Lindsey Nelson: Face of Tennessee

Marvin Westwestwords

“Hello everybody, I’m Lindsey Nelson” became the opening line for network broadcasts and telecasts all across America and from some unusual places abroad.


For most of 40 years, more people saw and heard Lindsey than any other Tennessee alumnus. He was our face and voice. He represented us well.

Indeed, it has been said that Lindsey was bright, articulate, knowledgeable and pleasant. His presentations made sense. You could understand what he was saying. He was almost always soft and Southern. He was tolerant and patient. He walked and talked with generals and kings and Casey Stengel but never lost his common touch.

“The most honest and beautiful man I ever met,” said Paul Hornung, former Notre Dame back who ran off with the 1956 Heisman Trophy that rightfully belonged to John Majors.

Texans loved Lindsey. He did Cotton Bowl play by play for 25 years on CBS. He fit right in at Notre Dame while remaining a Protestant. He was the voice of the Fighting Irish for 13 seasons. Hornung was one of his partners in the booth.

For a time, Lindsey was miscast as an NBC executive. He did the job well but was wasted overseeing productions that would have been better with him talking.

Lindsey did decades of college football. Some games were historic. He was at the mic for the first use of instant replay. This honest man was careful to say, “What you are about to see is not live, the quarterback scored one touchdown, this is a second look.”

He did NFL games for Mutual and CBS. He took on major league baseball, beginning in 1957, for NBC. The New York Mets hired him in 1962 and he enjoyed 17 seasons, then went three more rounds with the San Francisco Giants.

Lindsey had a fling with the NBA. He described a heavyweight fight. He was host for a world bowling championship. He even did a bobsled tournament. He liked to say he had made the entire trip, from a tobacco patch at Brownlow Creek to Bora Bora, from Moscow to Rio, from Tennessee to Timbuktu.

Lindsey loved baseball and the game was right for his easy style. Baseball may have planted the seed for those spectacular sports coats. The start could have been Leo Durocher’s quip: “If you don’t have much talent, dress funny and distract ’em.”

Lindsey had loads of talent. Loud coats became a bonus trademark. Like David in the Bible, he wore coats of many colors. Plaids. Stripes. Psychedelic scrambles.

Had TV been high definition back then, the picture would have been awesome.

At full closet, Nelson supposedly had 335. Some may have been back-rack closeouts that merchants couldn’t sell. Many were gifts from fans and friends trying to outdo each other. Paul “Bear” Bryant offered checkered hats to enhance the outfits. Lindsey laughed.

This good man overcame deep sadness, even heartbreak, in his personal life without letting it show. He won all the industry prizes, engraved watches and plenty of plaques. Thirteen halls of fame embraced him. Columbia, his adopted hometown, staged Lindsey Nelson Day. I went. I thought it even more festive than the community’s quaint celebration of mules.

Nelson worked his way back to Knoxville for retirement, to a condo across the river, high on Cherokee Bluff. With binoculars provided by Neyland to search for football spies, Lindsey could survey the expanding campus, even Neyland Stadium.

I don’t know this, I’ve never checked the sightlines, but I’ve been told that he walked out each morning, weather permitting, took another loving look at the great arena and added a smart salute to The General.

The university, sometimes a little short on institutional memory, didn’t forget Lindsey Nelson. He was invited to teach a communications class. The baseball stadium was named in his honor. Indeed, he was a legend while still alive.

Alas, he expired too soon, at age 76, with a touch of Parkinson’s and knockout pneumonia. He has been gone since 1995.

This is personal. I insist that we remember him. Renovations at Lindsey Nelson Stadium need to be precise.

There might be a few additional Lindsey stories in Tales of the Tennessee Vols, Marvin West’s first book. Signed collectors’ copies are available at WESTCOM. Ask for details at marvinwest75@gmail.com.

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