There have been many great sports announcers calling games in stadiums across the country since the NFL’s inception almost a century ago. We’ve narrowed the field down in search of the 10 best and also ranked them for your viewing pleasure.
10. Charlie Jones
Back in the ’80s, Dick Enberg was NBC’s top football broadcaster. But there was something about Jones that allowed him to get noticed even as the network’s No. 2 play-by-play broadcaster.
Maybe it was because Jones had tremendous enthusiasm for the game, and that his shtick wasn’t marred by catch phrases or phoniness.
The story of how Jones broke into pro football broadcasting is legendary. He sent an alarm clock to Lamar Hunt during the early years of the Dallas Texans franchise, set for a certain time that he was to arrive for an interview. Hunt was so impressed by this creativity to get a chance broadcasting pro football, he arranged for Jones to be put up in a hotel until his schedule allowed him to interview his future broadcaster.
And he made announcing fun. He once called a Miami Dolphins game, and a fumble occurred on a kickoff and was recovered by versatile Jim Jensen.
Jones immediately cried out “Jim Jensen is the quarterback!”. And it helped create the legend of Jensen as “Crash,” a player whose talents were such that he couldn’t be kept off the field despite his third quarterback status.
He may never have been the lead football broadcaster on NBC, but he stood out because of his unique, engaging, entertaining way of calling games.
9. Greg Gumbel
How many broadcasters have hosted a network pregame show and called play-by-play during a Super Bowl? Gumbel has done just that, proving how versatile he is.
In the early ‘90s Gumbel was the studio host of the NFL Today on CBS. Although he was not part of the show’s classic lineup of Brent Musburger, Irv Cross, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder and Phyllis George, he excelled in a “less is more” format alongside Terry Bradshaw and established himself as something other than Bryant’s brother.
But when CBS lost its contract to FOX in 1993, Gumbel was in such high demand that he was scooped up by NBC to host their pregame show. After four years as a primary sportscaster for the Peacock Network, he returned to CBS to become their lead play-by-play broadcaster.
Gumbel’s talents are such that one rarely even thinks of him as Bryant’s brother. He’s established his own identity that will likely surpass his brother’s as far as success goes.
8. Van Miller
Sportscasters have become similar to disc jockeys in the modern era, and former Buffalo Bills’ play-by-play broadcaster certainly fit that mold.
Back when Alan Freed was proclaiming himself as “The King of the Moondoggers” and introducing rock and roll to the world, a DJ was a true personality who also defined the audience he reached with the music he played.
Sportscasting has followed the same route. Miller personified this, and his 37 years behind the microphone as the “Voice of the Buffalo Bills” is still an NFL record. You’ve heard his calls of “Fandemonium” on numerous NFL Films highlights and “Lightning has struck” on NFL promos.
Miller’s enthusiastic and telling interview style has been mimicked by many. His broadcast partners—namely Greg Brown and John Murphy—have gone on to great careers as lead men. Murphy became Miller’s successor, and Brown has been a Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster for 21 years.
This ranking could have gone to any of the above football voices. It goes to Miller for longevity, not to mention reaching national prominence with his calls from a smaller market. He was an innovator.
7. Bill King
Bill King, voice of the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders from 1966 until 1992 had more personality than most others in his era.
His call of the “Holy Roller,” Dave Casper’s fumble recovery for a touchdown on the final play of a 21-20 Oakland victory against San Diego on September 10, 1978 isn’t just a great moment in sports history, it’s extremely funny as well.
“Madden is out on the field! He wants to know if it’s real. They say ‘yes.’ Get your big butt out of here! He does! There’s nothing real in the world anymore!”
King’s personality seemed to go hand-in-hand with the Raiders’ outlaw mentality. He lived on a houseboat. He wore a zany mustache. His hobby was studying Russian history, opera and the ballet. He drove only jalopies on their last legs—why pay thousands for an automobile when $400 will get you there just the same?
Myron Cope’s partner, play-by-play announcer Jack Fleming, was the consummate pro who set up Cope better than Burns did for Allen. Fleming’s own call of the Immaculate Reception is perfect.
King gets the mention here because he was the first team announcer to be featured prominently in an NFL Films’ Super Bowl highlight film, paving the way for the other locals to achieve national prominence as well.
6. Terry Bradshaw
Bradshaw makes this list because his work as a studio host has made a generation of football fans identify him with his broadcasting instead of his playing abilities. And his career as a QB put him into the Hall of Fame by leading one of pro football’s greatest historical dynasties to a record four Super Bowl championships.
Bradshaw’s heartland appeal has made him a staple of NFL studio shows for nearly a quarter century—unprecedented longevity for such a role.
If Don Meredith introduced the “country boy broadcaster” to the NFL, Bradshaw took this persona to the next level to become a greater pop culture icon than Meredith ever was.
Bradshaw may play dumb at times when on camera, but dumb people don’t come up with good ideas like his plan for one percent of NFL revenues to go into a fund for former players’ health problems. It’s a great idea and the league should consider it.
There aren’t many great athletes or football broadcasters that possess a unique sense of humor. Not only does Bradshaw inject this into broadcasts, he has an extensive list of acting credits—even a Las Vegas tourism show. He has sold everything from chewing tobacco to transmission repairs as a commercial pitchman, and has made more than 50 appearances on the Tonight Show. He even found his way onto news channels during “Business Day with Terry Bradshaw.”