Fouts, who played in many games Enberg called and later worked with him as an analyst for CBS, said Enberg’s versatility may be why his retirement didn’t resonate the same way Scully’s did.


“Maybe that worked against him in this case, because he’s known for so many things,” Fouts said.

I remember Enberg best for his work as NBC’s lead NFL play-by-play voice during my formative years. NBC had the rights to the AFC in those days, and just as much as Pat Summerall and John Madden came to represent prestige for CBS and Fox, if Enberg and Merlin Olsen were on the call, it was a big game. Usually, Enberg and Olsen were doing the late-afternoon national telecast, and usually they were following the AFC’s best teams, which for much of the 1980s meant the Chargers, Raiders, Broncos, Dolphins, Browns.


Enberg told his life story a few years ago in a pair of lengthy on-camera interviews with the Archive of American Television. Born and raised mostly in Michigan, he first dabbled in radio as an undergraduate at Central Michigan University, where he applied for a job as a janitor at a local station. The station manager liked his voice and put him on the air. He did Indiana football and hoops as he earned his master’s and his PhD, thinking he was going to live his life teaching and coaching. But after he couldn’t get a full-time teaching gig at IU—the dean of students told him he looked “like a shaved prostitute,” but you be the judge—Enberg decamped for a teaching and coaching gig at what is now Cal State Northridge. He supplemented his income by doing radio on the side in the San Fernando Valley. He auditioned around. He finally landed a job as sportscaster at an L.A. television station owned by Gene Autry, then the owner of the Angels, though he would later learn he was being paid 10 percent less than the union minimum. But Enberg was on his way.

Enberg’s voice has that air of Midwestern Nice to it, and it often sounds like he’s smiling as he speaks. His signature catch phrase—“Oh my!”—was an expression of his mother’s. Like Scully, Enberg was raised in the era when radio—with its emphasis on storytelling—was the dominant medium, and so, like Scully, he understood how to spin a yarn, to personalize the experience. But with television, the visuals do the heavy lifting, and so Enberg’s approach was to complement that, mostly by getting out of the way. If Scully was everyone’s gracious old grandfather, Enberg was that friend who sat next to you on the couch, sharing your enthusiasm and your surprise.


“Television, in any sport, we’re just docents,” Enberg told the Los Angeles Times last month. “We just guide the audience through the experience, and hopefully we can point out the hues and notes and make it a more interesting experience.”

For all the big games Enberg did—and I’m sticking to his ’80s-era NFL broadcasts here, since that’s what sticks with me—it’s striking that there are no instantly famous calls in any of them, no “Do you believe in Miracles,” no “See you tomorrow night.” But whenever there was a crescendo in the action, a game-changing play that made you gasp with excitement, there was Enberg, his voice rising to meet the moment.


Take A.J. Duhe’s pick six—his third interception of the game—to seal the 1982 AFC Championship Game:

Or Ken O’Brien’s touchdown pass to Wesley Walker to give the Jets a 51-45 overtime win over the Dolphins in ’86, a game every bit as bonkers as that score indicated:

Or The Fumble, by Earnest Byner, in the 1987 AFC Championship Game (5:10 mark):

Even in a blowout, Enberg had just the right touch. As the Raiders were destroying the Seahawks in the second half of the 1983 AFC title game, running back Marcus Allen had reached 100 yards rushing but hadn’t yet found the end zone. Enberg figured it was about to happen, and so he mostly just allowed it to happen (11:57 mark):

“If on my gravestone it said, ‘Never called for interference,’” Enberg said once, “that would be just fine with me.”


Why contrive it? Honest, straightforward, and friendly is all we’re ever looking for from our broadcasters, though conveying those things might be the toughest feat in the industry. Dick Enberg always knew what to say, but most especially he knew when not to say it.