*** Guest Writer – The Debut of LordTreeSap’s Cousin Joe Saponara aka JBD***
Chris Berman will be changing roles at ESPN. He will continue to do certain things, such as calling playoff baseball on ESPN Radio. Berman will also be hosting highlights following the Super Bowl and NFL Conference Championship games. Perhaps the change is at least in part to the network reducing payroll. I will miss him doing weekly highlights, and his football predictions have been a staple for decades. After so many years of Berman being a regular part of my football traditions it is almost impossible to imagine the future without him. Players from my youth retired. Wrestlers I grew up watching passed away. Now sportscasters are moving on. Last year Vin Scully and Dick Enberg retired. Other legends like Al Michaels and Marv Albert are over 70 years old, and undoubtedly approaching the finish line. Mike Francesa is months away from leaving WFAN after 30 years. Even Bob Costas is 65! I think of him and Michael J. Fox as guys who were about 35 and looked 20.
Forgive me. I got distracted. Back to Berman. At first I selfishly wanted him to continue doing basically the same things for my benefit. I watched him repeatedly predict Buffalo against San Francisco in the Super Bowl. One of them made it for seven straight years, but never both. Similar to what would happen years later with Kobe and LeBron. The last time an NBA Finals did not have either player was 2006, but we didn’t ever get Kobe against LeBron in a series. Berman loved both football teams, but also many others. Maybe I saw a little bit of myself in him. I even spent years getting paid to watch sports. He just loved the games. Chris grew up going to see the Jets, but regular viewers knew he had a soft spot for the Bucs and Chargers. He was loyal to certain coaches. Berman just struck me as Mr. NFL. I never met him, but it felt like we knew each other. Chris often worked music into his “Swami” segments. Fans who were younger than Chris learned about older songs through his commentary, and I think that is what he wanted.
When Glenn Frey passed away I immediately thought about Berman, who had spoken of and with Frey over the years. Chris was extremely upset during the taping just after his death. One day Chris and some older ESPN workers reunited to host a SportsCenter, and “The Boys Are Back in Town” played as a commercial promoted their return. I always think of him if that song is on the radio. Each year he would bring out a Rod Stewart album and say that it’s late September, which was mentioned in a 1971 song. Last year in his final full season he spoke about how he’d take it to the limit one more time. That’s an Eagles reference. You get the point.
Last month Berman’s wife Kathy was killed in a car accident. Chris was watching his beloved San Francisco Giants play in New York against the Mets when that shocking news came by phone. Sundays were already expected to be a challenge. Chris admitted that as the games are going on this year he would probably feel a number of emotions, including anger. This was before his wife’s terrible accident. I wish he was working often to at least keep his mind off the tragedy. ESPN has probably already made final arrangements to distribute all of the work that previously belonged to him. I know they made some decisions. His prediction segment likely will not have a replacement. Maybe somehow Chris could do a little more than originally planned, if he wants to. So much for a peaceful semi-retirement including spending time with his wife in Hawaii.
It is no longer about me feeling cheated or missing his work. I would just like his Sundays to be filled with some positive distraction. A week before the accident that killed his wife, Chris spoke about covering the 1999 U.S. Open and how Payne Stewart died less than six months later. He said that it makes you not take every day for granted. I enjoyed watching a recent special on Berman’s career. Hopefully it will continue in some form for many years to come. Otherwise, the memories will continue to be a soundtrack for my life.