Sometimes in sports, people associate certain voices with teams, tournaments or places. For so many years, Vin Scully was the voice of the Dodgers, Jim Nantz is the voice of the NCAA Final Four, and you could argue that Dean Darling is the voice of the Hudson Valley.
For over 40 years, Darling has been in the sports broadcasting business spending 42 years with Army Football as a color commentator and 39 years as the play-by-play voice calling Marist College men’s basketball games. From his perch in the booth, he’s seen the comings and goings of players, coaches, and other broadcasters in the Hudson Valley while carving out a distinguished career of his own.
Darling’s broadcasting career happened almost by accident. It all started when he was a junior at Arlington High School — 20 minutes from Marist College — and one day in the middle of English class he got called down to the principal’s office. Was he in trouble? Luckily that wasn’t the case, instead the vice principal said to him, “Mr. Darling, I understand that you know a lot of the players on the [JV team] and maybe you could help us out.”
The next week, perhaps a bit by chance, Darling found himself commentating the end of the Arlington JV game. Maybe he didn’t know it yet, but a career was born as he went on to call varsity games for the rest of his time at Arlington.
After graduating from high school, Darling went to college at Fredonia in Buffalo and became a DJ at K104 the local radio station. He worked as a DJ for the sole purpose of wanting to get involved in the industry, even if it wasn’t related to sports.
Two years after graduating college, Darling was given an opportunity that changed his life forever. In 1978, he was offered the job to be the radio color commentator for Army Football.
At first, he turned them down because he considered himself a play-by-play guy and wasn’t interested in doing color for football, partially because he had never done it. He had been doing play-by-play for Army men’s basketball on the radio. Darling got that job after a year as a DJ at K104, and before he got on the air he was also engineering the games, working in the studio putting in commercial breaks.
Darling turned down the job again, but a threat to take away his play-by-play job finally made him accept a position he’s held down ever since.
Calling Army football games is something that Darling cherishes. “I would say you get a spirit of loyalty when you do those games,” said Darling. “I’ve been doing them for 42 years and before the kickoff of every Army-Navy game I get that chill going up to my spine.”
Prior to his journey with Army Football, he was calling Army men’s basketball games, and the coach of that team was none other than Mike Krzyzewski. Before the man known as “Coach K” embarked on a legendary 42-year reign at Duke University, he was the head man at Army for five years.
“When Mike Krzyzewski left Army he would write a letter at the end of every season to me, and I kept those letters,” said Darling. “He said, my players appreciate your worth and work ethic, and you are always gonna be a valuable part of the team, so when he was leaving he said to me ‘if you ever need anything, you make sure you get in touch with me,’” said Darling.
The next year, Darling had a shot at the play-by-play jobs at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida for men’s basketball. Krzyzewski wrote him a “beautiful letter” of recommendation, but Darling ultimately ended up at the McCann Center calling basketball.
The beginning of Darling’s time at Marist coincided with the days where Rik Smits carried the Red Foxes to glory helping them capture the 1986 ECAC Metro Men’s basketball title.
“Probably the greatest thrill I ever had as a broadcaster doing Marist was we got to host the championship game [which] was in [the] town center, back in 86-87,” said Darling describing that game. “They beat Fairleigh Dickinson University in a great game, 3,900 people going nuts at the McCann Center.”
During his time in Poughkeepsie, Smits was initially shy and hesitant to talk, but the two eventually formed a good relationship that was formed off an agreement.
In the summer of 1985, he came to Darling asking him if he could give him VHS tapes to send to his family back in Holland. Darling said no, but told Smits that he would say yes if he agreed to do interviews whenever he was asked to next season. The two reached an agreement and Smits did interviews with Darling every time he was asked to the next season.
Over the years, Darling has been fortunate to work with some very talented individuals, but one, in particular, stands out greater than the others. That man is the legendary Mike Breen who is currently the lead announcer for the NBA on ABC and for the New York Knicks on MSG Network. Before Breen was known for those roles and his signature call “BANG!” He started off as a color commentator working alongside Darling calling Marist men’s basketball games.
From 1985-91 Darling and Breen were a dynamic duo behind the mic for Marist men’s basketball. To this day, the old duo still has a good relationship, which is evident from the fact that Breen still talks glowingly about Darling.
In February, Breen did an interview with Center Field, and had this to say about Darling: “He just had a great way of knowing when to talk and knowing when to let the pictures tell the story,” said Breen. “He had a great way of knowing how to build chemistry between the play-by-play and the color analyst.”
Breen is not the only person who has worked with Darling that will vouch for him, and hold him in high esteem. His current partner for Marist men’s basketball games is Steve Eggink, who has been with Darling since 2004. Eggink has a relationship with Darling that dates all the way back to the mid-1980s when Eggink himself was a member of the Marist men’s basketball team.
“A consummate professional,” Eggink said of Darling. “He’s always very, very well prepared and that’s first and foremost as a broadcaster, in broadcasting, if you’re not prepared to do your work, each and every game, your career is going to be short-lived. You have to be well prepared and Dean is always prepared to the nth degree.”
Darling and Eggink have worked together for 18 years, and over the course of that time, their job working alongside each other has developed into a genuine friendship. “It’s nice to work with a friend that you genuinely get along with and enjoy spending time with,” said Eggink. “I just love basketball, it’s been such a big part of my life, and when you share games with someone who has the passion about basketball, that’s very refreshing.”
Geoff Brault has been doing play-by-play for Marist College athletics since he was a student at the school starting in 2007. He met Darling when he was a student and has been friends with him ever since. Although they have never worked together, primarily because they have the same job as play-by-play announcers.
“I think the most important thing to get across is that as good as Dean is as a broadcaster, I think his career speaks for itself,” said Brault. “He’s a better human being, he’s a better person, and you don’t always get that in the broadcast business because there’s a lot of ego.”
At 68 years old, Darling admits there are times when he contemplates and thinks about retirement, even though he tries not to think about it. He believes that when his two children start to have families of their own, that will be his time to hang it up and pass the baton to someone else.
“I’m still an eager beaver when it comes to doing the games,” Darling said. “It’s something that I really look forward to and it’s a grind from mid-July until early March. Sometimes I wonder, ‘how did I do it? How did I be a dad? How did I do football, basketball, sell advertising on TV for 38 years?’ And I was like, how did I do that?”
“I said I’m gonna retire when I do the perfect game; that’s never gonna happen,” Darling concluded. When the time comes for Darling to pass the mic over to someone else, that person will have some huge shoes to fill.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane and Ricardo Martinez
Photo from Dean Darling