UT alumnus John Ward (BS political science, LLB law) was the longtime play-by-play radio announcer for football and men’s basketball. He joined Lowell Blanchard for basketball broadcasts in 1965 and took over from George Mooney for football on September 14, 1968 (Tennessee 17, Georgia 17), the first game played on artificial turf. (Actually, his first radio broadcast of a UT basketball game was in 1958.) During his 30 years with the Vol program, he broadcast a total of 1,310 games and served as commentator for 966 basketball games and 344 football games. His partner in the announcing was color analyst Bill Anderson, and their statistician for 19 years was Russ Bebb. Ward broadcast his last football game on January 4, 1999, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, in Phoenix, Arizona, in which UT defeated Florida State for the national championship.
Two of his expressions, “Give him six” (football) and “bottom” (basketball) became nationally known. He was named Sportscaster of the Year in Tennessee 28 times by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, was named the best college announcer in the nation in 1976, and received the Lindsey Nelson Collegiate Broadcaster of the Year Award in 1998. He is a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
Somewhat superstitious, he wore a towel around his neck as part of his game day attire beginning in 1967 when the Vols were playing a basketball thriller against Mississippi State and Ward’s location in the press box happened to be near an open window that was admitting gusts of wintry air. A towel from the bench was brought to wrap around his neck. Tennessee won a triple overtime victory, and a towel was added to Ward’s game wardrobe.
His first basketball broadcast was of a game between Knoxville’s Central and Fulton high schools, an assignment he volunteered for when the manager of a local radio station inquired at the Knoxville Journal, where Ward was a copyboy, if anyone could take the place of a broadcaster who had resigned earlier in the day.
On March 1, 2006, during the halftime of the UT-Kentucky basketball game, a banner celebrating his stint as Voice of the Vols from 1965 to 1999 was hung from the rafters of Thompson Boling Arena. In 1994 he and his wife, Barbara, donated over $2 million to the UT Athletics Department for football and basketball scholarships—the largest donation that had been received.
The Joe Johnson/John Ward Pedestrian Mall honors him and former UT President Joe Johnson.