PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — Dick Enberg only followed tennis casually before NBC sent him to Wimbledon in 1979 for the first live coverage of what would become "Breakfast at Wimbledon."
A little nervous about tennis terminology, he quickly found a friend: Bud Collins.
"I might be rehearsing or maybe on my first take and he'd say, 'No, no, that's not what a tennis reporter would say. Here's what you really mean,'" Enberg said Friday after learning that Collins, a tennis historian and American voice of the sport, had died. He was 86.
"You could see what NBC was doing, they were sending me over there and if it was successful, I'd be the announcer," Enberg said. "He could have just let me go, he didn't write it. But he didn't allow that. He wanted tennis to be represented properly."
Enberg and Collins soon became one of TV sports' most recognizable couples, with Enberg's "Oh my" trademark line combining with Collins' colorful pants and personality to make "Breakfast at Wimbledon" destination viewing.
Enberg reflected on his friend before broadcasting a San Diego Padres spring training baseball game Friday night, hours after learning of Collins' death. Collins' wife, Anita Ruthling Klaussen, said in a telephone interview that Collins died Friday at home in Brookline, Massachusetts, after suffering from Parkinson's disease and dementia.
"In my lifetime, which covers the start of television and goes back to radio, there are only two people nationally, sports voices, that dominated their sport for six decades: Don Dunphy in boxing and Bud Collins in tennis," the 81-year-old Enberg said. "His passion for tennis was very real. He wrote the encyclopedia. He was the walking encyclopedia of tennis."
Enberg told stories of Collins leading him by hand through shortcuts around the Wimbledon grounds, and of Collins' whipping through the Sunday New York Times' crossword with ease. Enberg remembers Collins for his humor, for his desire "to be Italian," and for his love of life and his kindness
"He was as colorful as his trousers, which were his signature. And yet it was really misleading to the average fan," Enberg said. "That was his MO for television. In person, he was the quietest guy in the room. He laughed the most at somebody else's comment. He always had a smilie and never dominated the conversation."
Enberg last talked to Collins about a year ago. He said Collins' wife sent him a note around Christmas saying Collins was struggling physically with vascular issues and mentally with dementia.
"He was the first one to be sent over from the States to cover Wimbledon," Enberg said. "I think if you went to anyone who ever covered Wimbledon, I'll bet you they have a Bud Collins story that's much like mine.
"It's a nice legacy to leave for all of this, to give back and share. He was more than generous."