Don Wittmen lost his battle with Cancer
WINNIPEG - Don Wittman, whose smooth baritone voice called some of Canada's most signifiant sports, has died of cancer. He was 71.http://www.tsn.ca/headlines/news_story/?ID=227698
From the CBC[url=http://www.cbc.ca/sports/indepth/feature-don-wittman.html]http://www.cbc.ca/sports/indepth/featur ... ttman.html[/url]
For 10 years after Don stopped doing CFL broadcasts, people still thought of him as the voice of the game. That says everything about the impact he made on football fans. His call of the thrilling final few minutes of Saskatchewan's 1989 Grey Cup win in Toronto stands out as a brilliant piece of work. The Riders were going to win the Cup for the first time in 23 years and Don knew just how to bring it home, neither understated nor over the top. He had a decade in the broadcast booth with Ron Lancaster and they were the best duo in the business.
But, when he wasn't working with "Caster," as Don called him, it seemed he was always breaking in a new analyst. Don must hold the record for working with rookie analysts in any number of sports. "If he's just starting, put him with Witt because he makes it easy," seemed to be the judgment of our producers.
Our production meetings the day before the telecast always concluded with Don running something called the numbers game. I wouldn't say we were ever unfocused but it certainly felt, at times, like no one was paying attention until we got to the numbers game. It cost the loser $10. Sometimes, we'd play as many as 10 rounds and Don would purchase $100 worth of lottery tickets and we never won a red cent.
When you think about it, two sports are more prominent than others in western Canada. Every little hamlet seems to have an arena and a curling rink in the shadow of its grain elevator and Don's voice was just as prominent in curling as it was in hockey.
Don Duguid, a former world champion, was his first partner in the broadcast booth and he would tell you — as would Duguid's successors Joan McCusker and Mike Harris — that Witt had a deep-seeded knowledge of the game but he never felt compelled to clutter the broadcast with it. He preferred, instead, to lead his analysts, never forgetting what his job was. It's one of the reasons his calls at the Brier, Tournament of Hearts and Olympics could be used as a teaching tool for young broadcasters everywhere.
Don had actually planned, after a few months of aggressive treatment for cancer, to return to work on Dec. 15th and call the Grand Slam of Curling on CBC but, alas, his condition took a turn for the worse the week before.
Don Wittman was more than a great broadcaster. He was a fighter and his full-on brawl with cancer was something to marvel at. He was diagnosed in the fall but continued to work, telling no one other than his family, of his condition. He called both the Toronto marathon and a hockey game in Ottawa before he had to stop for treatment. He never thought he wouldn't return to work.
When I talked to him a few days before Christmas, he took issue with the invitations to his career tribute party we were planning for him in Winnipeg on Jan. 8. We called it his retirement party.
"I never said I was retiring," he said.
"Point taken," I said. And he agreed he would unretire just as soon as he felt up to it.
Great broadcaster; better family man
Don's performance with family outdid his work in the broadcast booth. He was a loving husband and father. He leaves us too early but he leaves safe in the knowledge he and wife Judy raised three beautiful, successful children. Isn't this all any parent can ask?
Don and Judy showed Karen, Kristan and David the way and the children followed. All three are highly-educated professionals making their mark in the world. Karen's three-year-old daughter Katie was Don's pride and joy. She's still a rugrat, so it would only have been a few more years before Don had her running the numbers game.
Did I make a difference? Did I do my job as a father and a husband? The answers to those questions define a life and the life of our colleague, Don Wittman, was a rousing success.