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.
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