June 23, 2011

Jon Miller, then and now

Baseball fans recognize Jon Miller as the longtime voice (until this season) of ESPN's Sunday night telecasts, as well as the play-by-play man for the Baltimore Orioles (formerly), and the San Francisco Giants (currently). As baseball announcers go, he's one of the best.

But how many knew that at one time, Jon Miller was the voice of American soccer? I sure didn't, until I came across this footage* of Miller broadcasting the North American Soccer League (NASL) game of the week for TVS in 1978.

*Not that you can actually go directly to it. TVS's online archives don't give you a share link, so you have to go here, page down to "Soccer," and select one of the NASL games. This one, in case you're really interested, was San Jose vs. Los Angeles.

A few notes on TVS: the TVS (for TeleVision Sports) Sports Network, founded in 1960, was best-known as the dominant syndicated sports network in the business, having come of age with its telecast of the historic Houston-UCLA basketball game in 1968. For many years TVS was the national home of college basketball, providing regional coverage of almost every major conference, as well as broadcasting the first round of the NCAA tournament. But that wasn't all TVS did: in 1973, they went to China with a team of college basketball all-stars; in 1974 they covered the fledling World Football League, they picked up the rights to several college bowl games along the way, and eventually entered into a joint production arrangement with NBC to provide national coverage of college basketball, an arrangement that ended when CBS won the rights to the tournament.  TVS itself disappeared from the scene when founder Eddie Einhorn moved on to CBS, and later to ownership of the Chicago White Sox.  I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that, as a kid who loved sports and loved television, I loved TVS. They always broadcast the games I played in my imagination.

And now, a few observations on our soccer match:
  1. Jon Miller had a lot more hair back then. And a little less face. But then don't we all?
  2. If you watch the video, you'll notice Miller consistently refers to the upcoming match as a "ball game." Any soccer fan will tell you that this is akin to calling the Mona Lisa a "chick." But in their efforts to sell Americans on this foreign sport, I'm sure Miller was told to make it as American-sounding as possible.
  3. But Paul Gardner, I always thought, was a very good commentator.
  4. The American brand of soccer at that time was quite different from the rest of the world. The offside rule, for example. Today's MLS plays by the international rules, which I think is for the best.
  5. On the other hand, they've got a pretty good crowd there, no? We have to remember that back in the late 70s, when Pele and Beckenbauer and Chinaglia led the way, soccer was a pretty hot sport in this country. It didn't last, though - the roots weren't that deep. For all that, I think the sport in America is probably stronger than ever.
  6. The 70s really were a bad time, weren't they?

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