Without hyperbole, Rick Watson was one of the greatest sports broadcasters I ever had the pleasure to hear in action. To be honest, with thirteen years of sports play-by-play under my belt, I owe Rick more than I could ever repay.
Rick died Saturday night in a car wreck in Bullard. According to DPS reports, he pulled out in front of an oncoming car trying to cross Highway 69. Between his radio days and his charity work with organizations like Hope, Incorporated, he'll be missed as part of Jacksonville history.
When I started doing play-by-play in 1992, Rick was one of the guys I sought out to learn from. There is no school for the education of play-by-play men, so I learned by breaking down tapes of the pros. I listened to guys like Rick, Bill Coates, and Terry Stembridge. I feel like it's because of people like Rick, who took their jobs and responsibilities seriously that I was able to become what I did.
Anyone who ever listened to a Jacksonville game knows exactly what Rick could do. He was the perfect sports broadcaster, a part of the feel of the game, without compromising his duty to those emotions. He wanted Jacksonville to win as badly as anyone else in the city, but that never got in the way of letting his audience know what was happening with their Tribe.
His technique was superb. In a profession where too many guys don't pay attention to detail, Rick's setup was perfectly clean. When he finished, you could almost smell the fresh-cut grass at the Tomato Bowl. He never got flustered, and he made sure you enjoyed every moment right there with him.
For thirty years, Rick was the voice of all things sports in Jacksonville. Indians, Jaguars, Bearcats, and anything else you'd want to bring up. I remember calling Rick several times for advice, and he was always there to offer help. I knew whenever I went to the Tomato Bowl, I'd be listening to Rick out of the corner of my own headphones, trying to steal a trick whenever I could. He was a three-time Texas Sportscaster of the Year, and he could paint a picture like few others.
One of my personal favorite broadcasting moments came in 1997, the last season of the Tyler Wildcatters. Everybody there knew the Catters were on their way out of town, and we were having some fun in the broadcast booth. The "Famous Chicken" was there, and it was a good time for everybody. It was kind of a jam session, as everybody who had ever broadcast for the Catters was there, and wound up on the game.
Bill Coates was doing the first part of the game, and he handed it off to me in the fifth inning. I did an inning or so, and saw Rick hanging out in the booth behind me.
"Hey, Rick," I said, "You want to take this one home?"
"Sure," he said. "Why not, just for old time's sake."
I handed the headphones off to Rick, and he took it from there. Neither of us ever got paid for that game, but I'll never regret being a part of it. That was one exchange I still remember. Rick was just doing what he loved, what came naturally.
Dudley Waller, who worked with Rick for thirty years, called him "The most nearly perfect broadcaster I ever knew." I'll agree with him wholeheartedly.
The services for Rick will be Wednesday afternoon at 3pm, fittingly enough at the Tomato Bowl.
Rick will certainly be missed by his friends and family, but also by the broadcasters of East Texas. We've lost one of the greats.