SMITH COLUMN: CBS No More

Published 10:12 am Thursday, November 30, 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.