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Critics come and go, yet Brent Musburger stays. He's still on the air. Still telling us we are looking live at some corporate-sponsored pasture. Still kicking it, old-school, seemingly every week, at some State U or NBA arena, hyping the game like a Caucasian Don King. Fine by me. Perfect, in fact. Do not retire. That is what I am demanding of Musburger, who turned 65 on May 26 and this month called the NBA Finals for ESPN Radio.
Apparently there is no need for me to worry. "They're going to have to carry Brent out in a pine box," says his brother Todd, who doubles as his agent.
There is an old Montana proverb the Musburger men like to cite. It offers that if you sit by the river long enough, your enemies will float by. Well, take me to the River Musburger. The man is a survivor, and I come bearing admiration for his longevity. You want a create an entertaining new sports network? Here is what I propose: Musburger Television. A 24-hour network dedicated to all things Brent. We'll have him host our morning program (Good Morning Musburger) and call games in the evening. The afternoon will feature argument-style shows patterned after the ones currently all over TV. Pardon the Musburger. Around the Musburger. The Best Damn Musburger, Period. Everything else would fall under the header of Classic Musburger and would feature the thousands of events he has called, from The Flutie Game to The Final Four to the Little League World Series. Every now and then -- just to spice up the ratings -- we'll have new shows: Survivor: Musburger will pit Brent on an island against a team of ESPN's blow-dried anchors. On The Musburger Apprentice, we'll see how long Brent can work with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith before firing him.
Television is a fickle business. Last month Jim Nantz had the best hair on the set of The NFL Today. Now he's flipped spots with Greg Gumbel and will move into the booth with Phil Simms. Things change. On the eve of Musburger calling the 1990 NCAA title game between Duke and UNLV, CBS announced it would not renew his contact. That's TV-speak for getting fired. At the time he was 50, a dinosaur in the Logan's Run world of sports broadcasting. But the man quickly found a second home on ABC. A thousand Big Fellas later -- after also getting whacked from the halftime gig of Monday Night Football and losing some other high-profile jobs -- he'll be back later this summer at the Little League World Series and calling marquee college football games in the fall.
This is good news for me. But not, apparently, for some of my colleagues.
"I listened to [Musburger] on the radio for 24 seconds during the NBA Finals," said one. "It was 24 seconds too many."
"I hit the mute on the TV when he's doing a Wolverines game," said another, a Class of '93 Michigan grad.
Music to my ears. First, any senior citizen who can get a rise out of younger people deserves respect and awe. Does he hype games shamelessly? No doubt. But name me more than a half-dozen broadcasters who don't act as if the game he or she is covering is the most important event since the invasion of Normandy.
Does Musburger mangle the occasional name? Sure. So does everyone else not named Vin Scully. But few have been as high up the sports television mountain as Musburger once was and continued to work as enthusiastically as ever after getting knocked down time and again. "He's been idolized, he's been villainized and now he's immunized," says Todd Musburger.
So the critics come and go and Musburger stays. Good for him. Still on the air. Still kicking it, old-school. Still sitting by the river, looking for another game to call.
60 SECONDS WITH ... Joe Buck
Joe Buck is an Emmy Award-winning football and baseball announcer for Fox Sports.
SI.com: What's the one event you wish you could cover that currently airs on another network?
Buck: I would like to do Monday Night Football. It combines prime-time viewers with a kind of an entertainment-feel to a football game -- which is what I try to do sometimes successfully (and most of the time unsuccessfully) on Sundays.
SI.com: Your greatest on-air achievement thus far?
Buck: Acting like I knew what I was doing in 1994 when I did my first NFL game as Fox Sports came on the air for the first time.
SI.com: If you did not have the option of being a sportscaster, what would you have likely become?
Buck: I think I probably would have been intrigued by some sort of public speaking [career] and/or being a lawyer. Something that allowed me to think on my feet and present something in a clever way.
SI.com: If you were starting a network, who is the one broadcaster you would go all out to get?
Buck:Cris Collinsworth. He's as about as good a TV person as I've ever worked with, and good enough to do my job as well as his own as well.
SI.com: What talent would you most like to have?
Buck: I'd like to be able to tie the stem of a cherry into a knot without using my hands. It would make me more that much more exciting at parties.
SI.com: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Buck: Borderline pitch. It's something that I say, and every time I do, I cringe. But I can't come up with anything better on the spot because I'm a moron.
Two programs you'll be talking about around the cooler come Monday:
June 27, 7 p.m., NBCU.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials, Women's final
Before Mary Lou Retton and Kerri Strug vaulted into our hearts, they first had to make the U.S. Olympic team. The U.S. women are favorites to take gold in Athens and Sunday's competition figures to be dominated by the C-Team (Courtney Kupets, Carly Patterson and the outstandingly named Courtney McCool). The top two women finishers at the trials essentially make the team, though the real drama will come later when an additional four athletes will be chosen by a selection committee. "It's a possibility that one of the country's top gymnasts could be left out because our goal is to build the best team score we can," Bob Colarossi, the USA Gymnastics president, told the New York Times. "Now we're choosing our team like you'd choose a baseball team or a soccer team or a basketball team. So yes, some dreams may be crushed, but there's nothing we can do about that. It's just the way life is." Ah, dreams crushed and lives ruined. It must be the Olympic season.
June 26, 1 p.m., FoxMets at Yankees
The Subway Series may have little appeal outside of New York and the Fox Sports programming department but there's a human interest story that Yanquis of all addresses can enjoy. Today's game marks the first start for New York pitcher Jose Contreas since being reunited with his wife Miriam and daughters Naylan, 11, and Naylenis, 3, who defected to the United States from Cuba on Monday. Contreras' wife and daughters were among 21 people who left Cuba on a tiny speedboat bound for Florida (and Barry Bonds thinks his life is tough). Normally, we'd expect Hollywood to come calling except for one thing: They usually don't make films about pitchers with a 6.18 ERA.