Play-by-Play Broadcasters Reveal Their All-Time Favorite Sports Calls

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There are certain calls that stick with sports fans forever. But which calls made by play-by-play broadcasters stick with other play-by-play broadcasters?

Sports Illustrated reached out to several play-by-play callers to ask them, simply: What is your all-time favorite sports call (not your own) and why?

What made the answers special was the detail given by the participants and the obvious respect they have for the craft of doing play-by play.

Here are the responses.

AL MICHAELS, NBC SPORTS

Lest anyone think I couldn’t come up with one: Vin Scully on Kirk Gibson’s home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. After Vinny called it, he waited a full minute to watch Gibson round the bases and get swarmed by his teammates and then said, “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.” Perfect timing, perfect description, perfect coda. Doesn’t get any better than that.

JIM NANTZ, CBS SPORTS

I will give this honor to my buddy Al Michaels. [“Do you believe in miracles”] struck the right chord in 1980, and it will still be regarded as solid gold in 2080.

JOE BUCK, FOX SPORTS

I pick my dad’s. Not the usuals (Kirk Gibson or “Go crazy, folks!”) He called a Bob Gibson no hitter. It ends on a called third strike. I can hear his voice crack because he, 1) loved his job; 2) loved the game; 3) he LOVED Bob. It was emotional for him. Hearing him that wrapped up in it is what I saw everyday he took me down to work with him and ultimately why all I wanted to be was him (when I was a kid).

(Ed Note: You can hear the call at the 2:16 mark in the clip below.)

MARV ALBERT, NBA ON TNT

Al Michaels at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. The U.S. men's hockey team beat the Soviet Union 4-3 in the Medal Round to advance to the Gold Medal Game. The Russians–all professionals and considered one of the best teams in the history of the game–were heavy favorites and unbeatable going against a team of U.S. college players. You also had the context of the political background with the Cold War.

This, to me, this was the greatest upset in team sports history. To top it all off, the passion, the tone, the natural element of surprise from Al was perfect. The call was right from the heart and it was expressed by one of the greatest sports announcers of all-time.

KEVIN HARLAN, CBS SPORTS/TURNER SPORTS

The Al Michaels “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” call and Russ Hodges’s “The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant!” will head all lists, certainly. They are the standard and historic and to me stand alone. But I’ll select two that I think capture, for me personally, the same emotion and feeling. And they both are from Jack Buck. His call of Kirk Gibson’s home run in the Dodgers-A’s ‘88 World Series, “I don’t believe what I just saw” and his ‘91 World Series Game 6 Twins-Braves “and we’ll see you tomorrow night” on Kirby Puckett’s game-winning home run.

CHRIS BERMAN, ESPN

I have two. The first before I was born in 1951. Russ Hodges’s FAMOUS “The Giants win the pennant!” gives me goosebumps when I hear it to this day. Sheer and utter joy, pure excitement through the proverbial roof. Radio at its absolute BEST. Now, for TV, and in the 65 years I’ve been alive. Jack Buck in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, following Kirby Puckett’s home run, “And we’ll see you tomorrow night!!!” In one short sentence: excitement, while typical Buck simplicity. He summed up what Puckett’s homer meant in the big picture and brought fans of BOTH teams and neutral rooters into it equally by promoting Game 7. A huge part of sports is anticipation. He captured the homer, the big picture and what could top it all in one sentence. BRILLIANT.

MIKE TIRICO, NBC SPORTS

Tie for my two favorites:

Jim Nantz, 1997, Tiger Woods, Masters. “A win for the ages”. It was so simple yet so incredibly meaningful in multiple ways. The dominant margin of victory and the societal significance of the victory made it the perfect description that holds up decades later.

Al Michaels, 1980 US Olympic hockey victory over Soviet Union. Say the five words “Do you believe in miracles” and a majority of Americans know exactly what game we are talking about.
You can’t say that about many other calls EVER made.

MIKE BREEN, ESPN

It’s so hard to pick one. There are so many. Even though Vin Scully’s call was perfect, I’ve always loved Milo Hamilton’s radio call of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.

He had all winter to think about how he was going to call this moment in history. That’s pressure for a play-by-play announcer. Yet, when the time came, it seemed so spontaneous, so joyful, not rehearsed at all. The fact that when the ball was hit you were not sure it was going to clear the fence made it even better. He nailed the call of one of the biggest moments in sports history.

IAN EAGLE, CBS SPORTS/TURNER SPORTS

Jack Buck, 1988 World Series Game 1, A’s-Dodgers, CBS Radio. One of the most dramatic moments in sports history was enhanced by one of the most memorable calls. I happened to be in my car when the ninth inning was unfolding at Dodgers Stadium, and I was riveted by Jack Buck on the microphone. That night he hit all the right notes building the drama as Dennis Eckersley faced Kirk Gibson, and to this day I can still quote the call verbatim. The phrase that stuck with me forever, “I don't believe what I just saw!!” It wasn't just the words; it was the way he delivered them. He perfectly captured the combination of emotion and amazement with his vocabulary and voice inflection. I had just finished my sophomore year at Syracuse University and was fascinated with the art of play-by-play. Those are the kinds of calls you aspire to as a broadcaster, and it should be noted that Vin Scully was also brilliant on the TV side— but it's Buck's theatrical call that's still etched in my brain 32 years later.

SEAN McDONOUGH, ESPN

Jack Buck’s “I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I JUST SAW” call of the Kirk Gibson home run in 1988 World Series. Absolutely perfect call of an amazing moment. You can hear the astonishment in his voice when he says “THIS IS GONNA BE A HOME RUN. UNBELIEVABLE!!” I just listened to it again and got goose bumps. Nobody in the history of our business has ever called big moments better than Jack Buck.

RICH EISEN, NFL NETWORK

Jon Miller’s call of the Derek Jeter/Jeffrey Maier home run from the 1996 Yankees-Orioles playoff game: Miller was on it. I’ve never heard anything like it. The last thing you’d expect in the middle of a huge playoff game is a kid reaching over the right field stands and grabbing the ball and the umpire who’s staring at it blowing the call and yet Miller called it as if he had a script in front of him.

BRAD NESSLER, CBS SPORTS

I tried my best to narrow it down to one call ... and couldn't quite do it. Came down to two, both by Keith Jackson. There's probably about 200 more that good out there, and many called by my great friend Verne Lundquist, but I had to pick ... so here you go.

1. Ohio St-Michigan, 1991. The Desmond Howard punt return for the touchdown ... "One man to beat," and then at the 40-yard line, Keith says, "GOODBYE!" Then, at the goal line he says, "HELLO ... Heisman! For Keith, so few words but such an enormous impact.

1a. Colorado-Michigan, 1994. Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook on the Hail Mary finish. Another classic.

These were all outstanding answers, but one theme stood out the most. Baseball seems to lend itself to more dramatic, big calls than any other sport.