Some of you hung on their every word. Others might have thrown a beer can toward the television at the sound of their voice. And still others saw the action they described only in your mind’s eye as you listened to the radio.
These are the men and women who make the games or the highlights come alive through their descriptions and enthusiasm. They can be outlandish, understated or poetic, and for many of us they are indispensable parts of the NFL experience.
As the NFL celebrates its 100th season, USA TODAY selects the top 50 broadcasters in league history. They are chosen by accomplishment, reputation, longevity, significance and, admittedly, personal preference. Some you might never have heard of; others are as familiar as members of your family.
1. John Facenda: Known as the “Voice of God,” he voiced over the greatest of the NFL Films productions. And we do mean voice – his was unmistakable. While he was a news anchor on Philadelphia TV from 1948 to 1973, he will forever be associated with the NFL. “He had a voice that could make a laundry list sound dramatic,” Steve Sabol of NFL Films once said. The story goes that Ed Sabol, Steve’s father, discovered Facenda at a bar in 1965 when he overheard him describing NFL Films footage that was airing on TV.
2. Pat Summerall: Started doing NFL games for CBS in 1962 after retiring from a nine-year NFL career as a kicker primarily for the Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants. He eventually became network sports’ play-by-play voice of the NFL, first with analyst, close friend and former defensive back Tom Brookshire and then most famously with John Madden for 22 seasons, on CBS and then on Fox. He called a record 16 Super Bowls on TV, was named the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio and Television Award winner in 1994 and was CBS’ lead announcer on its PGA Tour coverage.
3. John Madden: The Hall of Famer won a Super Bowl as coach of the Raiders, where he had a 75.9% winning percentage over 10 seasons, and then went into broadcasting, having his greatest success and impact with Pat Summerall. Aside from his trademark “Boom!” call, he is known for coming up with the term “turducken” for his turkey/duck/chicken extravaganza awarded to the winning team on whichever Thanksgiving Day game telecast he was working. Early in his broadcast career he was known for his Miller Lite commercials and then appealed to the younger set with his introduction of the “Madden NFL” video game series.
4. Howard Cosell: He called his autobiography “I Never Played the Game,” but that did not stop him from pontificating on sports from football to boxing. He helped turn the NFL from pure sports to a combination of sports and entertainment when he signed on for the debut of “Monday Night Football” in 1970 and stayed over an entertaining but controversial career until 1983. He was the third man in the booth, unheard of at the time, alongside former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith and Hall of Famer Frank Gifford (the latter joining after a brief stay by original play-by-play announcer Keith Jackson). Cosell brought a more critical eye to the game and the players than viewers were accustomed to hearing.
5. Don Meredith: The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback helped revolutionize coverage of the league when he teamed with Cosell and Gifford on “Monday Night Football” by injecting a folksy sense of humor that overshadowed a keen sense of the game — when he focused on the game. His interaction with Cosell could take the telecast off the rails, which sometimes saved the night when their byplay proved more entertaining than the game action. You knew the game was done when he started singing, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”
6. Curt Gowdy: The big-game baseball and football announcer, he called nine Super Bowls, including the first and Joe Namath’s “guarantee” win for the Jets over the Colts in Super Bowl III. His was the call on the Immaculate Reception, with longtime boothmate Al DeRogatis, when Franco Harris made a deflected catch that helped the Steelers beat the Raiders in a 1972 AFC playoff game. Gowdy was the Pete Rozelle Radio and Television Award winner in 1993.
7. Al Michaels: Perhaps best known for his “Do you believe in miracles?” call when the USA upset Russia in hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics, he steadied the ship on “Monday Night Football” after the Cosell era, then teamed with Madden and later Cris Collinsworth on “Sunday Night Football” for NBC starting in 2009. “Since the 1970s, Al has been at or near the peak of all network play-by-play men,” Bob Costas told USA TODAY Sports last season. “And I think now, for a sustained period of time, he has been the standard of maybe two generations.” He won the Rozelle Award in 2013.
8. Dick Enberg: On NBC, he and Pro Football Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen offered a more sophisticated counterpoint to the “Boom!” bluster of Madden and Summerall. Enberg was the master craftsman of words, indicative of his background in teaching and higher education. He called 10 Super Bowls but also was legendary for announcing NCAA men’s basketball games with Al McGuire and Billy Packer, and before that was the famed announcer during UCLA’s basketball championship run under John Wooden. He won 13 Sports Emmys and was given the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Rozelle Award in 1999. He is the only person to win an Emmy as a sportscaster, a writer and a producer.
9. Ray Scott: The voice of the Green Bay Packers in their dynasty years of the 1960s, then became synonymous as the voice of the NFL when the sport exploded into popular culture late in that decade. He broadcast four Super Bowls, including the first, and was the voice during the infamous Ice Bowl playoff game won by the Packers against the Dallas Cowboys in wind chills of -35 degrees. He was the 2000 Rozelle winner.
10: Brent Musburger, Phyllis George, Irv Cross, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder on “The NFL Today”: This was mandatory appointment TV on Sunday afternoons ahead of the NFL slate of games, filling in notes from around the league in the pre-internet days with up-to-the-minute sideline reports and lengthy taped interviews. This crew kicked off in 1975 (Jimmy The Greek joined the next season). The show dominated its time slot for 18 years. George left in 1978 but returned in 1980 for a few years. Snyder was fired in 1988, according to The Washington Post, for telling a Washington, D.C., TV station that many blacks were superior athletes because of breeding from the time of slavery and that the only area in sports left for whites was coaching. Cross won the Rozelle Award in 2009.
11. Frank Gifford: A Hall of Fame player and broadcaster, he joined “Monday Night Football” in its second season (1971) through 1997, the calming voice in the early years of the telecast, when Cosell and Meredith would stray far afield. He was a dashing player on the New York football scene for the Giants in the heydays of the 1950s and parlayed that into an NFL broadcasting career that first began at CBS. He was the color man on coverage of the first Super Bowl, working the CBS telecast of the game versus the NBC telecast that had Curt Gowdy, Paul Christman and Charlie Jones.
12. Jim Nantz: Known as much for golf and college basketball, he also has called five Super Bowls for CBS and has been the mainstay of the network’s NFL coverage since becoming its lead play-by-play voice on Sundays since 2004. He is a three-time Emmy winner and five-time National Sportscaster of the Year who has been with CBS since 1985. His time of year is in the early months of the calendar, when he can be seen announcing the Super Bowl, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and The Masters. He won the Rozelle Award in 2011.
13. Charlie Jones: He called football games throughout a 38-year career, mostly with NBC. An Emmy winner, he was called “one of the great pioneers of NBC Sports,” by Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports, according to the Los Angeles Times. He was the 1997 Rozelle winner.
14. Tom Brookshier: An all-pro defensive back with the Eagles, Brookshier teamed with Pat Summerall as CBS’ No. 1 crew for many years on NFL games. In 1981, he left for another assignment, and John Madden became Summerall’s partner.
15. Chris Schenkel: A 40-year career included New York Giants games starting in 1952, which put him in the booth for the famous Colts-Giants 1958 NFL championship game. He also did voice-over for the first NFL Films production and the 1962 NFL title game between the Packers and the Giants. “Chris was an unbelievable gentleman,” said legendary TV producer Don Ohlmeyer, according to the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. “He had one of the most important qualities people can have on television: They are instantly likable.” He won the Rozelle Award in 1992.
16. Lindsey Nelson: While best known for announcing baseball and college football (particularly Notre Dame), he did the NFL on CBS from 1966 to 1981 and did some Monday night games on radio. Aside from his great storytelling and Tennessee twang — Bob Costas called him “a cheerful chronicler” — Nelson could be recognized from afar by his sartorial splendor. If a jacket wasn’t garish, it wasn’t on Nelson. He was named the Rozelle winner in 1990. Appropriately, he would have been 100 this year.
17. Lesley Visser: Originally a newspaper reporter, she came to prominence with her personal player stories for “The NFL Today,” and then her dogged sideline work. She won the Rozelle Award in 2006, and, according to her website, she was “the only woman to have presented the Lombardi Championship Trophy at the Super Bowl (1992, CBS); the first woman on ABC’s ‘Monday Night Football’ (1998); voted the No. 1 Female Sportscaster of All-Time by the American Sportscasters Association; voted to both the Sportscasters Hall of Fame and the Sportswriters Hall of Fame.”
18. Marty Glickman: Did play-by-play for the New York Giants from 1948 to 1971 and for the Jets from 1971 to 1979 and 1987 to 1989. The website jewishsports.net called him “one of America’s premier sports broadcasters for five decades.” He also made the 1936 Olympic track team but was withheld from competition by the U.S. for the Games in Hitler’s Germany. He was named to four Halls of Fame, including the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
19. Jack Whitaker: His network career began in 1961 at CBS, where he did play-by-play for the Eagles and hosted other shows. He also was a studio host for the CBS pregame show. Known for his golf “essays,” he won three Emmy Awards and is in the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.20
20. Al DeRogatis: The former NFL player was known mainly for his sharp analysis covering the NFL with Curt Gowdy. “In 10 years, I never had a bad moment with Curt,” he once told the Chicago Tribune. “We were just two guys trying to tell the true story of what was happening.” They were the broadcasters for the famous “Heidi” game in 1968, Super Bowl III when the Jets upset the Colts and the 1971 AFC championship game in Kansas City that went to double overtime.
21. James Brown: A former basketball player at Harvard, he has been an even-keel studio host for more than 30 years, mostly with CBS. The multiple Emmy winner was named Best Studio Host of the Decade by Sports Illustrated in 2010. He won the Rozelle Award in 2016.
22. Merlin Olsen: A legendary defensive lineman for the Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome.” According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame site, he earned a master’s in economics in the offseasons. He partnered with Dick Enberg as NBC’s No. 1 team for AFC games. He also was an actor, best known for “Little House on the Prairie.”
23. Harry Kalas: A mainstay narrator for NFL Films (while mostly known as the Phillies’ play-by-play man) and the primary voice after John Facenda. “(Facenda) was the ‘Voice of God’ and Kalas the ‘Voice of the People,’” then-NFL Films president Steve Sabol said upon Kalas’ death.
24. Andrea Kremer: A multiple Emmy winner who works for NFL Network and HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” and has covered more than 25 Super Bowls. Won the Rozelle Award in 2018, joining Lesley Visser as the only female winners.
25. Jack Buck: Known mainly for baseball and as the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals. He called the 1962 AFL championship game and 17 Super Bowls on radio. He began announcing the NFL on TV for CBS in 1963, and in 1967 called the Ice Bowl with Ray Scott. Buck was named the Rozelle winner in 1996.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Thomas O’Toole and Rachel Shuster