Sports

Bob Murphy: voice of Stanford sports goes quiet

 

Bob Murphy, whose voice, spirit and wit defined Stanford athletics for many years, died Tuesday at the age of 86 in Santa Cruz. He had suffered from Alzheimer's.

Murphy served many roles at Stanford – standout pitcher, longtime broadcaster, sports information director – but none could fence him in. He was just "Murph," the man who seemed to know everybody at Stanford and carried an unmatched perspective and sense of Stanford sports history.

"One of the greatest names ever associated with Stanford history," said David Shaw, Stanford's Director of Football. "For the majority of my lifetime, his name was associated with Stanford football, and that is the way I will always think of him."

"We certainly lost a Stanford icon today," said Bernard Muir, Stanford's Director of Athletics.

"Bob was Mr. Stanford," said former men's basketball coach Mike Montgomery. "He knew everybody, he knew everything, he knew every story. Stanford has lost a great asset. The stuff stored in his memory will be lost forever."

Murphy's experience, from more than 50 years in Stanford athletics, was irreplaceable.

"Bob connected the dots," Montgomery said. "He did it for me when I came to Stanford in 1987, connecting me to Tom Davis, Dick DiBiaso, Howie Dallmar. And he did that for the athletes, going back through generations."

As Stanford's sports information director from 1964-72, Murphy brought a promotional aspect to the Heisman Trophy that was largely unseen and is credited for making a difference in securing votes for quarterback Jim Plunkett, who won the award in 1970.

"It became kind of a joke between us," Plunkett said Tuesday. "He spent $175 on my Heisman campaign. Just a folded piece of paper that he mailed to writers around the country."

Would Plunkett have won without Murphy? The quarterback laughed.

"I don't know," Plunkett said. "I like to think I would have. I also give credit to my teammates and coaches.

"Murph was behind me 100 percent. A lot of people didn't know me around the country and he did a great job on my behalf."

Murphy was born at Stanford Hospital, grew up in Burlingame and attended Serra High before graduating from San Mateo High and attending Stanford as a history major.

As a senior in 1953, he led Stanford to its first College World Series, went on to pitch for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League, and was inducted into the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame.

He did television work for the San Francisco 49ers, served as a consultant for legendary golf-course designer Robert Trent Jones, was the first tournament director for Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, and served in the same role for the 1987 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club.

During the 1980s and 1990s he was among the celebrity golfers in the Bing Crosby (later AT&T National Pro-Am), and emceed events each year at the Pebble Beach tournament.

He was a highly sought public speaker, hosting a variety of banquets and events, including the Council of Chiefs, Stanford Hall of Fame ceremonies, and the PALO Club's annual Million Dollar Banquet. His acerbic wit could double people over with laughter, and athletes and coaches were frequent targets.

Except for a stint as athletics director at San Jose State from 1976-79, Murphy served as a Stanford football and basketball broadcaster from 1964-2007. He brought a folksy style that was unique in creating a sense of community.

"He had a gift for humor," said John Platz, a former Stanford basketball player and Murphy's basketball broadcast partner for 18 seasons. "When needling a Stanford player on-stage, he knew the line between playful and hurtful and wouldn't cross it. When I was on the Stanford basketball team—the smallest player on the squad — he once had me on stage and presented me with an extra-large varsity athlete polo shirt, saying with a gleam in his eye — 'it's extra-large, Platz, you and a friend can fit in it.'"

Murphy introduced legendary football coach Bill Walsh this way: "Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Pontiff."

And said this about Montgomery: "Mike, you need to play the Stanford course backward so you can get to know the other side of the fairway."

Murphy weaved in stories of Stanford professors, locker room speeches, and famous Stanford athletes of the past. Murphy talked about how a professor would corner him in class to offer advice about pitching curveballs to Cal hitters.

"His knowledge of post-World War II Stanford sports history was unequalled," Platz said. "Whether it was a 1950s anecdote about football star such as a Bobby Garrett, or inside stories about Jim Plunkett and the fabulous 1970 Rose Bowl-winning team, Tom Watson's time on the Stanford Golf Course or anything about Mike Montgomery's teams, it seemed like he knew about everyone who wore a Stanford uniform."

Murphy was in his element while hosting football pregame radio shows. He stationed himself at the edge of Chuck Taylor Grove and grabbed former players, coaches and just about anybody he knew for interviews, as they walked by.

"I'd hear, 'Hey Plunk, come over here. We need to talk,'" Plunkett recalled. "He did it to everybody, and everybody was willing and able. And maybe he'd tease you a little bit too."

At the 1998 NCAA Midwest Regional men's basketball final in St. Louis, Murphy delivered his most famous radio call.

Stanford trailed Rhode Island late in the game, but a furious rally was punctuated by a Mark Madsen dunk and three-point play, helped send the Cardinal to its first Final Four since 1942.

"MADSEN STUFFED IT, MADSEN STUFFED IT . . . AND . . . HE . . . WAS . . . FOULED!"

"It was such a magical moment," Montgomery said. "And Bob just made a great call."

Said Plunkett, "You'd listen to a broadcast and hear it was first-and-10 and then he'd start telling a story and before you knew it, Stanford had scored. You might have missed something, but you were entertained the whole time."

Murphy's final season broadcasting Stanford football was 2007, the year 41-point underdog Cardinal beat No. 2 USC and began a resurgence that continues today.

His partner that season was Dave Flemming, a Stanford alum now in his 14th season as radio voice of the San Francisco Giants and a college football and basketball broadcaster on ESPN.

"Bob was wonderful to me when I worked with him," Flemming said via text before the Giants' played the Milwaukee Brewers Tuesday. "But what stands out more was how wonderful he was when I was a student just getting started, and he went out of his way to be a friend and mentor to me. That's ultimately Bob's legacy – he cared deeply about Stanford and, more importantly, about all of us as students, on the field and off. I would not be doing what I'm doing today without his encouragement and help getting started, and I will never forget that."

There aren't many at Stanford anymore who worked directly with Murphy, but Muir, who arrived in 2012, was thankful for the time they did share.

"I quickly learned that he was part of the fabric of Stanford Athletics," Muir said. "I did have the chance to spend some time with him soon after I arrived and was fortunate to hear a few of his favorite stories -- he witnessed so many interesting 'Stanford Moments' over the years. Of course, to hear it straight from him was a treat unto itself."

Murphy's legacy already is evident. There is an endowed athletic scholarship in his name. The Bob Murphy Award honors the most dramatic moment of the Stanford sports year at the annual Stanford Athletic Board awards. And the radio booth at Stanford Stadium is named after him.

And yet, Murphy's chapter in Stanford sports history is now complete.

"I always thought Bob should write a book," Montgomery said. "He just bled cardinal and white. He would do anything for Stanford.

"Stanford's going to miss him."

Services are pending.

— David Kiefer/Stanford Athletics

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