● By Dan Greeson
CBS sports commentator – and longtime Steamboat Springs resident – Verne Lundquist receives an Emmy Award for lifetime achievement in sports. Photo courtesy Marc Bryan Brown.
“Oh. My. Goodness. In all your life have you ever seen anything like that?”
Well, yes, chances are CBS sports commentator Verne Lundquist HAS seen something like that in his 50-plus years broadcasting some of sports’ most memorable moments:
• SuperBowl XIII Dallas Cowboys vs. the Oakland Raiders in 1979, when Cowboys tight end Jackie Smith dropped the ball that would have tied the game. Lundquist famously said, “Bless his heart, he’s got to be the sickest man in America!”
• 50th Masters Tournament, when Jack Nicklaus, who had been considered out of the running, made a birdie putt on the 17th hole. “Maybe…maybe…yes sir!” exclaimed Lundquist, who still considers that day in Augusta as one of the best of his career.
• The Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding debacle at the 1994 Olympics, which attracted 126 million viewers to CBS – at the time, the third most-watched sports broadcast in history. Verne’s oft-repeated comment about the vicious rivalry between the two U.S. skaters: “Well, this bizarre, real-life movie continues.” His performance was parodied on Saturday Night Live.
• 2005 Masters Tournament, when Tiger Woods’ putt stalled precariously at the edge of the hole for a seemingly endless 1.8 seconds before dropping. “In all your life, have you ever seen anything like that?” Lundquist asked.
• Alabama vs. Auburn for a spot in the 2013 SEC Football Championships Game, when Auburn cornerback Chris Davis returned a missed field goal attempt 100 yards for a touchdown with 0:01 seconds remaining on the clock. “Touchdown Auburn! An answered prayer!” Lundquist exclaimed.
Known for his succinct, to-the-point comments following crucial plays – the most famous of which is his trademark, “Yes sir!” – Lundquist has spent his life talking to America.
In recognition of that familiar voice, Lundquist received the 2016 Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sports in May. He and his wife, Nancy, attended the ceremony in New York City. “It was a magical week,” Lundquist says. “It was one of the greatest weeks that Nancy and I have ever had.”
A cocktail party on the ninth floor of the Freedom Tower, hard-to-come-by tickets to the Broadway hit “Hamilton” – which Lundquist says “lives up to all the accolades” – and dinner at the Friars’ Club were all part of the celebration. His brother, Dan, who “hates to travel,” Lundquist says, made the trip for the occasion. But the high point had to be when Lundquist’s colleagues, former NFL commentator Dan Fouts, current SEC football partner Gary Danielson, retired Dallas Cowboys running back Calvin Hill and basketball analyst Bill Raftery surprised Lundquist on stage at the Emmy awards ceremony. His classic response was, “Wow!”
One theme runs through all the accolades: Lundquist is a genuine man. His friends and neighbors in his hometown of Steamboat Springs echo that sentiment. “He makes time for everybody,” says Betse Grassby, co-founder of the Strings Music Festival, who has known Lundquist since day-one of Strings.
“Verne and Nancy were one of our first donors,” Grassby says. “They made a huge difference in the development of the organization.” The Lundquists hosted several Noteworthy Affairs (Strings events at private homes) and Verne often serves as “the voice of Strings,” narrating classical music events like Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale.” “He’s game for anything; he loves the arts,” Grassby says.
Lundquist says Strings was the catalyst that made him and his wife truly feel at home in Steamboat Springs. A common love of classical and choral music brought Nancy and Verne together in the first place, he recalls.
“Strings is so important to this community,” Lundquist says. “The evolution of art in Steamboat over 30 years gives a different reality to life here. Yes, the ranching lifestyle is very important, too, but the arts … I marvel at what we’ve got in this small town.”
Lundquist’s involvement with Strings led to his being asked to narrate Mozart’s “Requiem” with the Carnegie Mellon University Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus in February 2015. “To stand in the middle of the stage in Carnegie Hall, with those musicians, in front of a sold-out house, that was done with a full heart,” he says.
Lundquist embraces life with exuberance, and his hometown is no exception. How many of us have heard him slide in a plug for Steamboat during a sports broadcast?
“I’m doing great, guys,” Lundquist said during his recent appearance on The Dan Patrick Show. “It’s snowing in Steamboat Springs, and that’s good for a ski resort!”
Ski season had ended and summer was making its first tentative appearance in Steamboat when a UPS driver delivered the actual Emmy to the Lundquists’ home. In iconic fashion, Lundquist says, “I look at it and I think, ‘Holy cow!’”