The legendary Jim Simpson was ESPN’s original play-by-play announcer.
The voice of 16 college football Orange Bowls, Simpson displayed unsurpassed professionalism. His silky smooth voice and polished delivery enhanced every telecast he ever worked. From the early 1960s through the 70s, Simpson and Curt Gowdy were the two most familiar faces in sports television. Simpson called six Super Bowls and six World Series. The versatile veteran also worked 16 baseball All-Star Games for NBC and all the grand slam events in both tennis and golf.
Handsome and dapper, Simpson was a smooth-voiced presence on sports broadcasts around the globe for over five decades. A newspaper writer-turned-sportscaster, he called events for NBC, ABC, and TNT. Simpson was ESPN’s first play-by-play announcer when the sports cable network made its debut in 1979. His professionalism and ability to move from one sport to the next helped give the fledgling network much-needed credibility and stature.
Jim Simpson was the first U.S. sportscaster to appear live via satellite from Asia and was involved in the first American sportscast using instant replay technology.
When Jim Simpson joined ESPN, he was teamed on college basketball telecasts with a little-known former coach whose excitement for the game was abundantly clear: Dick Vitale. The pair broadcast the first NCAA contest that ESPN televised. “One night, Simpson and I were doing a game, a so-so game,” recalled Vitale. “Somebody came up to me and asked, ‘What game do you guys have coming up? I turned to the guy and said, ‘Aw, it’s just another game, man, just another game.’ Jim grabbed me and said, ‘There is no such thing as just another game.’ He was right.”
Best known for his work as NBC’s play-by-play man for the American Football League in the 1960s, Simpson was in the booth for NBC Radio in January 1967 when Kansas City played Green Bay in the first Super Bowl. His broadcast partners read like a “Who’s Who?” list of renowned announcers, including Red Barber, Jim McKay, Vin Scully and Mel Allen. Simpson also worked alongside the legendary Red Grange, Arnold Palmer, Tony Kubek and Sandy Koufax during his brilliant career.
Give Jim Simpson an assignment and he’d sparkle. A steady pro, his preparation was thorough. Shaped in the Keith Jackson and Vin Scully mold, Simpson let the play unfold, allowing the pictures to tell the story. Words rolled off his tongue mellifluously. The antithesis of Joe Tessitore or Gus Johnson – verbose cheerleaders whose delivery is all hype and no substance – Mr. Simpson graced our telecasts. He was most welcome in our living rooms, delivering broadcasts with ease and alacrity.
Jim brought tremendous credibility to ESPN in our early days, doing whatever was needed to build the network. He was a television legend. – ESPN founder, Bill Rasmussen.
Born in Washington, D.C., December 20, 1927, James Shores Simpson grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. As a sophomore at Devitt Preparatory School, he hosted “Hunting and Fishing With Jimmy Simpson,” which ran for six weeks on WINX radio in 1943. He joined WWDC radio in 1945, where he covered the White House while still a teenager. Simpson served in the Coast Guard in the 1940s. He attended George Washington University, then served in the Navy Reserve during the Korean War.
Simpson moved to television in 1949 as the first sportscaster for Washington’s Channel 9. By the early 1950s he was the area’s top-rated sportscaster while also doing pregame for the Washington Senators. After CBS bought the station and changed its call letters to WTOP, Simpson shared a half-hour news program with another broadcaster just getting his start in television – future CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite.
Simpson covered his first Olympics at the Helsinki Summer Games in 1952. He appeared on the 1961 premiere of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, was the network host of the 1964 Summer Olympics from Tokyo and hosted the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Games. Mr. Simpson covered 14 Olympic Games over five decades. His final Olympic assignment came in Atlanta, in 1996.
In 1966, Simpson hosted intermissions for NBC’s coverage of the Stanley Cup Finals. It marked the first time the Finals were broadcast on American television and the first time hockey was broadcast in color.
Jim Simpson called the very first ACC basketball game. “Those were the great days,” Simpson recalled of the conference’s birth in the early 1950s. “Frank McGuire, Press Maravich, Everett case – we had a great time.” From the 1940s to 1980s, he regularly worked during the week from Washington hosting sports broadcasts on local TV, then covered national events on weekends.
Mr. Simpson received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1998 Sports Emmy Awards, presented by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 2000, he was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame. After leaving ESPN, Simpson in 1988 did a season of play-by-play for the Baltimore Orioles. In 2005, ESPN brought Simpson back from retirement for a “turn back the clock” series of college basketball telecasts on the ESPN Classic network. He lived his later years in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he died January 13, 2016, following a short illness. Jim Simpson was 88.
On this date in 1992, the great Jim Simpson covered the Equestrian events at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona.