June 7, 2008

-image-r.i.p. jim mckay

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Oh, so sad. The face and voice of ABC’s The Wide World of Sports and so many Olympic Games is gone. I grew up on him. Loved him. Counted on him. His face and voice are part of the film reel of my childhood. In my house, we’d all gather around the TV on Saturday afternoons without fail to watch “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Just the sight of him was simultaneously thrilling and reassuring to me. And when the Olympics rolled around, well, it wasn’t the Olympics to me without Jim McKay. He seemed enthusiastic about everything. A fan. And if he wasn’t a fan, he was willing to become one. He just had that kind of open vibe about him. What’s more, he knew how to woo you to become a fan of something you’d never cared two hoots about before. I mean, the man could make you care about cliff diving in Acapulco, for Christ’s sake. He just had a gift that reached out — broke beyond the bonds of the TV — a kind of everyman accessibility and warmth that you instantly liked and trusted. Jim McKay was, quite simply, the face and voice of the sporting events that mattered most to me, the ones that got my blood pumping. He never made it about himself, didn’t have a drop of Howard Cosell’s bombast running in his blood. No. He was unassumingly smart and eloquent, and perhaps precisely for that reason, the man was everywhere. If a sporting event was breaking out somewhere, Jim McKay was there and you wanted him to be there. He was so good, but he was quietly good. He won an Emmy for his live coverage of the massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972 — Roone Arledge fed updates of the unfolding events into McKay’s earpiece — and once it was clear that the rescue attempt had been completely botched and all the hostages had been killed, McKay came on the air and memorably told the world:

When I was a kid my father used to say our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were eleven hostages; two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.

A class act, in a world where class acts are fewer and farther between. A man who knew how to set the right tone, match the mood of the viewer, whether it be pounding anticipation or incomprehensible sorrow. A true, gentle, and humane professional. I will miss him. A lot.

Thank you, Jim McKay, for the gentleman you always were and for the indelible impression you’ve left in the minds and hearts of a generation of sports lovers.

Rest in peace.

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