Dick Enberg, a Hall of Fame sportscaster who punctuated his descriptions of many of the world’s leading sporting events, from the Super Bowl to the Olympics to Wimbledon, with his signature call of “Oh, my!” died Dec. 21 at his home in the La Jolla area of San Diego. He was 82.
His wife, Barbara Enberg, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that her husband missed a flight to meet family members in Boston.
“He was dressed with his bags packed at the door,” she said. “We think it was a heart attack.”
Mr. Enberg was one of the most versatile broadcasters in sports, known early in his career for his coverage of college basketball games, including the perennial national champion UCLA Bruins in the 1960s and 1970s.
He announced two of college basketball’s most important games, the 1968 “Game of the Century” between UCLA and Houston and the 1979 men’s NCAA title game, featuring Michigan State’s Magic Johnson (a future broadcast partner) and Larry Bird of Indiana State, propelling the sport to new heights of popularity.
Mr. Enberg covered 28 Wimbledon tennis tournaments in Britain, 10 Super Bowls, 14 NCAA Final Fours, the Summer and Winter Olympics, baseball’s World Series, and leading golf tournaments, including the U.S. Open and the Masters.
“To me, Dick Enberg was the greatest all-around sportscaster who ever lived and will never be emulated,” former Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said in a statement.
Mr. Enberg won 13 Emmy Awards as a broadcaster, writer and producer, plus another in 2000 for lifetime achievement. The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association named him sportscaster of the year nine times, and he was inducted into the broadcast wings of the baseball, basketball and pro football halls of fame.
In 1965, Mr. Enberg gave up his teaching position at what is now California State University at Northridge to become a full-time sportscaster for a Los Angeles television station. He became the voice of UCLA basketball, the Los Angeles Rams and the California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) and later worked at NBC, CBS and ESPN.
Throughout his career, Mr. Enberg approached broadcasting as if he were preparing for class, spending hours in research before each game.
“In many ways, when we step in front of a microphone or a camera, we have a much larger classroom,” he told Investor’s Business Daily in 2016, “but we need to be prepared. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves nor the audience. We want it to be a personal and enjoyable experience for your classroom.”
The sports figure he admired above all was Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden — another former teacher — whose UCLA teams won 10 national championships. But Mr. Enberg always said that the most memorable game he covered was one UCLA lost.
The Game of the Century, played before more than 52,000 fans at Houston’s Astrodome on Jan. 20, 1968, was the first non-championship college basketball game broadcast on national television. Mr. Enberg, still relatively little known at the time, was chosen by the game’s television syndicators to provide play-by-play coverage.
The game featured two of college basketball’s premier players, the University of Houston’s Elvin Hayes and UCLA’s Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Hayes scored 39 points to lead Houston to a 71-69 victory, ending UCLA’s 47-game winning streak and spurring newfound national interest in college basketball.
“That was the platform from which college basketball’s popularity was sent into the stratosphere,” Mr. Enberg told the Associated Press in 2016. “The thing that had to happen, and Coach Wooden hated when I said this, but UCLA had to lose. That became a monumental event.”
Regardless of the sport, Mr. Enberg was a comforting presence, with a warm baritone voice and mild Midwestern accent. While broadcasting Angels baseball games from 1969 to 1978, he announced home runs with a call of “Touch ’em all!” He crowned each Angels victory with the phrase “and the halo shines tonight,” referring to the large halo atop the ballpark’s scoreboard.
His best-known expression was the simple “Oh, my,” an all-purpose phrase Mr. Enberg used with varying degrees of emotional fervor. It could describe anything from a referee’s bad call to a tension-filled moment to a game-winning home run, touchdown pass or slam dunk.
He began to use the phrase at Indiana University, where he earned two degrees, he said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in 2005.
“And, of course, ‘Oh, holy cow,’ had been taken by Harry Caray,” he said, “and ‘Oh, doctor,’ was Red Barber’s, and Mel Allen had, ‘Well, how about that.’
“So, I tried ‘Oh, my,’ and . . . it’s been a good friend since 1957.”
Richard Alan Enberg was born Jan. 9, 1935, in Mount Clemens, Mich. His family moved to Connecticut and California before returning to a farm near Armada, Mich., where his father had an orchard.
Mr. Enberg aspired to be a professional baseball player, “but I really only talked a good game,” he said.
Inspired by the storytelling abilities of such radio sportscasters as Harry Wismer, Barber, Allen and Scully, Mr. Enberg began to announce games for $1 an hour as a student at Central Michigan University.
After graduating in 1957, he went to Indiana University, continuing to announce games while attending graduate school in health sciences. He received a master’s degree in 1958 and a doctorate in 1962.
Unable to find a job in broadcasting, he turned to teaching and coaching baseball at San Fernando Valley State College (now Cal State-Northridge).
Mr. Enberg became NBC’s top play-by-play announcer in 1975, covering pro football, baseball, the Olympics, tennis and college basketball. His broadcast partners included Merlin Olsen in football, Bud Collins in tennis, Don Drysdale and Tony Gwynn in baseball, and Billy Packer and the feisty McGuire in basketball.
In 2005, Mr. Enberg wrote a one-man play, “Coach: The Untold Story of College Basketball Legend Al McGuire,” which has been performed throughout the country.
Mr. Enberg hosted several game shows, including “Sports Challenge,” a quiz show featuring retired athletes that ran from 1971 to 1979. While covering the Olympics, he became known for his sensitive profiles of athletes, often from little-known sports.
“I hope what I do best is personalize the athlete,” he told the Bangor Daily News in 2006. “[Viewers] know I’ll have new stories to tell and not overtake the game or try to be more important than the game.”
His first marriage, to Jeri Suer, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 34 years, the former Barbara Almori of San Diego; two sons from his first marriage; three children from his second marriage; and three grandchildren. A daughter from his first marriage died in 2015.
In the 1990s, Mr. Enberg received the highest broadcast awards from the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2015, he received the Ford C. Frick Award, giving him a place in the broadcast wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame — only the second sportscaster, after Curt Gowdy, to receive all three honors.
Of all the sports he covered, Mr. Enberg said his favorite, and the most challenging, was baseball.
“How do you paint the total picture? How do you build the drama of a no-hit, no-run game?” he said on Larry King’s show in 2005. “I think the real test of play-by-play talent is measured in the game of baseball. If you can do baseball well, you can call any game.”