Verne Lundquist stopped by Athens this week on his way back from the Masters, which gave Tony Barnhart the opportunity to retell a couple of stories.
Two stories best sum up the love affair Verne Lundquist has with SEC football.
* His first SEC game for CBS was Florida at Tennessee in 2000. In that contest, Florida trailed 23-17 with the ball at its 9-yard line with only 2:14 left to play. Jesse Palmer drove the Gators down the field, and with 14 seconds left, he hit Jabar Gaffney on a short pass in the end zone for a touchdown. The ball quickly popped out of Gaffney’s hands but line judge Allama Matthews (a Vanderbilt grad) ruled it was a touchdown and the Gators won 24-23.
When the game was over Lundquist took off his head set and turned to then-broadcast partner Todd Blackledge.
“Are all of them like this?” Lundquist asked.
“Enough of them,” Blackledge said.
* Later that season, Lundquist did his first Alabama-Auburn game, in Tuscaloosa. Understand that Lundquist had been a veteran NFL broadcaster and had been all over the world when he agreed to become the voice of the SEC for CBS. But on this day, Bryant-Denny Stadium was unlike anything he had ever seen.
“The band was playing. The jets had flown over. It was just an incredible scene,” Lundquist says. “I put my arm around (my wife) Nancy and said, ‘Be honest with me. Would you rather be doing this or Detroit at Tampa Bay?’ ”
This is what people who don’t share my love for Uncle Verne fail to get about him. At heart, he’s a sports fan who appreciates the settings he’s cast in. Throw in that he’s not an incessant yakker like the majority of people ESPN shoves in our faces, and he’s a rare bird.
You can bitch all you like about him missing a name here and there, but just think about what we’re likely to get in his place when he retires. Whoever it is may earn a nickname from the audience, but it probably won’t be a fond one.