And, after 40 years, it was. John Ward became the play-by-play announcer for Tennessee basketball in 1958, Tennessee football in 1968, and stepped down from both at the end of 1998. More than a retirement, it ended an era.
John Ward, a 1953 UT College of Law grad and an advertising executive, was the first to be called the “Voice of the Vols.” The latter made his a household name among many UT alumni and all Tennessee Vol fans.
He heard from them often over the years—from innumerable listeners who couldn’t attend and told him his voice turned the radio into a window on the game. Ward’s combination of detail, wit and enthusiasm were part of a delivery so colorful, many fans reported turning down a televised game’s sound to listen to Ward’s call of the game.
“It’s football time in Tennessee!” and “Give, him, six!”—both beloved declarations among Vol fans—are among the legendary phrases he coined.
UT President Emeritus Joe Johnson credits Ward and his former game analyst partner, the late Bill Anderson, with creating “an aura, an image of tradition,” for Vol athletics. Ward and his wife, the late Barbara Ward, also supported Vol athletics, making a $2 million gift to football and basketball scholarships in 1994 that was then the largest single gift to the athletic department in its history.
In his last couple of years on air, Ward received calls from fans to thank him, just in case retirement was coming soon. He always said he would do so when “it’s time.”
After that time came in 1998, Ward ruled out media interviews, not wanting to linger in his successor’s spotlight. For the next 20 years, John Ward maintained he was comfortable staying out of the spotlight. Ward died on June 20, 2018 at the age of 88. He was preceded in death by his wife, Barbara.Athletics, Featured, Remembrances, Tennessee Alumnus magazine, UT Knoxville