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Duluth-born Lundquist chose broadcasting over the ministry 50-plus years ago

Verne Lundquist College Football play-by-play announcer. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/CBS ©2006 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved

Legendary sportscaster Verne Lundquist followed his father by attending Augustana Seminary in Rock Island, Ill., in 1962.

It didn't take long to realize it wasn't for him.

"I didn't have the dedication or the discipline to become a minister," Lundquist said. "It's a 24-hour-a-day job, and boy, you better have a value system that gives you permission to be that involved in people's lives. I didn't, and I knew it, so I followed a different path."

Of all the great calls Lundquist has made in more than 50 years as a sportscaster, that may have been his greatest.

Lundquist, who was born in Duluth, retired from calling college football games in December. He will continue to call the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament and the Masters golf tournament with CBS Sports, his soothing style and friendly voice putting listeners at ease.

"'Foreseeable future' is a perfect way to describe it," Lundquist said. "There's no time limit."

Lundquist will be the play-by-play announcer for Friday's March Madness basketball games at Madison Square Garden in New York, including Wisconsin against Florida. In a phone interview last week from the NCAA tournament site in Buffalo, N.Y., he was asked to pick a favorite.

"I learned a long time ago that I don't know enough about this sport to figure out who's going to win, particularly this year," Lundquist said. "But if you want me to pick one, I love (coach) Mark Few. I think Gonzaga has been overlooked. Do they deserve a top seed? Of course they do. Maybe they'll break through, so put me down as a Gonzaga fan."

Childhood on the go

Lundquist, 76, was born in Duluth on July 17, 1940.

"My parents showed me the personal check they wrote for the doctor's services for my delivery — twenty-five bucks," Lundquist fondly recalled.

Lundquist's father was from Kansas; his mother from Clarkfield, Minn. His father graduated from Augsburg College in Minneapolis in 1939 and the couple married in October of that year. His father served as a student pastor in Duluth the summer of 1940. The family moved around before settling in Austin, Texas, when he was 12. He graduated high school there.

Lundquist attended nearby Texas Lutheran, where he was an athlete, playing basketball and baseball. As a junior in June 1960, he returned to Duluth for three days as part of a church youth group.

"I've been to Minneapolis a hundred times, but I've never made it back to Duluth," Lundquist said.

Lundquist earned a sociology degree from Texas Lutheran in 1962 before attending Augustana Seminary in Rock Island in 1962. He was a disc jockey at WOC across the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa.

"I realized right away it wasn't for me," Lundquist said of the seminary. "But I dedicated myself to finishing the year, so I have 18 hours of credit in the seminary, including six hours of Greek."

Lundquist returned to Austin and worked as a summer disc jockey before landing a television sports job on Labor Day 1963.

"I thought, 'Man, I'd really like to do that,' " he said.

The rest is broadcasting history.

"With a few roller coaster rides along the way," Lundquist said, laughing.

Storied career

Lundquist was the radio voice of the Dallas Cowboys, joining the Cowboys Radio Network in 1967 and remaining until 1984. He landed his first network job calling college football for ABC in 1974 and continued honing the soothing style viewers have come to embrace. He said he doesn't have a favorite sport to cover.

"The wonderful thing about what I'm privileged to do is the change in seasons," Lundquist said. "About the time you get weary of the preparatory process with football, it's basketball season."

Among his favorite calls:

• The 2013 college football game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Auburn. Known as "Kick Six," Auburn cornerback Chris Davis returned a missed field goal 109 yards for the game-winning touchdown on the final play.

• The 1992 NCAA men's basketball East Region final between Kentucky and Duke, when Christian Laettner sank a 17-foot jumper at the buzzer to win in overtime.

• The 50th Masters on April 13, 1986, when Jack Nicklaus hit a birdie putt on the 17th hole and Lundquist said, "Maybe ... yes, sir!"

"That's my favorite single moment just because it was Jack and nobody gave him a chance," Lundquist said. "He shot 30 on the back nine at age 46 and happened to take the lead on the hole I was describing.

"That's the joy of the job, you never know. You always hope, but more often than not, you get a dud, and then the challenge is trying to keep it as interesting as you can. But if those memorable moments occur; and you never know from where they're coming, you've got to be ready for it."

A real pro

Lundquist who has lived the past 34 years in Steamboat Springs, Colo., prepares the same way he did 20 years ago, treating Mount St. Mary's as if it were Duke.

"You've got to," Lundquist said. "And if you don't do it, if you skip a step, you're going to get found out. It'll happen. Some of it is drudgery. It's the 80 percent of the task and preparation that the public doesn't see and doesn't really care about."

Lundquist was reached by phone in Buffalo last Wednesday, the day before he called four NCAA tournament games. He said Wednesday was critical for preparation as he would watch all eight teams practice for 45 minutes each.

"This is when you try to figure out names and numbers," he said. "You pray that the guy has a knee brace, or tattoos or long hair, anything to differentiate him from his teammates."

Lundquist talked about how he had 14 Sharpies in his hotel room, a ruler and 10 manila envelopes to keep track of everything. The next day he was on his game.

Lundquist's broadcasting partner, Jim Spanarkel, received criticism on social media for mentioning how he has learned not to argue with "pretty women." Lundquist responded in his folksy way, saying, "That's a very good philosophy of life, by the way."

And when Lundquist was hit in the face by a basketball during West Virginia's warmups, Lundquist got a good laugh when he said, 'Oh, that hurts on replay.'"

While his style might appear effortless, it is the product of more than 50 years in the business, of hard work and a gift that keeps on giving.

"There is a perception we fly on a private jet, get a suite in a hotel, show up on Saturday and talk about these kids for three hours. Hardly," Lundquist said. "You are preaching to the choir, so you'd better know something in terms of your preparation so you don't expose yourself."