During his 38-year career as “The Voice of the Utes,” Bill Marcroft, who passed away Sunday morning, entertained and influenced generations of Utah fans.
But his influence, and his legacy, extended far beyond the games.
As a high school athlete from Springville, Wesley Ruff first met Marcroft when he drove to the KUTV studios to accept the Player of the Year award in 1976 from Marcroft on television.
Later, as a BYU student, Ruff, an international relations major, was watching Marcroft’s sportscast one night and it dawned on him that this was Marcroft’s full-time job.
“I swear I thought that people on TV had real jobs during the day and would go in at night and do that for fun. I would have done that for fun,” recalled Ruff, who is now the KTVX sports director. “I thought, ‘Wait, if that’s his job, you’d have to major in that.’”
“For a kid growing up, watching someone like him, then getting a job in the business, seeing him at Jazz playoff games or Utah football games or Utah gymnastics, it was an honor and thrill for me to hang out with him.” — Wesley Ruff, on Bill Marcroft
The very next day, Ruff changed his major to broadcasting.
“That was from watching Bill,” he said. “He’s the reason I got started in the business.”
Later, Ruff competed against Marcroft while covering various sporting events involving teams from around the state.
“For a kid growing up, watching someone like him, then getting a job in the business, seeing him at Jazz playoff games or Utah football games or Utah gymnastics, it was an honor and thrill for me to hang out with him,” he said.
Marcroft began work on Utah’s men’s basketball broadcasts on KALL Radio in December 1966.
While Marcroft stopped doing television work in the late 1990s, he continued broadcasting Ute games on the radio until his retirement in 2004. His final play-by-play duty was the 2005 Fiesta Bowl win over Pittsburgh as the Utes posted an undefeated season.
“He went out on top,” Ruff said.
There are generations of sports fans, particularly Utah fans, whose memories are accompanied by the soundtrack of Marcroft’s voice.
“Utah had some rough years during his career,” Ruff said. “It was the optimist in him. ‘Utah by Five!”
A 1952 University of Utah graduate, Marcroft called 440 Utah football games and 1,088 men’s basketball games, including the 1998 NCAA basketball championship game.
The home radio broadcast booth at Rice-Eccles Stadium is named the Bill Marcroft Radio Booth in his honor. Marcroft also called Utah’s gymnastics meets on television for years on KUTV and KJZZ.
“So sad to hear the news of my good friend Bill Marcroft’s passing,” Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham wrote on his Twitter account Sunday. “He was an icon of Utah Athletics for so many years and leaves an incredible legacy behind. Sending love to his family. He will be greatly missed.”
Marcroft joined the Air Force after graduating from the U. with a degree in theater in 1952 and got a job with Armed Forces radio and television in Tripoli, Libya. There, he called his first sporting event, the Air Force Championship, which was a football game played by military athletes.
After his military service, Marcroft began his career locally at Salt Lake City’s ABC affiliate, reporting on news, weather and sports. He then took a position at KUTV as the station’s first weatherman. He also did play-by-play coverage for delayed broadcasts of local high school football and basketball games during the mid-1960s.
Marcroft’s first broadcast was as color commentator and eventually he moved to play-by-play duties. His first game as play-by-play voice for men’s basketball was Dec. 1, 1969, the first game played in the Jon M. Huntsman Center, then known as the Sports and Special Events Center.
Marcroft received the University of Utah’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2005 at the U.’s Founder’s Day, and the Distinguished Service Award in 2014 from the Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation.
Utah athletic director Mark Harlan posted on Twitter: “Feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to visit with Bill on occasion, at a Utah event( he LOVED the Red Rocks) or at a charity function, where he never said no to being the MC. He was so kind, and just loved Utah Athletics. My best to his family during this difficult time.”
“Utah Legend and Voice of the Utes for 38 years,” posted the official Utah Football account. “We are broken hearted to hear of his passing.”
While Marcroft was the Voice of the Utes, Paul James, a sportscaster on KSL-TV and radio, was the Voice of the Cougars.
“For people like me, that are my age, he’s the voice of that generation. He and Paul James. You were either a Utah guy and listened to Marcroft or you’re a BYU guy and watched Channel 5 and listened to Paul James,” Ruff said. “Bill was there through (coaches) Jack Gardner, Jerry Pimm, Rick Majerus. He motivated (former Utah gymnastics coach) Greg Marsden to get the program to where it was before he started to cover them. He helped a lot of people along the way.”
One of those people he helped was Ruff, who, as a BYU student, wrote a letter to Marcroft, seeking information and advice. Unbeknownst to Ruff, Marcroft had left on a two-week vacation so Ruff didn’t hear anything for a while. Until one day he came home from classes and his wife said, “You got a call from a Bill Marcroft.”
“He got my number and called me,” Ruff remembered. “He said if you want to come to the station and see how things work, come up.”
Ruff took him up on his invitation and that trip paid dividends.
“I know he helped others along the way, too,” Ruff said.
When Ruff was hosting the Monday Night Live, a local show that aired before Monday Night Football, he’d invite Marcroft and James to participate.
“I felt my job was to keep those two apart and moderate,” Ruff said, laughing.
“I think the last time I saw Bill in person was probably Paul’s funeral but I had talked to him several times since then,” Ruff said. “He was always great to me.”
At one point, Ruff hosted a show prior to airing Utah football games and he would invite Marcroft to regale the audience with stories.
“If Utah was playing Air Force, he’d talk about some random Utah-Air Force game from the 1980s, something he remembered,” Ruff said. “It was like ‘Marcroft’s memories.’ I wanted to keep him out front so people remember who he was and the treasure of knowledge that he had. I always thought it was important that people know about him and hear his stories. It makes me sad that I don’t think very many people in our newsroom know who Bill Marcroft is and what he meant to several generations of people.”