Remembering Lindsey Nelson

John Ward is being remembered tonight for his work as the Tennessee Volunteers’ broadcaster. Why not more reverence for Nelson, and scorn for those who threatened him?

Marky Billson, a man in desperate need of a loud sports coat

Tonight the University of Tennessee will honor longtime broadcaster John Ward, who passed away last week at the age of 88.

Wonderful. In fact, I’m all for naming something after him, just like streets and venues are named after other Volunteers legends.

But with all the praise of Ward, we should remember the greatest broadcaster in the history of the Tennessee program, Lindsey Nelson.

Yes, The Vols’ baseball park is named after Nelson. It’s a fitting, and appropriate, tribute.

An entrance to Nelson Stadium

Nelson created the Vol Network and was the first to serve as its play-by-play broadcaster. He then went on to a dazzling career as a prominent sportscaster, becoming the first man to ever win both the Frick Award, Baseball’s Hall of Fame acknowledgement for broadcasters, and the Rozelle Award, which is the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s honor for broadcasters.

The traditional “loud sports coat” sportscasters were known to wear in previous generations, and still done today by Bob Uecker, was perhaps popularized by Nelson.

Nelson with Tom Brookshier. Do not adjust your set.

On top of all that, after his sportscasting career ended he chaired the University of Tennessee’s communications department in the early ‘90s.

Perhaps Nelson shouldn’t just be recognized as the greatest broadcaster to call Vols games, but a candidate as the greatest sportscaster, period. Even if one wanted to say Nelson was a bit too positive, it came from a love of sports that once had him sleep on a park bench in Chicago when a road trip to see a game didn’t pan out the way he’d planned.

If you ever wanted a picture capturing the best of down home Tennessee culture, this is it.

Maybe after having telling his handicapped daughter his wife and her mother had died young, wondering if he was being just a bit too cheery trying to keep a viewer tuned in to a lopsided game wasn’t quite as important anymore to Nelson.

And it’s not like Nelson really tried to sugar coat everything. Once, when broadcasting a nationally televised college football game that ended with a 3–0 halftime score, he told viewers “we were going to show you the highlights now, but it is our opinion there weren’t any.” Nelson’s country charm could make you smile at something that otherwise would make a viewer change the channel.

But what I’m afraid of is that Nelson isn’t as fondly remembered by Tennessee fans because he isn’t solely associated with the Vols. Nationally, he’s probably best remembered nationally for being the “Voice of the Cotton Bowl,” or the “Voice of Notre Dame,” or the “Voice of the New York Mets.”

Bob Murphy, Lindsey Nelson, and Ralph Kiner. Greatness.

Remember that. Nelson was known nationally. No other broadcaster associated with calling Tennessee games was.

One more Nelson story to tell. When he was a student at Tennessee, Bob Cifers told me Nelson kept the football team eligible with his tutoring. Yet supposedly Bob Neyland once told Nelson if he ever said anything bad about the team or spilled secrets or who knows what, he would have had him castrated.

Uh, and the stadium is named after Neyland?

Nelson is more deserving of his honor. Perhaps instead of having a paranoid propagandist on the side of the football stadium, Tennessee should rename the yard for Peyton Manning.

Tennessee fans scorn John Currie for calling them “crazy” privately and ignore the positives his tenure produced, such as restoring the nickname “Lady Vols” throughout the womens’ athletic programs.

Neyland did far worse. You’d shun any man, no matter how successful, for threatening Ward.

Why not Nelson?

Marky Billson is the anti-fanboy of east Tennessee sports media. Follow him on medium and You Tube.

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