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NFL 100 – 1960s Football Broadcasters

16 Oct

One of the most underrated things about pro football in the 1960s, which is the era I grew up with, is the quality of the television broadcasters who brought the games into our homes. Those memorable men are the subjects of this NFL 100 post. The National Football League broadcast their games regionally in the ’60s, and the team whose games were shown each week where I live were the Cleveland Browns. It was so great to hear the familiar voices of Ken Coleman and former Browns’ player Warren Lahr describing the action as my childhood idols, players like Frank Ryan, Jim Brown, Gary Collins, Leroy Kelly and Paul Warfield fought their way to victory each week. Coleman was also a long-time Boston Red Sox baseball announcer. Like many of the men we’ll feature here, he was equally good at being knowledgeable about multiple sports.  Jack Buck, whose son Joe is currently the lead play-by-play man for FOX, was another familiar early football broadcaster. He started doing American Football League games in the early 1960s on ABC, then became a regular on the CBS regional NFL games, first with the Chicago Bears and later for the Dallas Cowboys. He was part of the broadcast team for the famous “Ice Bowl” championship game between the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. Like Coleman, Buck was also a long-time baseball announcer, doing St. Louis Cardinal games for decades. A couple of other familiar football voices belonged to Frank Glieber and Lindsey Nelson. Glieber split time during the decade among the Cowboys and Browns (after Coleman left) while Nelson, one of the all-time great voices of gridiron play-by-play men, worked games involving the Cowboys and later the Chicago Bears. Nelson was one of the most versatile sportscasters of his time, having done San Francisco Giants and New York Mets baseball, numerous college football bowl games, NBA and college basketball, golf and tennis. The New York market was a breeding ground for outstanding sportscasters of the era, and some of the best worked NFL games for CBS during the 1960s. Most notable was Chris Schenkel, who worked the New York Giant games for most of the decade. Two former players who were color analysts for Schenkel, Pat Summerall and Frank Gifford, eventually grew into major roles as play-by-play announcers, a transition that former players rarely are successful at. Summerall would go on to become the lead CBS announcer when the network went to national games, a role he would continue when the game rights moved to FOX. Gifford spent a single season as an analyst for Monday Night Football along with Howard Cosell before sliding into the play-by-play seat, where he would remain well into the 1980s.

 

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Ken Coleman interviews coach Paul Brown

 

Other former players who found success in the booth as analysts were Red Grange, who called Bear games from the 1950s until CBS scrapped the regional teams in 1968, and Tom Brookshier, who analyzed games for his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, throughout the decade before hooking up with Summerall as a permanent team in 1974. I mostly remember Jack Whitaker from later decades but he also was the Eagles’ CBS play-by-play man in the early ’60s. Don Criqui, another announcer who remained active well into the 1990s, got his start in the play-by-play seat with the expansion New Orleans Saints in 1967, and became a regular when the network scrapped the regional game pairings and assigned games by merit. Last but not least among the 1960s NFL on CBS broadcasters was Ray Scott. He was the Green Bay Packers’ regional broadcaster throughout the Vince Lombardi Green Bay dynasty years, so he became a well known voice across the country with the Packers being involved in so many postseason games. His philosophy of less is more was legendary – he didn’t talk for the sake of talking but just reported the action on the field with limited conversation and with his trademark smooth voice. “Starr….to Dowler…for the touchdown.” was a call one might hear during a Packer game. When CBS went to their merit system to assign broadcasters, Scott remained mostly doing Packer contests.

 

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Ray Scott, flanked by Jack Buck and Frank Gifford, preview the “Ice Bowl”

 

The American Football League had it’s own brand of broadcasters in the ’60s, and the main play-by-play man was Curt Gowdy, who teamed with former player Paul Christman, and later with former Giant Al DeRogatis, who was controversial and in a way, was Howard Cosell before Cosell himself, an analyst you either loved or hated. Jim Simpson and Charley Jones were also familiar AFL play-by-play voices, and some of the analysts they teamed up with were Kyle Rote, another former New York player who made the move to the broadcast booth, George Ratterman, Elmer Angsman, Andy Robustelli and Lee Grosscup. All in all, they did a great job of bringing professionalism and excitement to fans of the new league, and were a big reason that the AFL was able to succeed.

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Al DeRogatis (left) and Curt Gowdy

 

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