State and national dignitaries, all-time greats from both the University of Tennessee and the Volunteer State, everyone, seemingly, has a John Ward story to share after the passing of the legendary ‘Voice of the Vols.’ Ward died Wednesday.
Ward connected, first Tennessee, then an entire region, and ultimately Volunteers around the globe, with his iconic calls, sublime delivery, and unfailing flair for the moment — without being flashy or taking away from the sport.
Yet Tennesseans today mourn his loss because they knew him, be it through their radios or the thousands of interpersonal interactions. Everyone knew John Ward, because John Ward had the capacity to bring any listener — his most ardent, or the casual fan — into the broadcast booth alongside him.
Tennesseans too young to remember his calls of the electrifying Willie Gault can today dig up Ward’s call of Gault’s kickoff return for a touchdown against Vanderbilt in Nashville and immediately envision No. 26 racing across the artificial turf and “all the way to the State Capitol.”
Younger fans still know that “Pandemonium Reigns” forever means that Tennessee and Phillip Fulmer vexed their hex against erstwhile nemesis Steve Spurrier and the Florida Gators in 1998, en route to Ward’s call that “Your National Champion … is clad in Big Orange!” as Ward capped his football career with the Vols’ 1998 BCS National Championship against Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Ward’s banner hangs inside Thompson-Boling Arena; there might never have been a smoother voice on the hardwood call. His name and visage likewise adorn the John Ward Broadcasting Center inside Neyland Stadium.
More can and should be done to honor the man who called University of Tennessee athletics contests in parts of five decades, starting in the 1950s and ending in the 1998-99 athletic calendar.
Ward’s name should be on the ring inside Neyland Stadium, alongside tributes to its other legends. Or perhaps, as UT readies itself to enter into an all-new phase of Neyland Stadium renovations, it can properly honor Ward as part of that process.
Wouldn’t a bronze statue of Ward, complete with towel around his neck and headphones atop his head, be the quintessential move?
UT has gotten much wrong, athletically speaking, across the past 10 years, but it does an admirable job of honoring its legends. The Gen. Robert R. Neyland and Pat Summitt statues are pristine, beautiful enhancements to a Rocky Top campus that never has looked better.
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