Mount Rushmore: Seattle Sports Announcers

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of Women You Jerked Off To When You Were 14?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Christina Applegate, Tiffani Amber Thiessen, Jennifer Aniston, and Madonna, but that’s neither here nor there.

Today, I’m going a little bit outside the box – maybe just right next to the box – and I’m gonna talk about some of the local sports announcers.

The Greats …

Maybe every major city with a bunch of bigtime sports teams feels this way, but I think Seattle has been particularly blessed to have some of the best play-by-play guys in the history of the business.  Obviously, because they worked in Seattle, they get overshadowed by more nationally renown guys like Vin Scully, Marv Albert, Harry Caray, Chick Hearn, Pat Summerall, Keith Jackson, and so on and so forth.  But, I would argue that some of the guys I’ve got on my Mount Rushmore are equally as talented as those hall of famers, and would’ve flourished on a national stage had they gotten the opportunity.

At the top of the heap, I don’t think there’s any question about it:  Dave Niehaus.

He worked for the California Angels from 1969-1976 with Dick Enberg, before the Seattle Mariners poached him for their inaugural season in 1977.  He headed up Mariners broadcasts through the 2010 season before his untimely death that offseason.

Dave was the absolute greatest.  Oftentimes, he was the main reason to even tune in to a Mariners broadcast!  The way he painted a picture over the radio enlightened as it entertained.  If you’re even a casual fan of the M’s, you’re aware of his iconic calls and catchphrases; he’s second to none.  And, deservedly, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.  Ultimately, he called over 5,000 Mariners games, and each one was a delight for his involvement if nothing else.

Next on the Mountain, we’ve got Kevin Calabro.

While Dave is the best, KC is probably my personal favorite.  He voiced the Supersonics broadcasts from 1987 through their demise in 2008.

I think KC’s greatest attribute is that he could always match the action on the court, which for many of those Sonics teams in the early-to-mid 90s, was as action-packed as you could get!  The games themselves were exciting, but KC’s calls brought them to another level.  You were nothing if not entertained every time you turned on the game.  When the Sonics were on a national station like TNT or NBC, I’d frequently listen to the radio broadcast because who was going to top the duo of Kevin Calabro and Marques Johnson (who, not for nothing, make up the greatest play-by-play/color commentator team in the history of sports broadcasting)?

Third on my list is actually the whole reason for wanting to write this blog post:  Bob Rondeau.

We got some bittersweet news this year, that the Washington Huskies are going to lose Mr. Rondeau to retirement.  Obviously, he’s been with the school for 37 years, broadcasting both football and men’s basketball games as long as I’ve been a fan, so he deserves to go out on his terms and enjoy his life, but we’re all going to lose a true titan of the industry, and someone who could’ve EASILY gone another 10-15 years or more if he so desired.

As I’ve gotten older, and as I generally take things like this for granted, I haven’t had a chance to listen to games on the radio as much as I used to.  But, whenever I do, I find myself not really missing the fact that I’m not watching it on television.  As a fan, I don’t think there’s a higher compliment you can pay a play-by-play man than to say I feel a tremendous comfort level whenever I listen to Rondeau call a game.  For me, he’s probably my most trusted personality in sports journalism.  Yes, he’s employed by the Huskies, but he’s also going to tell you how it is, even if it’s not in the most flattering light for the program.  And it’s never in a way that makes you feel like he’s bashing the school or the players; it’s more like someone who expects better and wants better, but when something goes wrong, he’s just a disappointed parent or something.  I dunno, it’s hard to explain.  Obviously, there’s no greater phrase to the human ear than when Rondeau says deeply and richly into the microphone:  “Touchdown Washington!”

Finally, I know I’m going to catch some Hell for the final choice in my local sports announcer Mount Rushmore, but I should remind you that it’s MY mountain and not yours.  Anyway, I’m going with Steve Raible.

Here’s the deal, I’m no spring chicken, but I’m also too young to remember the likes of the Sonics’ Bob Blackburn or the Seahawks’ Pete Gross.  Obviously, if you ask someone who got to listen to those guys, I’m sure they’d put them in here over a couple of my choices, but what can you do?  I don’t have that attachment.

For me, this final spot came down to Steve Raible and Rick Rizzs, and indeed it was a tough call.  Unlike a lot of Mariners fans/haters out there, I very much enjoy what Rizzs brings to the table.  Is he a Mariners homer?  You betcha!  But, you know what?  He’s also, like, the world’s nicest guy, so it’s not like he’s some phony over there shilling for a paycheck.  He’s just a genuine, happy individual, and I can’t think of a better match for him than to work for the Mariners, a team so frustrating and loathesome at times it’s too much to stomach.  Rizzs helps the medicine go down, and I’ll be honest, he’s been remarkable in the wake of Dave’s passing in 2010.  If we didn’t have Rizzs to soften that transition – aka, if we went straight from Niehaus to Sims with no buffer or alternative – I don’t know where I’d be as a fan right now.

Anyway, getting back to Raible, he was an original Seahawks player, drafted in the 2nd round in 1976, and played 6 seasons for the team.  He joined the broadcast team with the aforementioned Pete Gross in 1982 and has been a local institution ever since (also as a news anchor for KIRO 7).  Raible’s stock has obviously risen heavily since he took over play-by-play duties, as the fortunes of the Seahawks themselves have skyrocketed.  It’s always a joy to go back and listen to his highlight calls after a game, as he brings tons of energy and enthusiasm to the game.  His pairing with Warren Moon is the best broadcast pairing we’ve got going in the Seattle market right now.

So, that’s it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Throw out your Mount Rushmores and your rankings in the comments.

Marcus Trufant Retired

This is what it comes to when you desperately don’t want to write (or think) about the Seattle Mariners.

Marcus Trufant signed a 1-day contract with the Seahawks so he could retire with the team yesterday.  Seems appropriate.  He’s an important member of the local sports community and he deserves to have his day in the sun.

That’s not really what I find interesting about the whole thing, though.  It’s a nice story, but I’m more interested in his place in Seahawks history.  Specifically:  does he belong in the Ring of Honor?

Right now, there are 11 members of the Ring of Honor.  They are:

  1. Pete Gross
  2. Jim Zorn
  3. Dave Brown
  4. Steve Largent
  5. Jacob Green
  6. Dave Krieg
  7. Kenny Easley
  8. Curt Warner
  9. Chuck Knox
  10. Cortez Kennedy
  11. Walter Jones

The first nine were members of those great teams from the early-to-mid 80s.  They helped establish the history of the Seattle Seahawks.  The baseline for greatness, if you will.  Cortez represents all the teams from the 90s, as he was the shining beacon of hope on an otherwise pisspoor franchise.  Walter Jones represents the start of the second wave of great Seahawks teams after the turn of the century.

There will be more.  Off the top of my head, I’d say Mike Holmgren, Matt Hasselbeck, and Shaun Alexander are all locks to make the Ring of Honor, as they were the most important members (with Big Walt) of the aforementioned second wave that saw the Seahawks reach its first-ever Super Bowl.

And, if I’m allowed to look into my crystal ball, I’d say there are a number of awesome candidates in this current third wave of great Seahawks teams:  Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, with an outside shot for Marshawn Lynch and Kam Chancellor.

This Ring of Honor’s getting crowded!  I’m sure that plays no small part in determining the outcome of players on the fringe.  Guys like Michael Sinclair, Joe Nash, Jeff Bryant, Brian Blades, Chris Warren, Eugene Robinson, John L. Williams, Brandon Mebane, and of course, Marcus Trufant.

The ultimate honor for a retired NFL player is the Hall of Fame.  You have to be a VERY special player to crack that barrier.  The Seahawks have three:  Largent, Kennedy, and Jones.  In looking ahead, I’d say Russell Wilson is on track (though, he’s going to need a couple more Super Bowl victories and a long sustained career of greatness), Richard Sherman is well on his way, and if Earl Thomas keeps going the way he’s going, he’ll likely get in as well.  Aside from those three, you might see Mike Holmgren make it, but it’s so hard for coaches to get in, and besides he really had his greater success with Green Bay anyway.

The next-level honor for a retired NFL player is his primary team’s Ring of Honor (or team hall of fame, or whatever).  That’s where you get to have your Hall of Famers, as well as the guys who may not have been good enough for that elite level, but still made a huge impact on that specific franchise.

There really should be a third-level honor, though.  Some sort of “Fan Favorite” type of honor where these guys like Marcus Trufant – and the other fringe guys listed above – get their due.

Marcus Trufant was a real professional.  In 2007, he made the Pro Bowl and the All Pro teams.  He’s currently fifth in franchise history in interceptions with 21 (one ahead of Richard Sherman, for the record).  He played 10 seasons in Seattle as a first round draft pick back in 2003.  He started immediately and was really one of our rocks in a secondary that was often torched (or, at the very least, not all that impressive).  He was an integral part of that second wave of great Seahawks teams, from 2003 through 2007 (five consecutive playoff appearances, four consecutive division titles, one Super Bowl appearance).

Marcus Trufant deserves … something!  He may not be Ring of Honor calibre, but he was a very good Seahawk and it’s been an honor to root him on for all those years.

Wilson High School Football Rules!