Hoffarth: Enberg’s voice resonates 50 years after the UCLA-Houston ‘Game of the Century’
By Tom Hoffarth
A college basketball game, ill-fitted for a major domed stadium? It’s become common place today when TV wants to facilitate who should be declared the next NCAA champion.
In 1968, that awkward template was stumbled upon with some trepidation, in a place no longer the eighth wonder of the world, with seats too far away from the action and beamed to the nation through a patch-work syndicated TV feed that was still adding affiliates, commercial spots and viewers as it was taking place.
A half-century later, the matchup of No. 1 UCLA, on a 47-game win streak, and No. 2 Houston on Jan. 20, 1968 is still referred to as the “Game of the Century,” a true made-for-TV event put on by Eddie Einhorn’s TVS broadcasting company that pitted giants Lew Alcindor and Elvin Hayes inside the still newish Houston Astrodome.
It was not just the first regular-season college basketball game deemed worthy of a nation-wide audience, and not only set a record for the sport with more than 52,000 in attendance, most of whom couldn’t see much, but it ignited a sport in a way that only Dick Enberg, called upon to do play-by-play for it, could most aptly describe.
“That was a booster game into the stratosphere,” he said about 10 years later, engaged at the time to call the Michigan State-Indiana State game featuring Magic Johnson and Larry Bird for NBC, another seminal moment for the sport. “But the launching pad for the incredible popularity of college basketball on television, I believe, started right there in Houston, close to NASA. That really shot the rocket into the sky.”
Last November, in an opera house on the University of Houston campus, Enberg was joined on a panel discussion with former Houston players Hayes and Don Chaney, as well as CBS college basketball […]