Years ago, a sportscaster in Southern California got very lucky. The man, a veteran broadcaster working for NBC, showed up one afternoon to call a sporting event and left as a member of sports history.
On this afternoon, the broadcaster’s name was Dan Hicks, and the hero was Tiger Woods. It was 2008, and Hicks was in San Diego to cover the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
“Before that championship started, I had the chance to sit down with Tiger. The last thing I asked him was, ‘how are you feeling physically?'” Hicks told GOLF.com. “And he gave me one of those really quick Tiger-like responses. ‘Oh I’m fine.’ But I could tell with the little grin he gave me, the answer was that he wasn’t. Still, we didn’t know the severity of it till he started using his golf club as a walking cane.”
Limping over a broken right leg, Hicks watched Woods chase down Rocco Mediate on Sunday — a performance that ended with a dramatic 72nd hole birdie to force a playoff. When Tiger’s ball disappeared into the cup, he delivered an iconic fist pump, and Hicks delivered one of the most memorable lines of Woods’ career.
“Expect anything different?!”
The next day, Woods completed the comeback and captured his 14th major championship at Torrey Pines, and Hicks’ call cemented itself in sports lore.
Twenty years before Tiger conquered Rocco at Torrey Pines, another sportscaster in Southern California found similarly good fortune. On that evening, the man — also a veteran broadcaster working for NBC — entered sports history of his own.
The hero was a likely figure in an unlikely state. Hobbled by injuries, he could hardly walk. When his moment of history happened, he pumped his fist in exaltation — an image that immediately entered sports canon, where it has remained ever since.
The year was 1988, and the sportscaster’s name was Vin Scully. He was in Los Angeles for the first game of that year’s World Series between the Dodgers and the Oakland Athletics. The hero’s name was Kirk Gibson, and when his pinch-hit, walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth inning sailed over the wall, Scully’s punctuation of the moment became ensconced in the history of the sport, too.
“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”
Hicks would laugh at the notion the two calls have much of anything in common. The mere thought of Hicks and Scully appearing in the same sentence is a mild shock for the longtime voice of NBC Golf. Hicks modeled much of his professional career after the legendary Dodgers broadcaster, who was his childhood hero. Most of his initial interest in the profession came from years of listening to Scully from his childhood home in Tuscon, Ariz.
“It was basically a college town, but we could get the Dodger baseball games,” he said. “It was the one major league team that came through loud and clear on a radio, and listening to Vin Scully just paint pictures was magical.”
And yet, in this instance, the comparison is warranted. Hicks’ and Scully’s calls are more alike than they are different, right down to the verbiage. Both succinct encapsulations of unforgettable moments in sports history, both deftly handled, and both repeated with unrelenting frequency ever since. Of perhaps equal importance: both were entirely spontaneous.
“I looked out and I had this feeling from the audience that was out there that everybody expected him to make it. So that word, expect just kept coming back in my mind,” Hicks said. “So I look over at Johnny and I can tell he’s thinking the same thing. He’s got this half-grin on his face. It just kind of came up from my gut. That all was part of the perfect storm of the plot, and that all contributed to the enormity of the moment.”
Hicks has been preparing to hear himself speak slightly more than usual this week. His call figures to be a fixture at this week’s U.S. Open, which returns to Torrey Pines for the first time since Tiger’s miraculous Monday finish.
“I’m sick of hearing it already,” he said with a laugh. “It’s going to get a lot of airtime, but that’s okay.”
Hicks will once again anchor NBC’s coverage of the event at Torrey Pines, but the crew alongside him will look much different from 2008. Gone is Johnny Miller, and in his place enters names such as lead analyst Paul Azinger and on-course reporter Jim “Bones” Mackay. This year will mark only the second U.S. Open since NBC assumed control of Fox Sports’ golf deal with the USGA last year, and the first tournament in the national championship’s traditional calendar slot.
For Hicks, the return to Torrey conjures fond memories of Tiger’s 2008 moment, if not his narration of it. The irony of the incessant replays, he says, is that the moment’s staying power comes largely from the fact it can’t be recreated.
“I always try to put myself on the couch in the living room with people while they’re watching,” he said. “I think people could relate to it, that it wasn’t some fancy-schmancy, stringing together a sentence or two about trying to put it all in perspective. It was just like, damn.”
The truth in Hicks’ call lies somewhere between sports canon and reality. Much like Scully, he was not responsible for the events that occurred before him in 2008, yet his words ensured he will forever be associated with what came after.
“You had everything that you could ask for. It was like a Hollywood script. Tiger wrote us a great script,” Hicks said. “You get into these get a bit of business for moments like this, and you just hope you’re able to enhance it, and I think our team was able to do that.”