Hall of Fame sportscaster Jim Simpson of ESPN's early days dies

Former ESPN announcer Jim Simpson dies (1:00)

Bob Ley looks back at the career of ESPN's first play-by-play announcer, Jim Simpson, who died Wednesday morning in Scottsdale, Arizona. (1:00)

ESPN's first play-by-play announcer, Jim Simpson, died Wednesday morning in Scottsdale, Arizona, after a short illness, his family said. He was 88.

Simpson died surrounded by his family. A cause of death was not given.

He was watching the Green Bay Packers-Washington Redskins playoff game just before being admitted to the hospital over the weekend.

Simpson called the World Series, Olympics and Wimbledon for NBC and did play-by-play for Super Bowl I for NBC Radio.

He was best known for his work on AFL games for NBC when he was hired by fledgling ESPN in 1979. It was a big move, a hiring coup that brought the instant credibility of Simpson's years of experience at the highest levels to ESPN.

At ESPN, he called college football, college basketball, college baseball, the USFL and the NBA.

In a statement, ESPN founder and first president Bill Rasmussen said, "On Jim's first visit to Bristol I met him at the airport and immediately experienced his warm personality. He brought tremendous credibility to ESPN in our early days, doing whatever was needed to help build the network. Jim was a television legend."

ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale, who joined ESPN in 1979 and frequently partnered with Simpson, said in a statement, "Jim Simpson was a legend at NBC who brought a standard of excellence to ESPN that set the tone for so many to follow. I was honored he was assigned to work with me as I was just starting out. He had a tremendous influence on me and assisted me early in my career. He was special. Jim Simpson was as good as it gets."

Besides his 15 years with NBC Sports from 1964 to 1979 and then ESPN, Simpson also worked for ABC, CBS and TNT.

His television and radio credits include 16 Major League Baseball All-Star Games (1964 to '79); 14 Olympic Games -- from the 1952 Winter Games in Helsinki for CBS Radio to the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, where he covered equestrian events for NBC (including hosting the Summer Games from Tokyo for NBC in 1964); six Super Bowls and six World Series.

In addition, he covered all of the Grand Slam golf and tennis events (including 14 Wimbledon championships) and all major bowl games, including 14 Orange Bowls. He also spent 15 seasons as an AFL and NFL broadcaster (1964 to 1979).

Simpson received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Sports Emmy Awards in 1997 and was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame on May 1, 2000.