With sadness, but a smile of reminiscence, I read of the passing of sportscaster and News 12 Long Island veteran Bob Wolff on July 15 at age 96. He was part of a vanishing breed.
This was a man who interviewed sports personalities including Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Pat LaFontaine. He called Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, the famous NFL championship game between the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts in 1958 and even the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.
But it was his work announcing Knicks games on WOR-TV in the early 1970s that I remember most fondly. His tenure coincided with the team’s only two championships in 1970 and 1973, when I was a teenager in love with the Knicks of Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dick Barnett, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere and Earl Monroe.
His style was understated, particularly by today’s standards. Part of the beauty of Wolff and longtime partner Cal Ramsey is that they were conversational. Wolff got excited when you did. He let the game speak for itself. There was no doubt he wanted the Knicks to win, but he was effusive in his praise for good plays by the opposition as well. There was no blatant homerism.
His calls were beautiful in their simplicity. When a Knick scored, it was simply, “Frazier hits,” or on defense, “Reed blocks the shot.” Nothing else was necessary. When the Knicks came from six points down in 16 seconds to defeat the Cincinnati Royals on Nov. 28, 1969, to win their 18th consecutive game (then a record), I recall that his simple punctuation at the end was, “What a game! What a game!” Was anything more needed?
Late in game three of the 1970 NBA finals, the Knicks led the Los Angeles Lakers by two points. With time running out, Jerry West, the great Laker guard, launched a desperation shot from beyond midcourt (there was no three-point field goal at that time).
Wolff’s call was, “West throws it up,” then a pause, and, “He makes it! West threw it up and he makes it — over half court.”
One could picture him sitting there open-mouthed like me and my dad and thousands of Knicks fans as West tied the game. The Knicks somehow rebounded to win in overtime, and they went on to win a seven-game series and their first championship.
When the Knicks were on TV, it was like Dad and I were sitting there with Bob and Cal. It felt like they were in our living room talking to us about the game, the greatest compliment I could give an announcer. You felt like passing them the chips and dip.
In later years, Wolff worked at News 12 Long Island doing sports reports, interviews and commentary in a thoughtful and erudite manner. But the one overriding theme was always that of being a gentleman. Unlike many of today’s sportscasters, he reported the event or interviewed the personality but never strove to become the event or the personality. If not the last of his kind, there are few remaining.
“Monroe hits!” He will be missed.
Reader Jerry Giammatteo lives in Sayville.