Dan Hicks is about to become one of the most recognizable broadcasters in college football. The veteran NBC Sports broadcaster will be announced Monday as the next television voice of Notre Dame football. He succeeds Tom Hammond, who has been NBC's lead voice for Notre Dame football since 1992.
The assignment is unique given the national standing of the school, NBC's partnership with Notre Dame (the network pays an estimated $15 million a year for the Irish regular-season package), and current viewer interest in the program: Last year Notre Dame football enjoyed its most-watched season on NBC since 2005 with an average audience of 4.4 million viewers. Why did Hicks, best known for hosting NBC's golf and Olympic swimming coverage, want the job? He said he really missed football, a sport he called in the 1990s when NBC owned the NFL's AFC package.
"I think everyone at NBC had an inkling I was interested in getting back to football and when this opportunity came up, it was something I jumped at," Hicks said. "It's been great to make a name for myself at NBC, so to speak, with golf and the Olympics. But I'm really excited to carve another niche. For a play-by-play guy, the opportunity to call Notre Dame on a regular basis, an iconic brand, an iconic team, an iconic institution, was exciting."
Hicks, 50, had filled in for Hammond for one game in each of the last two seasons (he also called a Notre Dame game during the Ty Willingham years) and the speculation had existed for months that he would succeed Hammond this season. On the subject of how involved Notre Dame administrators were in the decision, an NBC Sports spokesperson told SI.com, "Notre Dame had no input, although they were informed once the decision was made." The spokesperson said NBC would not comment on whether Notre Dame has a contractual provision to sign off on broadcaster choices.
Hicks' first Notre Dame assignment comes this Saturday, when NBC Sports Network airs Notre Dame's annual Blue-Gold Game at 1 p.m. ET. Analyst Mike Mayock and sideline reporter Alex Flanagan will continue in their current roles. Notre Dame's regular season begins on Saturday, August 31, at 3:30 p.m. when the Irish host Temple. NBC will also air Notre Dame games against Michigan State, Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC, Navy and BYU.
Hicks said NBC Sports executives have not told him how long the assignment will last. "But I'm not even thinking about that," Hicks said. "Every job that I've ever taken and even when I became [host] of the 18th tower in golf, no one ever said how many years I'd be doing it. It would be silly for any network executive to say, 'Okay, you will be the guy for 15 years.' You are there to perform and if you can't perform, obviously, they will find someone else to get the job done. I'm confident in my abilities to do this job and it's a position I see fulfilling for a number of years."
The network will also announce Monday that they have re-signed Hammond, 68, to a multi-year deal. He'll continue to call horse racing and Olympic figure skating and track and field. Hicks said he planned to call Hammond shortly but wanted to wait until after his colleague signed a new contract. Hicks will also continue to work as the lead commentator for NBC's live-event golf coverage (the conflicts are minimal) and will return for NBC's Olympic coverage of the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics. Hicks is married to ESPN anchor Hannah Storm, a Notre Dame alum.
Asked how intrusive the Notre Dame administration was when he previously called games, Hicks said, "In my few appearances and games I have done, I have not found any type of interference at all. Now, am I going to feel the same way after I am there week-in and week-out? I don't know. From the games we've done -- and that goes behind the scenes from what the producers have told me -- I have not had one instance where I felt 'I better not go there' because we have a partnership with Notre Dame.'"
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)
1. Imagery is always what CBS does best at the Masters and amid the usual, fawning commentary (using the word "bravery" to describe golf shot-making really needs to be eliminated), CBS Sports producer Lance Barrow and director Steve Milton provided terrific pictures for viewers over the weekend. Among the best were Adam Scott's final round rain-swept birdie at No. 18, Scott watching from the scoring room as Angel Cabrera birdied at No. 18, and Cabrera tossing his putter in the air in disbelief when he missed a birdie putt on the second extra hole.
1a. Among the more interesting broadcasting notes of the weekend was how different the two-stroke penalty assessed on Tiger Woods played on The Golf Channel Saturday morning versus CBS later that day. Much has been written about how forceful CBS analyst Nick Faldo was on The Golf Channel when he declared Woods should disqualify himself from the tournament. "This is dreadful," Faldo said. "Tiger is judge and jury on this. There is absolutely no intention to drop as close to the divot. That's a breach of the rules....The greatest part of our game is our rules of golf are black and white, and Tiger broke them. He has admitted he broke them. He should stand up and earn himself some brownie points and say to all his fellow professionals: 'I've broken the rules, I'm going home and I will see you next week.' He should consider the mark this will leave on his legacy."
Faldo followed with a backstroke later in the day on CBS that Aaron Peirsol would admire. The details here are here.
1b. The Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee was the most vocal of the send-Woods-out-of-the-tournament pundits and while I admire his conviction, he took the hyperbole train a couple of times: "If he doesn't disqualify himself, this will cast a dark shadow over the entire day of golf, over this entire event, but more importantly over his entire career for the rest of his life," Chamblee said. Others on the Golf Channel, notably Brad Faxon, said if it had been them, they would have been DQ'd on the spot.
1c. CBS smartly used the first 12 minutes of its Saturday coverage to focus on the Woods story, including host Jim Nantz (softly) interviewing Fred Ridley, the chairman of the Competition Committees at Augusta National. Nantz called the drop by Woods "an innocent mistake." The AP chronicled the top of the broadcast here.
1d. I thought CBS veteran announcer Bill Macatee handled the post-Round Three interview with Woods really well (as did Woods, who showed some humor). If nothing else, Macatee drastically dialed down the over-the-top deference most TV interviewers show when interviewing Woods.
1e. Third-round overnight coverage of the Masters was up 24 percent over last year and was expected to be up significantly when the final numbers come out this week.
1f. While I appreciate Nantz's enthusiasm for the tournament -- his call of "Adam Scott -- a life-changer!" was refreshingly sparse -- he went way overboard declaring "The whole nation is watching!" to describe Australia's interest in Scott. All of Australia was not watching the Masters.
1g. ESPN Deportes reporter John Sutcliffe served as the on-air interpreter for Cabrera's post-playoff interview with CBS. Very cool.
2. The EPL Talk website reported last week that Arlo White has been selected as the lead EPL gamecaller for NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. NBC has a big Premier League presentation this Tuesday in New York where White's hire will be officially announced.
3. Actor John C. McGinley knew of famed Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber from the broadcaster's post-baseball work on NPR but to prepare for the role of Barber in the film "42," McGinley spent weeks listening to six audio CDs of Barber doing broadcasts of World Series games with Mel Allen. "I tried to own what was, to my ear, a very alien sound, with Red being a combination of a guy born in Mississippi, raised in Florida, coming up in the Cincinnati organization and winding up in Brooklyn," McGinley said. "Those four different regions created a sound that was so distinct but so hard. I got obsessive-compulsive listening to those discs until I could fit his cadence into my mouth."
McGinley, a veteran actor with Wall Street, Platoon and the NBC show "Scrubs" on his resume, said Barber was the first real-life person he had ever played. He said his preparation was so intense that at some points, he would answer back to Barber's voice on the CD in Barber's voice. "It got pretty psychotic," McGinley said.
McGinley grew up in Millburn, New Jersey and became a Yankee fan during the Joe Pepitone and Ron Blomberg years. He said he listens often to Vin Scully and pals around with a Malibu-living sports crowd (Laird Hamilton, Gabrielle Reece, Sheldon Souray, John McEnroe, and Tony Danza) that refer to themselves as the "Malibu Mob." The group mountain bikes together and does underwater training at the home of Hamilton and Reece, who are married to each other. "Everything is based on activity," McGinley said. "But you can't go against Laird in anything on the planet. You can only try to mimic him."
4. Last week, analysts Steve Kerr, Chris Webber, and Reggie Miller called the Thunder-Warriors game with no traditional play-by-play announcer. Here was my take for SI.com.
4a. Good discussion Sunday on ABC's NBA Countdown regarding Kobe Bryant's injury and what the Lakers should do heading forward. Analysts Magic Johnson and Bill Simmons questioned why the Lakers coaching staff was letting Bryant determine his minutes. Said Johnson: "You don't leave that in the player's hand."
5. Among the memorable sports pieces this week:
? Can Brittney Griner change the equation for the WNBA? New York Times reporter Jere Longman examines her impact.
? Here are 10 athletes deserving of a Hollywood biopic including my choice (Bill Walton).
? No newspaper loves to tweak Tiger Woods more than the New York Post. They went at him again on Sunday.
? SI's S.L. Price profiled Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and the stripping down of his franchise.
? SI.com's Lee Jenkins had a strong column on Kobe Bryant and the breaking of the rock.
? A non-sports piece all should take note of, especially if you are a parent.
One-on-one With Verne Lundquist
With his calming demeanor and a deep-throated voice as comfortable as a Barcalounger, CBS Sports broadcaster Verne Lundquist is as popular as he has ever been. His voice links Jack Nicklaus to Woods and it was Lundquist who described Christian Laettner's miracle shot that beat Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional Final. Prior to his heading to Augusta National last week, I caught up with the 72-year-old Lundquist for an extended conversation for the magazine. Here are extras from that conversation.
You have a contract with CBS that can take you to 75. What happens then?
It's a two-year deal with an option, and the option is CBS's and not mine. I turn 73 this summer and assuming they pick up the option that will get me to 75. Then we'll see.
But you don't want to leave the booth anytime soon, right?
No, I don't. But I'm also realistic. If my mind works, my memory works, and my knees work, I would want to keep going for awhile. But I don't want to go too long. That is the most important thing for me. We have all seen guys who probably stayed a year too long. I have a deal with my college football producer (Craig Silver) and obviously my boss, (CBS Sports Chairman) Sean McManus. If they sense that I am beginning to slow down, we should have a serious conversation. But I don't really need anyone to tell me. I think I will sense it myself. Am I suddenly having difficulty recalling anecdotes? Am I suddenly not remembering names? Do I no longer enjoy the preparation.
You met your wife Nancy in 1980 and you were married in 1982. How did you two meet?
We met in a bar -- and I hasten to add it was an upscale bar in Dallas. It was a place called Arthur's. I walked in after I did the 10 o'clock news (at WFAA-TV in Dallas) and I just didn't want to go home. Nancy and her date were at the bar and her date recognized me from local television and invited me over to have a drink. He introduced me to his date and her name was Nancy Miller. It was their first date, a blind date. So we sat and chatted and her date, Raymond Willie, said to me, "Listen, I know you are single. I'm going to fix you up with a friend of mind and we can all go to dinner." He looked at Nancy and asked her, "What are you doing Thursday night?" She said, "Nothing." He said, "Good, you'll be my date and we'll fix Verne up with this schoolteacher friend of mine and we'll go to dinner." Meanwhile, I'm looking at Nancy thinking she is the prettiest thing I have ever seen in my life. So, Raymond finally left to take care of his business and I asked Nancy, "So, how involved are you with Raymond? She said, "Oh, this is our first date and it's a blind date." So I said, "Well forget what he is talking about on Thursday night. What are you doing on Saturday night?" She said, "I think I am doing whatever you are doing."
That's stone-cold bold, Verne.
We had our first date on March 22, 1980 and it changed my life. We will celebrate our 31st anniversary on April 8. Nancy had been married twice and I had been married twice. Neither of us had children. We took a couple of years to work things out before decided that the third marriage would work for us both and obviously it has.
Given the age of the marriage, it seems you both had a good sense of who you were at the time, right?
You are absolutely right. Neither of us had children and we made a lifestyle choice the time we got married. I didn't know it when we got married but I was about to go to CBS. And when I did go to CBS in the fall of 1982, that made the choice for us fairly simple. We had not been inclined to start a family because of our ages. When we met I was 40, and she was 35. It was, for us, the proper choice.
Your first Masters assignment was at the 13th hole in 1983. Then you were reassigned to No. 17 after the death of Frank Glieber, one of your good friends. That must have been odd to get that assignment after a dear friend had passed?
It was very emotional. Frank had been at No. 17 from 1968 to 1985. He was probably one of the first mentors I had. He taught me a lot about how to get along in this business. He dropped dead of a heart attack at 51 years of age. To lose him at that age, to have felt as connected to him as I did, and then to be chosen by [CBS Sports golf producer] Frank Chirkinian to move to 17, it was an emotional week for me.
Do you have a favorite Masters hole?
I love 16. I get to sit where Henry Longhurst, the legendary British broadcaster sat in the 1960s and 1970s and where Jim Nantz started his career. The hole has got such a great sense of impact on the tournament on Sunday afternoon. But I also love 13, I must tell you. So 13 and 16 are my two favorites.
How do you recall the first time you saw Augusta?
Vividly. I rode down the TV announcers entrance to Augusta, pulled into the compound. We had a permanent structure and the golf course was probably a half-mile away. I pulled up and it is hard to express how exciting the moment was. The late Bob Dailey who was our director saw me come up and said, "Laddy, I know you think you have seen this golf course because you have watched it on television, but climb in this cart. I'd like to introduce you to Augusta."
I know you love Al Michaels' call of the Miracle On Ice game but it must be flattering when your Jack Nicklaus call in 1986 gets tabbed as one of the best ever.
It's stunning to me because Vin Scully is in a world the rest of us can only hope to visit occasionally. But among my contemporaries, Al Michaels is the most gifted broadcaster we have. I love Scully's call at the end of the Dodgers-A's game: "In the year of the improbable, the impossible has happened." That is my favorite call. Then 1A is Al at Lake Placid. Then I would say Number 2 is Al during the U.S.-Finland game when he did the perfect countdown. "10 seconds to the gold medal, 5, and then with exquisite timing he said, "The impossible dream... has come true." So to have mine in anyone's Top 5, I'm really honored by that.
What has been the most thrilling moment for you and Bill Raftery on college basketball?
For Raf and me, I think George Mason is the highlight. In that case, we had an 11-seed beating a number one to get to the Final Four. It was all magnified because that was the year Billy Packer had chosen to go on the attack against mid-majors and their spots in the tournament.
We all know how serious SEC fans take college football. For so many people, this is Saturday religion and you are one of the conduits.
It is, and it is a way of life. In my view, from a person who lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado where football is not taken quite as seriously, there are folks in the South who take it way too seriously. Both Gary Danielson and I are conscious of the chatter on the talk shows and we have advocates and we have people who just can't stand us. There is a perception that we are always against your team and we never are. I swear that. Gary is outspoken, quite frank, he's very candid, and he means what he says but it is not to the detriment of one team or the other. If he expresses an opinion, it is because he has done his research and he believes it. You are in the fire if you are working in the SEC but we all understand that.
I've seen SEC fans get on you on the web, including calling you Verne Drunkquist. Have you read any of that stuff and how much does it bother you?
I am aware of the criticism, but I've never heard that one. I can promise whoever wrote that, I have never gone on the air in a state of inebriation (laughs).
You've been referred to Uncle Verne on some web sites. When students come up to you at games or in a university town, do they drop "Uncle Verne? on you?
Not as much. My nephews call me Uncle Verne so I am used to that. And it is my nickname in Steamboat Springs (his home). I am involved in various organizations including a music festival that we have in the summer. The staff calls me Uncle Verne and I take that as an honorary title. It indicates to me a degree of comfort they have with me. The first time I ever read it was online on a football site called EDSBS -- Every Day Should Be Saturday. Spencer Hall (the site's founder) is the first guy who ever referred to me in a column as Uncle Verne.
Who is a coach in the SEC that you really enjoy spending time with in the production meetings?
I'll pick two and they are polar opposites: Nick Saban and Les Miles. I think when the doors are closed and its Gary, Tracy Wolfson, Craig Silver and Steve Milton -- our core production group -- I think we have credibility with Les and with Nick. They are open and candid, and they come up at those conversations in completely different ways. Les is unchained and Nick is a little more circumspect. But I find both of them fascinating in our pregame preparation.
You are the son of Lutheran minister. How did growing up in your father's house and his religion shape you?
I think core values. I think I have a pretty good sense of family. My parents are both gone now but my dad in his lifetime had three churches. He went to seminary in Rock Island, Illinois at Augustana College. He was ordained on D-Day. I was four years old. His first church was in Everett, Washington. He was there for eight years. His second church was in Austin. We moved there when I was 12 and he was there until 1966. His final church was in Omaha, Nebraska. I was out of the house but my parents, my youngest brother and my sister moved there. He then became the chaplain for the University of Nebraska medical center until he retired. So, it gave me a sense of family and I think I have a decent sense of ethics. I learned that from my mother and Dad.
Do you consider yourself Lutheran?
Nominally. We're not active in any church. I don't think this has every been published but I actually spent one year in theological school.
Most people have forgotten that you were the announcer who called Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Olympics. That must have been the circus of circuses.
Scott Hamilton and I got to do three Olympics together and we have remained good friends. It was just an amazing experience to see how big that event came. It was a lifelike cartoon. The Wednesday night when the two took the ice for the first time, the [TV] share was 48.5. I was told then we had 126 million watching but I think those figures have been revised because I see Super Bowls that don't reach that. Scott was the expert and he was the passionate one about it. Sitting aside him gave me some self confidence.
Travel is tough for you. You've had a left knee replaced. What else?
I had a left knee replaced a year ago and on April 30th, I am going in to have my right knee replaced. So I know what the next two-and-a-half months will be after I go under the knife.
You and your wife have seen a lot of this world. Is there a place you have not gone that you hope to go?
South America and Antarctica. We have been to Colombia on a Panama Canal cruise and I was actually present at the World Cup in Buenos Aires in 1978. I was there for 10 days. I went with Lamar Hunt's best friend and business partner, the late Bill McNutt. We were two boxes away from Henry Kissinger. Believe or not, I did soccer on radio for two years for the Dallas Tornado.
Really? How much did they pay you?
A hundred bucks a game. But they're great road trips. They were in the same division as Hawaii, Vancouver and Los Angeles. I was in Mexico for the World Cup in 1970. I sat in the end zone and saw Pele score. I was in West Germany in 1974 watching Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff and Gerd Muller and I saw games in Dusseldorf and Dortmund. I wound up doing sideline soccer for ABC with Jim McKay and Paul Gardner for two years. In 1979 I was assigned as the sideline guy for ABC and we did the Washington Diplomats against the New York Cosmos in Giants Stadium. There on the same pitch are Beckenbauer and Cruyff. I though then, "Wow, this is going to be an amazing success" but it fluked out. But it was thrill.
How did doing 'Bowling for Dollars' not kill your career?
I thought it would be a career killer but the more distance between that program and my life, the more I appreciate the significance of that show. It was on for two years, from 1975 and 1976 in Dallas. And at least once a month or once every two months, someone will remind me of that show. It is always done in either slightly teasing way or with warmth. So as the years have gone by, I have reached a comfort level that I did it. But I was embarrassed by it for a few years. Now I take it as a quirk in my career.
Why aren't you on Twitter?
I am not on Facebook either. I think I understand the significance of Twitter. Tracy Wolfson teases me all the time on my lack of interest in it. Candidly, I have seen too many people in public life misuse it. I do accept the social significance of it but I don't want to be tempted to push send in anger.
Do you ever use one of your signature calls in real life? Like do you go to the dry cleaner and say, "Yes, sir," if they ask you if you want something cleaned and pressed?
Pat Haden told me once I have made a permanent impact on his golf foursome at the Los Angles Country Club. Whenever anyone in the group makes a long putt, that is the phrase they use. I did retire that phrase, though. I don't think you will ever hear me say "Yes, Sir" during an event. Maybe if I said that on the Laettner shot, I'd feel better about it.
On a scale of 1-10, how much ego is there in sports television?
Eight, but I know some 10s.