People die every day. This year I lost my friends Kirk McDonald and Kate Gruetzmacher in their early 40’s to brain cancer. I lost my 100-year-old Grammy to, well, being 100. And just before Christmas I lost sports broadcaster Dick Enberg, at 82, to a heart attack.
Dick Enberg was the sportscaster of my youth. He broadcast 8 Super Bowls, the Olympics, The Masters, Wimbledon, Major League Baseball, college basketball and boxing, His catch phrase, Oh My, was simple and powerful. And it followed many of the greatest athletic feats I witnessed as a child.
When I was a senior in college Dick Enberg came to the University of Wisconsin to give a speech at a banquet honoring student-athletes for high academic performance. I was a discus and hammer thrower on the track team and was proud to have been invited to the event. I was also being recognized as one of a dozen student-athletes who had earned a 4.0 GPA the previous semester. But I was most excited that Dick Enberg was going to be speaking.
Three days prior to the event I was informed that the athletic department had also arranged a private luncheon at the stadium the day of the banquet. 17 student-athletes were invited to have lunch with Mr. Enberg and participate in a discussion about issues facing student-athletes. I was one of the lucky few who received an invitation.
I arrived early to the luncheon, as we were requested to do. The athletic staff gave us the game plan and reminded us we were representing both the University and the athletic department. Which I assumed meant don’t talk with your mouth full.
The student athletes waited with great anticipation for Dick to arrive. He was finally escorted into the room and there was a brief introduction. Then an athletic staff member announced, ‘We will let Mr. Enberg go through the food line first, then the students can follow.’
I quickly realized that someone would have to follow Dick. And I thought:
Why not me?
So this discus thrower from little Norwich, Vermont marched over to the banquet table that held the spread of food, grabbed a plate, and stepped in line right behind Dick Enberg, one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time. We talked as we walked through the line. And when Dick took his seat, I took the seat right next to him.
The next hour was amazing. We had a great group conversation. Dick showed a genuine interest in our thoughts and perspectives. I talked about the challenges of being an in-season athlete in the spring of my senior year, and not having any time to focus on finding a job and starting my career after graduation.
Dick wisely predicted that the same commitment I had to my athletic and academic success would translate well to my career. He encouraged me to enjoy the rest of my senior year. Which of course, I did.
That evening I attended the banquet with my favorite journalism professor, Roger Rathke, and my aunt, Deanie Sprau, who lived in Madison and was a huge reason I was drawn to The University of Wisconsin.
The banquet was at The Great Hall at the Memorial Union. The room was huge and packed. There were about 500 attendees, including student-athletes, faculty, staff, and family members. It felt like a wedding. Our assigned table was at the center of the large banquet hall.
It was fun to see all of the athletes trade in their athletic department sweatpants and t-shirts for dresses and suits. Everyone was excited to have one of America’s best known sports figures in attendance.
After a warm welcome to the event by the master of ceremonies we were served our meals. Dick Enberg was seated at the head table with Athletic Director, Pat Richter, and other university dignitaries.
In the middle of the meal I saw Dick suddenly stand up and start making his way across the large, packed hall. I presumed he was either going to visit the little broadcasters room, or taking a moment to review his notes one last time before his speech.
All eyes were on Mr. Enberg as he cut across the middle of the room. He was on a path that would take him directly past my table. He got closer and closer to me. When he reached my table he stopped for a brief moment, gave me a big smile, and patted me on the back like we were old friends. Then he continuing on his way and disappeared from the room.
Suddenly, friends from around the Great Hall flocked to my table to find out why, in this room of 500 people, had the guest of honor stopped to say hi to some random, albeit studious, track athlete. My answer was, “Oh, we had lunch together today.” By the looks on their faces, that was an even crazier answer than they were expecting.
The rest of the event was nice. Dick’s speech was great. And I was proud to be part of this large group of high-achieving students who happened to participate in some outramural sports in their free time.
That evening serves as a great reminder of how life works. Your efforts can get you into the room. But it is the relationships that you develop along the way that make you stand out from the crowd.
Dick Enberg was right about my career too. After I graduated my professor Roger Rathke, who was with me at the banquet that night, introduced me to his college buddy from the University of Wisconsin, Paul Counsell. Paul was the CEO of the remarkable advertising agency Cramer Krasselt. I got an informational interview, and was offered a job as a copywriter. And today I own my own agency.
Thank you Dick Enberg. Thank you for the Super Bowls. Thank you for the Olympics. Thank for coming to Madison and having both lunch and dinner with me. And thank you for the wise career advice. Things have worked out just fine for me.