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Sundays with Sacco: Larry Zimmer's prolific career returns

Sometimes we have remarkable individuals in our midst but fail to consider how special they are just because they are always here.

So it is with Larry Zimmer, who has been a fixture and legend in Denver and Colorado broadcasting for so long that he can be taken for granted.

But he is not taken for granted here, today.

Most fans know that Larry suffered a fall in his Lookout Mountain home in early October, and battled his way back to great condition over a four month ordeal combating several different medical issues.

Most do not know the degree of Larry's medical problems, and he would not want me to drum up sympathy by writing them all up. I visited him several times during his stays in hospitals, long-term health care and rehab facilities, and when he could talk—which took a long time, since he could not even eat for three months—he talked about getting back into the broadcast booth for the University of Colorado Buffaloes.

This column is really one to point out a sports broadcasting giant within our midst, and a reader or two might say, "Wow, I never knew that about Larry."

When he does that first CU game tis year it will mark Zim's 41st doing CU, but that is just the tip of his professional iceberg.

While this will be his 50th consecutive year doing Division I college football play-by-play it is also Zim's 45th consecutive year with an association with the Denver Broncos.

And that makes him the only broadcaster in history with such a history, including his years broadcasting the Broncos from 1971-96 and his years on the Broncos' exclusive Ring of Fame committee from 1990 to the present. His 26 consecutive years on the Ring of Fame committee makes him the longest tenured member of that selection group and is part of his association with the Broncos that began in 1971 and continues to this day.

But back in the day, Zim actually came to Denver as a result of a job he did not get.

After graduating from Missouri in 1957 and doing a three-year stint in the United States Army as a lieutenant from 1958-60 (virtually no one I ever speak with realizes Larry is also a former Army officer), he started his football play-by-play career and before you could say "wolverine," he was the voice at the University of Michigan from 1966-70, beginning a half-century Division I streak.

But back to the job he did not get.

When Eastern Michigan was playing in the NAIA basketball finals in Kansas City, Larry was covering the games and Bruce Rice of KCMO let Larry know he had an opening doing Kansas City Chiefs games.

He did not get that Chiefs job, explaining that "Bruce told me they gave it to Dick Carlson—who had been doing color for the Denver Broncos on KOA—because Carlson had NFL experience and I did not."

"Well, that means there is an opening in Denver," Zim replied, "and Bruce said, 'yes, and it actually might be a better overall job than the one which you did not get with us.'" Rice explained that the job in Denver included color for the Denver Broncos, play-by-play for the CU Buffs and weekend anchor at KOA-TV (now KCNC).

Correspondence with Bob Martin of KOA followed, along with a plane flight and TV audition, "and the rest, as they say, is history."

That's right, Larry. It "is" history. Not it "was" history, for it continues.

Larry Zimmer had just two full-time broadcast partners doing the Broncos: Bob Martin and Dave Logan. Interestingly, but not incidentally, all three are in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.

Sometimes in the preseason, if Logan had TV duties, Larry would have a guest partner for a week or two, which even included Pro Football Hall of Fame Head Coach Hank Stram, one of the game's great characters.

Nearly half a century has transpired since Zimmer arrived in the Mile High City, and that period has included several Colorado Sportscaster of the Year awards, a Colorado broadcaster of the year award, induction into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame (2010), the Colorado Broadcasters Hall of Fame (2009), and the national and illustrious Chris Schenkel Award for lifetime achievement doing college football at a single institution, presented at a black tie banquet at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 2009.

His 41 seasons doing CU football are exceeded only by Bob Robertson at Washington State (48), Bill Hillgrove at Pitt (45) and Don Fischer at Indiana (42), but none of the other three also did 26 years of play-by-play and color for an NFL team simultaneously.

And he also was inducted into the CU Hall of Fame and the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame a couple of years later.

Not only has Zim done the Broncos and Buffs, but he covered Colorado State from 1982-84, a three-year span in which KOA did not have the CU radio contract, and he also was the voice of the Denver Rockets (now the Nuggets) in his earlier years in Denver.

Through thick and thin Larry's lovely wife Bridgitte has always been at his side, never more so or more strongly than during his recent recovery, when she provided unwavering support as unofficial chief nurse and, when need be, a bulldog with doctors in representing Larry's needs regarding treatments and medications.

But almost no one knows that Bridgitte has been Larry's spotter on football broadcast for "years and years," as neither can even remember when her spotting duties began. Those spotting duties even include a Denver Broncos Super Bowl, the one in January of 1990 (Super Bowl XXIV).

In his 41 years of doing CU football Zim has missed just 12 games, and six of those came last year, as he is quick to point out.

The others came when he was doing both CU and the Broncos and team and airline schedules simply made it impossible for him to get from the college game to the pro game on time.

If it could be done, Larry was there.

And he will be there for the Buffs again this fall, his 42nd season at CU, again teaming with Mark Johnson for what is always a superb description of all the color and action on the field.

And on November 13 when Colorado hosts the University of Southern California in Boulder, it will also be Larry's 80th birthday and CU plans to honor him on the field.

Do not be surprised if he hears a rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" from the Folsom Field crowd that day.

None of it could happen to a better or more beloved figure.

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