A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from May 26, 2013
“Great players aren’t always great; they’re just great when they have to be”

"Great players aren’t always great; they’re just great when they have to be” is a popular sports adage. The saying is usually credited to John Facenda (1913-1984), a narrator for NFL Films.

According to the October 2012 post below, the saying can be found on Highlights of Super Bowl XXIII [San Francisco 49ers - Cincinnati Bengals] (1989), produced by NFL FIlms. San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana was durecting the game-winning drive at the end of the game and the announcer (not Facenda—who died in 1984—for this film) said, “Great players aren’t great all the time. They’re only great when they have to be.”

The line is sometimes given as “Great teams aren’t great all the time; they’re just great when they have to be,” with “great teams” replacing “great players.”


Wikipedia: John Facenda
John Thomas Ralph Augustine James Facenda (August 8, 1913 – September 26, 1984) was an American broadcaster and sports announcer. He was a fixture on Philadelphia radio and television for decades, and achieved national fame as a narrator for NFL Films and Football Follies. Through his work with NFL Films, Facenda was known by many National Football League fans as “The Voice of God.”

OCLC WorldCat record
Highlights of Super Bowl XXIII : [San Francisco 49ers - Cincinnati Bengals] ; also featuring the 1988-1989 Gillette/NFL MVP.
Author: Jeff Kaye; Steve Sabol; NFL Films, inc.; NFL Films Video (Firm)
Publisher: Los Angeles, CA : NFL Films Video : Distributed by Media Home Entertainment, 1989.
Edition/Format:  VHS video : VHS tape Visual material : English

21 September 1996, Atlanta (GA) Journal-Constitution, “Braves Report: Weary Braves lose aura of inevitability” by Mark Bradley, pg. G7:
A line from an old Super Bowl video stays with me, the majestically voiced John Facenda intoning: “Great teams aren’t great all the time; they’re just great when they have to be.”

26 December 2002, Altoona (PA) Mirror, “Steelers have risen to challenges” by Buck Frank, pg. B1, col. 1:
The late John Facenda, the voice of NFL Films, once said, “Great teams aren’t always great. They’re just great when they have to be.”

Google Groups: alt.sports.football.pro.pitt-steelers
Swann overrated?
vince morabito
7/5/03
Great players aren’t necessarily great all the time...they are great when they have to be.  Nobody epitomized that more than Swann.

5 September 2004, Wilkes Barre (PA) Times Leader , “A quiet lion lets his deed roar for him,” pg. 4C:
But like the saying goes: “Great players aren’t always great. They’re just great when they have to be.”

Broncos Forums (Denver Broncos
admin
11-09-2009, 09:40 PM
Andrew_Mason: “Great teams aren’t always great. They’re just great when they have to be.”—John Facenda

Williamsport (PA) Sun-Gazette
Records really didn’t matter with Williamsport, Loyalsock
January 11, 2010
By CHRIS MASSE
(...)
Antoine Ellision-Love, Loyalsock: I am a NFL Films junkie and one of my favorite sayings from Super Bowl highlight shows is “great players aren’t always great, they are only great when they have to be.” Ellison-Love proved that Saturday, shaking off a 2-for-12 shooting performance and hitting two huge shots in the last 21 seconds.

Woodlands Online (TX)
Lobos Defeat Highlanders in Overtime
by Todd Hveem
Mar 02, 2010
CYPRESS, Texas—Great players are not always great, they are only great when they have to be. Langham Creek’s MacKey McKnight was great on Monday night at the Berry Center. And he had to be.

Broad Street Buzz (Philadelphia Flyers)
Flyers Looking to Break Streak
Jun 6th, 2010 at 2:13 pm by Eugene Markman
(...)
“Great players aren’t always great, only when they have to be.”
- Wayne Gretzky

Football Nation
2012 NFL Power Rankings: Top 100 QBs Since the Merger (20-1)
By Justin Henry
July 27, 2012 8:36 am
(...)
It was John Facenda who declared in his soothing French horn of a voice, “Great players aren’t always great; they’re just great when they have to be.”

GamecockCentral.com
October 29, 2012
David Cloninger
GamecockCentral.com Staff Writer
NO. 17 SOUTH CAROLINA 38, TENNESSEE 35
THE GOOD
JD: You guys watch NFL Films? I love ‘em. One of my favorites is when the narrator is describing Joe Montana’s last drive of Super Bowl XXIII and he says, “Great players aren’t great all the time. They’re only great when they have to be.”

The Pens Blog (Pittsburgh Penguins)
RECAP: GAME SIX. Back in the New York Groove. PENS ADVANCE.
Posted by TPB Staff on Sun, May 12, 2013 11:24am.
(...)
No excuse for sure, but the old saying rings true: Great players aren’t always great; they’re just great when they have to be.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CitySports/Games • Sunday, May 26, 2013 • Permalink