Verne and Raft and all is right in the world.
It wouldn’t be an NCAA tournament without Verne Lundquist. Thanks to some tweeks in his schedule, the popular play-by-play man is rested and anxious to go this week.
Now 72, Lundquist asked CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus for an extended break in the grind during college basketball season as part of his new contract. After he completed his football duties, instead of trekking to exotic outposts like East Lansing, Mich. and West Lafayette, Ind., he and his wife headed for a trip Down Under.
Lundquist, though, returned to the microphone a few weeks ago.Thursday, he and his good friend, Bill Raftery, will dive in at Auburn Hills, Mich. for what Lundquist calls his favorite assignment. He did his first NCAA tournament game in 1982, teaming up with former LSU coach Dale Brown.
Here is my Q/A with Lundquist on going strong at 72; and how appearing in Happy Gilmore still is paying dividends for him. Also, I am rerunning his comments on calling the famous Duke-Kentucky game from a post I did with him in December.
How does it feel to being doing another NCAA tournament?
I’m coming up on 50 years in the business. Isn’t that staggering? It is to me. I have a good sense of what goes well and when it doesn’t. It’s like a competitor. When it goes badly, you want another at bat. You don’t have too many that go badly. I wouldn’t be here if I did. I’m proud of the fact I’m still working, still considered viable.
Is the tournament your favorite?
I do think so. Raft and I have become such good friends.
How difficult is it to do four games in one day?
It’s the hardest thing ever. There’s nothing equal to it. The first time, I thought I was up to the challenge, but I didn’t know how to organize myself in the proper fashion. You learn you don’t use up too much energy in the first game. Then you pray to high heaven the last game is compelling. There’s nothing like a blowout in that fourth game to make you really weary.
What sets apart the tournament in your view?
You can argue about what is the greatest sporting event. It’s certainly in the top three. To see the public embrace it has been great. Is the Super Bowl bigger? Certainly, from a corporate aspect it is. But it doesn’t have the charm the NCAA has because of the potential of a Butler winning the title. If (Gordon Hayward’s shot) goes in, Duke-Kentucky becomes the second greatest game.
You went more than 10 years without watching a replay of the famous Duke-Kentucky game. Why?
I thought I had a good broadcast. The truth of the matter is I didn’t want to intrude on the reality of my memories. I didn’t want to look at the tape and say, ‘For crying out loud, why did I do that?’
About 10 years ago, Billy Raftery and I were getting ready to do Marquette-Kentucky (in the NCAA tournament). He called and said they were airing the game on ESPN Classic. He knew I hadn’t watched it. I picked it up midway through the game. At the end, I thought I did a pretty good job.
What was going through your mind as Grant Hill got ready through the in-bounds pass?
At first, I was surprised that Rick Pitino didn’t have anyone guard him. I think if Rick had one do-over, he would have put somebody 6-8 on him.
Then for a split second, I remembered I announced Grant Hill’s birth on a Dallas TV station. His father, Calvin, and I were good friends. Now here’s this guy (Grant) about to throw in the pass. I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ It was very personal to me.
What was your assessment of the final call?
You hope you get the call right. Mine wasn’t particularly brilliant. I channeled my inner Marv Albert and yelled ‘Yes!’
Somebody once asked if I was proud of that call? I’m proud I didn’t muck it up. It wasn’t an innovative piece of broadcasting, but it captured the moment. Len and I then had the good sense to shut up and let (director Mike Arnold) do his job.
What was the reason why you didn’t work as many basketball games this year?
When I did my new contract, I asked them if they could relieve me of some games. There was too much travel to places like East Lansing and West Lafayette. It was very gracious of them to do that. I still watched the games, but I was thankful to be able to do it with my wife.
You’re 72. This is supposed to be a young man’s game. Why does it still work for you?
The fact that I’m working at 72 in a high-profile position makes me feel honored. I think there still is some connection to not only the generation younger than me, but maybe two generations. I have to connect with kids 18-22. I think (appearing in) Happy Gilmore is the gift that keeps on giving.
I’m being factious, but something like that accidentally kept me viable with the college kid crowd.
Do you still enjoy it?
I don’t think you can fake a passion for it. You have to do the preparation. You can’t shortcut the process. The only thing I don’t like is the uneasiness of dealing with the airlines. Everything, except getting from point A to point B, I still find immensely pleasurable.
How much longer do you plan to work?
I’m not gilding the lilly when I say I am so appreciative to management that they gave me the time in the winter. I’ve got a contract that (could take him to 75). Then we’ll see.