Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Charlie Jones, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

The name might not be familiar to everyone, but if you're old enough to have been a fan of the American Football League, then there was no mistaking the smooth baritone of Charlie Jones. And then there was the white hair - or was it silver? So hard to tell in black-and-white - and the dark-rimmed glasses. Yes, if you're from that era, you knew who Charlie Jones was.

He was another of the announcers from the old school, the alums of which believed that the game was important enough to speak for itself and the announcer's job was not to upstage the action on the field. He had a distinctive voice and a distinctive style, and he got it right, what was going on down on the field, and that was enough.

Whenever I think back to those days I'm reminded of the great sportswriter Mike Lupica and his line about how today's sportscasters act like they're standing in front of a brick wall during Open Mic Night at the Improv. For them, entertainment's the thing, and that game, or whatever it is, is just secondary. (Granted, when you've got ballparks with swimming pools in them, it's hard not to treat the game that way.) These entertainer-sportscasters call to mind a lot of adjectives, but "professional" isn't usually one of them.

Not so with Charlie Jones. Whether he was calling one of the classic AFL battles of the 60s, anchoring coverage of the World Track & Field Championships, announcing the national championship in the Fiesta Bowl, or working the Summer Olympics for NBC, he brought class and style to his profession. In 1997 he received the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Charlie Jones wasn't usually mentioned in the same breath with the other "big game" announcers of the era like Curt Gowdy; he was often more likely to be on the second half of the football doubleheader or the alternate game on the baseball game of the week. But he had a style that was his own, and when you heard his voice you never doubted who was behind the mic.

Yeah, Charlie Jones was a class act, and it's somehow appropriate that when he died last Thursday, his passing was sandwiched between two other class acts, Jim McKay and Tim Russert. Overshadowed in the headlines perhaps, but far from forgotten.

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