Hammond hands ND mic to Hicks

Tom Hammond may have the most mellifluous voice in sports broadcasting. Words flow from his voice like fine, aged Kentucky bourbon, and Hammond, a Lexington native and Kentucky alum who still calls the Commonwealth home, embodies the metaphor. And, as lifelong fan of Keeneland and Churchill Downs, Hammond soberly gets it, better than most, that NBC is putting him out to pasture.

Next autumn, for the first time since 1992, Hammond, 68, will not be the lead play-by-play announcer on Notre Dame home football games for NBC. Another longtime NBC employee, Dan Hicks, will step into the booth alongside color analyst Mike Mayock. Hicks, 50, is a longtime Peacock employee who is best known for his work on the network’s golf coverage and its Olympic swimming coverage.

Why the change? It may simply be that NBC wants to get younger at the position. There will always be critics, in the Internet and Twitter age, of nearly every sports broadcaster (only Gus Johnson and Ian Darke appear to be exempt) and Hammond had his. But he was a more than able host, his words painting a vivid and often poetic picture of the action while he allowed his partners, Pat Haden and more recently Mayock, to drive home points and opinions. Hammond was a gracious, even genteel, Southern gentleman in South Bend.

Hicks, who is married to Notre Dame alumna Hannah Storm, is no stranger to campus. Hicks, Storm and their three children have been known to attend at least one Irish home game per season. Twice in the previous two seasons he has filled in for Hammond: for the 2011 opener against South Florida (an Irish defeat) and in last season’s overtime victory versus Pittsburgh (a contest the Irish should have lost had the officials been paying more attention to how many Notre Dame defenders were wearing the number “2” when Pitt missed a potential game-winning field goal).

Hicks is hardly controversial. He is vanilla’s guy. A University of Arizona alum – like Notre Dame sideline reporter Alex Flanagan – his most memorable broadcast moment was a serendipitous event, a matter of calling the right event at the right time – and doing it superbly. At the 2008 Summer Olympics, it was Hicks, whose assignment was The Cube – i.e., the swimming venue in Beijing – who called the 4×100 freestyle relay. That was the race in which Michael Phelps’s stated goal for eight gold medals – at an Olympics whose Opening Ceremony took place on 8/8/08 – was nearly dead in the water (pun intended) in the first race when the French appeared to have built an insurmountable lead.

Then the finish, in Hicks’ words: “Here comes Lezak! Unbelievable at the end! He’s done it! The U.S. has done it! He did it! A new world record! HE DID IT! HE DID IT! Phelps’s hope’s alive.”

It was, if you will, a miracle on unfrozen ice. And Hicks was there to call it. Now he has the top college football gig on NBC. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that the man with the top overall football announcing gig at NBC, Al Michaels, is best-known for his Miracle on Ice call 33 years ago.