By Alex Norman
Today, sports broadcasters truly are a dime a dozen. The unique voices are leaving us every day. Larry Munson, Keith Jackson, Dick Enberg… just a few of the play by play announcers that have passed away in recent years.
On June 20, 2018, Tennessee lost its voice when John Ward passed away at the age of 88.
In a statement released by the University of Tennessee’s Sports Information Department, Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer said, “Our entire Tennessee family mourns the loss of the great John Ward. The University of Tennessee has lost one of its most beloved ambassadors. For generations of Vol fans, John’s voice brought to life many of their fondest memories of Tennessee football and basketball. His visionary thinking paved the way for the Vol Network’s rise to prominence as the standard bearer for intercollegiate athletics marketing and broadcasting. Despite our shared sadness, I believe it is appropriate to proudly reflect on and cherish the fact that John was ours. We will ensure that his legacy and memory are appropriately honored in the days, months and years to come.”
“It’s a sad day for the Tennessee family. In my short time here, I’ve learned that John Ward was a legend and an irreplaceable part of the tradition here at the University of Tennessee,” tweeted new Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Two years before, the Tennessee family lost Pat Summitt. The loss of John Ward is having an effect on those that played and worked at UT.
“He was a big part of my football life there at the University of Tennessee, and he was a part of all Tennessee football fans’ lives,” says College Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. “His voice and his passion for the Tennessee Vols are simply unmatched. Rest in peace, John. I love you. And I, along with all Tennessee faithful, will miss you.”
“We lost a legend today,” tweeted former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain. “John Ward’s spirit will live on forever. The stories from those who worked alongside Mr. Ward about his attention to detail, passion, and vision, gave me goosebumps. Rest In Peace Mr Ward. Thank you.”
Terry Fair was a big part of the Vols 1997 SEC championship team. Today he is the new defensive backs coach at Tennessee. Fair tweeted, “It was an absolute honor to have the Legend and the greatest John Ward call all of my games as a Vol! RIP, you’ll be missed by Volnation! Sad day!”
“R.I.P. to the legendary Tennessee Vols voice, John Ward,” tweeted former Tennessee tight end Jason Witten. “At a very young age in the backyard, I remember running into the end zone against my friends and yelling, “Give Him 6!” His love for the Vols and the state of Tennessee will live on forever.”
“His legacy reaches so many people and how the media even approaches their jobs today by being prepared,” says UT Athletics Senior Director of Broadcasting Link Hudson. “Those are the two greatest words you could hear John tell you: you were very prepared, or you’re a pro. And if he ever said those words, you knew he meant it, and you knew you had been given the highest compliment.”
Brent Hubbs, who runs the popular VolQuest website and works for the Vol Network, worked in the broadcast booth for the final four years of John Ward’s tenure. Hubbs did stats amongst other duties, and looks back at that time with pride.
“For a Knoxville native who listened to him throughout my childhood, it was simply a dream come true,” Hubbs posted to his website. “Great is a word thrown around way too much in this society, but great is the only way to properly describe John Ward.”
John Ward was so much more than just his legendary calls. Yes, “Give Him Six!,” “Bottom!” and “Good-ahhh!” will be repeated for decades to come by Tennessee fans. Yes, “Pandemonium Reigns!” and “The national champion is clad in Big Orange!” will be remembered for generations to come, but it was the way that he treated people that stands out. There are countless stories of fans that saw him in town wanting simply to say hi, and instead got a full conversation. He always made time for Tennessee fans.
“Whenever he was out, he was gracious, and that’s a big part of endearing who you are,” says former Tennessee Sports Information Director Bud Ford. “He wasn’t this ‘rock star’ so to speak, but he was gracious, and I think that’s why people appreciated him. He’d speak with people all the time because he felt like that was a responsibility of his as a representative of the university, which he was.”
Following the 1998 football season (he still did play-by-play for men’s basketball into the spring of 1999), Ward stepped away from the microphone. When asked if he understood what he meant to Tennessee fans, Ward said “I probably don’t, but I don’t think of it in that light. I know what they’ve meant to me.”
Generations of fans grew up listening to John Ward call games, as most from 1968-1998 (his time at the football mic) were not on television. For those games that were on TV, countless Vols supporters would turn down the TV sound and turn up the Vol Network broadcast. No disrespect to the TV announcers, but this was the best way to watch a game.
Tennessee is a sadder place today than it was a few days ago. We will miss him.
John Ward, the “Voice of the Vols,” was 88 years old.