Forevermore, when Tom Hammond closes his eyes and recalls American Pharoah's Triple Crown, he will think of the noise.
As it became apparent in midstretch of Saturday's Belmont Stakes that, finally, the 37-year Triple Crown drought would end, the crowd of 90,000 at Belmont Park let loose with a roar that shook the heavens.
"The crowd was deafening," Hammond said. "I don't know whether it came through on TV, but it was just an extended roar. People were climbing up on tables, they were throwing drinks in the air, and the roar just kept going."
Across 31 years covering sports for NBC, Hammond is not sure he's ever been a part of a scene quite like that.
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"I've covered Olympics, playoffs in the NBA and the NFL, Notre Dame football, Kentucky basketball, been in some crowds that were much larger than Saturday's," Hammond said. "But I don't think I've ever heard a roar like that. I think people just released all that emotion that had pent up over 37 years."
On NBC's broadcast set, Hammond was feeling every bit of that. As American Pharoah crossed the finish line, the Lexington native, 71, said he had goose bumps and tears forming in his eyes.
"Betsy Riley, our associate director, told me after the broadcast that she could hear the emotion in my voice," Hammond said.
Yet if you were watching NBC's broadcast of the Belmont, you likely noticed that, after jockey Victor Espinoza guided American Pharoah across the finish line, Hammond initially said nothing.
Like Vin Scully famously walking away from the microphone after Kirk Gibson's iconic home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Hammond and NBC let the images — and the crowd noise — provide the narrative of American Pharoah's triumph.
"Rob Hyland, the producer, and I had already decided before the race that, if (American Pharoah) won, we were going to let the pictures tell the story," Hammond said. "I mean, it's such a great moment, what could you conceivably say that would make it better?"
By becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah has earned the mantle of great horse, Hammond said. "But in terms of where he ranks all-time, that kind of stuff, it's too soon," he said.
The thoroughbred racing industry runs deep in Hammond's Kentucky blood. He first broke into the media reading race results on WVLK radio. Hammond used to serve as the announcer for Keeneland's horse sales.
In 1984, Hammond was sports director at WLEX TV when NBC Sports hired him as a free lancer to work on its broadcast of the first Breeders' Cup. Hammond did so well, NBC hired him full-time. He's been with the Peacock Network ever since.
American Pharoah's Belmont victory is the third Triple Crown Hammond has seen in person. As a fan, he saw Secretariat (1973) and Affirmed (1978) finish their runs into history in New York.
He did not see Seattle Slew claim the Triple Crown in 1977, and he cannot remember why. "I was at Channel 18 then," Hammond said. "I've been racking my brain, but I can't remember why I didn't go."
Hammond says American Pharoah's Triple Crown will be in the top tier of the most memorable events he's broadcast in his 31 years at NBC.
He also includes Miami's 31-30 upset of No. 1 Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl to claim the college football national championship; American track star Michael Johnson sweeping the 200 and 400 meters at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics; Cathy Freeman, an Aboriginal Australian sprinter, winning the 400 meters before her countrymen at the Sydney Olympics;
Also NBA star Reggie Miller's "eight points in nine seconds" binge against the New York Knicks in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals; Boston College's last-second football upset of No. 1 Notre Dame in 1993; and the failed Triple Crown bid of Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont Stakes.
Hammond's contract with NBC runs through the 2016 Summer Olympics. So it's possible next year's Triple Crown series could be the last he broadcasts. That might help explain what happened after NBC signed off from its Belmont coverage Saturday.
"A lot of my colleagues, they sought me out to give me a hug and congratulate me," Hammond said. "I was like 'What did I do?' But I think they knew how much it meant to me to cover a Triple Crown winner."