Day Three of my protest against useless pre-Super Bowl coverage wages on but today’s subject takes on a tinge of sentimentality.
The 2016-2017 sports year has seemed abnormally difficult. Obituaries and retirements of some of the greatest to ever do it, be they athlete, coach or broadcaster, seemed to abound. As a product of a younger generation, many of these names are ones that I recognize but, honestly, have little reverence for.
Not because I am a self-important Millennial (though, I am) and not because I live a life that is shrouded in ignorance (though, I do) but, rather, I simply was not around when these legends were at the height of their powers. But, there are some whose sustained greatness transcend the age gap and, after last night’s overtime game between Georgia and Kentucky at Rupp Arena, yet another one of those legends removed himself from the public eye.
I am not old enough to remember the greatest works of Brent Musburger. The revolutionary “NFL Today” show, the 1985 NCAA basketball tournament final between Georgetown & Villanova and Doug Flutie’s “Hail Mary” to give Boston College one of the most memorable wins in college football history all precede me. 50 years in broadcasting is an eternity but Musburger’s voice is the featured track on many of our favorite memories in sports, regardless of age.
No moment was ever too small and no small moment ever felt bigger than when you heard his iconic “You are looking live…” Almost as impressive as his aura was his sheer ability. What sets the play-by-play greats apart from everyone else is the ability to do every sport. The versatility to cover everything from NASCAR and college basketball to football and the Little League World Series is one of the most understated qualities of Musburger, if such a thing actually exists.
After 50 years in one industry and at the age of 77, to still have your fastball is a rare enough thing.
Calling the games in this television era “has become more and more numbers driven, advanced statistics and everything,” Musburger told the New York Times. “That’s fine. I was never going to change because I’m a people guy. I like pulling up a chair in a saloon with a cold beer and telling stories.”
That comfortable feeling endeared Brent to us in a way that only the best broadcasters can accomplish.
Occasionally, Musburger’s newspaper beginnings made an appearance in his broadcast and he would espouse his perspective on certain issues. This drew criticism, some warranted and some hyperbolic, from those who prefer that the opinions of a play-by-play man not taint the views of the audience. As recently as last month’s Sugar Bowl, many called for ESPN to force Musburger out after he made dated comments about the Oklahoma football player Joe Mixon.
Mixon had been suspended for a year after punching a woman and breaking her jaw. Musburger genuinely wished Mixon luck but made no mention of the well-being of Mixon’s victim.
“Not everyone approved of everything I said,” he told the Times. “I understand that. I come from a sportswriting background, and I’m not afraid to take a position on certain things from time to time. But for the most part, I thought people should be coming to a game to escape for three hours and forget about what their individual problems are.”
I am in the camp that believes the role of a sportscaster should be to remain neutral, but it is asinine to argue that Musburger has not earned the right to share his thoughts on whatever subject he chooses.
In a move ESPN should forever be ashamed of, he had been relegated to the SEC Network in recent years. Limiting Musburger’s opportunities to reach a national audience was totally inappropriate, given Brent’s illustrious reputation. But it always brought us joy to tune in and find him there waiting for us like some long-lost friend.
All of this sounds far too much like the public eulogizing of Brent Musburger. Brent’s not dying; he is setting up shop in Las Vegas.
After years of not-so-subtly mentioning the point spread on the call, Brent will begin a joint venture with his family in a sports handicapping business. His decision to retire amidst the college basketball season is influenced by his family’s reported desire to have their site up and running in time for March Madness. By stepping away now, Musburger leaves on his own terms and prevents the conflict presented by an ESPN employee, who is tied to a gambling operation, calling the games.
So, without letting this devolve into cliches, thank you, Brent. Thank you for all the joy you have brought into our homes, for your professionalism, and for your indefatigable passion. And, though I doubt you need reminding, always remember to keep your fridge stocked.
You’ll need plenty of cold beer out there with your “friends in the desert.”