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By John Cirillo
Hall of Fame sports broadcaster Bob Wolff has passed away at age 96.
Indefatigable Mr. Wolff called championships in all four major pro team sports
Mr. Wolff died peacefully of natural causes last night (Saturday, July 15) at approximately 10:00 p.m. at his home in Nyack, New York, according to his son, Rick Wolff.
Born on November 29, 1920, in New York City, Wolff is credited as the only sportscaster to call the play-by-play of championships in all four major professional team sports – the NFL’s championship, baseball’s World Series, basketball NBA Finals and hockey’s Stanley Cup. He interviewed Babe Ruth, was the original voice of the Washington Senators in 1947, and for decades called the play-by-play for both the New York Knicks and New York Rangers.
Wolff was cited by the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest consecutive on the air streak for a broadcaster, 78 years in a row, dating back to 1939 on WDNC Radio, when he was a student at Duke University. Earlier this year, Mr. Wolff extended the streak on News 12 Long Island with sports commentary and WHUD Radio in Westchester as the host of the Con Edison Scholastic Sports Award program.
Wolff was the Voice of the New York Knicks for both championship seasons in 1969-70 and 1972-73, called the only Perfect Game in World Series history when the Yankees’ Don Larsen retired all 27 Brooklyn Dodgers batters that he faced in 1956; and was behind the mic for the “greatest football game ever played,” the Colts overtime victory over the Giants in the N.F.L. Championship in 1958.
Wolff is enshrined in the broadcast wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the National Sportscasters-Sportswriters Hall of Fame, the Madison Square Garden Walk of Fame, and in July 2008 was voted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame with the Curt Gowdy Award, joining Curt as the only two sportscasters to be in both the basketball and the baseball halls. Wolff has also been honored by selection to the Hall of Fame of his collegiate fraternity at Duke University- Sigma Nu.
Wolff called Rose Bowls, Sugar Bowls, Gator Bowls, and during his long association with Madison Square Garden Network, college basketball tournaments, The Holiday Festival for 29 years, the National Invitation Tournament for 25 years, the Millrose Games for 32 years, Virginia Slims tennis, women’s college and pro sports, Golden Gloves, college hockey, boxing, bowling, golf, gymnastics, youth football, surfing, horse show jumping, the National Horse Show for 32 years, and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for 33 years.
He began an illustrious career that has spanned NINE decades on CBS Radio’s WDNC in Durham, North Carolina, in 1939 – when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President, Spencer Tracy was best actor and LaGuardia Airport first opened.
He is survived by Jane Wolff, his wife of 72 years, three adult children – sons Dr. Robert Wolff and Rick Wolff, and daughter Margy Clark, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Wolff has proven that high quality work and unmatched longevity are the key components to a legendary career in sports casting. Wolff is in the broadcast wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the National Sportscasters-Sportswriters Hall of Fame, the Madison Square Garden Walk of Fame and in July 2008 was voted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame with the Curt Gowdy Award, joining Curt as the only two sportscasters to be in both the basketball and the baseball halls. Wolff has also been honored by selection to the Hall of Fame of his collegiate fraternity- Sigma Nu.
On March 21, 2012, Wolff was presented with a Guinness World Record certificate for attaining the longest career as a sports broadcaster. Beginning with his work on CBS Radio, WDNC in Durham, North Carolina, in 1939 while going to Duke University, the Phi Beta Kappa graduate’s career on the airwaves reached an astounding78 years in 2017, working in his ninth decade. In 1946 he added TV to his schedule as Washington D.C.’s first telecaster on DuMont’s WTTG. His television assignments have included play-by-play on all the major networks. Wolff is the world’s longest-running TV and radio sportscaster and continued to add to the record this year.
Wolff holds the distinction of being the first and only broadcaster to handle play-by-play championship calls in all four major professional sports; the World Series, the NFL Championship, the NBA Championship and the Stanley Cup hockey finals. He called two of the greatest sports events in Yankee Stadium history – the Don Larsen perfect World Series game and the Colts overtime NFL Championship win over the New York Giants called “the greatest football game ever played.”
He was the television play-by-player for the New York Knicks two championships. In 1965, he called the Boston Celtics championship victory for the NBA crown against the Los Angeles Lakers for a national TV audience. In 1965 on January 1st he called Michigan’s football victory in the Rose Bowl on the West Coast on NBC, then flew to New York and telecast Michigan’s basketball loss to St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on January 2nd in Coach Joe Lapchick’s retiring year.
Wolff continued a full schedule of activity in today’s competitive New York marketplace with his award-winning commentaries and his coverage of major sports events, in his 28th year at News 12 Long Island. For 59 years was seen and heard on Madison Square Garden programming. His 50th year at the Garden was saluted with a special – Bob Wolff’s Golden Garden Anniversary. In 2010, Bob added conversations with sports celebrities as a Steiner Sports feature segment on the YES Network Memories shows.
On the New York scene, in 2007, Wolff was inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame. Wolff’s also in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball Hall of Fame where he served as League Commissioner for five years and in New York State’s Westchester and Rockland Counties Hall of Fame. On Long Island, he won the Press Club Outstanding Journalist Award in 2001. His resume includes a TV Ace Award and Emmy Awards for his on-camera work. His Emmy nominations also continue to mount.
Wolff’s versatility is impressive. In addition to his laurels with professional sports, on the amateur side, his broadcast credits include Rose Bowls, Sugar Bowls, Gator Bowls, college basketball tournaments, The Holiday Festival for 29 years, the National Invitation Tournament for 25 years, the Millrose Games for 32 years, Virginia Slims tennis, women’s college and pro sports, Golden Gloves, college hockey, boxing, bowling, golf, gymnastics, youth football, surfing, horse show jumping, the National Horse Show for 32 years, and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for 33 years which he helped popularize with his off-beat brand of humor, commentary and songs.
Wolff became a broadcasting legend during his 15 years in Washington, D.C. He was the pioneer television voice of the Washington Senators beginning in 1947, and in addition to calling the games, also handled the team’s pre-game and post-game TV and radio shows, plus a nightly TV sports show and radio show. Wolff was the first NBA basketball team telecaster when he called play-by-play for the Red Auerbach-coached Washington Capitols in their inaugural 1946-1947 season in the BAA, the predecessor of the NBA. In 1947, he telecast the first sponsored sports show on the DuMont TV network between Washington and New York.
The voice of baseball in the nation’s capital excelled regionally and nationally. His first network TV exposure was on DuMont, and he soon became a headliner on Mutual’s football Game-of-the-Week and bowl games, plus their baseball Game-of-the-Day. He had football assignments on NBC, CBS, and ABC television, as well as basketball and special events for NBC, USA and ABC. In 1951, he was selected for the first college football TV Game-of-the-Week series and, in 1953, was on the first professional football TV Game-of-the-Week.
Beginning in 1954, Wolff began a remarkable 36-year run as TV play-by-play caller at Madison Square Garden, telecasting more Garden events than any other sportscaster, including long-running tenures- 27 years with the Knicks and 20 years with the Rangers. In 1960, he teamed with Canadian hockey TV great Foster Hewitt to call hockey’s first-ever pay-per-view game, Toronto against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. His numerous TV Garden highlights also included the live call of the first sports telecast on the Madison Square Garden Network, a hockey game between the Minnesota North Stars and the New York Rangers on October 15, 1969.
Wolff’s distinguished career as a baseball broadcaster continued to draw plaudits. In 1956, after drawing praise for his broadcast of the Baseball All-Star Game from Washington aired nationwide on Mutual, Wolff was selected to be a World Series broadcaster. After calling the Don Larsen perfect game, the only one in World Series history, a baseball classic, when the World Series shifted from Mutual to NBC, Wolff was selected again to handle play-by-play in 1958 and 1961. Wolff then left his position as broadcaster of the Minnesota Twins where he spent the ’61 season and also served as the weekend sports host of the ABC-TV network for three years before accepting a contract with NBC-TV in 1962 as their Baseball Game-of-the-Week play-caller. Four years later when ABC-TV took over the broadcast contract, Wolff returned briefly to their baseball booth before deciding to make a change in his broadcasting schedule which would permit more opportunities for him and his wife to watch and enjoy their youngsters in action, fulfilling achievements of their own.
On June 6th, 2009, Wolff was honored in a home-plate ceremony at the Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. when team President Stan Kasten unveiled a plaque naming the home TV booth ‘The Bob Wolff Suite’. A video of Bob’s work was played on the giant screen with a narration about Bob’s baseball accomplishments.
The on-the-go sportscaster for many years had averaged over 250 play-by-plays, plus pre- and post-game shows and nightly sportscasts, per year. In addition to network shows, he was the television play-by-play voice for eight teams in five different sports – Knicks, Rangers, Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Colts, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns, and soccer’s Tampa Bay Rowdies, plus thousands of other sports programs.
Wolff reduced his hectic travel itinerary by contracting to do play-by-play of the complete home schedule of the Knicks, Rangers and other Madison Square Garden sports events, along with baseball specials, features and commentaries on their rapidly-growing cable network.
When News 12 Long Island began its operation, Wolff solidified his home base activities by becoming their Sports Director and Sports Anchor. He quickly drew attention to his work by winning recognition as State Sportscaster of the Year six times. Simultaneously he continued to telecast special events for Madison Square Garden plus baseball specials and received the National PowerAde Award for Best Sportscaster for his “Bob Wolff’s Baseball Scrapbook” shows on the MSG Network. Currently at News 12, Wolff continues as Senior Sports Commentator covering major sports events on camera, running the Scholar-Athlete Program and telecasting sports specials, features and his weekly Point-of-View pieces.
Wolff has also continued his love of educational pursuits. He’s been a college professor at both Pace and St. John’s University, and is proud of the number of his students who have gone on to major assignments in the communications field. In Westchester County, NY, Wolff continues to moderate and air on WHUD the Con Edison weekly Scholar Athlete program for his 38th year and the same on News 12 Long Island for their Scholar Athlete weekly program now in its 28th year.
Wolff has written four books and his articles have been published in numerous publications including The New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His latest book, Bob Wolff’s Complete Guide to Sportscasting, is now available in paperback edition.
In 2008 Wolff received national acclaim for his play-by-play and commentary on two ESPN specials. His call on Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game and other comments were featured on “Yankee Stadium – Baseball Cathedral” and his play-by-play and on-camera work with Mike Tirico played a major role in “The Greatest Football Game Ever Played”, the broadcast of the Colt-Giant, 1958 NFL championship game which set the stage for the tremendous growth of pro football. Wolff also appeared in a two-hour special on Japan television based on Yankee memories including his Don Larsen call.
On June 22nd, 2009, Wolff was inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame. That year he also served as the on-field public address announcer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame Inaugural Classic Game at Cooperstown, and was also on the mike at the new Yankee Stadium for their Old-Timers Game, continuing a long tradition of fifteen years at this prestigious annual event.
Bob and his wife Jane celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary on May 5, 2017. They have three children and nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren. They view their family as their greatest blessing.
Dr. Robert Wolff a former pitching star at Princeton, is a noted pediatric neurologist; Rick Wolff, a former draft choice as a Harvard second baseman, is vice president and executive editor of Grand Central Publishing, and a broadcaster; and daughter Margy Clark, an Alfred University graduate, also an accomplished athlete, is a school nurse at the University of Hartford Magnet School. Each is married with three children.