Reminiscing with Ryan
By Greg Bach
Legendary sportscaster Tim Ryan’s love of sports was forged early on, where his childhood was filled playing everything from hockey and football to golf and tennis, among others.
“I played all the sports as a kid,” says Ryan, who was born in Winnipeg. “I wasn’t terribly good at any of them but I tried. I barely made the teams but I got to experience being an athlete and that carried on through the rest of my life.”
And what a life he’s led, which is chronicled in his fascinating and insightful new memoir ON SOMEONE ELSE’S NICKEL.
Ryan spent more than 50 years in front of the camera, broadcasting sports around the world, including 10 Olympic Games, hundreds of championship boxing matches, World Cup skiing, NFL and NHL games, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and so much more.
He shares some of his incredible moments calling some of the world’s biggest sporting events, as well as his amazing globetrotting adventures that include crash landing in the Namib desert in southern Africa, being charged by a rhino in Zimbabwe and herding sheep before an Olympic Winter Games telecast.
“I’m proud of the fact that I was able to have a career that allowed me to cover a wide variety of sports,” Ryan shared from his home in St. Helena, Calif. “And particularly the chances that it gave me to see the world on someone else’s nickel. I think it has made me a more interesting person, a more educated person through these real-life experiences around the world, and someone who appreciates that there is a broader landscape of sports that one can cover if you take an interest and are willing to put in the time to learn about them and appreciate all of the athleticism involved in them.”
GROWING UP IN A SPORTS FAMILY
When Winnipeg’s first professional football team was being formed in the early 1930s, Ryan’s dad helped find investors and became the first general manager of the team when it joined the Canadian Rugby Union, which later evolved into the Canadian Football League. Later on, he also became the first general manager of the Montreal Alouettes, and then the Edmonton Eskimos, and due to his instrumental role in the success of the league he was enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
“I grew up in a sports family,” Ryan says. “My father loved sports and I was around that Montreal team a lot.”
Growing up, he also benefited from having parents who instilled confidence, a tireless work ethic and a passion for always doing your best – attributes that served him well throughout his career.
“My father wasn’t a great athlete but he had really accomplished a lot in his life in sports and he was a very positive person,” Ryan says. “So, I think a lot of my confidence came from him, that you can do whatever you want if you are willing to work at it and believe in yourself. And my mother was probably even more positive and maybe more demanding, so they were both confidence builders in different ways. I certainly have tried to instill that in my own children as well.”
Despite being, as Ryan says “a small, skinny guy” he gave it everything he had in every sport he played growing up.
And it didn’t go unnoticed among his teammates.
“They were always supportive of me because they knew that I was giving it a big effort,” he says. “But the physical part always kind of held me back. If you take enough body checks in hockey and hard tackles in football you realize ‘What am I doing here?’ I was a bit braver than I should have been in the body contact sports.”
JOURNEY TO SOUTH BEND
He quenched his thirst for competing by discovering other sports that were fun to play, like tennis, which he played throughout his teens. (He’s still an avid player these days.)
When he arrived in South Bend to attend Notre Dame, he walked onto the tennis team. In those days freshmen weren’t allowed to compete in matches against other schools, but they were able to practice with the team.
“I loved every minute of that,” Ryan says. “I made it through my freshman year and I think the coach looked kindly on my effort, but I realized I wasn’t up to that level and simply wasn’t good enough to move up. But it was a fun experience and, of course, being out there practicing and training with the guys it really helped my game.”
Ryan says it took about five years to write the book. “It’s not an easy thing to do, as people kept telling me,” he says.
And one of the reasons it was difficult was certainly because he did so much, and accomplished so much, during his spectacular career that was worth sharing.
“I’m proud of the fact that I was able to have a career that allowed me to cover a wide variety of sports,” Ryan says. “It was thrilling to watch the very best of the best because they’re something special and I was always very appreciative of that.”
He also is deeply appreciative of all the incredible people he worked with through the years, which includes John Madden, Terry Bradshaw and Johnny Unitas in football; John Newcombe and Tony Trabert in tennis; Al McGuire in basketball; Gil Clancy in boxing; and Christin Cooper and Billy Kidd in skiing; among countless others.
The adventures he shares with some of these individuals, and others, throughout the book are funny and fascinating.
And the athletic feats he witnessed – and described to viewers through the years in that iconic voice – are truly memorable.
“I feel very blessed that now I can sit back and enjoy watching all these great athletes,” Ryan says. “When I look back it was an unusual career because I took a different path than most of my colleagues in the business.”
It was also an extraordinary career, one that makes for a captivating and enjoyable read.
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