By Jarre Fees
Seeking to honor the best sports journalists in the nation, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association will induct football’s John Madden and baseball’s Peter Gammons into the NSSA Hall of Fame at its annual awards ceremony on May 3 in Salisbury, N.C.
Along with Madden and Gammons, Jim Nantz of CBS Sports will be honored for the fifth time as National Sportscaster of the Year, and Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe will be honored for the fourth time as National Sportswriter of the Year.
Dave Goren, NSSA executive director and former State Sportscaster of the Year for North Carolina, said, “You couldn’t ask for two better hall-of-famers. John Madden re-defined the role of TV football analyst with his simple, conversational approach. And as a Boston Globe reader growing up, I’ve been reading Gammons for years. He and Bob Ryan are two of the reasons I went into a sports journalism career.
“We’re thrilled to have Jim Nantz and Ryan as our national winners for the third straight year,” he added. “Jim is as talented and smooth a play-by-play man as there is, and Bob has a knack for selling his opinions by painting a perfect picture. Even better, they are both classy men who love NSSA.”
Madden’s career as an NFL coach included a Super Bowl win and a regular-season record of 103-32-7, and provided the impetus for a 30-year television career as football analyst for CBS, Fox, ABC and ESPN. He won 13 Emmy awards for outstanding sports personality/analyst during that stretch, and was named NSSA Sportscaster of the Year in 1984.
Madden is also revered by a generation of video gamers for the wildly successful game series Madden NFL. He retired in 2009.
Gammons’ Sunday Notes baseball column for the Globe set a new standard for baseball coverage. He followed the Boston stint with a career at Sports Illustrated and joined ESPN in 1988 as an in-studio analyst, in addition to writing for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Gammons can now be seen on the New England Sports Network and the MLB Network, in addition to writing for MLB.com and other online entities.
“The first 40 years of my career I only had three employers — the Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated and ESPN,” Gammons said. “Now I have five at the same time, and I’m grateful for every one of them.”
Gammons and Ryan both started as interns at the Boston Globe on June 10, 1968. Gammons, who graduated a year later from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said he still refers to himself “as an ink-stained wretch,” although he admitted he does more television than writing at this point.
“A lot of things have become Internet-oriented,” he said. “Everything changes constantly, but it’s still about reporting the news.”
“We had no idea of the paths we would wind up taking,” Ryan said, “because the things we would end up doing weren’t even available to us when we started.
“No one thought about the crossover business of TV, or had any idea [sports writing] would lead us all over the world. All I cared about was writing and covering the games.”
Ryan has spent his career at the Boston Globe, covering the Boston Celtics for 15 years before branching out to become a general columnist. He also appears frequently on ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” and other TV and radio shows.
Ryan said his “so-called reputation” was based on his association with the Boston Celtics, but he admitted that baseball was actually his first love. He regrets he was “never able to slip away to the College World Series” because it conflicted with the NBA playoffs. But in general, Ryan said, he had few regrets about the direction his career had taken.
“I’m still associated with the Celtics and I’m very proud of it,” Ryan said. “Basketball has been very, very good to me.”
Nantz started at CBS in 1985 and has become the network’s lead play-by-play announcer for golf, the NFL and college basketball.
“This is what I wanted to do even as a young boy,” he said. “Now I look at the talent that’s in that room every year — the state winners and the national winners and the hall-of-famers — and it just amazes me to be part of it.”
Nantz said his “biggest thrill” this year will be in the person of “one of his boyhood heroes” who will be presenting his award. “I got Arnold Palmer,” he said. “I was too timid to ask him to fly any more than he has to, but then I decided I’d never be able to live with myself if I didn’t ask him to come.”
In addition to the national winners, the NSSA will honor 106 recipients of the State Sportscaster and Sportswriter of the Year awards.