Charlie Jones, a veteran sportscaster best known for his pro football play calling in a 38-year network career, died Thursday night at his home in La Jolla after suffering a heart attack. He was 77.
Jones was getting dressed to go to dinner with friends at Torrey Pines Lodge when he was stricken, said his longtime agent, Martin Mandel. The U.S. Open is underway this week at Torrey Pines.
The versatile Jones’ first network assignment, on Sept. 10, 1960, was calling a game at the Coliseum between the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs of the old American Football League for ABC.
Jones also contributed extensively to ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” before switching to NBC in 1965 after that network picked up the AFL contract.
He was a mainstay at NBC through the 1997 NFL season.
“All of us at NBC are saddened at the passing of one of the great pioneers of NBC Sports,” Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports, said Friday. “His work in particular on the NFL, golf and the Olympics left a lasting legacy.”
While at NBC, Jones announced 28 sports, including golf, Wimbledon tennis, baseball, figure skating and numerous events for the network’s “SportsWorld.”
He called the track-and-field and diving events at the 1988 Seoul Olympics; swimming, diving and water polo at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics; and rowing, flat-water canoeing and kayaking at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
During his career, Jones worked more than 25 college football bowl games, including the 1987 Fiesta Bowl national championship game.
He also announced the 1986 World Cup soccer tournament from Mexico City and the 1987 World Championships of Track and Field in Rome.
Jones started his broadcasting career full time in 1956 as sports director at KNAC-TV in his hometown of Fort Smith, Ark. From 1957 to 1959, he held the same post with KFPW radio in Fort Smith.
He became an announcer for the AFL’s Dallas Texans in 1960.
Jones provided the play-by-play on Cincinnati Reds baseball telecasts in 1973 and 1974, and for the Colorado Rockies from their first season in 1993 to 1995.
In 1997, he was honored with the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award.
Jones won a 1973 Emmy Award for his work as writer, producer and host of the documentary “Is Winning the Name of the Game?”
He also wrote “What Makes Winners Win” (1997) and co-wrote a number of books with Kim Doren, including “You Go Girl! Winning the Woman’s Way” (2000), “Be the Ball: A Golf Instruction Book for the Mind” (2000) and “Heaven Can Wait: Surviving Cancer” (2003).
Jones had his own battle with prostate cancer, beginning in December 2001.
He co-wrote, co-produced and co-hosted the award-winning PBS series “The American Frontier” with Merlin Olsen, one of his many broadcast analyst partners on pro football telecasts.
Jones, who was born Nov. 9, 1930, in Fort Smith, attended USC and played tennis there.
He served in the Air Force and earned a law degree at the University of Arkansas.
He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Ann; a son, Chuck; a daughter, Julie; and three grandchildren.
A celebration of Jones’ life will be held Wednesday at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.