Lee Grosscup, who became a gregarious and beloved radio broadcaster for Cal football after starring at quarterback for the University of Utah and a brief career in professional ball, died Monday. Grosscup was 83.
John Herrera, a long-time senior executive for the Raiders and a close friend of Grosscup, said Grossup died at 11:59 a.m. Monday at Bay View Rehabilitation Center in Alameda while recuperating from hip surgery.
"I talked to him yesterday [Sunday], and he was fired up about coming home on Monday [June 8]," said Herrera, who spoke to Grosscup daily.
Grosscup sat down for lunch Monday and, without warning, keeled over and died. The exact cause of death has not been released, but a Cal spokesperson said the Grosscup family confirmed the cause of death was not COVID-19.
His association at Cal began in 1986 as analyst for play-by-play man Joe Starkey. Grosscup’s role diminished in recent years, and he did his final work on Cal’s postgame show after the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl.
"It's been a wonderful time," Grosscup said at the time. "I'll miss it. It's a good way for me to go out.”
Grosscup still contributed to pregame segments this past fall.
"My very best friend; I'm going to miss him dearly," Herrera said. "He loved his association with the university and Joe Starkey."
Starkey, Cal's long-time radio voice, was emotional Monday afternoon while talking about his friend. The two first worked together as broadcast partners for the Oakland Invaders in 1983.
“I hope I can get through this because I’m a wreck,” Starkey said. “We were really close. On the Cal road trips, we would always go in a day early and play golf. We were close friends from the start to the finish.”
Starkey said the two had much in common that helped cement their relationship. They both enjoyed Broadway plays, movies and trivia.
Grosscup faced two significant health challenges in recent years, according to Starkey. He ruptured his kidney in a fall out of bed a year or so ago and spent him in the hospital, and broke his hip shortly after the 2019 football season.
Starkey said Grosscup seemed to be doing well, but lamented that in this COVID-19 atmosphere he was unable to make in-person visits to his friend. The two spoke by phone — “We had trivia duels on the phone” — and as recently as last week Grosscup said he was looking forward to the 2020 football season.
Todd McKim, Cal’s football sideline reporter, said the ‘Cupper was a joy to be around.
“When I came down from Oregon, he was just genuinely welcoming. Always had great stories to tell. Could not have been a nicer man,” McKim said. "One of my all-time favorite guys in the broadcasting business.
"He had this absolute love for football The stories he had going back decades, it was like sitting next an oracle.”
Former KCBS sports director Hal Ramey, who worked alongside Grosscup for years on the postgame show, called his partner “a hoot.”
“What a character, I had so much fun working with him,” Ramey said. “The stories were always so great. Presidents or Heisman Trophies . . . incredible trivia.
“Good days and bad days and always entertaining, and his recollection of games and players. Just a fun guy. Just a terrible loss”
Starkey, in an interview in 2018 for a story posted on the Cal website, said Grosscup brought the entire package to the radio booth.
"He's always extremely well-prepared," Starkey said. "That's really important for an analyst. He was always really detailed and has a great sense of humor. And his voice is great for broadcasting. It really jumps out at you."
*** Cal radio analyst Mike Pawlawski talks about Grosscup's influence on his broadcasting career:
Grosscup was born in Santa Monica in 1936 and began his college career at Washington. But he left after one season and played at Santa Monica Junior College.
He then played two seasons at Utah for coach Jack Curtice, who employed an offensive system considered ahead of its time. As a junior in 1957, Grosscup led the nation with 1,398 yards passing yards, throwing 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He completed nearly 69 percent of his passes, in part because he popularized the shovel pass that became more widely used decades later.
Grosscup was named to the Look magazine All-America team in 1957 and finished 10th in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
“He’s still held in high regard in Utah,” Ramey said.
However, Herrera noted that when Cal played Utah years later, Grosscup rooted for the Bears.
Despite missing time early in the 1958 season due to a shoulder injury, Grosscup was invited to play in the Senior Bowl, then was selected with the 10th overall pick by the New York Giants in the 1959 NFL draft.
Grosscup’s professional career lasted four seasons, including his rookie year when he saw no action. He played in just eight games with the Giants, but was part of teams in ’59 and ’61 that played in the NFL championship game.
The Minnesota Vikings purchased his contract but cut him before the 1962 season. Grosscup signed with the New York Titans of the American Football League and in his debut game was 5-for-8 for 186 yards with three touchdowns in a 28-17 win over the Oakland Raiders.
He later had games of 216 yards and two touchdowns against the San Diego Chargers and 205 yards and two TDs against the Boston Patriots.
Grosscup played the 1963 season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. He failed to land a spot on the 49ers roster in 1964 and instead spent that season on the Raiders’ “taxi” squad.
Grosscup wrote a book, “Fourth and One,” then got his first broadcasting assignment in 1966, working AFL games for NBC. A year later, he began a 21-season run calling college football for ABC, working with broadcasting legends including Keith Jackson and Al Michaels.
But his most enduring association was with Cal, for whom he worked in the broadcast booth 32 seasons, 17 as an analyst and 15 as part of the post-game team.
Jake Curtis contributed to this report
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo
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