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Gowdy was a true sportsman

By coincidence, the NFL Network showed Super Bowl III last week in its "Greatest Games Series." The broadcast rights to that game belonged to NBC, so the voice of Curt Gowdy, who died last Monday, was heard throughout.

Gowdy was at his most professional, allowing the game to tell the story, recognizing that it was unraveling as a sports event for the ages without need of too much interpretation. That was not easy for a sportscaster schooled in major league baseball, first as a sidekick to the legendary Mel Allen with the Yankees, then as lead play-by-play man for the Boston Red Sox. Baseball announcing demands much more talking, with its frequent dead times between innings, during pitcher changes, rain delays and other interruptions that mandate conversation to fill.

Gowdy plied his trade at a time when there weren't the squadrons of sportscasters in the business, unlike today with cable sports channels, broadcast networks with multiple sports contracts to fulfill along with local sports shows and games.

A good athlete in his youth in Wyoming, he played on one of the nation's top collegiate basketball teams at the state university. For sports to which he was assigned -- baseball, football, basketball, the Olympics -- Gowdy was among the few in his craft who could describe all of them well. A lover of the outdoors and a highly skilled fisherman since he was a child, his signature show was "American Sportsman." Wherever he had a broadcasting assignment, including Western New York, Gowdy would frequently arrive a day early to do some fishing.

>Putting his game face on

Normally approachable, engaging and gregarious, Gowdy was all business on game day. He would turn remote and cranky before a game, putting on his personal game face to get ready for the broadcast. Later he would brood over the occasional mistakes that were normal for a pro who did so much live work.

I knew him well since he was the No. 1 play-by-play man for the old American Football League games. There was a bond among everyone involved with the AFL in its war with the established NFL and Gowdy broadcast many Bills games since they were among the premier teams in the league. The last time I saw him was at Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami. He was retired by then, but stopped by the press box at halftime to visit.

Gowdy was a wonderful storyteller and many of his stories were about his longtime friend and fishing companion, Ted Williams.

"When Herb Score came to Cleveland as a rookie with his reputation as the fastest pitcher in baseball, Williams didn't get to hit against him until a third of the way through the season," Gowdy would say. "Every team the Red Sox played against which had gone against Score, Ted would ask the players, 'How fast does Score throw? . . . I want to know everything about him.' When he finally faced Score he hit a home run that landed halfway up in the second deck in Cleveland Stadium."

>Cruising with Williams

Gowdy's favorite Williams story was about a cab ride they shared from their hotel to Yankee Stadium.

"We got caught in a terrible traffic jam, but the cab driver was telling Ted how great he was and Williams loved it. Then the cabbie, who was Italian-American, finally turned to him and said, 'You're the best, except for Joe DiMaggio. DiMag is absolutely the best.'

"Williams stuffed a $20 bill in his hand and said, 'Here you bleepity-bleep, we're walking the rest of the way!' "

Gowdy was a man of great loyalty. He was crushed when his longtime football-broadcasting partner, Paul Christman, left him to join CBS to become an NFC analyst. A short time later we had dinner at Jackie Jensen's restaurant in Oakland the night before a Raiders' playoff game. Curt was looking for a new partner. He wanted to know all about Paul Maguire, who was retiring as a player.

Gowdy was as thorough about those with whom he was to work as he was about preparing for games. He was particular about TV talent. I told him that Maguire wasn't just a funny guy, but a very smart one who knew the game well. With Gowdy pushing him, Maguire was hired by NBC. He's now in his fourth decade as a top analyst.

Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.

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