Back in 1999, the CBS sports broadcaster Verne Lundquist and his wife Nancy were on a cruise when they met former Kentucky governor Louie Nunn and the families became friends.
“So when I would come in to do a basketball game,” said Lundquist via phone on Wednesday, “Governor Nunn would always come to the games and we’d have dinner afterward.”
Lundquist is also good friends with former Kentucky football coach Rich Brooks and remembers well — “Do I ever,” he said — calling the 2007 game in which Brooks’ Cats upset No. 1-ranked and eventual champion LSU at Commonwealth Stadium.
“I thought Rich really had it going there for a time,” Lundquist said. “If my memory is correct, I think we were in Lexington back-to-back weeks that year.”
Indeed, Lundquist and partner Gary Danielson worked Tim Tebow and Florida’s 45-37 win over Kentucky the following Saturday. Alas, since then there haven’t been many opportunities for Lundquist to call UK football games, what with CBS normally getting the SEC’s marquee matchup for its 3:30 p.m. Saturday time slot.
This Saturday is a fortunate exception, however, as Lundquist and Danielson will be in the broadcast booth at The Swamp for Kentucky’s conference opener against the Gators. It could be the final time the television voice of the nation’s most powerful conference works a Kentucky football game.
The 76-year-old Lundquist is retiring at the end of this season, completing a 17-year run that has made the man affectionately known as “Uncle Verne” a staple of SEC football.
“It really did hit me last week,” Lundquist said.
He’d spent the summer trying not to think about it, but once Lundquist got to College Station the emotions arrived, too. After all, it was almost 53 years to the day and just 100 miles from where Lundquist started his broadcasting career in Texas. CBS moved him from NFL games to the SEC in 2000, beginning what he terms the “greatest professional association” of his career.
“It was a happy coincidence,” Lundquist said of a time when the SEC started a run of seven consecutive national championships. “I was the guy, first with Todd Blackledge and then Gary Danielson, given the platform to present the SEC to a national audience. And it became a very important part of the product we put on the air at CBS.”
Lundquist and Danielson have partnered since 2006. Considering their on-air chemistry, it’s interesting to learn the two are good, but not great, friends. Danielson lives in Florida and likes to stay close to his five children and 14 grandchildren. The Lundquists do not have children, live in the Rocky Mountains and love to travel.
“I think we are complete opposites in terms of personalities and I think that works to our advantage,” Lundquist said. “And we’ve had fun with it over the years. I’m a little more of a social animal than he is. But he is as good a tactician as anyone I’ve ever worked with.”
As for Lundquist, his strength lies in the familiar. He’s a man of many friends and that’s how you feel listening to him work; that you’re listening to a friend who is serious about his job, but is having a ton of fun at his job and very thankful for his job.
“I’m staggered by the privilege,” Lundquist said simply. “I’m staggered by the privilege quite often.”
After he works the Army-Navy game Dec. 10, Lundquist will still do the NCAA Basketball Tournament and some golf for CBS, but no more football.
“It’s time,” he said. “I’m 76 years old and every body part I have hurts. I’ve had two knees replaced. I’ve had a shoulder replaced. My back is in need of attention. I’m reminded every day maybe it’s time to step aside and let Brad Nessler take over.”
He doesn’t want a farewell tour or a victory lap. Last week, Texas A&M was kind enough to play a tribute to him on the video board which Lundquist said he appreciated. Let’s not do anything crazy, however.
“I don’t want the band to form ‘VERNE’ as they march off the field,” he said with that familiar laugh. “That’s not my idea of the way to go out. That’s a little over the top.”
Over the top, yes, but to those who love SEC football, not inappropriate. After all, this season we’re saying goodbye to a friend.
Kentucky at Florida
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
TV: CBS with Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson and Allie LaForce
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach, Jeff Piecoro and Dick Gabriel