Philadelphia-born Jim McKay never called a World Series or a Super Bowl.
Yet he was perhaps the most respected and admired broadcaster, if not the most important, during the first 50 years of sports on television.
With an understated grace and eloquence, McKay brought the world of sports, "The Wide World of Sports" to be precise, to viewers who had been primarily weaned on baseball and football. He was the first to tell the personal story of athletes, piquing our interest in the cliff diver in Mexico or the race car driver from England.
And when the sporting world experienced its most horrific moment, the 1972 Israeli massacre at the Munich Olympics, it was McKay who guided us through the ordeal with impeccable clarity and restraint.
During the uncertainty of that long, grim day, McKay's understated approach captured the tense mood. Finally, when he learned of the tragic news that all the Israeli athletes had been killed, he said tersely, "They're all gone." Nothing more needed to be said.
Tributes poured in following the news that McKay had died of natural causes at his home in Monkton, Md. He was 86.
McKay inspired many of today's top sportscasters. Among them was NBC's Bob Costas who captured the essence of McKay's talent and impact.
"Jim McKay was a singular broadcaster," Costas said. "He brought a reporter's eye, a literate touch and, above all, a personal humanity to every assignment. He had a combination of qualities seldom seen in the history of the medium, not just sports."
McKay, whose given name was James McManus, was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 24, 1921. He attended St. Joseph's Prep for his freshman year before moving to Baltimore.
He graduated from Loyola College and served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He was also a minority owner of the Baltimore Orioles.
McKay was a newspaper reporter and transferred to television when the Baltimore Sun started its own station. Eventually he moved to New York, changed his name, and hosted a show called "The Real McKay."
He was working at CBS when a young broadcast executive, Roone Arledge, convinced him to join ABC. In 1961, Arledge tabbed McKay as host for a sports anthology series that literally sent him around the world.
At ABC, his vast resume included serving as the host of "Wide World of Sports" for more than 40 years, covering 12 Olympics, numerous U.S. and British Opens in golf, and as the longtime anchor for the Indianapolis 500.
Horse racing was his passion. McKay was the host for many Triple Crown events and his memory was honored before the running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
McKay traveled an estimated 4 1/2 million miles in his career, covering more than 100 sports for "Wide World," with no event considered too trivial. In the era before 24-hour sports, viewers loved seeing competition of any kind on Saturday afternoons. Ultimately, "Wide World" was the precursor to ESPN.
It was McKay who uttered the famous line that defined the show, "Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports. The thrill of victory and [cue the unfortunate ski jumper] the agony of defeat."
Longtime ABC colleague Al Michaels, now with NBC, offered a fond recollection.
"I always thought of him as a favorite teacher," Michaels said. "He was so into whatever it was he was doing, he drew you into every event he covered."
McKay's son, Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, issued a statement on behalf of the family:
"There are not many men who achieved what Jim McKay achieved both professionally and personally. He had a flawless reputation and was a legendary figure in the history of sports television. However, with all his achievements the most important thing in his life was his family."
In addition to McManus, McKay's survivors include his wife, Margaret, and his daughter, Mary. Funeral arrangements have not been announced. *