Once in a while, while murmuring about the rapidly-approaching minimum age to join AARP, something appears in the news that makes me thankful I grew up when I did. Seeing ESPN's tribute to Jim McKay this morning is one of those moments.
Comedian Tim Wilson refers to them as "the three channel days," when there weren't boatloads of choices for sports channels. No NFL Network or NBA Network, just a couple of baseball games every week (Saturday afternoon and, later, Monday night), and football games that were considered an afterthought as evidenced by the infamous "Heidi game" of 1968 (where NBC stopped covering a game with a minute left in order to air a movie in its entirety). It is that era in which I was raised, the era of Jim McKay.
McKay was a welcome friend every week thanks to ABC's Wide World of Sports. His opening catch phrase, "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat," has become part of American popular culture. He told us the thrill of victory over 12 Olympics, and the horror of the '72 terrorist attacks on the Israeli Olympic athletes.
That is the sad thing about McKay's passing. I'm sure a lot of people who saw the tributes to him shrugged off the notion of pre-cable days, something that is as foreign to them as someone hosting The Tonight Show before Jay Leno. The fact is that we couldn't have an ESPN or Fox Sports Network or the other multitude of sports announcers without people like Jim McKay paving the way, making the profession respectable and classy.
And that he did, as his 13 Emmy Awards prove. In fact, McKay was the first sportscaster to ever take home an Emmy. Throughout his career he brought numerous sporting events with a rare and difficult combination of fan-like enthusiasm and professional reporter. And, although he has not been active in broadcasting recently, he will be missed. His influence, however, will remain as long as sports are aired on television.
Jim McKay was 86 and died June 7 of natural causes.