Loran Smith: Verne Lundquist has a soft spot for Athens and North Georgia

WSGC’s Scott Smith and Verne Lundquist

by Loran Smith

Verne Lundquist’s name and voice have intermittently resonated throughout college football for the last half century.

He retired as the play-by-play announcer for SEC football on CBS following the 2016 season, but we still hear him when his familiar network televises the Masters and the PGA Golf Championship.

Now he is back in our neck of the woods, promoting his delightful book, “Play by Play.” Written with Gary Brozek, Verne has told a story that is inside, insightful, informative and funny.

It is about growing up the son of a minister, a precocious kid who loved the games in which he would not excel, but boy how he could describe those games to a national television audience.

His story telling on the air is linked with some of the most dramatic performances in sports history including: Christian Laettner’s buzzer winning basket in Duke’s sensational win in the 1992 NCAA Regional over Kentucky, Tiger Wood’s dramatic chip-in at the 16th hole in the 2005 Masters and golf’s top rated call, the historical “Yessir,” when Jack Nicklaus’s putt fell into the cup at the 17th hole when Jack won his last Masters (and last major) in 1986.

Those consequential moments will stand the test of time.

One scene between the hedges, one in which he described no action, but was the centerpiece, however, brings him to tears. It was the 2016 Georgia-Tennessee game in Sanford Stadium. Georgia paid tribute to Verne in what would be his last season with CBS and the SEC.

In the beginning he and CBS did not promote a farewell tour, but you know the rest of the story. As CBS made the rounds that season, everywhere the broadcast crew went, they discovered that the host school would be showing appreciation to Verne for his having come the league’s way.

Georgia’s happened to turn out to be his favorite. “When the scoreboard reflected tributes from Gov. Nathan Deal, Greg McGarity, Kirby Smart, Jim Nance, and ‘omigod’ Jack Nicklaus, I was overwhelmed. But then Gary Danielson tapped me on the arm and pointed to the field. The Georgia Redcoat Band had formed ‘Yessir!’ I almost lost it right there in the booth.”

Mike Robinson, director of UGA’s Redcoat Marching Band, had organized the band’s routine to where the Redcoats spelled out “Yessir,” Verne’s famous call when Jack Nicklaus made that legendary birdie putt at the 17th hole at the Masters.

As he spoke in Atlanta, Athens and LaGrange this week, Verne choked up, especially in Athens where there was video accompaniment of the Sanford Stadium scoreboard and the band’s “Yessir” alignment on the field. “All that has a lot to do with why I love this place,” Verne said as he wiped his eyes which prompted a standing ovation.

Howard Taylor of Follett, which manages the University Bookstore, arranged for book signings at every stop. Wherever Verne went sales exceeded expectation.

When it comes to book sales, publishers market a story, but it helps if the author is someone who enjoys people; someone who is patient with special requests and photo ops. At a private book signing before the Athens touchdown club meeting, the book sellers counted more than 40 sales, which in the book business is rather exceptional.

What the Verne book buying enthusiasts will get out of this, is a story about a golden life but one in which there were ups and downs which reflects that he was not without disappointment and setbacks.

There were those who second guessed and underhanded him, but he persevered and kept a stiff upper lip—all the time, making friends for himself and his lovely wife Nancy.

There are no ratings to reflect what he has meant to CBS and SEC football, but this is a beloved man whose life confirms that if you want to make friends in sports, then become a superstar broadcaster. But don’t act like one.

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