Joe McConnell, who called Bears, White Sox and local college games, dies at 79
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Joe McConnell, the former Bears radio play-by-play voice whose most famous call detailed Walter Payton breaking the NFL’s career rushing record, died Sunday in Indianapolis after a long illness. He was 79.
McConnell replaced Jack Brickhouse as the Bears’ play-by-play man on WBBM-AM (780) in 1977, following general manager Jim Finks — with whom he had worked with the Vikings — to Chicago. In 1984, his last season with the Bears, McConnell called Payton’s record run, a weak-side toss against the Saints that went for six yards and moved him past Jim Brown’s all-time mark of 12,312 rushing yards.
‘‘That’s the equivalent to Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home-run record,’’ McConnell said. ‘‘And listen to this standing ovation!’’
From 1980 to 1984, McConnell broadcast White Sox games on WBBM-AM and WMAQ-AM (670), witnessing the 1983 American League West crown. He worked for the Twins in 1978-79.
McConnell called Northwestern football games in 1988 and basketball games for Larry Bird’s Indiana State team in 1978-79; DePaul in 1984-88; Illinois and Notre Dame in 1987-88; and Northwestern in 1989-94.
He became the radio voice of Purdue football in 1994 and remained in the job until his retirement in 2009, when the school named the visiting radio booth at Ross-Ade Stadium after him. It marked a homecoming for McConnell, who worked for the Boilermakers’ athletic department in his 20s.
McConnell’s NFL career spanned 23 seasons, starting with the 1969 Broncos. He worked nine seasons in two stints with the Vikings (1971-76, 1985-87) before joining the Colts (1992-94) and Oilers (1997-98). In the NBA, he called Suns games (1970-72) and Pacers games (1972-77) and voiced the national game of the week.
A native of Goodland, Indiana, McConnell was named Sportscaster of the Year in Illinois in 1981 and in Indiana in 2000. Upon his retirement, then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels named him a ‘‘Sagamore of the Wabash,’’ the Hoosier State’s highest honorary title.