“Do you believe in miracles? YES!”
“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”
These memorable calls courtesy of broadcasting greats Al Michaels and Vin Scully will forever give sports fans goosebumps. Forty years later, Michaels’ famous “Do you believe in miracles?” quip still resonates, wonderfully encapsulating the United States hockey team’s unlikely triumph over the heavily-favorited Soviets at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980. Scully’s career in the booth spanned the better part of seven decades. Yet, what he’ll most be remembered for is a single night in October, when he brought to life Kirk Gibson’s incredible World Series walk-off—accomplished on two bum legs and against one of the great ninth-inning men of his era, Dennis Eckersley—in 1988.
We all have our own favorites—for my money, I don’t think anyone has ever captured a moment quite as perfectly as Verne Lundquist when he narrated Tiger Woods’ career-defining chip-in at the 2005 Masters (“In your life have you ever seen anything like that?”). Given all our sports biases, reaching a consensus on the “best call” ever may prove impossible. For instance, as a long-suffering (well, not anymore) Red Sox fan, I’ll always feel a certain nostalgia for Joe Buck’s calls during the ‘04 playoffs when Boston staged the greatest comeback in baseball history (“And he can keep on running to New York!”).
Jimmy Traina of Sports Illustrated thought it would be fun to poll some of the game’s elite announcers—Michaels, Buck, Jim Nantz, Marv Albert, Kevin Harlan, Mike Breen, Ian Eagle, Mike Tirico, Brad Nessler, Sean McDonough and Chris Berman—on their favorite calls of all-time. Many had the same answer—Nantz, Albert, Harlan and Tirico each selected Michaels’ immortal “Miracle on Ice.”
“It struck the right chord in 1980, and it will still be regarded as solid gold in 2080,” said Nantz, who is no stranger to voicing big moments himself, covering more than his fair share of Masters tournaments, Final Fours and Super Bowls for CBS.
“Say the five words ‘Do you believe in miracles’ and a majority of Americans know exactly what game we are talking about,” Tirico said in admiration of his NBC colleague. “You can’t say that about many other calls ever made.”
As for himself, Michaels went with another popular choice, casting his vote for Scully’s Kirk Gibson call. Scully’s brilliance is undeniable but what Michaels admired most is how he let the moment breathe, allowing the electric atmosphere at Dodger Stadium do the heavy lifting. “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,'" said the long-time play-by-play voice of Sunday Night Football. “Perfect timing, perfect description, perfect coda. Doesn’t get any better than that.”
While Michaels tipped his cap to Scully, several of the panelists including CBS and Turner Sports’ Ian Eagle actually preferred Jack Buck’s call of Gibson’s iconic homer. “Those are the kinds of calls you aspire to as a broadcaster,” said Eagle, who like many of the announcers polled by Traina, attended the sports-casting factory Syracuse University. “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.”
“I just listened to it again and got goose bumps,” McDonough agreed. “Nobody in the history of our business has ever called big moments better than Jack Buck.”
Joe Buck also gave the nod to his father, but for a different call. “He called a Bob Gibson no-hitter,” said the Fox Sports veteran, recalling Gibson’s mastery of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971. “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.”
Berman wasn’t even alive for his favorite call (Russ Hodges’ frenzied “The Giants win the pennant!” outburst in 1951), though he also earmarked a more recent moment, Kirby Puckett’s walk-off in the 1991 World Series (again called by Jack Buck), as equally spectacular. “'And we’ll see you tomorrow night!!!’ In one short sentence: excitement, while typical Buck simplicity,” said Berman in praise of the late St. Louis Cardinals announcer. “He captured the homer, the big picture and what could top it all in one sentence. BRILLIANT.”
Other worthy choices included Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th homer as called by Milo Hamilton (submitted for consideration by Breen), Desmond Howard’s punt return voiced by Keith Jackson and Tiger Woods’ victory at the 1997 Masters, beautifully portrayed by Nantz.
If you got choked up reliving any of these legendary moments, just know that I’m right there with you.