Gary Brown: Bonding over 'Wide World of Sports'

Gary Brown

When I think of the passing of sportscaster Jim McKay, I remember my father.

It's not that they were profoundly similar in looks or personality. McKay was short and my dad was tall. The television announcer was at ease in public speaking while my father was quiet, if not shy. Their similarities likely were little more than a closeness of age, a kindness of spirit and a love of family that guided their lives.

So, McKay himself wasn't what brought my dad to mind. Instead, news obituaries and columns written in the wake of the death of the longtime announcer for "Wide World of Sports" made me think of table tennis tournaments and cliff diving competitions and games played in a variety of other fringe sports.

In its day, you couldn't find a bigger fan of barrel jumping than Pop.

And in my memory of it all, I'm sitting beside him in the living room while we watched barrel after barrel being added to the line of cylinders over which the skaters leaped. We bonded over those barrels.

TV ritual

"Spanning the world to give you the constant variety of sports," said the introduction to the program each Saturday afternoon, and frequently on Sundays, as well. "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, the human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC's 'Wide World of Sports.' "

By the time those words were spoken, Dad usually was in his recliner chair. He had an apple in hand or a bowl of popcorn in his lap. A glass of ice water sat beside him on an end table. A sports section of a newspaper was close at hand.

When it came to watching "the constant variety of sports," my father was one of TV's first multi-taskers.

Oh, Dad routinely tuned to baseball, football and basketball games. Those are the entrees on the menu of most sports fans. But rodeo competitions, lumberjacking contests and surfing championships are tasty appetizers and Dad had a hearty appetite for them.

Chores ignored

Maybe there was something about McKay's voice — it was as excited over a lengthy ski jump as it was over any close contest in a major sport — that told dad “Wide World of Sports” was worthy of his time. Chores were finished before the show, or put off until after the program.

Fair is fair. The duties of his offspring — mine and my siblings' — were allowed to be ignored, too.

And so together we watched what were then the oddities of the sports world. "Non-traditional sports," they are called today. Speed skating. Cross-country skiing. Bodybuilding. Motorcycle racing. The sports were as addictive to Dad as the snacks he dined on while watching them.

"The guy's a nut," Dad once declared while watching yet another of the stunt jumps of Evel Knievel — a mainstay on "Wide World of Sports."

Maybe. But Dad barely looked away from the screen when he passed the popcorn.

Reach Repository Living Section Editor Gary Brown at (330) 580-8303 or e-mail