'The voice' silenced

TED WYMAN

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

The voice was there for so many of the most memorable sports moments of our generation.

It was there when the Blue Bombers ended a long Grey Cup drought in 1984.

It was there when the Saskatchewan Roughriders won the greatest Grey Cup game ever played in 1989.

It was there when Dave Ellett scored in double overtime to give the Jets their most memorable NHL win in 1990.

It was there when steroid cheat Ben Johnson ran the most extraordinary race of our time, in 1988.

It was there when Donovan Bailey won gold in 1996 and got to keep it.

It was there when Sandra Schmirler won Olympic gold in curling in 1998.

It was there when Canadian and Russian junior hockey players participated in the Piestany Punchup in 1987.

RESPECTED

It was there when Jennifer Jones made the shot of a lifetime to win the Canadian women's curling championship in 2005.

It was there.

The voice belonged to Don Wittman, one of this country's most respected broadcasters and a proud Winnipegger for the last half century. "Witt," died of cancer at age 71 yesterday.

It's hard to believe the voice will be there no longer.

It'd been there for Grey Cups, Stanley Cups, Olympics and Briers since before I was born. Like so many others in this city, I grew up with the voice.

There was something comforting about that smooth baritone that made the listeners feel they were among friends.

When I was a kid, maybe 10 years old, I had already made the decision I wanted to be in the sports journalism business. Imagine my excitement when I had the opportunity to sit next to a broadcasting legend like Don Wittman, in church. Strange place to ask for an autograph, but it had to be done.

Many years later, when I was working in the industry, I sat next to him on a flight to St. John's, Nfld., and recounted the church story and we shared a chuckle.

I didn't know Witt well on a personal level, but I felt like I did. A great broadcaster can have that kind of effect on people.

There's a reason why he's in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame and the CBC Sports Hall of Fame.

He was named Canada's broadcaster of the year by sports media in 2002, 41 years after he first started working at CBC Winnipeg.

It was always a source of pride for me to know that a guy like Wittman, who travelled the world regularly and could have had his home base anywhere, chose to stay in Winnipeg.

He wasn't born here (he was born in Herbert, Sask.) but he called our city home.

Perhaps it was that central location that allowed him to cover so many events and develop a reputation as one of the most versatile broadcasters in the country.

You name the sport, he called it. You name the momentous occasion, there's a good chance he witnessed it.

When I think back to all the significant events listed at the beginning of this column, I can remember exactly where I was and who I was with when they were unfolding.

The voice was there, too.


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