To generations of sports fans, Ward was the University of Tennessee. If you knew nothing else about UT, you knew “It’s football time in Tennessee!” meant the Vols were ready to play.
Although it had been nearly 20 years since Ward called his last game for Tennessee, his death Wednesday at age 88 brought pause to anyone who enjoyed a good football or basketball game. His voice was in our homes, in our cars and still in our heads.
For more than three decades, Ward brought his classic, energetic play-by-play style to radio listeners across the state, never missing a football game until his retirement at the end of the 1998-99 season. Tuning into a Vols game meant listening to one of the nation’s best broadcasters.
Many of us would watch a game on television with the audio muted while listening to Ward on the Vol Network. Fans did the same in Neyland Stadium or Thompson-Boling Arena with headphones.
He was just that good.
In fact, he was named the Best College Announcer in the Country in 1976 and received the Tennessee Sportscaster of the Year Award an unmatchable 28 times. Yes, that’s 28 times in 34 years.
Amazingly, calling the Vols was more of a hobby to Ward than a job, as he was a highly successful advertising and TV production executive in his other life.
A 1954 UT law school alumnus, Ward first lent his voice to a Vols basketball game in 1958 but later entered the Army. He returned to the basketball booth in 1965 and stayed.
Three years later, he was in Neyland, where he developed his trademark touchdown call, “Give, him, SIX — TOUCHDOWN, TENNESSEE!”
Ward retired on a high note as Tennessee captured the 1999 national football championship and the Eastern Division Southeastern Conference basketball title.
Ward’s name is forever enshrined in Knoxville. The broadcast level of the Neyland Stadium press box bears his name, as does a pedestrian greenway on the campus.
To merely say John Ward will be missed is woefully inadequate. Legends like this come once in a generation.