The legendary voice of University of South Carolina athletics has fallen silent.
Bob Fulton, 89, who served as the play-by-play broadcaster for USC for 43 years until his retirement in 1995, died overnight Tuesday in his Lexington home.
Fulton, known affectionately as "The Voice" to Gamecocks fans, called 436 football games and 1,156 basketball games starting in 1952 and spanning the glory days of Hall of Fame basketball coach Frank McGuire and Heisman Trophy-winning running back George Rogers. Fulton called Kevin Joyce's leap over North Carolina center Lee Dedmon in the 1971 ACC basketball tournament championship game and the football team's 1980 victory against Michigan in the "Big House."
"Bob loved Carolina, and he was a major part of the university," said Tommy Suggs, the longtime color analyst and former USC quarterback. "In the 23 years I worked with him, he was Carolina athletics. He was special; God, he was special."
Fulton came to USC in 1952 after calling Major League Baseball games for the Mutual Network.
"It was the easiest decision we ever made," said Don Barton, the USC sports information director at the time, who co-authored two books with Fulton. "Bob's voice was head-and-shoulders above everybody else's. God gave him a voice that he doesn't give many people."It was a match made in heaven."
The Ridley Park, Pa., native, who is survived by two daughters, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, retired having served the fourth-longest tenure at the time among NCAA Division I broadcasters. An eight-time S.C. Sportscaster of the Year, he was the first non-coach or athlete to be inducted into the S.C. Athletic Hall of Fame, in 1990. He was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993.
In 1994, he received the state's highest award, the Order of the Palmetto, from former Gov. Carroll Campbell.
Fulton became the most recognizable face -- and voice -- of the sports program. The only interruption came during the 1965 and '66 football seasons, when he worked for Georgia Tech, but then-USC athletics director and football coach Paul Dietzel lured him back to Columbia. During the course of Fulton's USC tenure, he worked with 13 athletics directors, 10 university presidents, 10 basketball coaches and nine football coaches.
"He was the one constant," said Todd Ellis, a former USC quarterback who's in his eighth season as USC's play-by-play man.
That constancy made Fulton iconic in his own right. "He was truly great at telling a story and giving details," Ellis said. "He not only told the story of USC athletics for 40 years, but he was one of the most trusted and respected people in South Carolina."
Before the explosion of cable television and Internet coverage, Fulton served as the conduit that provided USC fans with their primary source of live information, especially when the Gamecocks were on the road. He worked during an era when broadcasters painted vivid pictures for families sitting around the radio at home. Along the way, he became a part of every USC family.
"He was the soundtrack of many people's lives," Ellis said. "We all know how important football is to the fans, and that passion came through in Bob Fulton."
Casey Manning, the former USC basketball player who went on to become a state circuit court judge, remembered how Fulton convinced him to join the basketball broadcast team as an analyst in 1993. And while he treasures their two seasons together on-air, he treasured their friendship more.
"He's the finest human being I've ever met," Manning said. "He was so beloved because of the type of person he was."
Suggs, who said Fulton's off-air charisma was as authentic as his distinctive voice, never saw his partner shy away from fans.
"Bob adored them, and they adored him," he said.
Suggs also admired the tremendous memory and rich sense of humor Fulton brought to every game. Manning remembered the knowledge Fulton seemed to have about every topic.
"People don't realize that he was intellectually brilliant," Manning said.
But more than anything, Fulton was a consummate professional.
His first love was baseball, and his experience calling major league, minor league and collegiate games brought him as much joy as anything.
Atlanta Braves play-by-play announcer Jim Powell, who worked with Fulton in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Columbia, said Fulton was a mentor and kindred spirit. He cited Fulton's giving manner as the most important example of what the broadcast profession should be about.
"Bob treated me with way more respect than I ever deserved. He was as classy a colleague as I've ever worked with," said Powell, who spent 13 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers before joining the Braves two years ago. "Bob became an iconic announcer because he just called the games. The Gamecocks were first and foremost. It was never about him."
For Barton, whose friendship with Fulton lasted nearly 60 years, it all came down to Fulton's desire to be the best broadcaster he could.
"Bob took great pride in what he did," Barton said. "He was not a homer in the negative sense of the word. He tried to be as fair to the other team as possible. He didn't use the word 'we.' He would say 'Carolina' and call the other team by name."
And he did it, of course, with that voice that echoes today in the heads of USC fans.
"The first thing you think of is that booming baritone voice," Ellis said. "He had an incredible voice."