A Dick Enberg story about ‘Sports Challenge,’ Ernie Banks and O.J.

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DIck Enberg in the 1970s hosting “Sports Challenge.” The legendary sportscaster died Dec. 22, 2017. He was 82.

This is a long, twisting story about the late, great Dick Enberg that finally has its payoff at the 2001 Kentucky Derby.

From Super Bowls to mornings at Wimbledon, Dick Enberg’s dulcet voice was welcome in our living rooms. For those of us who grew up in the ’70s, we probably listened more to him than we did our parents.

His ability to mediate between oil-and-water analysts Al McGuire and Billy Packer on college basketball broadcasts was masterful. But perhaps my favorite Enberg moments came early in his career when he hosted “Sports Challenge,” a trivia show that pitted current and retired stars against each other in a team format.

During the show’s final segment, “Bonus Biography,” a mystery guest would appear on stage in darkness. Enberg would read clues and the lights would slowly illuminate to reveal a silhouette of the guest as the panelists would try and guess the name.

Some thirty years after “Sports Challenge” debuted in 1971, ESPN Classic aired reruns — binge TV at its best. I remember watching one in particular in 2001, which featured Ferguson Jenkins, Bill Hands and Ernie Banks of the Cubs.

On this episode, the mystery guest came out and Enberg began reading the clues. As I remember, it went something like this: “This athlete plays football but also ran track in college. … He won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s best player. … He played at USC. … He also goes by the name Orenthal James.” By now, the mystery guest is nearly in full light and nobody on the Cubs has come up with the answer.

Finally, time runs out and Enberg reveals the obvious mystery guest — O.J. Simpson.

With that, a young Simpson said that he was surprised Ernie Banks didn’t know who he was because the two are cousins.

At this point, even Enberg, the epitome of eloquence, is nonplussed.

A few days after watching the rerun, I just so happened to bump into Enberg at the Kentucky Derby. Actually, I line jumped to the $50 betting window to stalk him.

After introducing myself, I excitedly tried to jog Enberg’s memory about the episode. As I rambled on, Enberg looked up from his Racing Forum as if to sift through his myriad of sports memories. Then, with that soft, deep voice he said: “No, I don’t recall that show. But, oh my.”

Follow me on Twitter @DanCahill_CST

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