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Dick Enberg departed for England this weekend to meet an old friend, knowing it'll be their last time together.
"Yeah, it will be emotional," Enberg said. "I'm an emotional guy. I'm not afraid to cry."
The old friend leans toward stodgy, well he should after 125 years. Calls himself Wimbledon. You might've heard, tennis is his bag.
Enberg and Wimbledon met in 1979. Strawberries and cream from the start, they were. An ace play-by-play broadcaster, Enberg brought to The All England Lawn Tennis Club a storyteller's eye and an American sound but also command of the King's English.
Back then, boys and girls, tennis -- stuffy old tennis -- held its ground against the bullies on America's sports-scape. Americans cared as much about tennis stars John McEnroe and Chris Evert as they did, say, football's Joe Montana, baseball's Mike Schmidt or the Ricky Bobbys of NASCAR.
Enberg was part of the sell. As NBC's voice at Wimbledon, he and sidekick Bud Collins made tennis seem like great theater.
At tournament's end, Enberg brought it all home for us with video essays, some of them Emmy winners. Americans would never watch a morning tennis show. Except they did, watching Breakfast at Wimbledon, hosted by Enberg and friends.
He got more than he gave, he said last week. All those fortnights at Wimbledon stuffed him with enough memories to fill a Ken Burns documentary.
But as the Californian recounted his favorites, he mentioned no aces skittering across Wimbledon's tight-cut grass.
Only the human moments re-surfaced.
Such as Czech star Jana Novotna "blubbering on the Duchess of Kent's white silk suit" after losing in the '93 final.
Such as any match between Evert, the American girl next door, and Martina Navritalova, the mysterious Czech.
Such as Pat Cash, the men's winner in 1987, "climbing up into the stands over our broadcast booth to hug his rugged, Aussie Rules father, whom we'd been taking shots of throughout the match. He had his cap askew, a real tough-looking guy, and they embraced."
Enberg cried as he narrated the Cash scene. "I'd lost my father somewhat recently to that, and I'm sitting there tears rolling down my cheeks," he said.
Now 76, he goes to Wimbledon this final time with his career in late autumn, the sports falling like brown leaves. He gave up football and golf last year. Later this summer at the U.S. Open, he'll finish with tennis. Baseball, his favorite sport, he'll retain through next year or longer, working as the TV play-by-play man of his hometown San Diego Padres.
Today he'll start his final Wimbledon, broadcasting for ESPN. Should he well up in two weeks while he narrates his sendoff, he need only visualize the great British comedic actor John Cleese in drag, screaming at him, as if Enberg were dropped into a Monty Python skit.
Enberg lived something similar many summers ago.
Scene: Enberg works in his small booth at Centre Court as a match unfolds. As instructed, he narrates highlights of another match on his TV screen. But his booming voice, too strong for the booth's thin glass to contain, reaches spectators nearby.
"All of a sudden this beautiful woman in her 70s," Enberg said, smiling, "is pounding on the glass and screaming while I'm calling the match."
She exceeds Enberg's decibel level. "You men are RUDE," she tells Enberg and his colleague. "You men are making too much noise; it makes no sense; I don't know what you're doing; and I'm reporting you to security."
He laughed at the memory. "Here I am on national TV and this poor woman is pounding on the glass and yelling at us."
Photo: Spakhrin, Creative Commons 2.0.