Mike Keith's most famous moment as "Voice of the Titans" may always be his call of the Music City Miracle, Tennessee's unlikely playoff victory over Buffalo at the conclusion of the 1999 NFL season.
But as the veteran sportscaster addressed Junior Achievement's Spirit of Achievement Luncheon on Wednesday at the Chattanooga Convention Center, it became clear the miracle of encouragement at a young age is what first led the former Chattanooga resident to pursue his dreams.
"My parents, my teachers, everyone could have said you need to not dream so big, you need a fallback plan," said Keith, who lived in Chattanooga from winter 1974 through most of 1977, attending both East Brainerd Elementary and Westview Elementary.
"And broadcasting can be a tough job. The pay's not high and the hours aren't good when you start out. But my parents always encouraged me. And my teacher at East Brainerd, Barbara Scott, let me broadcast news stories to the class the way a radio person would. All these people let me chase my dreams. When I transferred to Westview, and every book report I did was about sports, someone asked, 'Don't you read anything else?' I said, 'This is all I need. What else is there?'"
Introduced to Chattanooga in 1960, Junior Achievement's mission is to help young people throughout southeast Tennessee know there are plenty of wise and caring adults out there to help guide them toward the career paths of their dreams. Maybe they won't all become as successful as Keith — who made that Miracle call at the age of 32 — but they might avoid becoming the overconfident professional he now believes he was as he exited college at the University of Tennessee at the start of his professional career.
"When I was 22 or 23, I thought I knew everything," he told the crowd of several hundred. "Sometimes this makes you less than likable. Some would say obnoxious."
But after first getting into broadcasting as a high school junior — "I wasn't getting paid anything" — he soon was working every weekend on the University of Tennessee football network, interviewing Peyton Manning in the locker room after every game.
"I'd hand him a (statistics) book right before we'd go on the air," Keith said. "No matter how well he'd done, Peyton always wanted to talk about the team, such as how they'd done on third down, or how well they ran the ball. It was always 'we,' never about Peyton."
If Wednesday was as much about Junior Achievement as Keith, his presence certainly showed how much of Chattanooga remains in him from his days of growing up in Ooltewah's Yorktown Woods subdivision, where he kept a scorebook on University of Tennessee basketball games while laying on the den floor as he listened to the voice of the Vols at that time, the legendary John Ward.
Not surprisingly, a note from Ward a few days after the Music City Miracle ranks near the top of Keith's keepsakes from a career that spans more than 30 years.
"I'd written him right after the game to tell him how much he'd meant to my career," Keith said. "He wrote me back, telling me that as proud of me as he was on the Miracle call, he might have been more proud of me for how I'd handled Buffalo kicking a field goal to take the lead with 16 seconds to go. He said that was being a true professional."
So how does he want this most professional of broadcasting careers to be ultimately remembered?
"I want to say, '(Titans quarterback) Marcus Mariota takes a knee and the Titans win the Super Bowl," Keith said. "That's the call I want to be remembered for."
If so, the elementary school teachers at East Brainerd and Westview will be able to feel proud they had a hand in that call happening.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.