Jim McKay, 1921-2008

You want strange? I’ll give you strange. Hours before Jim McKay died Saturday, I was listening to the Bob Costas show on a local radio station, with veteran CBS Sports host Jim Nance talking about Jim McKay. “I wonder if he’s still alive,” I said to myself. “There’s a guy who deserves a great send-off when he goes.”

An hour later, he went.

McKay was the voice of sports when there were only three TV stations to watch. He gave us, of course, ABC’s Wide World of Sports and most people today can’t begin to understand the world he opened up to us each Saturday. Never heard of that? How about “the agony of defeat”? He wrote it.

But McKay, at least in my mind, is best remembered for this line: “they’re all gone.” That’s how we learned that the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, who were taken hostage by the Black September group, had not survived an attempt to rescue them. That day, McKay — by himself it seems, although I’m sure he had more than a little help — was our lone link to the unfolding tragedy. We sat and watched him on the edge of our seats for hours.

His work that day was every bit as memorable as Walter Cronkite taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes while telling us President Kennedy was dead.

There are a lot better writers than me to tell you about the life of Jim McKay. About all I can do is pass along that the United States lost one of its biggest legends.

There’s some really great raw footage on YouTube available here. They are parts of an interview McKay (whose real name was McManus) did for Archives of American Television.

It says a lot about the ABC Network, for whom McKay toiled, that its Web site reveals “nothing found” when entering Jim McKay in the search field. He practically built the network.

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