Race Weekend Central

Jim McKay: His Was a Voice From Another Era

“The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat!”

Even today, every time I turn on the TV to watch a sporting event, those words echo like a ghost through the inevitable pre-show. Iconic and truthful, they summon images of teams leaping over each other in joy and the tears shed when the worst possible scenario occurs. It is why we watch sports. Through the images and words provided by the broadcast, we live vicariously as curious bystanders, wishing we were the competitors.

Jim McKay, the longtime ABC sports commentator known for his work as a reporter in every facet of the sporting world, passed away this weekend at the age of 86. While I acknowledge my sorrow at the news of his passing, I realize that there is now a generation of fans who are mostly unaware of what Jim McKay did for sport.

Before ESPN, TNT, FOX Sports Network and the various regional cable sports networks there were the Big 3; ABC, NBC and CBS competed to fill the airways with a variety of programming. They searched the globe for a random selection of news, drama and sports, ensuring that any viewer watching their network would find something of merit on the black & white portal to the universe. This required great flexibility and knowledge on the part of reporters and commentators. This was the generation of Jim McKay.

Through his weekly showcase, he showed this child of the 1970s the thrill of the Indy 500 and the beauty of a thoroughbred horse running the Kentucky Derby. His voice brought excitement and fascination to the endless sports encompassed by the Olympics. Seated on the carpet in my living room, I traveled with him to the Alps to watch the Giant Slalom, to the high Mexican cliffs where divers dared to tempt fate, and to ice rinks graced by figure skaters.

Perhaps he was not the expert provided for the particular event, the one who understands the technical aspects attributed to each sport, but it was his enthusiasm and insightful commentary that kept me glued to the set, and drew me back every week for ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

He taught me to look for the other story, the underdog, the team that wouldn’t win the event but would win the adoration of the crowd. Most of all, he shared with his audience the thrill of being there, of involving yourself in the world around you and urging others to do the same.

His is now a voice of the past, one that is not likely to rise again in our society of specialization and expertise. Gone are the days of exploration and discovery. We look to the SpeedTV for NASCAR and MLB Extra Innings for baseball. Our days are filled with divining the stats for our fantasy leagues and priding ourselves on in-depth knowledge of our corner of the planet. With 24/7 opportunities to remain buried in our selected sport, we lose the chance to search for options and open our minds to something new.

Jim McKay left us with a legacy, those nine words. They apply to every sporting event across the world. They exclude nobody and encompass every emotional facet. They are truth.

And thus, I will continue to surf all the sports channels in search of a new sport and new excitement—just as I learned to all those years ago. Thank you, Mr. McKay. I shall not forget you.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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