Jensen’s Five Favorite Play by Play Announcers


Image Via Wiki Commons

By Eric Jensen, Sports Writer


Earlier this month, Mike “Doc” Emerick retired. To me, there is no bigger hero. Very simply put, hockey was the first sport I ever remember watching — to be exact, it was the 2011 Stanley cup finals between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins.

I, a Star-Wars-obsessed, imaginative fifth grader who couldn’t care less about sports, was suddenly hooked. Not by the play on the ice but by a somewhat high-pitched, enthusiastic voice. The voice of Doc Emerick.

Something about Emerick hooked me immediately — his enthusiasm. As a student of journalism now, and a man grinding away at a terrestrial radio station while hosting a podcast and writing for a student newspaper, I live to replicate that enthusiasm.

You listen to a lot of people my age talk about sports on podcasts or media channels, and they lack that excitement. They are too focused on staying measured and steady. On saying all the right things. That has never been and never will be my approach.

The way Doc called games you would think he was a school kid, excitedly reciting the events of schoolyard hockey. Every pass was exciting, every build up a measured piece of music, climaxing in pure joy, “HE SCORES!”

There are few voices I try to copy more than Doc. I know, that’s a bad idea, and I am slowly finding my own, but his voice is the metronome, the gold standard. People praise Al Michaels, but in truth, he should have stepped away years ago. Emerick has always been the gold standard of the play-by-play announcer.

So many afternoons spent in the backyard with a discount score hockey stick emulating highlights and calls in my head. I still do it sometimes, that’s embarrassing to admit I know. Occasionally, though, in everyday life, Doc’s voice will slide into my head, and “OH A GREAT GLOVE SAVE” will come blurting out of my mouth.

The man’s vocabulary was second to none as well. Ricochet, carom, wallop, drive, gallivant, pirouette and spiked — all fed a boundless jumble of perfect hockey words. The skill of course is the ability to call the fastest game on earth and pull from the vocabulary in a split second.

Emerick will simply never be topped. He is the soundtrack of the Stanley Cup. He is a man who knew the gravity of the moment and always played to it. His excitement and enthusiasm can only be hoped to be matched by low-level shock jocks like myself.

Without Emerick, I doubt I would get hooked on hockey. I doubt I would watch countless games with my dad and experience truly one of the greatest parts of our relationship. Emerick did that. He put me in a position to have those moments.

That got me thinking. Who are the five best announcers in sports right now? It’s an important list. If you’re a sports fan, you spend most of your life with these people. You better enjoy them.  In no particular order, here they are my top five favorite play-by-play announcers.

5: Kevin Harlan. There is perhaps no more recognizable voice to basketball fans than Kevin Harlan. The Westwood One and TNT broadcaster’s main sport is basketball, but he is also the voice of Monday night football on the radio and does CBS games on Sundays occasionally. By far my favorite Harlan call happened when a streaker ran onto the field, and Harlan called the moment in a sleepy Monday night Jeff Fisher Rams affair to perfection.

4: Mike Tirico. As I have said, there is no particular order to this list. Tirico might simply be my favorite play-by-play caller in sports right now. Currently working for NBC sports and calling Notre Dame games and the occasional Sunday Night Football game, Tirico is just great at his job. He’s funny, well-informed and enthusiastic, not to mention versatile. He does an excellent job anchoring football night in America, which for my money is the best pre-game show in the game. Tirico is said to be the successor to Al Michaels when he retires. Enjoy some of Tiricos best calls.

3: Kenny Albert. Sometimes it just comes down to having a great voice. Albert has that. He knows his stuff and calls the game of hockey incredibly well. I would imagine he fills the chair as the number one for Mike Emerick post-retirement. Albert is just a fantastic voice to listen to when you throw a hockey game on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. Enjoy some of Albert’s best calls.

2: Ian Eagle. Eagle edges out CBS legend Jim Nantz here. Listen, nothing against Nantz, he’s a buttoned-up professional with a voice of silk, but I just prefer Eagle. A common thread here, you have to have the enthusiasm to be a great play-by-play caller. Eagle has that. He’s loud and clear and exciting and just makes you feel things. Eagle is at his best when he is calling March Madness in my opinion, but he does a great job with football as well — He and Dan Fouts have excellent chemistry. Check out some of Eagle’s best calls here.

Honorable mention: Al Michaels. Can’t leave Al off this list he’s a titan of the industry. If we are being honest though, it’s time for him to hang up the mic as well and ride into the sunset with Emerick. He hasn’t been the same guy in recent years, but from 1980-2018, he was probably the best football play by play guy in the game. It is time to give SNF to Tirico though. Al’s best calls here.

1: Joe Buck. This one is divisive. I used to be a Joe Buck hater, then I read his autobiography a few years back and he is now one of my favorite announcers. He is so funny. There is no one whose sense of humor I click with more quite like Joe Buck. He’s got the voice as well, gravely, low, stolen from his father the great Jack Buck. I would highly recommend Buck’s book “Lucky Bastard: My Life, My Dad, and the Things I’m Not Allowed to Say on TV” It’s a good read, touching and funny at the same time. I love Buck. He’s got the perfect voice for baseball and does an admirable job calling football games. His chemistry with Troy Aikman is off the charts as well. Enjoy his calls here.

BONUS — NFL broadcast teams ranked.

  1. CBS: Nantz and Tony Romo
  2. Fox: Buck and Aikman
  3. NBC: Michaels and Chris Collinsworth
  4. ESPN: Steve Levy, Louis Riddick, and Brian Griese


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