Legendary play-by-play announcer Harry Caray bellowed “Holy Cow” during special moments — especially exciting ones — in St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs baseball games he worked during his broadcasting career.
Hall of Famer Dick Enberg had his “Oh my,” and Bill Raftery, who is going strong at age 79, still screeches “Onions” as his trademark phrase.
This leads us to Dave Armstrong who has announced his retirement from broadcasting after working Kansas basketball games for ESPN Plus and other outlets the past 38 years.
He will forever be remembered for his “Wow,” which he saved for highlight-reel plays completed by participants in games he covered during his long, successful career.
Armstrong — he called his final game Monday at Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks’ 87-55 victory over Texas Southern — remembers the moment he uttered the first ‘Wow’ of his play-by-play career.
“I was doing a game here in Allen Fieldhouse. It was 1984,” Armstrong said, speaking on the Jayhawk radio network and to The Star prior to the Jayhawks’ game Monday. “Cedric Hunter, point guard of the Jayhawks in 1984, throws up an alley-oop pass to Danny Manning, a freshman, and Manning came from the right wing, flew down the baseline and reached up with one arm and his hand had to be almost to the top of the glass. Danny caught the ball, slammed it down in one motion. I went, ‘Wow!’ As soon as I said it I thought, ‘I’ve got my catch phrase,’ and it stuck with me ever since.”
It was Enberg that first discussed catchphrases with Armstrong, who drove from Wichita, where he was working, to Lawrence to shadow Enberg, Al McGuire and Billy Packer the day before that famed trio worked a KU basketball game in Allen Fieldhouse many moons ago.
“Dick Enberg who was gracious with his time, told me, ‘That is my exclamation point,’” Armstrong said of “Oh my.”
“He said, ‘I let the crowd take over, let the audience at home enjoy that moment as if they were in the stands.’ I thought, ‘What a great idea, to have a catchphrase like that.’’’
Armstrong wound up using “Wow,” not only while working during college basketball and football games, but during his nine years as a pro baseball play-by-play man. He worked Royals broadcasts three years (1993-95) and Rockies broadcasts for six years (1996-2001). He also has worked NBA and NFL contests.
“My first year with the Royals was George Brett’s last year. The opportunity to hang out with him was obviously a thrill,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong received the chance of a lifetime when a Royals coach asked Armstrong if he wanted to shag fly balls during early batting practice on road trips. Armstrong, a person the coach referred to as looking “semi-athletic,” of course said, ‘Yes.”
“The first place I got to do it was my hometown, Detroit, Michigan, at old Tiger Stadium,” Armstrong said. “I knew exactly where I was going to go. I went out to right field because that’s where my boyhood hero Al Kaline played.
“I ran out to right field and who is standing right next to me but George Brett. George said, ‘Good to have you out here, ‘Army’ (his nickname with the Royals). I said, ‘George, this is a phenomenal moment for me. I grew up in this city. This is where my hero, Al Kaline stood.’ George said, ‘This is where Ty Cobb played; where Babe Ruth stood.’ George said, ‘I’m getting chills talking about this.’
“I was tearing up. George said, ‘There’s no crying in baseball.’ I said, ‘Sorry this is such a moment for me,’’’ Armstrong continued.
Armstrong, 68, has trouble coming up with a game that has stood out above all the rest.
He was play-by-play announcer for the famous fifth-down football game between Missouri and Colorado on Oct. 6, 1990. And yes, if one checks the tape, one discovers that Armstrong was one of the few individuals in the stadium that knew Colorado received a fifth down at the most crucial point of the game, a 33-31 CU win in Columbia, Missouri.
As far as KU hoops … “It’s such a special place (Allen Fieldhouse). It’s hard to pick one,” he said. “I think Bill (Self, KU’s 20th-year coach) has put such a stamp on the program. He is the comeback kid. How can you write a better script than coming back 15 at halftime to win a national championship against another blue blood in North Carolina? How can you write a better script than being down nine with a couple minutes to go against Memphis and go into overtime and win a national title? How can you write a better script than the big comeback against Missouri and Oklahoma or win on a last-second shot against Indiana? UCLA? It goes on and on. To pick one of those? No chance.”
Armstrong — he will continue his highly successful career in real estate in Bella Vista, Arkansas — said he’s giving up broadcasting for one specific reason.
“It’s time for the next generation to have their turn,” he said. “I’ve had a great run, wonderful memories. It’s been a total blessing, great honor to be part of this program so many years. I’m totally cool letting somebody else have this chance. I have a great life. Not that I don’t need this, but it’s at the point of my life it’s time for somebody else to have fun. I don’t mind passing it on, stepping away on my terms before they get the hook and pull you off the stage,” he added with a smile.