The death of sportscaster Bob Wolff, at 96, is a reminder to sports fans of the “Geritol Generation” of that December day in 1958 when the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants in what came to be known as “the greatest game ever played.”
Wolff’s connection? His was the voice we heard when the TV power went out.
Remember? You do if you were alive that day. The Colts were headed for their winning score when the power in America’s TV broadcast disappeared for several minutes. In an instant, everybody remembered they had radios – and, when they turned them on, Wolff’s was the voice they heard doing the play-by-play.
“The Colts are the world champions!” he cried. Some of us can hear it still.
His was also the voice on the enormously popular 45-RPM record issued that winter that served as a keepsake for all of us who wanted to hold onto our audio memories through the years. I still have my copy. The album cover says, “Baltimore Colts Radio and TV voices: Chuck Thompson, Joe Croghan, Bailey Goss, Bob Wolff. The National Bohemian “Four Horsemen.”
The mention of those names brings back both an era and a reminder: sportscasters are the carriers of dreams. They’re the ones who not only bring us the daily news of our ball clubs but connect it across the generations.
They’re the carriers of a culture, the tellers of stories, the voices that make the silliness of hitting a round object with a piece of wood and running around in a circle seem important.
Wolff did it for nearly 80 years. He once said he’d stood for a combined total of an entire week of his life for the national anthem. He broadcast the final innings of Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game. He did Washington Senators baseball back when Washington was known as “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”
He did TV broadcasts starting in 1946 on the old DuMont network when most people – including Wolff himself – didn’t even have sets at home.
But for thousands of Baltimore football fans, the moment we found Wolff at our door was December of ’58. The TV power went out, but there he was, right there on our radios, bringing us the best sporting news of our lives.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, including “The Colts’ Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s” (Johns Hopkins University Press).
Top photo: Program from the “Greatest Game Ever Played” (Courtesy Andy Moursund, Flickr)
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