*** Guest Writer: Joe Saponara Returns For Another Appearance ***
Last week I wrote my Chris Berman tribute very quickly. There was no rough draft. I didn’t have notes. It was from the heart, and also pretty much the top of my head. I mentioned a couple of announcers who retired last year. Unfortunately I forgot one of my favorites who stepped away months ago. Brent Musburger was a great broadcaster. Ironically I saw Chris Berman’s interview with Dan Patrick and realized my mistake. Chris wanted to be Brent about 40 years ago. I will not go over his entire list of broadcasting accomplishments because it would take too long, but I’ll hit on some key parts of Brent’s career.
Musburger hosted The NFL Today on CBS for years. He came on before Sunday’s football games kicked off. Brent would often let viewers know that the field shot was current by telling them, “You are looking live…”, and this was so they knew the present conditions before calling in their bets. Although that was a studio gig, Musburger also called many big sporting events. He announced one of the best basketball games ever in 1976. Boston won at home against Phoenix in a triple overtime thriller during the NBA Finals. In fact, some have called it the greatest game ever played. I was not born yet, but have seen it replayed throughout the years. After ESPN acquired the rights to NBA games in 2002 Brent called some games with Bill Walton, who is my favorite analyst. Musburger had been fired from CBS in 1990 following a management change. Greg Gumbel, Jack Buck, and Jim Nantz all took part of Brent’s workload. He joined ESPN and ABC. In 2017, Chris Berman’s assignments have been divided up between Sam Ponder, Trey Wingo, and Suzy Kolber.
I’m not sure if this is an amazing coincidence or if the blueprint was intentionally used. I grew up watching Brent call games in a very unique way. He would openly speak about how Florida State was favored by three touchdowns. Some announcers like Al Michaels would be a little more subtle when making gambling references. Another of my favorite combinations involved Brent and Dick Vitale. The pair called a triple overtime win for Kansas last year when the Jayhawks played a 1 vs. 2 game against Oklahoma. I can recall a gambling reference or two that night. In an interview Brent said that he wagered on a Lakers game many years ago. He talked about Johnny Neumann, who left the team in 1977. Brent spoke about how that wager influenced his call of the game, and he never bet on one of his assignments after that.
I think one of the main reasons I forgot to mention Brent is how his job changed over the years. Basically, he was demoted. Despite being generally regarded as the best and a fan favorite, he was taken off ABC’s number one college football announce team and called games in relative obscurity for the SEC Network. This might have been due to his salary or age. Maybe both. Also, the network wanted to make sure that Chris Fowler did not leave for another job. Occasionally circumstances allowed for Brent to call a top game like Alabama against Auburn. Social media would light up. There were all sorts of tweets, blogs, and columns celebrating the return of big game Brent. Musburger retired to help his family start a sports handicapping business in Las Vegas. His last game for ESPN was a Kentucky basketball game in January. Fittingly, it went into overtime. At the conclusion, Brent invited viewers to come out and “share a cold one” with him at his new place in Las Vegas. Perhaps one day I’ll join him for a soda.