Loran Smith’s Sports Column: CBS No More

Published 2:39 pm Tuesday, November 28, 2023

For the following, I am wearing the hat of a fan. I don’t know all the

details of the Southeastern Conference’s breakup with CBS, but I am going

to miss those guys.

Following this weekend, the CBS network will no longer carry SEC

football as it has since 1996. The relationship lasted for almost three

decades, coming about at a time when the network had lost out with the

National Football League and found itself without football.

Conference officials were quite giddy with the arrangement, CBS

making the SEC games national contests. A kid like Brock Bowers could

wake up on Saturday and begin watching SEC football while he ate his

cereal.

He could then watch games across the country, bringing about a

“Longest Day” routine of him on Saturdays. Early on, he was attracted to

SEC competition and ultimately signed with the Bulldogs. It has been a

popular and productive marriage—the quiet, reserved tight end from

California’s wine country playing in the conservative community of Athens,

Georgia.

 

It would be interesting to determine how many kids west of the

Mississippi have similar stories. One could easily suggest that the Brock

Bowers story would not have come about had CBS not made SEC football

a national game.

The league’s membership embraced the network officials and

particularly the announcers. When Verne Lundquist and Todd Blackledge

started calling SEC games, it was a red-letter day for Southeastern

Conference football.

Suddenly, the league, which was formed in 1933, became dominant,

winning national championship after national championship. Initially

Georgia was on the outside, looking inward. But when the Bulldogs signed

Kirby Smart as their head coach in December of 2015, things changed

dramatically for the UGA football program.

He came to town with spectacular credentials, having played and

coached for Georgia, his alma mater, but his highest praise came from

what he accomplished at Alabama, coordinating the Alabama defense for

Nick Saban. He knew what it took to coach and recruit to win a national

title. He experienced initial success, winning eight games in his first

 

season, including a 31-23 victory in the Autozone Liberty Bowl over TCU,

31-23.

It wasn’t long before I had a conversation with Verne Lundquist about

Kirby, knowing he had worked with the Bulldog coach for game preparation

sessions for SEC telecasts.

His glowing tributes to Kirby were substantial. One of the

compliments about the new Georgia coach was that he was an excellent

communicator. “Of all the assistants I have worked with,” Lundquist said,

“he was a favorite. So smart and so insightful.”

Today, if you pin Lundquist down, he will not insult any of his other

friends in the SEC, but he will wink and say, “We really do like going to

Athens.”

He and his wife, Nancy, were popular across the league. They were

very social and made everybody feel good. I have often wondered if the

network brass—the suits in New York—truly realized just how much

goodwill and respect this delightful couple brought about for CBS.

 

Lundquist became friends with head coaches, assistant coaches,

sports information directors—even fans. He and Nancy will be in Atlanta

this weekend for the championship.

 

A phone call this week brought gushing comments from the Lundquist

address in Steamboat Springs where they live—about making it to this

game one more time. He is very close to officials of both schools. He will

not choose to root for a particular team, but he will be happy to enjoy fine

dining and fellowship.

I know this about him. He will enjoy the trip to Atlanta, and he will

enjoy a good time with one and all. He will salute the champion, but when

it is over, he will endure a little hurt for the runner-up team.

The SEC never had better friends than Verne and Nancy Lundquist.