BOULDER — Larry Zimmer, the voice of University of Colorado football if not the athletic program overall since 1971, has been named the 2009 recipient of the prestigious Chris Schenkel Award.
The honor was one of several announced Wednesday by Archie Manning, chairman of the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame.
It’s the second major career honor for Zimmer this week, as he was recently informed that he will be inducted this Oct. 2 into the Broadcast Professionals of Colorado Hall of Fame.
The Schenkel Award is named in honor of its first recipient, the long-time play-by-play man for ABC Sports, who’s life-long commitment to excellence in broadcasting and longstanding association with The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame reflect the achievements and spirit the award embodies. It seeks to recognize a sports broadcaster who enjoyed a long and distinguished career broadcasting college football at a single institution, and to recognize broadcasters with direct ties to college and universities rather than strictly national broadcasters.
Zimmer is the 15th recipient of the award, begun in 1996 when the inaugural one was presented to its namesake. He is the third broadcasting legend from a Big 12 Conference school to be honored, joining Kansas’ Max Falkenstein and Baylor’s Frank Fallon. Other notable winners include Tony Roberts (Notre Dame), Bob Brooks (Iowa) and Larry Munson (Georgia).
“It is certainly the highlight of my career because it recognizes two of the things that I love the most, and that’s broadcasting college football and my association with the University of Colorado through the years and all the people I’ve met,” Zimmer said.
“The fact that I knew Chris and that this award is named for him is special as well,” he added. “I first worked with him when he was doing New York (football) Giant games and I worked with him as a spotter when they came in and played the Cardinals. When I look at the names of the previous winners, there are some great people on that list and it’s an unbelievable distinction to join them.”
An CU game program advertisement from the 1979 football season.
“This year’s NFF Major Awards honorees stand at the very top of their respective fields, embodying the term leadership,” said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell, a 1970 CU graduate and former co-sports information director. “We are proud to celebrate their successes and recognize their great contributions to our sport.
“Larry Zimmer is always the professional, always prepared, always very happy about what he was doing and with that distinctive voice you just knew it was Colorado football on KOA,” Hatchell added about his longtime friend. “What a wonderful combination that ranks with the greatest in college football history.”
CU athletic director Mike Bohn praised Zimmer for his near four decades of stellar representation for the school. “Larry Zimmer epitomizes a level of class and distinction that transcends every aspect of the University of Colorado,” Bohn said. “His professionalism, loyalty and commitment to the Buffs serve as a cornerstone for the entire program.”
Zimmer, 73, got his start broadcasting high school football and basketball games in Columbia, Mo., and Lawton, Okla. (1957-58, 1960-66) while also serving as the play-by-play announcer for the Missouri Tigers baseball team. The following year, he moved to Michigan and began broadcasting for the Wolverine football and basketball teams.
In 1971, he was hired by KOA sports director Bob Martin, when the Denver station both broadcast on radio (850 am) and television (Ch. 4). He was hired to do the play-by-play for CU football and the color commentary for the Denver Broncos. He would spend the next 19 seasons doing the analysis for Bronco games, and then took over for the next seven as play-by-play man following Martin’s death. He also had spent time as the voice of the Denver Rockets of the American Basketball Association and the Colorado Caribous of the North American Soccer League.
One of the major highlights of his broadcasting career took place in 1980, as Zimmer joined the CBS crew that broadcast the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid. Although he was not in the booth, Zimmer attended the USA-Soviet Union hockey game that would come to be known as the “Miracle on Ice,” where he did phone live reports back to Denver.
Larry Zimmer (left) courtside for a CU men's basketball game.
"Larry is a great friend to CU athletics,” said former athletic director Bill Marolt, who wrapped up his first year as athletic director in 1985 by reuniting CU, KOA and Zimmer. “He had become the voice of the Buffs, as well as a reporter and a fan, and for a young athletic director someone who was instrumental in reestablishing a partnership with KOA radio 25 years ago. He was the lighting rod that put the parties together and created a broadcast agreement which has been mutually beneficial and has served the needs of KOA and the University of Colorado athletic department since that time."
Since 1985, Zimmer has remained synonymous with Colorado, working for both the football and basketball programs through 2004, when he retired as sports director at KOA. He was retained on the CU football broadcasts, switching to color commentator, working with KOA’s new sports boss, Mark Johnson, who took over the play-by-play chores in football and basketball. Zimmer will work his 36th year on football broadcasts this fall.
The Colorado Radio Network broadcast team: Larry Zimmer with Mark Johnson and Charles Johnson.
“Few in the broadcast business can truly be called legendary...,” Johnson continued. “However, every Saturday in the fall, I have the honor of sitting beside the legendary "Voice of the Buffs." Larry Zimmer is unquestionably a Colorado treasure."
In 1992, he was awarded the Honorary C” for his contribution to Colorado Athletics, and in 2005, he was the recipient of the Forever Buff Award from the Alumni C Club.
Born Nov. 13, 1935 in New Orleans, La., Zimmer attended Louisiana State University before transferring to the University of Missouri, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1957. He then served two years on active duty in the United States Army, earning the rank of 1st Lieutenant and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal. He is married to the former Brigitte Bastian, is the father of two and grandfather of one.
He is a five-time winner of both the White Stagg Award for Excellence in Ski Journalism and the Colorado Sportscaster of the Year Award, and was the Colorado Broadcaster of the Year in 1996. Zimmer works as an adjunct sports journalism professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Zimmer and his wife recently started a scholarship for the school, called the Larry & Brigitte Zimmer Sports Announcing Endowed Scholarship.
Other award winners announced Wednesday included:
GOLD MEDAL: Bill Bowerman & Phil Knight, Nike Co-Founders
DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN: Billy Payne, Augusta National Golf Club Chairman
OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO AMATEUR FOOTBALL: Dan Jenkins, Sportswriter & NFF Historian
JOHN L. TONER AWARD: Jim Weaver, Virginia Tech Director of Athletics
OUTSTANDING FOOTBALL OFFICIAL: Tim Millis, Former Big 12 Conference Supervisor of Officials
Each honoree will accept their award at the NFF Annual Awards Dinner on December 8, 2009, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. Also that evening, the NFF will recognize the National Scholar-Athlete class (announced in the fall); award the Draddy Trophy, presented by HealthSouth; and induct the 2009 Football Bowl Subdivision College Football Hall of Fame Class.
ZIMMER BY THE NUMBERS
8 U.S. Presidents
6 Colorado Governors
7 CU Head Football Coaches
7 CU Head Basketball Coaches
4 CU Athletic Directors (that’s 80% of ‘em)
The entire CU women’s basketball history (35 seasons; 6 coaches)
34 CU starting quarterbacks
11 CU Presidents
57 CU starting running backs
7 Denver Bronco Coaches
15 Denver Rocket/Nugget Head Coaches
5 Denver Mayors
5 Ralphies (yep, every one of ‘em)
2 NHL Hockey Franchises
2 Arena Football League Franchises
2 Different Pro Basketball Leagues (ABA, NBA)
7 Color Commentator partners
9 CU trainers
22 Colorado bowl games
46 members of the CU Board of Regents
4 Sports information directors (or 80% of ‘em since 1952)
444 football games
525 basketball games ...
the latter two meaning 1,938 total pregame and postgame shows...and, conservatively speaking, 4,200-plus hours or 250,000 minutes on the air broadcasting CU sporting events.
CHRIS SCHENKEL AWARD WINNERS
1996 (inaugural) Chris Schenkel, ABC Sports
1997 Jack Cristil, Mississippi State University
1998 Max Falkenstein, University of Kansas
1999 Jack Fleming, West Virginia University
2000 Ray Christensen, University of Minnesota
2001 Frank Fallon, Baylor University
2002 Bob Brooks, University of Iowa
2003 Larry Munson, University of Georgia
2004 Bob Robertson, Washington State University
2005 Tony Roberts, University of Notre Dame
2006 Johnny Holiday, University of Maryland
2007 Bill Hillgrove, University of Pittsburgh
2008 Bob Curtis, University of Idaho, & Dick Galiette, Yale University
2009 Larry Zimmer, University of Colorado
Look for an extensive interview with Zimmer later this week in Plati-‘Tudes, as ‘Zim’ will be featured in this edition’s “Q&A With a Buff.”