WATCH CMU SPORTSZONE FEATURE: Dick Enberg Relives Time at CMU in Weekend Events (6:04)
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Perhaps even more than the name and voice of Dick Enberg is synonymous with the highest level of sport, sport at the highest level is synonymous with Dick Enberg.
For more than 50 years his signature catchphrase "Oh My!" has echoed throughout the annals of sports history - from the Super Bowl to the Rose Bowl, and Wimbledon to the Olympics, and almost everything in between. Having earned nearly every accolade to be had, and having called seemingly every major sporting event this country has to offer, there may not be any sportscaster more strongly linked to the American sports scene as Enberg.
But yet, as strong as his connection to athletics is, the 1957 Central Michigan University summa cum laude graduate and 1993 inductee into the CMU Athletics Hall of Fame has a passion that exceeds even his love for sport - academics.
Enberg visited his alma mater on the weekend of Feb. 17 as a featured speaker at a conference hosted and planned by the Sport Management Association registered student organization and for the dedication of his bust in the CMU Events Center, which in itself is a symbol of the impact not only academics but also the university had on his life.
"What are you without an education and intelligence?" Enberg asked rhetorically. "What are you without the smarts or without the intelligence to be able to make good decisions, without the intelligence to see the variety of experiences that are there for all of us to become more well-rounded, more interesting and exciting people?
"That's why the university exists. It exists for academics, not athletics. It's nice that those two combine and make the total collegiate experience. The power and impact of sports is very important, there are many examples of that, but I don't think we should ever lose sight of the fact that it's the academics that are the engine of the university."
Against the backdrop of a standing-ovation crowd, Enberg, with his wife Barbara, was honored at halftime of the Saturday, Feb. 18, men's basketball game. The ceremony included an official unveiling of the Enberg bust in the Events Center's atrium. The project was the work of 1997 alumnus Todd Anson, who, with his wife Teresa, shared the stage with Enberg in recognition of his generous gifts to the university building that is home to many athletic and non-athletic events alike.
"[Anson] thought that by putting a bust out there for other students who came from small little villages throughout Michigan like I did - nobodies who are allowed to become somebodies - it would be a reminder that success can happen to anyone if it happened to me."
From the small village of Armada, Mich., an hour north of Detroit, and through all of his successes in the realm of athletics, Enberg has remained loyal and committed to education and intellectualism. At CMU two academic awards bearing his name are annually given to an outstanding student-athlete and a cumulatively high-achieving team. His name also graces the Dick Enberg Academic Center in the Indoor Athletic Center, where CMU student-athletes are provided resources to help them work toward Enberg's ideal of academic success.
He is an honorary member of the CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame, and also serves as the namesake for a national CoSIDA academic award for a student-athlete who embodies a commitment to education and academics.
"When a student-athlete excels both academically and athletically, now Socrates has to be smiling because that's the sound mind and the sound body," he said. "They should be applauded and publicized, and they should get the same size headline as the athlete who doesn't devote himself or herself to his or her studies."
Enberg is particularly impressed with those individuals who embody and embrace both halves of the 'student-athlete' moniker. After having grown up with a family that instilled in him the value of education and the love of sports, he dreamed of excelling both in the classroom and on the diamond as a college student and baseball player at CMU.
"There are a special few who are blessed both academically and athletically," he said. "I wish I could have been an academic All-American. I wasn't a good enough as athlete. I sure wanted to be - it was my dream - but I wasn't. But I was in the classroom."
The Power of the Raised Hand
Within the walls of those classrooms, Enberg studied not to be a sportscaster but a teacher. Upon completion of his undergraduate degree in physical education in 1957, he enrolled at the Indiana University and earned both his master's and doctorate degrees in health sciences as a Hoosier. Though he did serve as the radio voice for Indiana basketball and football, sports broadcasting still was not his primary career.
California State Northridge was Enberg's next stop, from 1961-65, where he served as an assistant professor and a baseball coach before eventually becoming a full-time broadcaster in California. The rest, it can be said, is history.
Enberg said that he would like to return to teaching one day, as it is one of the greatest thrills he has experienced in his life.
"I mean this sincerely, with all the exciting things I do in being in great arenas at top sports events, there's still no more exciting moment than when you're in a classroom of well-motivated students and you're the instructor and you see the challenge of the raised hand," he said. "I was more nervous going in front of a well-motivated group of college freshmen in a required health education class than I would be in front of 140 million people who are watching the Super Bowl."
"I can remember when some of my brightest students would raise their hand, I'd say, 'Oh no, I may not know the answer!' If I didn't, I didn't punish them for asking a tough question, I'd find the answer for them. It was almost like playing a baseball game; I could say 'I don't know' a couple of times, but if I said it three times, I struck out that day."
His teaching experience has helped him anticipate and visualize the "raised hand" from his unseen audiences on television and radio, experience he says has done him a great service throughout his career.
"When I'm working with a partner he might say something that's really complicated, just like a professor might offer a complicated formula," he said. "The professor would be able to go to the board and re-explain it and all of a sudden it's much clearer. When my partner says something I don't even understand, I visualize the raised hands out there in the audience, and I ask him to say it again in a different way to help us understand."
Sports: The Toy Department of Life
His mindset of a teacher and an intellectual allows him to take a step back from the sports landscape - as ingrained in it as he may be - and put it in proper societal big-picture perspective against such topics as education and other social issues. Enberg was on the call for the 1981 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship game between Indiana and North Carolina on March 30, 1981 - the very same day an assassination attempt was made against the life of President Ronald Reagan.
"I remember very little about the actual game - I know Indiana won, with Bob Knight winning another national title," Enberg recalled. "When we heard the news, especially in the context of my lifetime with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, for all we knew our President was not going to be alive when we went on the air.
"Sometimes, sadly, we need jolts like that to realize that sports are the toy department of life," Enberg said. "It's great we have it and we all love it and are passionate about supporting a team. As fans we invest in players and teams and it makes us feel good to be part of the total community all together rooting for the Lions or the Chippewas. But we have to step back sometimes. Fan stands for fanatics, and fanatics sometimes need to take a step back."
Having the ability to remove himself from the immediacy of the sports action, Enberg can use the sports he witnesses as illustrations not simply of athletic accomplishment, but of the human experience itself.
"We want to win, we all cheer for that, but it's not worthy of destroying property or getting in melees with the other side over the happenings of a sporting event," he said. "Take that energy and place it in the Wounded Warriors project and take care of those soldiers. That's what's really meaningful.
"Put sports in its right place. For those who get so encapsulated by their sports allegiance or employment, they need to break through all that and they need to be the ones talking about social issues, rather than how we blew that pass in the fourth quarter."
In being able to see the big picture through his education at CMU and beyond, Enberg has demonstrated a continued lifelong commitment to academics that sets him apart from his peers in the world of sport. Enberg has become synonymous with the American sporting culture - but far more than that, his passion for education makes him the embodiment of what sport can be and should be at its full potential. He has, in essence, helped define the very culture with which he is synonymous - a culture to which the Chippewas strive every day because of the experiences at Central Michigan of a "nobody" named Dick Enberg.
Enberg's ongoing wish, as shared throughout the weekend's ceremonies, is that every "nobody" who walks into the CMU Events Center will realize the full potential that awaits by taking advantage of every opportunity at Central Michigan University.