Cat Tales: After 43 years in the broadcast booth, Caldwell has seen it all
By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor
Sept. 7, 2007 - For 43 seasons, Dick Caldwell had the "best seat in the house" for Wildcat football games. Last Friday, though, he had to reluctantly give up his chair.
Caldwell, known by generations of Wildcat fans as the "Voice of the Wildcats" while broadcasting games on KSST radio, missed his first game in 43 years when Sulphur Springs opened the season Friday against McKinney.
Two knee operations in the last year have made it difficult for him to get up the steps at Gerald Prim Stadium and virtually impossible at other venues.
For 43 seasons, Caldwell never missed a Wildcat football game. He was there in 1965 when the Wildcats went 0-10, and he was there in the mid-'90s when Sulphur Springs twice went to the regional finals.
Along the way, Caldwell's voice became synonymous with Wildcat football. He modestly accepted the recognition that came with the job.
"I've always taken pride in that," he said of his association with the Wildcats. "The people that I work for and with are the best guys in the world, and I have the best seat in the house for a ball game.
"That hasn't always been something to brag about," he laughed, recalling some of the futility that was SSHS football in the early part of his broadcasting career.
Ironically, during his tenure in the broadcast chair, the Wildcats had 228 wins, 228 losses and seven ties. A .500 record.
The owner of Caldwell Aviation, he was a disc jockey in 1963 when Peavine Pinion and Buddy Funderburk were doing Sulphur Springs games. But, midway through that season, Pinion strained his voice while trying to be heard over a P.A. announcer, whose speakers were sitting right next to the broadcasters on an open platform. A doctor advised Pinion to rest his voice. Caldwell took his place in the booth and settled in nicely.
"It's been so long that I don't even remember how I prepared," he explained. "I probably just winged it. I had played football in high school, and so I knew the game somewhat, but I don't claim to be an expert by any means.
"In 43 seasons, last Friday was the first time I had missed a Wildcat football game in that period of time. I felt kind of lost."
His favorite stadium to broadcast from is Mesquite Memorial - even more so than Texas Stadium because the booth is so high in the home of the Cowboys that is is difficult to see players' numbers.
Caldwell recalls the 1993 playoff game against McKinney in Texas Stadium when there was still snow and ice on the sidelines left over from a Thanksgiving Day storm. That was just days after Leon Lett's infamous blocked field goal and muffed recovery against Miami on Thanksgiving Day.
There was also the frigid 1995 regional final game against Mount Pleasant in Mesquite. The Wildcats lost, 13-8, but Caldwell recalls a more somber moment. When he took longtime statistician and Wildcat fan Gerald Prim home after the game, Prim lost his footing going up his steps and fell.
"That ended his career with the radio station," Caldwell said. "He was one of the finest gentlemen that ever was and richly deserved to have the stadium named after him. You couldn't find a bigger Wildcat fan."
Caldwell had kind words as well for his other partners in the booth during the years: Funderburk, Steve Whitworth, Cecil Savage and the two who are now working the games, Don Julian and Jimmy Rogers.
But he is the only one of the bunch who sat through the Clarksville blue norther in 1970 (which was the coldest he said he's ever been), the fog game at Whitehouse and the night the lights went out in Canton.
"The times that we went to Mesquite Memorial and to Texas Stadium for the playoffs were probably the highlights," he said.
The two players who stand out in his memory are both from the early '80s, quarterbacks Jordan Stanley and Cody Vanderford, who are both in the SSHS Hall of Fame. Between the two of them, they owned virtually all the SSHS passing records until the recent advent of the spread offense has rewritten them.
"There have been lots of others, but those two stand out as being outstanding football players," he recalled.
He hopes to build other memories, but he's unsure if his knees will allow him to get back in the booth. KSST station owner Bill Bradford said Caldwell can have his old job back when he's ready.
"I've not given up the idea that I might do it again sometime, but I don't know if I will be able to. Brad didn't know it, but I would have done it without pay. I can say that now," he admitted slyly. "It's something I always enjoyed immensely.
"It was a great ride."