.
He also called his son Dale Jarrett’s first NASCAR win, as well as his victory over the legendary Dale Earnhardt at the 1993 Daytona 500.
Charlie Jones: A Half-Century of Broadcasting Excellence
One of pro football’s signature voices during his nearly 50-year broadcasting career, Charlie Jones helped put the fledgling American Football League on the map, serving as one of the league’s original voices when it debuted in 1960 and calling the first AFL Championship Game and Super Bowl I.
In 1965, he moved from ABC, where he also helped launch "Wide World of Sports" to popularity, to NBC, where he remained until 1997.
During his 32 years at NBC, Jones called 28 sports, according to his 2008 obituary in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Bill King: The Silver Tongue by the Bay
Though he never gained fame on the national stage, Bill King was a broadcasting legend in the San Francisco Bay Area, calling the San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, Golden State Warriors and Oakland Raiders during a remarkable career that stretched from the 1950s to the 2000s.
Known for his distinctive handlebar moustache and silver goatee, King at one point was simultaneously the voice of the Raiders, A’s and Warriors in the early 1980s. With his "Holy Toledo" catchphrase and expansive vocabulary, King’s memorable radio calls of legendary games and moments became a staple of NFL Films highlight shows.
His stints as the voice of the Warriors (1962-’83), Raiders (1966-’92) and A’s (1981-2005) each lasted at least 20 years.
King, who died in 2005, finally was recognized in 2017 with the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Cawood Ledford: The Voice of Kentucky Sports
Cawood Ledford spent nearly four decades as the radio voice of the Kentucky Wildcats basketball and football programs, and is one of only a handful of non-athletes to be inducted into the Kentucky Hall of Fame.
His long radio career also included work on the other signature sport in Kentucky, horse racing, as he spent years calling the Kentucky Derby on CBS Radio.
But it was with the Wildcats’ powerhouse basketball program where Ledford had his greatest impact, calling 17 Final Four appearances, including Kentucky’s NCAA championship teams of 1958 and ’78.
"Despite his Appalachian roots, there was little hint of the hills in Ledford's deep, soothing voice," The New York Times wrote in his 2001 obituary. "His down-home style and vivid descriptions endeared him to legions of Kentucky fans in the mountains and beyond."
Verne Lundquist: Emerging From the Shadows
Long before he became one of the most distinctive broadcasting voices in sports, Verne Lundquist seemed destined for a career trapped in the shadows of some of the industry’s all-time greats. Calling college football for ABC in the 1970s, he was the network’s No. 4 announcer at one point behind Keith Jackson, Chris Schenkel and Al Michaels.
But after making the jump to CBS in 1982, Lundquist began to establish himself among the most recognizable broadcasters in sports, and now draws comparisons to Jackson as one of the legendary voices of college football with his folksy style calling the mighty Southeastern Conference.
His sports broadcasting Hall of Fame career also has featured memorable stints calling the NFL, NCAA basketball, Olympics and golf.
Larry Munson: A Bulldog of an Announcer
Larry Munson spent 42 years as the voice of the University of Georgia, endearing himself to legions of Bulldogs fans, in a legendary broadcasting career that spanned 60 years altogether.
Munson’s career started out in the footsteps of the legendary Curt Gowdy, who was calling University of Wyoming games when the two met. Gowdy recommended Munson as his replacement when Gowdy left Cheyenne for a minor league job in Oklahoma City. Munson later replaced Gowdy there as well, when Gowdy made the jump to the New York Yankees.
Munson would go on to call Vanderbilt University football and basketball games before landing the job as the Atlanta Braves' announcer in their inaugural season of 1966.
But when the University of George job opened up a few months later, Munson pounced on it, and the rest is history.
Billy Packer: Mr. March Madness
The evolution of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament into one of television’s most popular sporting events also turned Billy Packer into the sport’s most recognizable broadcaster. Packer was a fixture as a color analyst on national college basketball telecasts from 1974 to 2008 and won a sports Emmy for best personality/analyst in 1993.
Packer made a name for himself working alongside Dick Engberg and Al Maguire on NBC’s telecasts in the 1970s before jumping to CBS in 1981, just as "March Madness" and the Final Four became an annual spectacle. He called 28 consecutive Final Fours until 2008.
Jim Simpson: A Man of Firsts
Jim Simpson was a true pioneer in sports broadcasting during an amazing 52-year career that saw him call sports in 49 states and 22 countries, including 16 Major League Baseball All-Star Games, 14 Olympic Games, six Super Bowls and six World Series. He was the first person to appear on television live via satellite from Asia, and the first broadcaster to call a sporting event using instant replay.
Simpson emerged as a leading figure during the infancy of televised sports broadcasting, landing his first TV job in 1949.
Thirty years later, he joined fledgling ESPN, where he was the network’s first play-by-play announcer.
He received the lifetime achievement award at the sports Emmy Awards in 1997 and is a member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Bill Stern: The First Great Sportscaster
Bill Stern, who got his start before the advent of television, might have been the nation’s first great sportscaster. His legendary status largely stems from his role hosting the "The Colgate Sports Newsreel" on NBC and ABC from 1937 to 1956, but his career actually began in 1925 when he started calling college football games on a local radio station.
After his television broadcasting career ended in 1956, he continued to call sports through the 1960s on the platform where he started, radio.
He was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1974, three years after his death.
Gary Thorne: A Half Century of Excellence
Gary Thorne may not quite be on par with the likes of Vin Scully or Harry Caray among baseball’s legendary broadcasters, but his resume speaks for itself. His 51 years of sportscasting experience include 33 as a Major League Baseball play-by-play announcer, during which time he’s covered 12 World Series and 17 All-Star Games.
Currently, a broadcaster for the Baltimore Orioles, Thorne spent 22 seasons calling baseball for ESPN, and is the owner of five Emmy awards.
He’s also covered the National Hockey League, NCAA sports and the Olympics during his distinguished career.
He even won an Emmy for calling a boys high school state hockey tournament in 2014.
Bob Uecker: The Rodney Dangerfield of Broadcasting
Bob Uecker’s fame lies more in his roles as an actor and comedian than a broadcaster, where his legendary career has never garnered the respect it deserves. He’s spent 48 years as the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers, his hometown team.
Even Uecker’s Hall of Fame induction in 2003, as winner of the Ford C. Frick award for broadcasting excellence, is remembered mostly for his hilarious induction speech that brought the likes of former President George H.W. Bush to tears.
In 2012, Uecker was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and the same year, a statue bearing his likeness was dedicated outside Miller Park, testament to a legendary career as one of the sport’s greatest broadcasters.
Lesley Visser: The Greatest Female Sportscaster Ever
In 2009, the longtime CBS fixture was voted the greatest female sportscaster in history by the American Sportscasters Association. It was no surprise, given her long list of firsts in the business.
In 2006, Lesley Visser became the first woman broadcaster recognized with the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award.
She also is the first sportscaster in history to have served on network broadcasts of the Final Four, Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Triple Crown, Olympics, U.S. Open (tennis) and World Figure Skating Championships.
And in 2004, she became the first woman sportscaster to carry the Olympic torch.
USA Today named her one of the 10 pioneers of women’s sports.