Sports, at their best, teach us to overcome adversity. Lance Armstrong, the extraordinary cycling champion who beat cancer before conquering the Tour de France, is a perfect example. So is Jack Edwards, ’79. In the summer of 1977, Edwards left his Durham home for Vail, Colorado, to hone his soccer skills. A two-year member of the Wildcat varsity, Edwards was pursuing his dream, following the unpredictable bounce of a soccer ball.
"I wanted to train at altitude," he says. "I wanted to work on the technical side of my game, so I could come back as a junior and be one of the better players in the region."
In his first summer-league game, Edwards was unstoppable, scoring three goals. Then a slick pass led to a breakaway, but he crashed into the opposing goalkeeper. One of Edwards’ legs shattered. So did his soccer dreams.
Edwards, a communication major at UNH, persevered. Recuperating in Durham, his leg in a hip cast, he opted to take several summer courses. He spied a sign-up sheet for Writing Broadcast News, taught by WGIR radio veteran Moe Quinn, and enrolled. The course, which included future media personalities Paul Crane and Walt Perkins, ignited Edwards’ imagination.
Today, thousands of United States sports fans know Edwards for his work as a broadcaster, particularly as the voice of World Cup soccer. At last summer’s tournament in South Korea and Japan, Edwards did play-by-play commentary of the majority of the games, including the final between Brazil and Germany (which commanded an estimated 1.5 billion viewers worldwide), for ABC and ESPN. It was the pinnacle of a remarkably successful journalism career that started, in earnest, in Moe Quinn’s UNH classroom.
"It was a pretty neat chance happening," says Edwards. "I remember being in Moe’s class, saying to myself, ‘This is why I went to college.’ It was just passion from there on out."
That winter of 1977-78, Edwards began announcing Wildcat hockey games for WUNH. When he wasn’t calling games, he studied tapes of Channel 11’s renowned broadcast team of Jim Jeanotte and Bob Norton, or legendary Bruins’ radio announcer Bob Wilson. "Bob Wilson was a maestro," says Edwards. "I felt like you didn’t even have to understand the English language to understand the importance and urgency and location of the puck, because he used his voice as an instrument."
Edwards’ use of musical and theatrical metaphor is apt. His parents both taught at UNH – Ruth Edwards was a professor of music, while John Edwards was a professor of drama – and both had significant influence on his craft. "To me, every game has a dramatic story," says Edwards. "Sometimes it’s over in the first act, and other times it’s going to go down to the last two or three lines. And what makes it more fascinating to me is this – the more you know about sports, the more you realize you can’t possibly have any idea of what’s going to happen next. Most of the time, there’s a bit of mystery going into the theater. And who knows what’s going to happen in the next 2˝ or 3 hours when you go into an arena?"
The Edwards came to UNH from Northwestern University when Jack was 4. His earliest memories consist of attending his father’s Shakespeare productions, or playing by his mother’s piano as she ceaselessly practiced Chopin (a model for Edwards’ tireless work ethic). Living in Durham also opened a world of sports to Edwards. "The new field house was like a Disneyland for sports, and almost everything was free, so my buddies and I would go on campus, and I’d just immerse myself in sports of all sorts," says Edwards. "What I learned was that it’s not just the sports that everyone pays attention to that are really cool. There were sports that were drawing 35 fans to the Lundholm Gym, like the men’s wrestling team, but, man, was it intense. It was great to watch those guys work." Edwards also recounts how current Wildcat hockey coach Dick Umile, then a member of the UNH freshmen squad, gave him a stick following a game, "which is one of my treasured mementoes."
Following his broken leg, Edwards gamely tried to return to the soccer pitch his senior year. Though new coach Bob Kullen started Edwards the first game of the season, following sport’s unwritten rule that you don’t lose your position to injury, he was soon replaced and struggled for playing time.
"Kully wasn’t going to deprive me of the chance for a miracle," Edwards says. "Even though he knew I wasn’t fit, even though he knew I’d lost a step, and I wasn’t the player I must have been before he got there, he wasn’t going to deny me that minute opportunity."
Edwards focused instead on broadcasting, and his undergraduate highlight came in 1979, when the UNH hockey team, under Charlie Holt, and featuring Ralph Cox, Bruce Crowder and Bobby Cox, reached the Final Four at the Olympia in Detroit before bowing out to eventual national champion Minnesota in the semifinals ("We emptied the WUNH budget for that trip."). After graduating that spring, Edwards followed Quinn to WGIR, "and was able to parlay my internship into a floor-scrubber job, coming in, ripping copy and preparing for the morning news block."
He set two goals – to cover the winter Olympic games for the network rights holder, and to call a World Cup soccer final on network television. He met the first objective in 1988, at the age of 30, when he was tabbed as the on-hill alpine ski reporter for ABC. "That was giant," he says. "They took a chance with me. They said ‘Here’s a guy who’s really enthusiastic about skiing, knows a little bit about it, and can deliver, so we’re going to create a position for him.’"
The Olympic stint launched Edwards career. He continued to work at WCVB (Channel 5) in Boston before taking a position with ESPN’s SportsCenter in 1991, and was a correspondent for the 1991 Emmy Award-winning program Outside The Lines: Steroids - Whatever It Takes. In 1992, he reported on the Olympic Winter Games from Albertville, France. He may be best remembered, however, for a famous ESPN promotional ad in which former Red Sox ace Roger Clemens tosses Edwards out a building, while another sports anchor clocks the pitch at 95 miles an hour. ("The brilliance of those scripts is that there was exactly one grain of truth in each of them," says Edwards, laughing, recalling a dust-up he had with Clemens in 1987.)
These days, at 45, Edwards continues to work as an independent contractor for ESPN, ABC and other affiliates (Northeast soccer fans can find him calling the New England Revolution broadcasts), while also working with his wife, Lisa, for their company, Fountainhead Production. Hockey fans will recognize his work with ESPN, especially during the Stanley Cup playoffs (Edwards routinely drops references to "lively Snively," conjuring memories of the raucous ice arena from his UNH hey-day). When pressed, he admits its tough to decide which sport he enjoys most.
"As a broadcaster, I got my start doing hockey, and I always loved hockey. But I was a soccer player," Edwards says. "I love them both in different ways. It’s like, ‘Which child do you love the most?’ Hockey has an intensity and a speed to it that no other sport can match. But soccer has a continuum to it that makes it truly a chess match."
Regardless of which sport he’s calling, Edwards appreciates that his dream didn’t end on that soccer field in Vail, Colorado. The dream may have gotten sidetracked, but he has no regrets, especially after renewing his relationship with Kullen shortly before the former coach’s tragic death in 1990 of heart failure. "It took me a long time to work through my bitterness and anger, not just of the injury but of not being able to play the role I always wanted to play on that team," says Edwards. "But it was great to have closure with him and say ‘thank you’ for that opportunity."
It is, perhaps, the only opportunity that Edwards didn’t taken full advantage of. When he met his graduation goals, Edwards simply set new ones.
"I’m pursuing my ultimate passion."