There are a few difficulties with trying to put together a list of the greatest sports calls ever. The big one, I think, is trying to separate the call from the moment. Let’s face it, ANY call of Kirk Gibson’s homer or the U.S. hockey team’s upset of the Soviet Union or the crazy final scene at the Cal-Stanford game would be memorable. The calls would be memorable because the moments are unforgettable. The one World Series championship in Kansas City history was about as undramatic as they come — an 11-0 blowout of St. Louis in Game 7 when Whitey Herzog and Joaquin Andujar got tossed — and still the understated call by the understated Denny Matthews, “No outs to go,” is iconic in the town. It has to be.
So that’s one problem — is the CALL great or is the MOMENT great? And does it even matter?
Another difficulty is figuring out what makes a great call: Is it the announcer finding the perfect words to define the moment? Is it the musical blending of words and crowd noise, like Vin Scully’s call of The Catch? Is it a vivid description of what’s happening, so vivid that you can see it on radio, feel the wind blowing on television? Is it a great catch phrase — “How about that?” or “Going, going gone” or “Oh, my!”
Or is it simply brilliant emotion put to words? One of the most famous calls in sports history wasn’t even made by an announcer — it was an unknown fan screaming over announcer Bud Palmer, “Look at Mills! Look at Mills!” as Billy Mills raced to the finish line in the 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Olympics. Do I include that on my list? You’ll have to wait and see.
In the end, I think there is something ineffable about the greatest calls, something that — when taken out of the moment — might not seem so magical. Is “Havlicek steals the ball!” really so brilliant a four-word sentence? Is “There are no flags on the field!” such a fascinating insight? Is “The Giants win the pennant!” shouted again and again brilliant craftsmanship? I think it’s the moment, the unrepeatable moment, that makes those calls breathtaking and chilling and wonderful. It is the singular dalliance between elation of the voice and wonderment of the moment and power of the words. Was Verne Lundquist’s “Yes!” ever so powerful as when Christian Laettner hit the shot that beat Kentucky? One short and familiar word — the word you long to hear when you propose marriage, the word Marv Albert says with such authority when shots dropped — was infused with something hard to describe when Lundquist said it. But it’s still just a word. Does saying “Yes!” really constitute one of the greatest calls in sports history?
In a word: Yes.
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