Only Dick Enberg has ever made sun-splashed Los Angeles known for rain.
The beloved sports broadcaster accomplished that improbable feat nearly a half century ago when he showcased his musical talents on the air on a rare rainy Los Angeles night.
At the height of John Wooden’s UCLA basketball dynasty on Jan. 9, 1970, the Bruins went into a stall after opening a 13-point second-half lead against overmatched Oregon in their conference opener at Pauley Pavilion. This was before the advent of the shot clock, and Wooden wanted to force the Ducks to abandon their zone and guard his team more aggressively.
The lack of action made calling the game tough for the young broadcaster who three years earlier had become the TV voice of UCLA basketball. As the players stood around and the crowd at Pauley Pavilion booed, Enberg decided to be honest with TV viewers.
“I’ve exhausted all of my material,’ he confessed. “I’ve told you everything that’s pertinent to this game and this season. As you can see, there’s no action. It’s still 46-33, and frankly my mind has wandered off to another place. Maybe it’s because of the weather tonight, but this melody is running through my head.”
For the next few minutes, Enberg hummed the tune to “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” a Burt Bacharach song from the 1969 movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Only Oregon’s decision to come out of the zone spared the TV audience from hearing the melody a few more times.
When Enberg settled into his seat at Pauley Pavilion to call UCLA’s game against Oregon State the next night, at least a half dozen students approached him and handed him the lyrics to the song. At the end of UCLA’s victory over the Beavers, he relayed the story on the air and promised to sing the song at mid-court on the night the Bruins clinched the conference title.
The student section was relentless after that. The UCLA band would play the tune to “Raindrops” anytime the Bruins built a big lead and the students would turn in unison toward Enberg’s broadcast position and chant, “You will sing! You will sing!” And sing he did after the Bruins clinched the Pac-8 title with a victory over Cal, fittingly on another rare rainy night in Los Angeles.
“I shuffle my papers for half an hour trying to delay as long as I can hoping people will leave,” Enberg once recalled while sharing his life story with the Archive of American Television. “The fans don’t leave, so I have to sing in front of 12,000.
“The Kids had umbrellas and they opened their umbrellas. I’m looking into the sea of umbrellas thinking to myself, ‘This is really terrific.’ While I didn’t sing very well and Burt Bacharach said I messed up a really terrific song, it was poignant.”
Stories like that help explain how Enberg became one of America’s most beloved play-by-play voices during a career that spanned about six decades. Enberg, long renowned for his remarkable versatility and self-deprecating sense of humor died Thursday at age 82.
While Enberg went on to call everything from Wimbledon, to the Super Bowl, to the Olympics, to Major League Baseball, it was his decade-long run as the voice of UCLA basketball that helped launch him into the national spotlight. He also called Angels and Rams games during that era, but he often credited his work calling UCLA games for catching NBC’s attention.
“My entrée to the network was the success of UCLA,” he wrote in his 2006 autobiography. “I rode the Wooden wave.”
During the nine seasons that Enberg and Wooden overlapped at UCLA, the Bruins seldom lost. They won eight national titles during that stretch, produced a 259-12 record and lost only two games at Pauley Pavilion, their unprecedented run of success providing countless opportunities for Enberg to drop in his trademark catchphrase, “Oh My!”
Ironically, two of Enberg’s most memorable broadcasts during his career were UCLA losses. He was behind the microphone for the first prime time national telecast of a college basketball game, UCLA’s 71-69 loss to Houston at the Astrodome in 1968. He also called UCLA’s loss to Notre Dame in 1974 that famously ended the Bruins’ 88-game win streak.
Wooden used to chide Enberg for always mentioning the historical significance of those games. The legendary coach would flash a wry smile and say, “We did win some games too.”
When UCLA hosted Oregon last February in a showdown between two of college basketball’s best teams, the school honored Enberg at halftime. Students donned “Oh My!” T-shirts, a heartfelt video tribute played at Pauley Pavilion and UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero announced the school was renaming the arena’s press room after Enberg.
“What an honor. How can I thank this great university enough?” Enberg said when it was his turn to address the crowd. “UCLA has blessed my life. How fortunate, how privileged, I have been.”
In truth, the good fortune belonged to UCLA. One of the greatest broadcasters in sports history will forever be the voice of the Bruins’ golden era.
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