Curt Gowdy, the Wyoming-bred outdoorsman whose voice defined big-game network television sportscasting during the 1960's and '70's, died today. He was 86. Mr. Gowdy died at his home in Palm Beach, Fla., after a long battle with leukemia, said a spokesman for Mr. Gowdy's son, Curt Jr., the executive producer of SportsNet New York.Associated Press
Curt Gowdy, a sportscaster, has died.
Nicknamed The Cowboy, Gowdy was the quintessential generalist of the pre-cable television era, serving as the No. 1 announcer at NBC Sports for many of the premier events in baseball, football and college basketball.
Gowdy was not a lyrical, larger-than-life announcer, but an easygoing, low-key listen who modeled his objectivity on Red Barber, who called games for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees.
"I'm no cheerleader," he once said. "Besides, you have to instill confidence in your listeners."
In an extraordinary run that was emblematic of his multisport versatility, he called seven Super Bowls between 1967 and 1979, 10 consecutive World Series from 1966 to 1975, and many Rose Bowls, N.C.A.A. men's basketball championship games and Olympics. ABC Sports wooed him to be the first play-by-play announcer for "Monday Night Football" but NBC would not release him from his contract.
While most of his network assignments were for NBC, he was the host of "The American Sportsman" for ABC. The program played to his lifelong love of the outdoors (a state park is named for him in Wyoming) and was as different as possible in content and pace from the games he called. With no one keeping score, Gowdy hunted and fished for 20 years with the likes of Bing Crosby; the bandleader Phil Harris; the actors Peter O'Toole and Robert Stack; President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn; and the former Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, one of his closest friends, who made fishing his second pursuit of perfection outside of hitting a baseball.
"Harris was an excellent wing shot," Gowdy told The Times in 1984 before the program's 20th and final season. "Some years ago, we did a pheasant-hunting show in Nebraska and he showed up with a 28-gauge Winchester pump. When our Nebraska host saw it, he said, 'Mr. Harris, I'm not being smart, but these Nebraska pheasants are big and tough and you can't bring them down with that little thing.' He was wrong."
Curtis Gowdy was born in Green River, Wyo., where his father, a Union Pacific Railroad superintendent, taught him to hunt and fish.
"I was a very lucky guy," Gowdy said in 2002. "I grew up in Wyoming. My father was the best fly fisherman in the state. We had free access to prime-time fishing and hunting. The outdoors was a way of life for me. I should have paid them to host 'American Sportsman.' "
At the University of Wyoming, he was an accomplished basketball and tennis player. A spine injury cut short Gowdy's Army Air Corps career, enabling him to start his sportscasting career on a radio station in Cheyenne, Wyo. He made his debut, standing on a wooden grocery crate, calling a football game between two six-man teams.
Success in Cheyenne led Gowdy to work in Oklahoma City, arriving in time to call University of Oklahoma games, as Bud Wilkinson was building the football team and Hank Iba was coaching the basketball team.
In 1949 and 1950, Gowdy was Mel Allen's partner on Yankee radio broadcasts on WINS-AM. I n Curt Smith's book "Voices of the Game," Gowdy recalled that he had benefited from Allen's help in learning to announce baseball. Allen taught him, Gowdy said, "how far from a hot shot I was. Timing, organization, reading a commercial — I had so many bad habits, but Mel's polish helped me learn."
Rather than linger indefinitely as Allen's apprentice, Gowdy wanted to be a baseball team's lead announcer. So he left for Boston, where he called Red Sox games for the next 15 seasons.
His defining moment as the voice of the Red Sox was his call of Ted Williams's final at-bat in the major leagues, on Sept. 28, 1960:
"Everybody quiet now here at Fenway Park after they gave him a standing ovation of two minutes knowing that this is probably his last time at bat," Gowdy said. "One out, nobody on, last of the eighth inning. Jack Fisher into his windup, here's the pitch. Williams swings — and there's a long drive to deep right! The ball is going and it is gone! A home run for Ted Williams in his last time at bat in the major leagues!"
Gowdy also called the New York Jets' victory in Super Bowl III in 1969 over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, which demonstrated to National Football League stalwarts that the upstart American Football League was its equal.
A few months before, however, he and his partner, Al DeRogatis, were involved in what became known as the "Heidi" game when NBC switched abruptly at 7 p.m. Eastern time to a scheduled showing of the children's film when there were still 65 seconds left in the game and the Jets ahead of the Oakland Raiders 32-29. The Raiders scored two touchdowns to win but Gowdy's final calls were heard by no one, replaced by the tale of the little Swiss girl.
"I didn't know we were off the air," Gowdy said in an interview with The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "When the game was over, I was packing to get out of there and the stage manager yelled at me, 'Hey, you've got to do those two touchdowns again.' " Gowdy quickly returned to the booth to reconstruct his call, which ran on NBC's news programs and on the next morning's "Today" show.
In 1970, he became the first sports broadcaster to win the George Foster Peabody Award, but five years later, following the World Series, NBC replaced him on baseball with Joe Garagiola, then parted ways with him as its lead football announcer in 1979, ending his era of ubiquity. NBC forced him off the baseball beat one month after he called the 1975 World Series. The network denied that it was the result of an accusation by an American League umpire, Larry Barnett, that Gowdy and Tony Kubek, his broadcast partner on the World Series, were personally responsible for threats on the lives of Barnett and his family. The announcers, especially Kubek, said that Barnett failed to call interference on a Cincinnati Reds pinch-hitter in Game 3 of the series against the Boston Red Sox.
Gowdy is survived by his wife, Jerre, two sons, Trevor and Curt Jr., ; a daughter, Cheryl Ann, and five grandchildren.
Without baseball, Gowdy fulfilled his NBC contract by calling football and other events, but left, and eventually called baseball for CBS Radio.
In later years, he was the host and producer of the public television series, "The Way It Was," reminiscences of great games with a panel of players who had participated in them. Gowdy also provided historic commentary for the HBO Sports program "Inside the NFL." He became wealthy through his ownership of five radio stations, a business that he started to pursue when a back problem kept him from working for part of the 1957 baseball season and he wondered if he would return to sportscasting, said his son, Curt Jr.
In 2003, Gowdy returned to Fenway Park to call a Red Sox game against the Yankees as part of an ESPN promotion that brought back great broadcasters. He thought at the end that he could have done better.
"We'll give you another chance," ESPN's Chris Berman promised.
"Call me back," Gowdy said.