The Life...with a voice from Santa Clara's basketball history

April 7, 2008

Jack Healey? Heard the name? If you run in Santa Clara University athletic circles you probably have. Upon taking the job as the Santa Clara men's basketball play by play announcer in the fall of last year, I became particularly interested in Jack's story. More importantly, I was intrigued by his stories about Bronco hoops squads from years past. Jack was, himself, a radio play-by-play and color commentator for SCU baseball, basketball and football in the late 60's and early 70's; definitely a memorable time for the basketball program with some of the best teams and biggest names in school history pounding the hardwood.

Born in Los Angeles, Jack was just a boy when he came to San Jose in 1934. The St. Mary's Elementary and Bellarmine College Prep grad then attended Santa Clara and San Jose State. Not long after a two year stint in the Army (13-months in Korea), he started a career in the insurance industry and two years later started his own insurance company.

A good friend of the family persuaded Jack to join the Santa Clara football radio broadcast team as a color commentator in 1964 (KNGU). He was then tapped for Bronco basketball play-by-play in '67.

"It happened simply because the fellow who had been doing the games left town," said Healey. "I was doing some football for the Broncos, and had been doing it for a couple of years and had been doing some baseball, so I stepped in doing basketball."

It turned out that the first few years with Jack at the mic were some of the best in the program's history.

From 1967-68 to 1969-70, the Broncos made it to three straight NCAA Tournaments, went 72-12 and were led by the likes of Bud Ogden and Dennis Autrey. They were a tough matchup for just about anyone.

"We had a tremendous time," said Healey. "When you look back on it and you think how lucky you were to be there at the zenith. The broncos were almost but not quite invincible."

Jack described the action to listeners the night Bud Ogden set the current single game points record, 55, against Pepperdine on March 3, 1967 at Santa Monica City College in front of, as Healey remembers, 300 to 400 fans.

"I don't think anyone ever dreamed about it. I'm not sure what kind of defense Pepperdine used. I suspect there was no defense," Healey said with a chuckle. "Bud would just sit there on one side of the lane, they'd throw him the ball and he'd put it in the basket. He made it look like almost anyone could have done it."

But history shows nobody has done it since. Russ Vrankovich (1964 vs. Pepperdine) and Nick Vanos (1985 at LMU) are tied for second with 44 points.

Those late 60's teams also had regular run-ins with the famous UCLA teams of that era, without much success, losing in back-to-back years to the eventual National Champion Bruins in the NCAA tournament (1968 and 1969).

"I remember one night, not in the NCAAs; it was down on the Bruins home court. Things were not so bad, the score was about 10-8 and then a fellow by the name of Walton decided to go to work. I guess his feet weren't bothering him at that time and the next thing you know it was 24-12. And you wondered `How did he do that?'"

The player Jack enjoyed watching most was point guard Eddie Joe Chaves (1974-78). He recalls the way Chavez would bring up the ball and direct traffic as if to say, "don't worry. I'm taking care of things."

As broadcasters we all have stories of embarrassing moments listeners don't often hear about. Near the top of my list was the time I badly sprained my ankle trying to climb down a 10-foot press box ladder at halftime of a high school football game in Redding, Calif. By the time the game ended my ankle was so swollen I needed help not only getting down the ladder but out to my car.

Jack remembers the time a fan spilled a soda all over him during a broadcast at Pepperdine. While he attempted to dry off, his color-analyst, who knew a lot about Santa Clara but not much about the Waves, took over the play-by-play duties.

What listeners heard for the next few minutes whenever the Waves had the ball was, "number five over to number twelve then back to number five." Healey laughed, "I probably took longer than I should have to get back to the table. But I kept telling him `you're doing swell.'"

Jack Healey is one of the nicest men you'll ever want to meet; with memories of calling the radio play-by-play of one of the greatest times in Santa Clara Basketball history.