You Can't Keep Him Down On The Farm

July 18, 1984
July 18, 1984

Table of Contents
July 18, 1984

The 1984 Olympics
Carl Lewis
Track And Field
The Albatross
Buster Crabbe
  • By William Oscar Johnson

    Dashing Buster Crabbe was the perfect hero for the '32 Games, to which Hollywood 'luminaries' flocked. He cracked Japan's dominance of men's swimming, then broke into the movies to become King of the Serials

Daley Thompson
Photographic Credits
Jim McKay
TV Listings
Tiina Lillak
De Castella
DeWit And O'Sullivan
Klaus Maran
Mary Lou Retton
Greg Louganis

You Can't Keep Him Down On The Farm

ABC war-horse Jim McKay, better known to friends as Maryland horseman Jimmy McManus, is charging out of the gate for his 10th and perhaps final Olympics

By William Taaffe

Jim McKay became the face of the Olympic Games in 1972 at Munich. This isn't the most pleasant of truths, but the massacre of the 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and referees in those Games made McKay's career. He had announced the Olympics before, and he would cover several more thereafter. He had been the host of ABC's Wide World of Sports since the days of black and white. But it was on that tragic day, Sept. 5, 1972, that he became the very image and voice of the Games—Mr. Olympics.

This is an article from the July 18, 1984 issue Original Layout

Something in his tone and demeanor spoke to people's hearts during those long hours when everyone waited for word of the hostages' fate. Was it the sound of solace in his voice? His reassuring manner? The sense that he could be trusted in a moment of crisis? Probably all of these. The fact is that when McKay's shoulders fell and he announced plaintively, "They're all gone," the mantle had been conferred on him. He's an enthusiastic man, a bright-eyed optimist who forever sees a medal being won, not lost. Yet it was the tragedy that let him be seen as he'd never been seen before.

Looking back, it's easy to forget that Chris Schenkel, then one of ABC's most lustrous stars, was the host of the Munich Games coverage. McKay took over only for the massacre story and the closing ceremonies; he didn't become the full-time anchorman until 1976 at the Winter Games. When the terrorists struck that Tuesday morning in '72, McKay had just come out of the sauna at his hotel and was getting ready to take a swim. It was supposed to have been his only day off during the Olympics. ABC Sports president Roone Arledge could have chosen Schenkel or Howard Cosell to report the story, but he summoned McKay. "There's a steadiness there. Jim has a depth and a sense of the moment," Arledge says. "He has a descriptive ability and can stay on the air for a long time. He would have made a wonderful anchorman at a convention or in an election. In that sense he's very much like [Walter] Cronkite."

For 16 hours McKay was our eyes and ears, sitting before a wall of monitors in a windowless building some 100 yards from the Olympic Village, where the terrorists were. For most of that time he was isolated from the horror surrounding him. The scenes from the outside that appeared on the monitors had for McKay all the immediacy of the 11 o'clock news. But then someone in the television center needed to take some equipment outside. When the center's two large warehouse doors swung open, people in the studio could finally see out. It looked like such a nice day, McKay recalls. From his perch, he watched the sunlight stream in. He could see a brilliant patch of green grass, framed by the doorway, and just beyond, some big weapons carriers with West German troops riding atop them. "Watching the monitors, there was no time I ever thought that what was happening in front of me wasn't real," McKay says, "but when those double doors opened and I saw these weapons carriers and policemen, it was as though I became a spectator."

His concentration was so great that, he says, "When I got back to my room and got undressed, it was the first time I realized I still had my damp bathing suit on under my pants." McKay was joined in the studio by Schenkel and, later, by Lou Cioffi and Peter Jennings of ABC News. McKay was the only one of the four who wore an earplug, which enabled him to hear sketchy reports of the climactic fire fight at Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base. The earplug also allowed him to eavesdrop on a live press conference being conducted by a spokesman for the Munich Olympic organizing committee. As it turned out, the conference was being held to announce the tragic outcome of the German authorities' bungled attempt at Fürstenfeldbruck to rescue the Israelis from their captors, but the spokesman was speaking in German, and McKay couldn't understand him. Marvin Bader, ABC's chief of logistics, was at the press conference and was in touch with the network's control room via an open phone line, but he, too, couldn't be sure what was being said. It was painfully frustrating.

"All I could think of was that the parents of David Berger [a U.S.-born Israeli weightlifter] were sitting at home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and I was going to have to tell them whether their son was alive or dead," McKay recalls. There was an unreliable report making the rounds that Berger and some of his teammates had gotten away unscathed. McKay, prizing accuracy above speed, chose not to mention it. It turned out, of course, that Berger was dead. They all were dead. And when the information had been confirmed to McKay's satisfaction, he didn't blather. He just shook his head and imparted the news.

McKay didn't at first appreciate the impact of his performance. Nor did he realize how Munich might serve to advance his career. The next day he stopped by ABC's broadcast center to pick up his mail and found a cable in his box. It was dated Sept. 5. DEAR JIM, it Said, TODAY YOU HONORED YOURSELF, YOUR NETWORK AND YOUR INDUSTRY. WALTER CRONKITE. McKay was stunned. Perhaps Cronkite, no stranger to arduous vigils, had seen a piece of himself in McKay. Eight months later McKay won two of his 10 Emmy Awards (see box, page 297), one for news and one for sports. He's unique—the only sportscaster to have won an Emmy for news.

But it wasn't McKay's journalistic skill that made him Mr. Olympics. It was his sensitivity. The day after the massacre, knowing that he would be assigned to the closing ceremonies a few days later, McKay began searching all over Munich for a poem by A.E. Housman entitled To an Athlete Dying Young. McKay had remembered it from English class at St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia, where he was born and lived until age 14. Nowhere in Munich could a copy of the poem in the original English be found. Finally, McKay had the wife of ABC producer Doug Wilson dictate it to him from back home. Rarely has a television sports commentary been so fitting and uplifting.

The time you won your town the race
We cheered you through the marketplace;

Man and boy stood cheering by
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

The Los Angeles Games will be McKay's 10th Olympics and possibly his last. He will be 63 on Sept. 24, and he no longer has the steely endurance that has allowed him to traipse back and forth across the globe, week after week, more than five million miles since 1961, as the host of ABC's Wide World of Sports. He's gearing down now. Mention the '88 Winter Olympics at Calgary and there's both a twinkle in his eye and a note of caution in his voice. "Do I want to do that when I'm 66?" he asks. "I don't know. I've never been 66 before." But mention Brent Musburger's avowed interest in working the '88 Games, and he says, "I haven't really given it up yet. You get a little feeling of 'Don't rush me.' The body is still warm."

Certainly he doesn't plan to pack it in on a note like the one ABC sounded at Sarajevo. Last winter's Sarajevo Games almost finished McKay. "It was the hardest Olympics we've ever done," he says. "I never saw anything during the Games except my room and my studio. I just went back and forth." There were a rooster and a barking dog with insomnia in front of ABC's hotel, so McKay, who needs plenty of sleep to perform well, commandeered a room in the back. But though he got a bit more shut-eye, he still looked haggard. After the second night, McKay's wife, Margaret, called from their home in New York City.

"Listen," she said, "I don't know how to tell you this, but you've been looking terrible on the air. I don't know whether it's the makeup or the lighting or what, but you don't look good."

"Honey," McKay replied, "we've got the best makeup guy around; he does Peter Jennings and everybody. And I know we've got the best lighting guy in the business, because I asked for him myself. So what can I say?"

Also concerned about McKay's dour countenance was ABC president Fred Pierce, who rang up Arledge and urged him to change the lighting. McKay says the background color was responsible for his appearance, although critics suggested the problem may have been the U.S. hockey team's collapse. They really worked him over. Tom Shales of the Washington Post, for example, wrote that McKay's "silly old face fell to the floor of the studio with a thud" when the hockey team lost its opening two games. As for the mood at the outset in Sarajevo, McKay says, "It was depressing—I think we were all depressed." By Week 2, however, U.S. skier Debbie Armstrong had won a gold medal, and figure skater Kitty Carruthers (a special favorite of McKay's, for reasons we shall see) had a tear of joy on her cheek. So ABC's mood improved, as did the ratings.

One reason McKay succeeds is this: He fills the American TV viewer's need for a teacher. McKay's son, Sean McManus, the vice-president for programming at NBC Sports, recalls that when McKay was assigned to a foreign event on Wide World in the early '60s, "The first thing he'd do would be go to the living room and pull out the Encyclopaedia Britannica and read about the country he was going to. Then he'd go to the Westport [Conn.] Public Library, take out books on the country and the sport and study some more." Thus, McKay became a homeroom teacher for a nation of eager learners. It's a role he's still playing.

Arledge recognized the teacher in McKay from the moment he hired him away from CBS in 1961. McKay had a peculiar facility for making viewers care about names, places and sports they'd probably never heard of before—Valeri Brumel, Irish hurling, Olga Korbut, ski jumping from the Hannenkamm, Australian rules football. McKay, for example, was the man who taught us that 6 means perfect in figure skating and 10 means perfect in gymnastics. Assigned to the 24 hours of LeMans for Wide World in 1961, he went to a bookstore in that rural French town and dug up a book in English on the origins of the race. He read it the night before the telecast and then told us the next day about the LeMans "suitcase." It seems that in the early days of the race, drivers were required to carry suitcases in their cars. The modern-day vestige is a block of wood, cut to the size of a two-suiter, that participants have to fit someplace in the driver's compartment. McKay took us to school on the bobsled, too. He taught us that bobsledding was originally the pursuit of aristocratic couples seeking a diversion while spending their winters at the Palace Hotel in St. Moritz. He did research on the history of the sleds and told us how the husbands would put their wives aboard, give the sled a running push and then hop on themselves. Until 1908, he revealed, at least one woman had to be on each sled in all competitions.

It naturally followed that if McKay enlightened folks on Wide World, he would also serve as a beacon during the Olympics. Late one night in Innsbruck a month before the '76 Winter Games, Arledge sat for long hours in his car with McKay, trying to persuade him to become host of the Games. "The Olympics is like a whole nation sitting down and reading a book together," Arledge says. "During the day they talk about it and can't wait to get home. McKay is the teacher reading the book to them, explaining the footnotes."

Typically, McKay at first didn't want the job. Glory? He had been to Munich, so he had nothing left to prove. He had done U.S. Open golf, the British Open and the PGA, the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500. Why pile on more? Fame? All he wanted was to go home to his family in Westport.

For someone who has been seen in our living rooms for so many years—far more than Musburger, or Garagiola, or Cosell, who came to TV seven years after McKay—it's remarkable how remote a person McKay is. Sure, he gives us a sense of his virtues—good, honest, decent Jim McKay—but he invites no intimacy, provides no inkling of his foibles or details of his private life.

For example, few viewers know that his real name isn't Jim McKay but Jim McManus. To his friends and family he's Jimmy McManus, as Irish as County Armagh, where his paternal grandparents were raised. McManus is what it says on his driver's license, passport and, except for a missing "S" on the mailbox outside his 40-acre Monkton, Md. horse farm. His luggage carries the initials J.K.McM. in brass. The name change took place in 1950 when McManus, then a young reporter for a fledgling TV station in Baltimore, signed on with WCBS, a network-owned station in New York, to host a new daytime variety show. The show was to be called The Real McKay, a play on McCoy. In those days, radio and TV performers commonly took names that fit shows, not vice versa, so there were no questions asked. It was The Real McKay singing and interviewing celebrities, and it was to be Jim McKay permanently when the show died. McKay isn't so sure he would adopt a stage name if he had to do it over, but the fact that he did so has afforded him a lot of privacy in hotel rooms.

If few viewers know that McKay is married and has two children, even fewer know that those children are adopted—more on that presently. The elder McKay child, Mary, 31, is married and works with emotionally handicapped children in Philadelphia. Sean, 29 and single, virtually grew up in television, following his father from one ABC Sports venue to another. He joined NBC in 1979 and has risen rapidly on the TV rights acquisition side of the business.

At least four out of five people in the sports divisions of ABC and NBC haven't the foggiest notion that Jim McKay and Sean McManus are related. The reason probably lies in McKay's shunning celebrity and his insistence on keeping his family life strictly private. He doesn't run with the media crowd or comment on the air about his weekends in the Hamptons. "He was a friend more than he was a father," Sean says of his childhood. "There were a lot of nights when I went to bed crying because he was away. But he more than made up for it—probably double or triple—by the time we spent together."

After the '80 Winter Olympics, a viewer fired off a strong letter to the powers that be at ABC, denouncing McKay for "slurring" figure skaters Peter and Kitty Carruthers by mentioning they were adopted. The letter bumped around the network offices for a while, the writer receiving form letters that thanked her for her interest. More indignant than ever, she finally wrote to Dennis Lewin, the producer of Wide World.

Lewin wrote back, saying that McKay hardly meant to disparage the Carrutherses and that he was simply stating a fact. "P.S.," Lewin added, "you may be interested to know that both of Jim McKay's kids are adopted."

Another little-known side of McKay is his shyness. He feels uneasy talking on phones, and he finds his frequent flying to be something of a relief, because he doesn't have to answer phones while in the air. As for appearing before huge TV audiences, McKay says, "I can't picture 60 million people out there. And probably nobody could ever go on the air if he could." When McKay went to WCBS, he got to know Arthur Godfrey, who taught him a little trick: McKay should think of one person out there, not all umpteen million. Most of the time since then, McKay has been talking to Margaret. She knows the painful extent of his shyness. She has heard the story of his being too timid as a route boy for Collier's and Woman's Home Companion to knock on doors to collect his money. So he sent his little sister out to pick it up. Margaret still shakes her head over the fact that McKay took a year to muster up the courage to ask her for a date when they were reporters for the Baltimore Evening Sun. They went to an All-America Conference game between the Baltimore Colts and San Francisco 49ers; he bought the tickets in advance so it would be harder for her to say no.

"Margaret," McKay said, "I should warn you, the Colts aren't very good. The only player they have is Y.A. Tittle. The 49ers have Frankie Albert and they're terrific, so it probably won't be close."

"Oh, no, I think it'll be a tie," Margaret said.

"Oh, really?" McKay said. "So what's the score going to be?"

"Twenty-eight to 28," she replied.

That indeed was the score. "Something," McKay says today, "was destined even then."

Now, 35 years later, Margaret handles all the family income, which totals more than $1 million a year when McKay's honoraria for speeches to the likes of IBM executives are added to his network salary. She decorates their homes, schedules his engagements, cooks the food, handles all the details.

In the booth, though, his attention to minutiae somehow locks in. He sits there for hours telling stories on camera, even while Arledge chats with him through his earplug. He can shift direction with astonishing deftness. Let's say ABC is coming out of a commercial. Arledge says to McKay over the earplug, "O.K., Jim, we're going back to gymnastics, and I'll be counting you down...10, nine, eight, seven, six—Stand by, gymnastics—five, four, three—Hold it! We're going to diving—two, one—Go, Jim!" Instantly, the red light comes on, and McKay's voice fills the studio. "You're looking at America's Bruce Kimball on the platform with Greg Louganis still to come...."

Late on the final afternoon of the '68 Games in Mexico City, McKay and producer Chuck Howard were at the stadium preparing to televise the closing ceremonies at 8 p.m. ABC was on the air from the television center downtown, but the stadium was empty and quiet, with just a few technicians on the field. Suddenly the phone rang. It was Arledge with an urgent message. "Chuck, you're not going to believe this," he said, "but we've just lost all power in the television center. The only place in Mexico we can get a picture out of is the stadium, so we're going to have to throw it to you."

Within seconds McKay was on the air, lyrically describing the spirit of the Games, recalling Bob Beamon's record long jump, discussing the black power salutes of John Carlos and Tommie Smith and otherwise passing on the torch to Munich for 1972. Some 45 minutes later Arledge called back. "Chuck, tell Jim I'm sorry," he said, "but we still don't have anything down here. He must really be running out, isn't he?"

"Roone," Howard said, "he has hardly begun to say hello."

McKay has four homes—the one in Westport, another in North Key Largo, Fla., an apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York and the farm in the Maryland hunt country north of Baltimore. The wherewithal to accumulate these holdings didn't all come from McKay; Margaret, who wrote a syndicated Washington political column under the name McManus for years, invested shrewdly in real estate. His latest passion is raising thoroughbreds, a pursuit touted to him by Darby Dan Farms owner John W. Galbreath. McKay has two mares, a 3-year-old filly that has raced twice and finished out of the money, and a foal of excellent parentage that will be named Clap Hands. If Clap Hands were to run in the 1987 Kentucky Derby, McKay says with relish, he would have to remove himself from the telecast to avoid a conflict of interest.

Though McKay came to TV early in its history, when he was only 26, he was a late bloomer when it came to celebrity. The truth is, it took him the better part of three decades in television to feel he was making it. In World War II he was a lieutenant and captain of a minesweeper that escorted convoys from Trinidad to Brazil. Afterward, he became a cityside reporter for the Sun, where one day in 1947, two editors announced to the newsroom that the paper was starting its own TV station, WMAR. McKay had been in the debating society and president of the drama club at Loyola College in Baltimore, so he was among those tapped to go on the air. McKay became the host of a three-hour afternoon show called The Sports Parade, doing songs and interviews and unfailingly reporting the results from Pimlico. Then three years later a WCBS executive named Dick Swift asked McKay if he wanted to move to New York to do The Real McKay. During that show's run McKay also reported the sports on the station's 6 and 11 o'clock news.

In the mid-'50s, McKay—now nicknamed Burrhead after the crew cut he would wear for years after it had gone out of fashion—became the moderator of Youth Takes a Stand, a public affairs show for teenagers. He also did The Verdict Is Yours, a courtroom program in which the judge and lawyers were real, the jurors were non-actors, but the witnesses were actors who improvised their lines. McKay was the reporter who would turn to the camera and, in a hushed voice, recap the proceedings before each commercial break. Verdict was shown nationwide on CBS and for a while ruled the roost in the daytime ratings.

However, McKay wasn't altogether happy being an entertainer. He wanted to be another Cronkite, or at least an Eric Sevareid. "I thought I had the talent to be a news anchorman," he says. "I'm as interested in the front page as I am in the sports page, and reporting is reporting. There's no real difference in technique to reporting sports or news. You just find out the facts and present them."

Strangely, McKay then considered himself a news anchor-in-the-making even though he'd never done more than a smattering of TV news in Baltimore and never got closer to CBS News than Youth Takes a Stand. "I was on the fringes of the news department, and I kept trying to push that way, but it just wasn't happening, and sports opportunities kept coming up," McKay says. Even today there's a tinge of wistfulness in his voice when he talks about news. "The only time it ever could have happened would have been immediately after Munich. A lot of people, television editors, asked me about it then. But for better or worse, you become identified in people's minds. The public probably wouldn't have accepted it."

There was a time in the '50s, Sean recalls, when McKay was at loose ends—between shows, without the late-night sportscasts, with virtually no money coming in. He sat at the dining room table assembling model ships from kits. Then late in the '50s, McKay became CBS's voice at the Masters. It was a prestigious assignment, and for the first time he was recognized as a sports reporter. One of the viewers who noticed him was Arledge, the new young president of then tiny ABC Sports.

"I saw several things," Arledge says. "One was his manner of presentation. He came closer to the news in the sense of Murrow/Cronkite drama than anyone else in sports. There are some people who can make something dramatic by the inflections of their voices, without shouting. He's not just somebody yelling at you. He has a sense of words, a sense of the drama of the moment. A lot of people who do sports play-by-play or commentary in general, they just don't have that. It has more to do with your intellect than your voice, but it also has to do with your voice."

McKay was at the '61 Masters when Arledge called. The offer was for McKay to become host of a summer replacement show called Wide World of Sports. It would focus on esoteric subjects, involve some travel and could very well be canceled after 20 weeks. Burrhead, now pushing 40, still harbored ideas of following Cronkite. But Margaret thought Arledge's offer was a good idea. "For one thing," she said, "you won't have any competition. I've listened to sportscasters, and most of them aren't any good."

McKay didn't feel fully accepted, even at ABC, until well after Munich. "There have been times in his career of great insecurity," Sean says. "He wasn't always sure he was as good or could be as good as he wanted. It took him a long time. There were other people on a faster track. He hasn't been a really confident person for all that long. Yes, he had my mother saying 'You're better than they are, Jimmy,' and 'Yes, this is right for you,' and 'Yes, you can be Number One in your field.' But I'm not sure he felt all that comfortable until recently."

Has McKay lost something the last few Olympics? It's a fair question, especially in view of the fact that he'll work only the prime-time telecasts in Los Angeles, or 81½ of the 180 hours ABC carries. The carping against both McKay and ABC began increasing four years ago during the Lake Placid Games, when McKay also looked overly tired, seemed unaccountably distracted and was accused of glossing over the town's horrendous transportation problems. McKay says his only concern is TV's lethal bandwagon effect. In sports TV, it's cruelly axiomatic that once viewers begin to think you've lost it, you've lost it. Schenkel's career at ABC fell sharply and inexplicably after '72. Curt Gowdy wore well on NBC for years; then, overnight, people started to joke about his forgetting names.

"I don't feel I have to make my way or prove anything," McKay says. "Obviously, it would hurt my ego if suddenly they didn't want me anymore. It would hurt anybody in any business, I think. But take Gowdy. One day Curt was one of the very top guys in the business, and the next day it became popular to rap him. Once that snowball gets rolling, boy...."

The fact is that McKay has never been Henry Higgins when it comes to smoothness of discourse. He still tends to talk too fast, although he has slowed down considerably, and he has a curious tendency to garble words at the end of sentences. In the last few years there have been moments when he has seemed momentarily befuddled. The oppressive number of Olympic hours ABC now airs and all those split-second switches may account for that.

Whatever the slippage, it's probably attributable to age and jet lag. Every announcer makes what are known in the business as "foomphs"—picayune stumbles in which what he wants to say just doesn't come out. In golf you whiff; in TV you foomph. McKay has had his share of them the last few years, especially at Lake Placid, where ABC officials now say they worked him too hard. "The only time somebody could say he slipped was when he hadn't had the rest he needed," Howard says. "It's like a starting pitcher or a racehorse. You can't send him out day after day." To guard against overworking, McKay has cut back on his total of weekend assignments from 48 a few years ago to 35 in 1984. In Los Angeles he'll cede daytime and late-night duties to the likes of Jim Lampley, Al Michaels, Frank Gifford and Kathleen Sullivan. As for his beauty rest, these games will be broadcast live, McKay says, so "this should be a lay up."

For all of McKay's credits—besides doing Wide World, he has been ABC's premier golf announcer almost since. the four-wood was invented and its horse racing host since Eddie Arcaro retired in 1962—the Games alone will be his legacy. Mr. Olympics. He worked his first Games in 1960, from a CBS studio in New York, voicing over videotapes that had been flown from Rome on the new jet planes. "I'm the storyteller of the Olympics," he says. "Here are all these disjointed events. My job is to link them together and see which story is beginning to tell itself."

In a sense, McKay learned to tell stories by attending Athletics games. McKay, whose father owned his own real-estate firm and was later an appraiser and loan officer, lived in Philadelphia until the family moved to Baltimore in 1934. In the early '30s, he spent long afternoons at Shibe Park watching the last-place A's. The next morning he would look for an account of the game in the Philadelphia Record, but the paper's sports columnist would more often write a story about one player or another. The writer's name was Red Smith. From him McKay first learned that a well-told story is more interesting than a well-worn fact.

It's the telling of such stories that accounts for McKay's reputation for warmth and makes him seem avuncular. His penchant for describing sports in human terms dovetailed with Arledge's desire to "personalize" athletes with things such as the "up-close-and-personal" interviews. While announcing the '68 Winter Games, for example, McKay told viewers that Jean Claude Killy is indeed French, but that he happens to be a descendant of an Irish mercenary who fought in Napoleon's army. This was the small jewel of information no one else had.

"If I were on the Titanic and I could have any two people there with me to put things in perspective," Lewin says, "I'd have Jim and Howard [Cosell]. Jim would have a way of relating the disaster to the rest of the world and in some way humanizing things, telling what it means for the 420 crew members on board, the 68 Czechs on board, the 2,000 passengers on board. Howard would give you a detailed description of why the problems exist, how they can be rectified and where the help is going to come from."

Another of McKay's saving graces is his boundless, almost sprightly optimism. Yes, he can be terribly effusive. Yes, an American gold medal performance can leave him breathless. As even Arledge admits, "He's given sometimes to getting carried away and overstating things, because that's the way he really feels." But the point is, McKay established his journalistic credentials at Munich, so he has earned the right to his occasional gee whizzes. More important, he remains in perfect lockstep with his audience. When Dwight Stones came to the studio at Montreal in '76 wearing a Mickey Mouse T shirt, it was McKay who sang the famous chorus with him—"M-I-C...K-E-Y...." In other words, he's one of us. Not intelligent to the point of being intimidating. Unpretentious. And always there, every four years, speaking to our hearts as well as our heads.

"You're going to hear stories about politics, drugs and all those things," McKay says. "But that's not the point of the Games. The point of the Games is a search for excellence. And we will find it. That's not to say we don't report the drug busts, but we have to go in looking for excellence, people taking a skill and honing it to the sharpest edge.

"Take the sports pages nowadays. You pick up the sports page and four-fifths of the front page is about a guy being arrested for cocaine or about a guy getting a million-dollar contract or some legal hassle. There's something wrong with that. Maybe the drug busts ought to be on a page with all the other drug busts, the legal stuff should be with all the other legal stuff, and the sports should be on the sports page. Sports is a little different from news in that there's no basic importance to sports. It's games. That's all it is. But it can be a source of inspiration, to kids particularly."

Not long ago, relaxing at his Maryland horse farm, McKay ruminated about the athletes who squander their talents. "How pertinent that Housman poem I read at Munich sometimes seems today," he said. Indeed, two of the stanzas in particular cry out to be heard.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers,
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honour out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

The sensitivity of the man who read this poem over the air is remembered by Sean in a more personal way. One of his fondest memories is of his parents tucking him into bed at night after his father had returned home from a long trip. There, in the half-light of his bedroom, they would sit on the edge of his bed and tell him words that were precious and timeless. "We want you to know you're a special person," they would say. "You weren't delivered. We selected you. Your friends weren't selected by their parents, Sean, but you were. Just to give you an idea how special you are, we picked you out."

View this article in the original magazine

TWO PHOTOSPHOTOSarajevo, says McKay, was the "hardest Olympics" he ever did-and it showed.PHOTOAlthough he didn't have a clear view of the Munich tragedy, McKay superbly pieced together information fed to him.THREE PHOTOSAfter "The Verdict Is Yours" and the '60 Games on CBS, McKay's career got rolling with ABC's "Wide World of Sports."TWO PHOTOSHere's J.K. McManu on his 40-acre spread, with Margaret, the organizational whiz, and Sean, an NBC exec.PHOTOMcKay anchors coverage of the Preakness and five other thoroughbred races.PHOTOIn Grenoble, McKay revealed Killy's Irish ancestry.PHOTOPGA Tour fixture McKay talks to Bing at the Crosby.PHOTOMcKay communes with one of his horses at Pimlico.PHOTOLike the good teacher he is, McKay prepares his lessons before facing the class.


No other sportscaster can equal his record of 10 Emmy Award-winning seasons or his one Emmy for news.


Outstanding Individual Achievement in Sports


Outstanding Individual Achievement in Sports


News and Documentary: Outstanding Achievement in Coverage of Special Events (the Munich Olympic tragedy) Outstanding Sports Personality


Outstanding Achievement in Sports Programming--Individual


Outstanding Sports Broadcaster


Outstanding Sports Personality


Outstanding Sports Personality


Outstanding Sports Personality


Outstanding Sports Personality: Play-by-Play