Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Harry Kalas, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

He was an institution in Philadelphia, but for millions more around America, Harry Kalas was the voice of NFL Films - or, perhaps, just the voice. Not "The Voice" - but many people who weren't familiar with his name would have recognized that voice in an instant. He did commercials for Campbell's soup (the ones with Donovan McNabb and his mother), he was the announcer for Animal Planet's "Puppy Bowl," he did college football and basketball, and a host of other events.

My clearest memory of Harry Kalas is, as might be expected in my case, an odd one. Years ago, before the advent of ESPN, Kalas was the voice of Metrosports, a syndicated network that broadcast college basketball games during the week. As I say, college hoops hadn't become the seven-nights-a-week TV marathon it is today, so the chance to see Notre Dame play Michigan on a Tuesday night was a big deal. Kalas broadcast those games, giving them the gravitas and credibility they deserved, but what I remember most is how he would announce someone's scoring average as "twenty-three and eight-tenths points per game," not the "twenty-three-point-eight" that most of us would say. Anyone who would pay that much attention to grammar was, I figured, someone who took pride in his work.

As many have noted, there is something unique in the relationship sports fans form with the unseen voices that announce their team's games. Harry Kalas' voice was warm and reassuring, the kind with which people could form a bond. Millions of people who never met Kalas thought of him as a friend, or at least someone who was welcome in their home, their car, or anywhere else they might have listened to him. I've never been anywhere near Philadelphia, and yet Harry Kalas and his dramatic voiceovers for NFL Films are as much a part of my sports scrapbook as any announcer.

As I have said many, many times, these announcers are a dwindling breed. Chris Schenkel, Jim McKay, Curt Gowdy, Harry Carey - they're all gone, and others such as Pat Summerall, Keith Jackson and Ernie Harwell are either retired or semi-retired. Vin Scully, the dean of announcers, is still behind the mic every game, and it makes you want to go out and buy one of those packages that allows you to hear every major league game on the radio, because you want to hear Scully for as long as you can.

Harry Kalas died yesterday in the broadcast booth, preparing for the Phillies game against the Washington Nationals. Many have noted this is probably the way he would have wanted to go, the warrior carried off on his shield. A part of me recoils at those sentiments - perhaps Harry would have preferred rather not to die at all, at least on that day - but the very thought that Harry Kalas died getting ready to do what he loved, what he had done for more than forty years, is a comforting one. May we all be able to do what we love, and bring happiness to so many people in doing so.

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