CBS play-by-play legend Verne Lundquist, set to cover his 27th NCAA Tournament this week, spoke with Ink recently about his humble beginnings in the industry, which college basketball players have his attention this March and the unrivaled magic of the NCAA Tournament.
1. What do you remember about the first basketball game you ever called?
“(In) 1964, and I’m aging myself, I was in Austin working as the sports anchor for KTBC television. It was a CBS affiliate in Austin. That was my first job as a sports guy.
(My) very first day as a full-time sports director was March 1 of ‘64, and I did a high school basketball playoff on the radio between my alma mater, ironically, Austin High School, and Jefferson of San Antonio. And I had never done play-by-play of any sort. So that was sort of the baptism by fire. Thank God no tape exists of that.”
2. What was your biggest on-air blooper?
“Take the words ‘punt coverage’ and just switch the ‘p’ and the ‘c.’
That was on a Monday night broadcast, the Dallas Cowboys against the Philadelphia Eagles.
What I meant to say was ‘(Philadelphia punt returner) John Sciarra and the Eagles are ripping the Cowboys’ punt coverage to pieces.’
It didn’t come out that way. It was an honest mistake, but there’s nothing in the ballpark that comes close to that.”
3. Who do you enjoy listening to when you’re not calling games?
“One of the fun things for me is to listen to the young guys that haven’t been around a while, and I listen to their style and I find some that I think are going to go farther than others.
Late-night stuff is really fun for me, because I listen to the young kids. And what I can do then is I can put myself back in their shoes. I know how exciting it is for them to get to do an ESPN broadcast or a network broadcast. If you’re in this business and you’ve chosen this craft, that’s a big deal. So I listen to them.”
4. Who in this year’s tournament has your attention?
Jimmer Fredette. Steve Kerr and Clark (Kellogg) and I did the BYU-San Diego State game (on Feb. 26). He didn’t shoot particularly well, but he had nine assists in the game, and I just loved watching him. He’s compelling. You can’t take your eyes off of him.
I love young guys who are 19, 20, 21 years of age who look you right in the eye, give you a firm handshake and are not hesitant to talk. That was one of the reasons that we all fell in love with (former Florida quarterback Tim) Tebow, because he was such a wonderful young man in how he related to everyone around him.
Fredette’s the same way.
At the shoot-around, he didn’t wait for Bill and me to come over. He knows he’s the star, and he came over to the table and he said, ‘Mr. Kerr, Mr. Kellogg, Mr. Lundquist, I’m Jimmer Fredette.’ What a neat thing.”
5. For you, what makes the NCAA Tournament different from every other sporting event you’ve covered?
“(The thrill) is what’s so significant. You don’t get it in the BCS - there’s no playoff system. There’s the very real possibility that when they announce the 68 on Sunday night, every one of them dreams that they’re going to be the team that does it.
What I still love about what I do after all these years is the sense of the unexpected. The idea that you go to a site, and something great can break out. And it can happen in the most unlikely of circumstances.”