Homegrown: Tennessee legend John Ward

Even today, eyes close as his voice paints the field, the fans, the "Touchdown Tennessee."

John Ward's radio play by play united Volunteers for more than 30 years.

"The state differed, but one thing tied it all together, and that was Tennessee football," says John Ward.

Ward gave fans a front row seat at Rocky Top.

"My responsibility was to try to involve all fans."

He may have been the "Voice of the Vols," but as a kid, it was his dad who brought the game to life.

"My father was a great communicator... much better than I ever was."

His father was principal of the Tennessee School for the Deaf. As a child, Ward's earliest memories of Big Orange football were watching his dad interpret the game's radio broadcast for deaf students.

"Like somebody ran to the 18 yard line, he would draw that. And, it set up just a rhythm of communication to people who could not hear, but could experience the excitement of Tennessee football.

Ward graduated from Knoxville High School.

"Did I have any desire to be a football player or an athlete? No because I couldn't. I was a skinny punk."

He studied political science at the University of Tennessee and went to law school.

"Two quarters in I said, 'There ain't no way I'm going to make it as an attorney. I never had a book to begin with."

During law school, he worked in the Knoxville Journal's sports department and got his shot at play by play.

"I had no idea what I was doing, but I said, 'Well, what can they do, fire me?'"

Ward impressed his Journal boss, but did get fired.

"Your future is not writing, your future is talking."

After 2 years in the Army, Ward came home and started with an advertising agency. In 1965, he started play by play for UT basketball. Tennessee football followed in 1968.

Ward and longtime sidekick, Bill Anderson, experienced some of Tennessee's greatest moments together. For basketball, his favorite was the 1967 SEC championship win.

"Tennessee won, triple overtime, 2 points, 2 free throws. Bill Justice for Tennessee. That to me was the magic moment in basketball."

Ward's favorite football moment was the 1985 Sugar Bowl win in the New Orleans.

"Tennessee came back to win 35-7. It was just a great night, a great week for Tennessee fans in New Orleans."

But his very last game wasn't too shabby either.

"Can't beat it."

Tennessee beat Florida State at the Fiesta Bowl for the National Championship title.

"I told Fulmer, 'Fulmer, Anderson and I got us this far. It's up to you from now on.' It was just time to quit. That's what I said. It was just time, and it was. I don't regret a moment."

But Ward does miss it.

"I miss the preparation. I mean, I worked."

Oddly enough, play by play was just a hobby, but it scored him a song by Kenny Chesney.

"It got on the charts which is unbelievable!"

A golfer and a gardener, John Ward is enjoying being out of the spotlight.

"I'm very shy. I've got you faked out."

He works out every morning.

"Go through 48 minutes of cardio and all that junk... hate every second."

Ward still has his advertising agency, but he doesn't do public appearances.

"I don't do interviews on TV with anybody!"

He prefers to spend time with his 2 loves, his wife, Barbara, of nearly 50 years and their dog, Keelee.

As for games, Ward goes, but only lasts a half, always sitting next to his ole sidekick, Bill Anderson.

"Our primary concern is keeping each other awake... if you want to know the facts."

John Ward, born in Knoxville, HomeGrown in Tennessee.

"When you get right down to it, I'm from Knoxville. I'm from Tennessee. And, if you can make it here, good. Stay home."


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