When he was tapped by NBC executive producer Michael Weisman to be one of the "Golden Oldies" who will replace the network's Seoul-bound sportscasters during the early weeks of the NFL season, Ray Scott accepted the assignment as nothing more than his due. At 69, Scott, the onetime voice of the Green Bay Packers and current voice of the Arizona State Sun Devils, says, "I have reached an age where I'm beyond modesty. It's my honest opinion that right now I'm doing what I do as well or better than I ever have. Whenever I read something good about one of today's broadcasters, I find that nine times out of 10 he's being praised for doing what I've been doing on television for 36 years—and that's simply letting the picture tell the story."
Indeed, Scott's minimalist style—"Starr back...Dowler...touchdown"—may well prove to be a welcome relief from the often oppressive garrulity of some of the newer boys behind the mike. "I got good advice a long time ago from an old high school football coach from western Pennsylvania, Pop Wenreich," says Scott, who is much more voluble off camera than on. "Pop told me I didn't have to say that so-and-so was fading to pass because everybody could see that. All I had to say was who had the ball. You gotta give the viewers credit for having some intelligence."
It will be good to have Scott's resonant baritone voice on network television again. "Ray's brilliance is in his brevity," says Weisman, 38, who was weaned as a sports listener on Scott and some of the other Oldies. "I think listening to him will be a valuable lesson for our younger announcers."
Weisman, too, deserves some credit for brilliance. Knowing that all or most of his stars—Bob Costas, Dick Enberg, Ahmad Rashad, et al.—would be covering the Olympics for much of September and early October, Weisman had to find some bodies and voices to fill in for them on the NFL broadcasts. So he started making phone calls, and in a surprisingly short time he had lined up Scott, Curt Gowdy, Al DeRogatis, Merle Harmon, Chuck Thompson and, at 52, the kid among them, Paul Hornung. "It was a classic case of necessity being the mother of invention," says Weisman. "And I think that all of these broadcasters took the assignment not for the money but out of pride alone."
Scott certainly didn't need the work. He has been employed as a broadcaster—if his four years of World War II service are excluded—since 1937, when he persuaded the owners of radio station WJAC in his native Johnstown, Pa., to let him do a regular sports show. This, he hastily adds, was some years after that community's famous flood. Scott next worked in nearby Pittsburgh for 14 years, broadcasting Carnegie Tech and Pitt football and Duquesne basketball. He also worked two national political conventions with legendary correspondent Bob Trout.
But Scott's big break didn't come until the 1956 Sugar Bowl game between Pitt and Georgia Tech. As the regular Pitt announcer, Scott, already a veteran at 37, was to work the ABC telecast with the network's ranking sportscaster, Bill Stern. Scott was flattered to be in such fast company. He was unaware that Stern, who had lost a leg in an auto accident some years earlier, was addicted to morphine and other painkilling drugs. Scott suspected something was amiss when Stern didn't show up until minutes before kickoff and, though on camera, failed to remove his hat during the playing of the national anthem. Then, when he went on the air, Stern's speech was so slurred that he had to be cut off after several minutes. Scott carried on alone.
His troubles didn't end with Stern's sorry departure (Stern entered a clinic shortly afterward). The Tulane clock went on the blink early in the game, so Scott could only guess how much playing time was left. This robbed the game of a certain drama, particularly when Pitt, trailing 7-0, reached the Georgia Tech 10-yard line at the final gun.
The game had attracted an unusual amount of media coverage because Pitt fullback and defensive back Bobby Grier was the first black to play in the Sugar Bowl—and against a team from the deep South at that. Tech's winning touchdown, as Scott reported, resulted from an unfair pass-interference call against Grier deep in Pittsburgh territory. "The man was lying on his back in the end zone away from the play when that call was made," recalls Scott.
Scott's grace under pressure so impressed the executives over at CBS that they hired him for the '56 season to broadcast the Green Bay games. Vince Lombardi became the Packer coach in 1959, and suddenly, says Scott, "I had the best job in the world." The two men became close friends.
"He was," says Scott, "the most unforgettable person I've ever met. He was a paradox, the most gracious loser and the most impossible winner. 'Why should I praise my boys after a win?' he once told me. 'They don't need me to tell them how good they are. It's when they get fatheaded over a win that they need me.' He never did say, 'Winning is the only thing.' What he basically said was, 'Winning is important, but the pursuit of excellence is more important.' "