Verne Lundquist, whose play-by-play has become synonymous with coverage of SEC football on CBS, will step down from that role after the 2016 season, CBS announced on Tuesday.
Lundquist will broadcast the 2016 season with longtime partner Gary Danielson, according to CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. He will be replaced by ABC/ESPN broadcast Brad Nessler, who will work with Danielson, in 2017.
“Verne has set the standard for college football broadcasting,” said McManus. “Together with Gary Danielson he has played a key role in making the SEC ON CBS the highest-rated college football package in America. After an incredible 17 years, he will be handing the reigns off to Brad, who in his own right is highly acclaimed and respected as one of the premier play-by-play broadcasters in the business. I am very pleased that Verne will still have a prominent role in our college basketball and major championship golf coverage. We are fortunate to have one more football season to appreciate Verne’s one-of-a-kind storytelling as we pave the way for a seamless and smooth transition to Brad.”
“Being a part of the SEC ON CBS since 2000 has been the most significant assignment I’ve been given in my more than five decades in this business,” said Lundquist. “Now, it’s time to step back and take in the aroma of those tulips, those roses, and those daffodils that friends have been telling me about for years. In 2017, I’ll happily step aside from college football and welcome Brad to the booth. I’ve known Brad for more than 30 years and have always admired his work ethic and his on-air presence. He shares the same passion for college football that I do. The SEC ON CBS is in great hands. Brad and Gary will form a great partnership in the years ahead.”
Lundquist will continue working for CBS, announcing regular season and NCAA Tournament college basketball games, and assuming his familiar perch at The Masters. But him leaving the SEC’s Saturday afternoon (and primetime) broadcasts is the end of an era.
Lundquist’s announcing has been part of the fabric of college football for the 21st century, and he’s called virtually every important moment involving an SEC team other than those teams’ appearances in national championship games during the league’s recent run of dominance of the sport. Folksy to a fault, he’s worn the nickname “Uncle Verne” for announcing that was often as Southern-fried as its intended audience, peppered with “Oh, my GOSH!” and “Oh my goodness!” — this despite being born in Minnesota and growing up in Texas.
The joy and wonderment he derives from sports has always seeped through his calls, even in recent years, when those signature calls and his trademark “HA!” have sometimes been results of misunderstanding the action on the field. (Lundquist will be 76 in July.) And his interviews, like one with Spencer Hall in 2013, have always been a delight.
SH: Most people don’t realize you’re not a Vernon, but are a Merton Laverne.
VL: Thank you very much. There’s a story there. I was Merton Laverne Lundquist, Jr. I still am. My dad went by Merton. I went by Laverne all the way through college. To this day, I’ll have people call my home in Steamboat Springs, and if they ask, “Is Laverne there?” I’ll know it’s a high school friend or colleague. My mother called me Laverne til the day she passed away.
There’s a story as to how the name change came about. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember Johnny Cash and “A Boy Named Sue,” but I was a boy named Laverne. That led to certain brushes in the hallway with folks in high school. I got teased about it a lot.
My first full-time job in radio was at WOC in Davenport, Iowa, in the fall of 1962 and spring of ’63, while I spent one year of school in the Lutheran School of Theology in Rock Island, Ill. This was a year after I graduated. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, and my dad was a Lutheran minister.
So I applied for a job just to help myself get through school and pay some bills, and the program director was named Bob Gifford. He called me in his office and said, “I’d like for you to do the radio show from 9 to midnight, and you can be the disk jockey, but listen there’s no way I’m putting you on the air as ‘Laverne.’
He had some stage name he wanted me to use, and I was proud of my family and didn’t want to embarrass my mother and dad, and so we compromised. I did not accept his stage name offer, which by the way was “Jerry Lund,” and the compromise was I compromise the “La-” off my name.
Nessler is a fine play-by-play announcer, and should team well with Danielson, whom he briefly worked with at ABC in the late 1990s. He is not, and cannot be Uncle Verne — and woe betide anyone who would try.