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Sports

NCAA Tournament Means The End Of An Era For Jayhawks Broadcaster

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Ian Echlin
Broadcaster Bob Davis (center) was on hand last weekend at the Big 12 basketball tournament at Kansas City's Sprint Center. Engineer Bob Newton (right) and commentator Greg Gurley (left) worked with him.

When the NCAA basketball tournament begins today for the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks, chances are they’ll successfully move on to the next round.  A No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed.

But if the Jayhawks are upset along the way in a bid for their fourth NCAA title, it's not just KU’s season that will come to an end.  This tournament will be the finishing touch on 32 years of broadcasts by Bob Davis.

Davis is stepping down after this season as the voice of football and basketball at the University of Kansas.  There was no hint of it coming, but Davis says retirement had been discussed for awhile.

“I kind of talked about it last year,” Davis says.  “KU people poo-pooed that a little bit and wanted me to put it off at least a year, so that’s what we did.”

Before he started broadcasting Jayhawks games, and during his KU tenure,Davis has been well-known on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri state line.

“I’ve had a great run, 32 years at KU and 16 in Hays (Kan.) before that, so that’s 48 years total doing college sports. Plus, I had the 16-year run with the Royals, which was a great experience, and working with radio stations in western Kansas and also in Kansas City and KMBZ,” he says.

While living in Hays, Davis got his first taste of a national championship in 1984 at Kansas City’s Kemper Arena while broadcasting Fort Hays State basketball.

Current Fort Hays State broadcaster Gerard Wellbrock says Davis is revered in Hays.

“I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for growing up listening to him,” says Wellbrock, who's from the Hays area.

Four years after the national championship for Fort Hays State, Davis was back at Kemper Arena for the NCAA championship game between Oklahoma and Kansas.

His partner at the time was Max Falkenstein, who eased himself into a new role  when Davis was hired to do the play-by-play.

“It was a logical move for Bob to come over here, but it was a very illogical move for me to move from play-by-play to color commentary after 38 years as the play-by-play guy.  But we got along just great,” Falkenstein says.

Falkenstein called it a career after 60 years.  But Davis pressed on and was at courtside in 2008 for one of the most famous shots in Jayhawks basketball history - the shot by guard Mario Chalmers in the ’08 title game against Memphis in San Antonio.  It led to KU’s third NCAA championship and the first under coach Bill Self.

Since the news broke last November about Davis’s pending retirement, Self has kiddingly compares it to the farewell tour of NBA great Kobe Bryant, who also is calling it quits this season.  Self was a graduate assistant coach under Larry Brown one season after Davis became the Jayhawks voice.

“It’s been fun to watch and fun to be a part of,” Self says.  “It’s also been neat on this Kobe farewell tour he’s been on, to be honored at every place he goes to.  That’s been pretty special to see.”

Like Peyton Manning, Davis would like to go out on top.  Perhaps making the call for one more national championship.

“The guys playing the game are the deal and the games are the deal.  But you’re right there and you see it all,” Davis says.  “I think you get soaked up in that unless you don’t have a heartbeat.”

Some would say the voice of Bob Davis has been the heart and soul of Kansas Jayhawks basketball and football.

Greg Echlin is a sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.