Bud Collins, Others, More Than Just Broadcasters; Ambassadors to the Sports We Love
By: Neal Gulkis
Arthur Worth “Bud” Collins Jr. was known almost as much for his “stylish” wardrobe as he was for his tennis insight. The common thread was that he had a passion for both. Whether it was floral pants and a plaid sport coat, or calling one of the six scintillating Wimbledon finals featuring the great Bjorn Borg, Collins cherished every minute of what he did. The man who was the face of tennis on television for many growing up in the 1970s and 1980s such as myself, passed away at the age of 86 last week.
While tennis was not one of my staple sports growing up, I do remember watching some of the best tennis players of that era battling one another – Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker, just to name a few. In my mind, the remarkable talent and flamboyant personalities on the court made it one of the greatest eras of tennis. And there was Collins, a true match for that talent and flamboyancy off the court, bringing the sport into millions of homes. Watching the players battle it out at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club each June and July was almost as exciting as seeing the love that Collins displayed for calling the matches. Hearing him talk about his “Uncle Studley” and strawberries and cream during the “Breakfast at Wimbledon’ editions on NBC made you want to meet the fictitious figure and sample the English desert staple.
Collins began his journalistic career covering tennis as a writer for the Boston Globe before making the transition over to television, becoming one of the first of many to make that successful move. Like many of the great sports broadcasters, Collins knew that his role was to present the show and not be the show. To inform the viewers about what was going on in the players’ minds and not his. To tell you something you didn’t already know and not stating the obvious. Despite his sharp wit, he had a unique way of handling post-match interviews with the losers as flawlessly and professionally as he did with the winners.
While Collins will go down as one of the greatest tennis broadcasters of all time, his association with a particular sport is not unique amongst broadcasters. As sports fans, many of us remember certain sports or moments as much for those who conveyed the action on television or radio as we do for those who donned the uniforms on the fields, courts or ice.
If you look at any sport, and there are legendary broadcasters in each one. Whether it be Vin Scully in baseball, Mike Emrick in hockey, John Madden in football, Dick Stockton in basketball or Ken Squier in auto racing, there are those who were just as integral in the growth of their respective sports as the greats who played them. Bud Collins undoubtedly can be credited with the popularity of tennis during his era.
Being in professional sports my whole life, I have had the good fortune of meeting Madden, Stockton and Squier, and can tell you that they are as gracious and informative speaking in a one-on-one setting as they are talking to millions of viewers on television.
Broadcasters are a huge part of the sports fabric and we remember them and their signature calls as much – sometimes more – than the actual athletes. Although he later became the face of Monday Night and Sunday Night Football, Al Michaels is still probably best known for his line, “Do you believe in miracles?” proclamation in the closing seconds of the United States’ 4-3 win over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympic Hockey Tournament.
We also grow an attachment to them, especially the ones who call the games locally for our favorite teams. While I was a big fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, Harry Kalas was the iconic broadcaster whom I idolized as a child. He made you feel closer to the team by using the full names of the players, whether it be Michael Jack Schmidt or Gary Lee Maddox, it felt like family. He also had his signature, “It’s outta’ here, home run.”
Locally, football fans in South Florida have had similar attachments with such Dolphins broadcast greats as Rick Weaver, Hank Goldberg and Jim Mandich. Mandich was almost as well-known for his exclamation of “Alright Miami,” following a big play as he was for being the starting tight end on a pair of Dolphins Super Bowl-winning teams.
As PR people – especially if we are affiliated with a team – know that these broadcasters can have a profound effect on a fan base. Treating them with the same respect and admiration as we do the players is imperative. They travel with the team, eat with the team and sometimes socialize with them. They have the ability to portray your team in the way your organization wants. In a way, they are also the conduit to the history of your team, oftentimes having been there through many of the most memorable moments.
So while we remember Bud Collins for everything that he did for the game of tennis, let’s recognize all broadcasters for the passion they bring to their craft and the way that they inform and educate a fan base. Without them, sports might just not be the same.
About the Author:
Neal Gulkis has been the Director of Communications at Homestead-Miami Speedway since 2014 which hosts NASCAR’s championship races each November. Before that, he worked in team PR in the NFL for 25 years with the Saints (1988-96), Dolphins (1997-2008) and Browns (2009-13). He was a member of the NFL PR staff for eight Super Bowls and eight AFC Championship Games.