Longtime 620WTMJ Packers voice Jim Irwin dead at 77
MILWAUKEE - Family, friends, co-workers and sports fans across Wisconsin are grieving the loss of a voice who brought the excitement of world champions and favorite athletes into our homes for decades.
Hall of Fame announcer Jim Irwin, Newsradio 620 WTMJ's longtime play-by-play voice of the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Bucks and Wisconsin Badgers, has passed away.
Irwin's daughter confirmed the information to TODAY'S TMJ4's Mike Jacobs.
Irwin died Sunday after a battle with kidney cancer after he recently received hospice care at his home in Southern California.
"He was part of the fabric of our stations and our community for so many years. He was a colleague, a friend and always a consummate professional," said Steve Wexler, the executive vice president of Journal Broadcast Group.
Irwin came to Newsradio 620 WTMJ and TODAY'S TMJ4 in 1969 after covering sports on television at WLUK-TV in Green Bay.
His first assignment was giving color commentary on 620WTMJ's Packers Radio Network broadcasts with Ted Moore.
After Moore departed to become the radio voice of the Baltimore Colts in 1970, Irwin worked with Gary Bender, who eventually became a voice of the NFL, NBA, NCAA football/basketball and the Olympics on ABC and CBS Sports.
When Bender left in 1975, Irwin slid over to the play-by-play microphone, initially working with color commentator Lionel Aldridge, a former Packers defensive end, TODAY'S TMJ4 sports anchor and NBC Sports commentator.
Irwin wouldn't give up that job for 24 years, working with former Packers wide receiver Max McGee for the final 20 of those seasons.
"He was a great friend of mine, more a friend than a working colleague," said Irwin to Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Jay Sorgi in a 2007 interview after McGee passed away.
"When we were looking for a replacement for Lionel Aldridge, he came out to Los Angeles and did a game with me, and I came back (to Milwaukee) and said, 'I don't know what he said, but I really liked what he said.' For the next 20 years, we worked together...he prolonged my career and made my career much better."
Irwin and McGee became part of a three-word phrase that his successor on the Packers network, Wayne Larrivee, understood well:
" 'Jim and Max,' whom people still remember as if they had done the game Sunday. I think it's a tremendous tradition...these guys are Hall of Famers," said Larrivee in a 2005 Newsradio 620 WTMJ conversation with Irwin and Moore - now 52 years of Packers Radio Network voices in one discussion - along with Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Dennis Krause.
The tradition became so entrenched that many Packers fans would turn down the volume on their television sets and turn on 620WTMJ or their Packers Radio Network affiliate and listen to Jim and Max's calls.
Jim started out calling play-by-play for perennial losers, with only two Packers playoff appearances in Irwin's first 24 years on the job.
Then, success came for the Packers.
"The winning began with Lindy Infante and Don Majkowski (in 1989). They came along, and suddenly, we said, 'This is really good,' " Irwin explained.
Coach Infante and Majkowski, the quarterback dubbed the "Majik Man," led the Packers to one of four winning seasons Irwin called previous to the 1992 campaign.
Irwin's call of the fourth-down touchdown pass from Majkowski to Sterling Sharpe with less than a minute left in the victory over the Chicago Bears in the "Instant Replay" game will long go down in Packers lore.
"Touchdown! Sterling Sharpe!...what a throw by Majkowski with 32 seconds to go in the game!" exclaimed Irwin, in a call that boomed across radio speakers in Southeastern Wisconsin.
In 1992, Irwin and McGee started calling a team that was on the rise to becoming a Super Bowl champion.
"Then came Mike Holmgren, and we slowly built up to see a championship team," said Irwin.
Among Irwin's calls during that famous run of playoff appearances and a Super Bowl championship after the 1996 season:
- "Favre goes straight back into the pocket. Now he pumps it. Now he's going into the end zone...there's a man...TOUCHDOWN! It is caught by the Packers, and it is Kittrick Taylor with 13 seconds to go! Kittrick Taylor has scored it! Oh my goodness!" - Packers 24, Bengals 23 in Brett Favre's first extended action as a Green Bay Packer on Sept. 20, 1992
- "Here is Elway, back to throw it. Elway under some pressure. Elway looking. Elway dancing around. HE GOES DOWN! He goes down by Reggie White, and the game is going to be won by the Packers! Reggie White gets him on fourth down!" - Packers 30, Broncos 27, Oct. 10, 1993
- "Favre looking, now Favre running. C'mon, run it! He's going to throw into the end zone. There's Sharpe....TOUCHDOWN! Sterling Sharpe! He got away and scored the touchdown with 55 seconds left in the ballgame! And I'm sitting here saying run it! Run the thing!" - Packers 28, Lions 24 in 1993 NFC Wildcard Game
- "53 yards by Chris Jacke; it's really a gamble, because you have to kick it low. Here's the ball down. The kick is on the way. It's long enough. It is....GOOD! He won it! He made it, and the Packers have won in overtime! Chris Jacke being mobbed on the field! A 53-yarder!" - Packers 23, 49ers 20, Oct. 14, 1996
- "Handoff, second guy, Bennett! Touchdown! Walked into the end zone! Edgar Bennett, with a hole on the right side, that you could drive a truck to the Super Bowl through." - Packers 30, Panthers 13, in 1996 NFC Championship Game
- "Back to throw goes Brett. Here they come. He's got time. He's throwing it downfield. He's got a man wide open! It is going to be a touchdown to Andre Rison! Rison takes it across the goal line!" - Packers 35, Patriots 21, in Super Bowl XXXI
- "Here goes Bledsoe back. Here they come! They got him again! Back at the 20! Hello, Reggie (White)! Reggie says 'I am not through yet!' " - Packers 35, Patriots 21, in Super Bowl XXXI
- "The Vince Lombardi Trophy is coming home where it started!....4, 3, 2, 1, World Champion Green Bay Packers!" - Packers 35, Patriots 21 in Super Bowl XXXI.
Former Packers center Larry McCarren joined Irwin and McGee on Packers broadcasts from 1995-98 before becoming the sole color commentator with current Newsradio 620 WTMJ Voice of the Packers Wayne Larrivee.
In his illustrious career, Irwin earned Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year 10 times, while being named to the Packers Hall of Fame and Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.
Irwin had a number of other roles as well at 620WTMJ and TODAY'S TMJ4.
He called Milwaukee Bucks basketball games on Newsradio 620 WTMJ from 1979-1993, teaming with analyst Jon McGlocklin during many of those years.
Irwin was present for 12 consecutive playoff appearances and three runs to the Eastern Conference Finals from 1980-91.
He also worked with Bender and former Badgers quarterback Ron Vanderkelen on Wisconsin football from 1969-90, while doing play-by-play on Badgers basketball during that time as well.
"Jim Irwin, he was one of the best play-by-play people that I've ever heard," said Vanderkelen in a 2011 interview with Sorgi.
"He and I got along very well. He said, 'This is what your role is,' and we just jelled very, very easily...It was just a pleasure."
Irwin called Milwaukee Brewers games during the 1970's and 1980's on Newsradio 620 WTMJ as a fill-in voice for Bob Uecker when the longtime Voice of the Brewers had national television responsibilities.
Radio listeners also heard Irwin's voice at the 15 and 45 minute marks of every hour during "Wisconsin's Morning News," with Irwin's famous "Viewpoint" at 7:45.
Irwin had a long television career as well, serving TODAY'S TMJ4 during the 1970's.
After Irwin's retirement from WTMJ in 1999, he moved near San Diego with his beloved wife Gloria, but continued to serve Newsradio 620 WTMJ as a sports analyst during "Wisconsin's Morning News."
He also spent a lot of his time in retirement playing golf with longtime friend and TODAY'S TMJ4 sports anchor Hank Stoddard.
In recent years, Irwin discovered he had kidney cancer.
"It was devastating to my family, of course, but they've just been rock solid all along here," said Irwin in a talk with TODAY'S TMJ4's Mike Jacobs in 2011.
"I never thought of anything other than 'OK, then let's get rid of it, let's get well.' I've always had a positive attitude."
Though Larrivee called the Packers' 31-25 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, Irwin was among the most interested viewers of the victory.
His Super Bowl XXXI ring became a critical element of his family's experience with that game, too.
"Every time there would be a close play, which started with my grandson, he ran over and started rubbing the ring," Irwin told Jacobs.
"Well, by the time we got to the fourth quarter and the last series by the Steelers, everybody was rubbing the ring."
Irwin will most be remembered for calling Packers games longer than any other announcer, and for how his voice described the Packers' journey from also-rans to the NFL's elite.
When asked about how he would rate his life on a scale of 1-10, Irwin answered, "Is there a 12 or a 14?"