Through all the tumult, turnover, Lundquist has been rock of a pro


January 07, 2000|By Milton Kent

Verne Lundquist chuckled heartily the other day at the memory of a dinner conversation he had with former Southern California quarterback Pat Haden and NBA great Billy Cunningham at a Masters buffet in 1986 that perfectly summed up his career.

Lundquist, who will call Sunday's Maryland-Duke men's basketball game for CBS (Channel 13, 1 p.m.) with Billy Packer, had worked with Haden and Cunningham on the network's college football and basketball packages, respectively, only to see the two of them become lead analysts for those sports.

Trouble was, they ended up with other play-by-play partners, leading Cunningham and Haden to stick Lundquist with the nickname "Otis," as in elevator, as in people just jump on and ride you to the top.

"For about four years, I got that a lot from them," said Lundquist. "For the better part of 20 years, my career has been a lot of that. But I'm very proud of what I've done. The diversity has meant something to me."

Lundquist has an impressive resume that includes calling the 1992 NCAA East Regional game won by Duke over Kentucky on Christian Laettner's jumper and manning the 17th hole at Augusta in 1986, when Jack Nicklaus took the Masters in one of golf's most stirring moments.

The highlight of his nearly three-decade career is being at the microphone during the 1994 Winter Olympics women's figure-skating competition in the midst of the Tonya-Nancy show. The finals remain the most-watched non-Super Bowl sporting event ever.

"Somewhere in the midst of that zoo," he said, referring to the attack that Harding's associates arranged on Kerrigan, "we maintained our dignity and we concentrated on what's important," he said.

What Lundquist won't say is that he is one of the truly gifted announcers, a man whose impact, personal and professional, is so profound that when former Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he chose his former booth partner Lundquist to make his presentation speech.

Lundquist's aversion to self-promotion may make his NFL assignment next weekend his last for the foreseeable future. The rumor mill has it that longtime NBC announcing legend Dick Enberg -- the only current play-by-play man in Lundquist's talent range, according to this observer -- will be coming to CBS next year to take Lundquist's slot as the network's No. 2 NFL announcer alongside Dan Dierdorf.

The merry-go-round would have Lundquist be the lead college football announcer at CBS, which would be nice, except the network has no part of the Bowl Championship Series package.

The better move from this vantage point would be for CBS to re-team Enberg with Phil Simms as its No. 1 NFL team, to move Greg Gumbel into the studio as host of "The NFL Today," and shift its current host, Jim Nantz, to the college package.

Lundquist pledges to be the loyal soldier as he awaits the bidding of CBS Sports President Sean McManus.

"It has been tumultuous," said Lundquist. "I'm a total professional. I will do what the company asks, and if Sean wants me to do college football and if that will fulfill a need that he has, then that's what I'll do."

He'll do what he has always done, his best, which is a lot better than most.

On the local side

Fox has fired the latest salvo in the ongoing cable sports news war by announcing plans to go regional, starting in June.

Fox Sports Net, the company's sports cable outlet that brings local coverage under a national umbrella, unveiled some of its plan to do a nightly sports news show that is focused at a regional audience.

The 30-minute program will air at 11 p.m. and follow the national "Fox Sports News."

"We knew that someday we would do a local show," said Arthur Smith, executive vice president of programming, production and news for Fox Sports Net. "After spending a lot of time talking within our organization, we decided that this is the time."

Smith was light on details during a conference call earlier this week, and was vague about whether Home Team Sports, which is owned by CBS and is a Fox Sports Net affiliate, will come up with a regional program.

Ted Ewanciw, an HTS spokesman, said officials for the Bethesda-based channel "certainly like" the idea and hope to have a show on the air around the time of the Fox launch.

A quick thought

Local sports fans are, no doubt, appreciative of Comcast buying the naming rights to the new University of Maryland arena.

But local sports viewers would be even more appreciative if the cable company would add channels like CNN/SI or ESPNEWS to its roster, or would make ESPN Classic available across the area.

Around the dial

For most communications professionals, focus groups and their feelings are the bane of our existence. But ESPN2 has taken the findings of one of those groups and put them to good use.

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