Born on May 25, 1919, in Campbellsville, Tennessee, Nelson broke into broadcasting in 1948 following a short career as a reporter in Columbia, Tennessee for the Columbia Daily Herald newspaper, and a stint in the U.S. Army as a war correspondent and public relations during World War II. He was the first play-by-play announcer for the "Vol Network" which was set up to broadcast the games of the University of Tennessee.
"Mr. New Years Day" Nelson subsequently did the play-by-play of the Cotton Bowl Classic for 25 seasons on CBS television, where he earned widespread recognition for his deep Southern drawl and signature opening greeting: "Happy New Year - This is Lindsey Nelson in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas." For 13 years he was the syndicated television voice of Notre Dame Fighting Irish football, and he called the Mutual Broadcasting System's Monday night radio broadcasts of NFL games from 1974 to 1977. Nelson also called NFL games for CBS television for many years.
Nelson began his national baseball broadcast career as one of Gordon McLendon's radio announcers for the Liberty Broadcasting System, which primarily did re-creations of games. After a stretch as an administrator with NBC Sports, he began doing the network's baseball broadcasts in . Nelson also broadcast college football, NBA basketball, and professional golf and tennis during his NBC tenure.
New York Mets
In , Nelson was hired by the Mets, and for the next 17 seasons did both radio and television with Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy. All three men were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. When Chicago White Sox pitcher and former Mets ace Tom Seaver went for his 300th victory in August 1985, against the host New York Yankees, Yankees TV flagship WPIX had Nelson call the final half-inning of Seaver's history-making win. Nelson was also part of the NBC broadcast team that called Mets winning the 1969 World Series, though it was Curt Gowdy that called the final out.
San Francisco Giants
In , Nelson moved on to the San Francisco Giants, for whom he worked three seasons. He also worked with CBS Radio broadcasts of Major League Baseball in . Nelson is remembered for being the announcer during the first NFL game, on CBS, to feature the use of "instant replay", which he had to explain repeatedly during the game, reminding viewers that "this is not live."
Fashion sense and style
Television broadcasts featuring Nelson were notable for his "loud" psychedelic-colored or multi-colored plaid sports jackets. He reportedly owned 335 of them at one time. During a broadcast, his jackets often clashed with the set and produced a scintillation effect in the broadcast image, when broadcast using the inadequate television technology of the era.
Nelson's honors include induction into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in Salisbury, North Carolina in 1979; induction into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in ; induction into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in 1986; the Tuss McLaughry Service Award for sports broadcasting in 1988; the Ford C. Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988; the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990; and an Emmy Award for Life Achievement in 1991.
The Tennessee Volunteers baseball team's home field, Lindsey Nelson Stadium, carries his name.
Retirement and death
After his retirement from active broadcasting he moved to Knoxville, Tennessee to an apartment across the Tennessee River from the University of Tennessee campus from which he had a view of Neyland Stadium, the Volunteers' home field, and wrote an autobiographical memoir.
Nelson died of Parkinson's disease on June 10, 1995, in Atlanta, Georgia.