When the staff at Crystal Ball Run was tasked with coming up with ideas for “Favorites Week,” I really wasn’t quite sure what angle I’d take. There isn’t a returning player who has captured my heart yet. (I usually don’t fall head over heels for anyone until at least Week Three. What can I say, I’m a prude.) My favorite coach is now in the NFL. (Jim Harbaugh, why don’t you call anymore?) And my favorite team, the UConn Huskies, have fewer familiar faces on their roster than the starting lineup of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
(Although, in defense of my UConn fandom, I did consider writing a Favorites Week piece on Paul Pasqualoni’s eyebrows. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t sure there was enough material there for a full column. Maybe next year.)
Needless to say, for a while, I was in a rut. College football is my favorite sport by far, but entering the 2011 season, I didn’t have a “favorite” anything.
Then I went ahead and closed my eyes. I pictured everything that a college football Saturday should look and feel like, and beyond the smell of food on the grill and the sight of coeds in sundresses, one sound stood out above them all: the smooth baritone voice of one Mr. Merton LaVerne “Verne” Lundquist. I had my Favorites Week column.
Understand that I’m not trying to, nor would I ever try to, say that Lundquist is the best play-by-play man in the business. That title, in my humble opinion, belongs to Brad Nessler. Nor is Verne the most iconic. That belt is obviously worn by Brent Musberger. Verne certainly isn’t the most dramatic either; if anything, I’d probably say that’s Sean McDonough. If you disagree, just fast forward to the end of this clip.
If anything, Verne has more faults than all three of those guys combined. He doesn’t have the sheer confidence and swagger of Musberger, or the presence of Nessler, who I contend was born to call big-time football games more than just about anyone in the business. Verne doesn’t have the calm under pressure that Mark Jones brings every Saturday either.
No, like so many of us floating around on this big blue marble we call Earth, Verne is plenty flawed. He forgets down and distance, and as one of my readers once told me, his excitability level is probably better suited for the back nine at Augusta than the fourth quarter at Jordan-Hare or Tiger Stadium.
Beyond that, let’s not even get started on Verne’s biggest flaw, the butchering of names. Honestly, the guy is worse than your buddy at the bar who has six vodka tonics and starts calling every girl “Julie” to try and catch one’s attention. Nope, Verne has long forgotten more names then I’ll ever remember. Hell, I once had an Alabama fan repeatedly complain to me about Verne calling Rolando McClain “Orlando,” which, as I came to notice one Saturday, was exactly what he did. Understand that at the time, McClain wasn’t some redshirt freshman nobody on kickoff coverage, but an All-American, and quite possibly the most recognizable player on the field. Yet, that didn’t stop Ole’ Verne from spending the whole broadcast vacillating between calling him Orlando, Rolando and something else unintelligible. He did it the following Saturday too.
Interestingly, though, that’s probably why I love Verne the most: He’s not perfect, and he knows it. When he butchers a name, or makes a completely invalid or off-base point that forces Gary Danielson to swoop in and correct him, Verne doesn’t care, or at least doesn’t seem to care anyway. Instead, he just gives that goofy, overextended “ha, ha, HAAA,” laugh of his, a laugh so over the top and uncalled for that it's usually exclusively reserved for bad jokes on awkward first dates. But to Verne’s credit, one thing which he does do is defer to Danielson and get the heck out of the way whenever anything important is being discussed. It’s something I wish more in his line of work would do.
Of course there are plenty of other reasons to like Verne, including his catch phrases. There’s “My Goooooodness!!” and my personal favorite, “How doooooo you do?”, one which I use on nearly a day-to-day basis. That’s usually much to the chagrin of my non-college football fan friends, who in general have no idea what I'm talking about when I say it. But at the end of the day, who cares? They’re missing out by not worshipping at the Church of Verne. Not me.
Honestly, though, the reason I have, and always will love Verne is because he seems like the “everyman” who got lucky enough to get the job that every man wishes he had. The dude gets to sit in a booth every Saturday and announces college football games, and just listening to him you know there isn’t a single place he’d rather be – except possibly diving into his hotel mini-bar – and no one else he’d rather be working with than Danielson and sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson.
And really, that is something you can’t undersell with Verne. Yes, some guys may bring more to the table than he does, but nobody has more fun when he’s at the stadium every Saturday. I mentioned his overextended laugh before, but it’s worth repeating: The guy giggles more than a basement full of 15-year-old girls at a slumber party. And ultimately, that’s more important than you think. Knowing that Verne Lundquist is having fun, makes us as fans have more fun listening to him.
Finally, there’s one more reason that I love Verne, and honestly, it’s a bit of a selfish one.
Before I get to it, though, I want to make something abundantly clear: Nobody loves college football more than me. Some of you may love it the same, but honestly, I think it might be literally impossible to love it more than I do. How many of you have lost a girlfriend over college football? Well, I’m proud to say I’ve lost multiple. The way I see it, if you can’t give me September through December, well damn, why should I give you January to August? (For those keeping score at home, that exact point is Reason No. 783 on the list of “Why My Mom Has Given Up On Me Ever Giving Her Grandchildren.”) Besides, I can find someone else to keep me company come mid-January. But if I miss an Ohio State-Wisconsin game or Florida-Tennessee, it ain’t coming back for another year.
Anyway, like I was saying, I love college football more than anything, and I love the SEC Saturday afternoon game more than any. The fact that I can count on the best game, from the best conference at the exact same time every Saturday for fifteen or so straight weeks, is almost therapeutic. It really does mean something to me.
And honestly, having Verne call those big games really does mean something to me too.
At this point, Verne is about as reliable as an old sweater, and as important to my week as a Friday afternoon happy hour. As sad as it might be to say, Verne Lundquist brings me the thing that makes me happier than anything else, and brings it with a smile on his face, on cue, every Saturday afternoon. In that regard, some might call him a clean-shaven, slightly inebriated Santa Claus. But you know what I call him? Family. At this point, I couldn't imagine anyone else sitting in that CBS chair besides Verne.
So after some long consideration, my “Favorites Week” submission is clear.
In the end, players come and go. So do coaches. Teams fade in and out of national relevance.
But Verne Lundquist? He’s one of college football’s few constants.
And I hope that never changes.
Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.
Follow Aaron Torres on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.
Great article and nice tribute to a man I listened to broadcasting from Mrs. Johnson's Bakery back in the 60's in Austin to the guy I got to know when he was the sports anchor for WFAA in Dallas. I had to chuckle at the "inebriated Santa" reference. I remember nights at the Railhead in Dallas, a popular watering hole, where Verne would be totally snockered. Great times, great guy. Live long and prosper!
Verne is great for all the reasons that you laid out Aaron. Like Keith Jackson growing up as a youngin, Verne at those big Saturday afternoon SEC games has become a part of the college football fabric for me.
Great read. I, too, worship at the Church of Verne.
The moment I really fell in love with him three or four years ago. Verne always handles the plugs for the CBS primetime dramas and sitcoms, and on several Saturdays that season he had to hype up a horrible-looking show called "Love Monkey."
Verne couldn't hide his contempt. He mockingly read the script and then made a joke at the show's experience. In my mind I could picture him throwing up his hands in the booth while Gary covered his mic and tried not to laugh too hard.
Verne kept it real in a spot where every other major network employee would follow the company line. I'll always love him for that.
I think you totally hit why people love Verne so much. When was the last time he ever gave you a "give me a break moment" like Musberger's "this is for all the Tostitos" line? You get the feeling when Verne's announcing the game that his goal is to make the experience more enjoyable for the viewers, not impress you with his verbal wizardry.
He doesn't worry about making his own moments during the broadcasts, because he lets the moments speak for themselves. Think about how often CBS has those shots of a guy like A.J. Green celebrating in the end zone with fans going nuts behind him and all you hear are the sounds of the game. Those are the great moments that people love, and the most you get from Verne is an "oh my..." 10 seconds later.
@AndyParker Andy-Thanks for sharing! Verne seems like the kind of guy who enjoys an adult beverage or two in his free time, so your comments don't surprise me one bit!Aaron
Sooner- Thanks. The idea of a haggard Verne throwing his hands up while reading a promo that he knows nothing about, nor cares to know nothing about, just made me laugh out loud.
I'm so glad that by writing this article, I've come to realize that people truly love Verne as much as I do. Like I said, he really is one a kind.
Speaking of which, I wonder what Ole' Verne is doing right now? If I had to guess between watching film to get ready for the season, or drinking beer in his underwear on the couch, I'd probably take the latter.
I love this man. Aaron
Thanks for the kind words, and your thoughts only furthered my opinions as well.
Honestly, I think my favorite thing about Verne is that, as you said, he makes the games more enjoyable for the viewers. I have no doubt, not for one second, that he enjoys announcing these games every Saturday. He loves sports, he loves being in the arena, and he loves BS'ing with Gary on football Saturday's, Raftery in college hoops and whomever his partner may be in golf (don't watch much, sorry).
Really, I feel like Verne Lundquist is quite content... "Being Verne Lundquist." Listening to other announcers, you can tell they're angling for a promotion, angling for another gig, angling to be famous, whatever. Not Verne. He has no biases, allegiances or agendas. He doesn't try to act bigger than the game, he's just happy to be a part of it.
Verne might not be the best announcer out there, but he is the one I enjoy the most.