CBS' Verne Lundquist, 'The Golden Throat,' still very much in the game - The Buffalo News
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CBS' Verne Lundquist, 'The Golden Throat,' still very much in the game

"The Golden Throat" is a little bit under the weather.

Verne Lundquist is on the telephone from a local hotel, reminiscing about key moments in his career involving Buffalo and his role in the classic movie "Happy Gilmore" in between occasional coughs while he battles bronchitis.

"Yeah, once a year I get it," said the CBS play-by-play man who will be working the first and second round games in Buffalo of the NCAA men's basketball tournament Thursday Saturday with analyst Jim Spanarkel and reporter Allie LaForce. "It is not a good time to get it, but it is better today than the last two days. I'm optimistic."

That the 76-year-old play-by-play man nicknamed "The Golden Throat" is still in the broadcasting game may surprise fans who thought he permanently retired after calling his final college football game in December.

Lundquist said "quite a few" believe he had permanently retired after calling the Army-Navy game.

"I mentioned in the little closing essay I did at the end of Army-Navy that I was not going away," said Lundquist.

After the basketball tournament, he plans to work The Masters and PGA golf tournaments.

"I think because there was so much notice taken during the football season of my final season that people just assumed that when I said goodbye in December that was it," said Lundquist. "I'm springing one back on them."

He doesn't have a set date to really retire.

"It is an open-ended thing," said Lundquist. "I am really gratified the way my career in college football came to an end. No one has appreciated a final season more than Nancy (his wife) and I did. It was perfect. My deal with (CBS sports president) Sean McManus is I’ll do the tournament for a couple of years, then I teasingly said I'd like to keep The Masters open and that's what we agreed to do. If my brain still works, I'd like to do that for a while."

He thinks this is the fourth or fifth time he has been in Buffalo for the early rounds of the tournament.

One of his bigger memories here involved former Ohio State guard Aaron Craft.

In a game at Columbus when Craft was a freshman, an Ohio State teammate, Jon Diebler, brought him over to Lundquist to prove that he was the guy delivering a memorable line in the 1996 Adam Sandler movie "Happy Gilmore" by repeating it.

"One line always gets a laugh," said Lundquist of the movie about a hockey player who becomes a golfer. "I put my hand over the microphone and say to the guy next to me, 'who the hell is Happy Gilmore?' I said it and Aaron laughed and said, 'now I know you are the guy.' "

Flash-forward three years to the 2014 tournament here. Craft, who had been one of Lundquist's favorite players, came over to the announcer at the shoot-around before Ohio State played Dayton.

"He said, 'I just want to come over and thank you for the last four years because you've done a lot of the games and always been very kind, and I appreciate it,'" recalled Lundquist. "Then he added, 'because I knew I was going to see you again today, I watched 'Happy Gilmore' again last night.' How about that?"

The only line that Lundquist has made that may have been heard more often than "who the hell is Happy Gilmore" goes back 25 years and involves a Western New Yorker. Lundquist called the play in which Grant Hill hit Christian Laettner with a three quarters court pass before Laettner hit the game-winning shot to beat Kentucky in a  regional final.

Lundquist wouldn't call it his most memorable call, though he agreed it was right up there.

"I have been really lucky," said Lundquist. "I have had several that were noteworthy because of the circumstance and who was involved. It certainly would be the most memorable moment for me in college basketball."

But his "Yessir!" call of a Jack Nicklaus putt on the 71st hole of the 1986 Masters, and his calls of the famous Tiger Woods chip shot on the 16th hole at the 2005 Masters and a 109-yard return of a winning field goal by Auburn over Alabama in 2013 rank right up there.

For the 20th anniversary of the Laettner shot, CBS brought the former Nichols star, Lundquist and analyst Lenny Elmore together to watch them watch a tape of the game. "That was fun and interesting," said Lundquist.

For the 25th anniversary, Hill and Lundquist filmed a piece about tournament memories for the internet a few weeks ago.

Hill recalled what Coach Mike Krzyzewski told the players.

"He looked at Grant and said, 'can you make the pass?'" said Lundquist, "Grant said ' yes.' He looked at Christian and asked, 'can you make the shot?' And he said 'yes.' They had tried the same play against Wake Forest and the ball curled and went out of bounds, thus the reason for the question."

Lundquist, who hasn’t been to his home Steamboat Springs, Colo. in two weeks, arrived in Buffalo a day early on Monday to beat the predicted storm after calling Rhode Island's Atlantic-10 tournament victory over VCU.

It enabled him to spend Tuesday in his hotel room pouring over two feet of notes, statistics and features about the eight teams playing in the four games that he will call Thursday.

He writes the rosters of the eight teams out on manila folders and transfers them to his own spotting cart, then starts reading about the key players. He knows Villanova, Wisconsin and Notre Dame pretty well, but he only called one game during the season besides the A-10 final and hasn’t seen any teams playing here in person.

He considers today a critical preparation day because he gets to watch the teams on the floor for 40-45 minutes.

"I love it when a guy has red hair," said Lundquist. "I'm a big fan of knee braces and tattoos, anything that will differentiate that guy from anybody else. I'm all for 7-5 guys or 5-2 guys."

He believes Villanova, the defending national champion, has differentiated itself as the No.1 overall seed for a reason. He thinks either Virginia Tech or Wisconsin can give Villanova test in a potential second round game.

"I'm not predicting anything," said Lundquist. "Well, nobody has ever seen a 16 beat a 1. But I saw the first time a 2 lost to a 15.  That was Syracuse-Richmond in 1991."

Ouch. That was a memory I could have done without. I told him he was talking to a Syracuse graduate.

"You should hear (Syracuse Coach Jim) Boeheim when I bring it up," said Lundquist. "That still stings."

One thing is for sure: With all the memorable calls he has made in his career, no one is ever going to ask, 'Who the hell is Verne Lundquist?' "

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