Brent Musburger Stays In Picture
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Each week SI.com's Richard Deitsch will report on newsmakers from the world of TV, radio and the Web.
There are few things that are likely to survive a nuclear war but I'm convinced Brent Musburger is one of them ("They're going to have to carry Brent out in a pine box," his brother Todd, who doubles as his agent, once told me). At the age 70, in the middle of a fifth or six American act (take that, F. Scott Fitzgerald), Musburger will be the lead play by play announcer for top-ranked Alabama against No. 2 Texas in the BCS championship on Thursday. Presuming there are no stumbles, he now sets himself up to handle the job when ESPN takes over the Bowl Championship Series package next year.
Such a high-profile gig would come 20 years after CBS announced on the eve of the 1990 NCAA title game between Duke and UNLV that it would not renew Musburger's contact. As he enters his fifth decade on the air, the broadcaster remains a polarizing figure, revered by supporters and jeered by others. SI.com caught up to Musburger this week as he prepared for the Alabama-Texas broadcast:
SI.com: Why are you still getting high-profile gigs at an age when most of your contemporaries are no longer broadcasting?
Musburger: I think as you get older, you either get better or ride off into the sunset. You try very hard to be informed on what is going on. I enjoy the homework and preparation just as much as I always did. I enjoy going to practices, the tidbits about coaches and players, and the gossip around the various games. But I think that I've learned over the years that it is not about the announcer. You go in as a group and everybody, from the cameraman to the tape operators to the producers and directors, are just as important.
I kind of liken it to being a pilot. I get to fly the plane and that's great, but if the guy watching the radar goes to sleep on me, we are going to crash the plane. It's a team effort and when that plane is on the ground, someone has to fuel it up and get it ready and those people are just as important as the pilot who takes it up and down. That is the best comparison I can make about a sportscaster.
SI.com: Are you getting better?
Musburger: Absolutely. I don't think there is any question about it. You either improve or you ride off into the sunset to enjoy your family.
SI.com: You last called a BCS Championship game on television in 2004. Where will Texas-Alabama rank for you as an assignment in recent years?
Musburger: People have asked me often what's the best game I've ever done. They expect me to say "The Flutie Game," but I always say whatever is next. I think more in terms of Texas and Alabama. I'm a sidelight. It's a pleasure to be in the booth doing the game but I'm thinking more than I have such a great seat than as part of Brent being involved in a game. I hope that makes sense. I could be just as happy doing the Orange Bowl
SI.com: But you must concede that this a very high-profile assignment for you, right?
Musburger: No question about that, and let's face it, those two teams were two of the three franchises all year that attracted championship potential. I suppose what you want to do in that situation is not intrude. It'll be great to be there so don't misunderstand me. But I don't do this in terms of what I've done or have not done through the years.
SI.com: New York Post sports media critic Phil Mushnick has long attacked you for overhyping an event in a fake manner. What is your response to that criticism, and how do you reconcile promoting a game for your network with the responsibility of being accurate about the matchup?
Musburger: First of all, it has never been fake. Let me just tell you that simply, because that is part of my job responsibility. And I have long felt that newspapers let that get away from them. But let's talk about The New York Post: What they are selling is that front page headline and that back page headline, and that also is wrapped in hype. If you are walking down the street in Manhattan and you see a catchy Post headline and many of them have been great through the years, you are going to buy that paper. I'm always kind of amused because I never saw much difference in my reminding somebody there was a doubleheader game or a Monday night game or even a network promo. That's just part of our job description and that should never get in our way.
So that stuff (criticism) just rolled off my back. I thought it was somebody who did not understand my job and should take deep pause as to what his own media does -- and they do a very good job of it I might add. I have frequently through the years picked up the Post because of the headline. To me, there is not much difference.
SI.com: Is ageism a problem in sports broadcasting and should age be a factor in getting assignments?
Musburger: I will tell you in my private moments I have thought about it and I think what it requires on my part -- and I can only speak for myself -- is to work a little harder and be a little more careful. Believe me, I have made the kind of mistakes that you are referring to. There was a running back for Alabama (Roy Upchurch) earlier this year and I misidentified him referring to another Upchurch who had played years earlier because I go back with all of these guys. Certain names stick with me, so I think you have to be a little more careful and I am mindful of that. The one thing that you have to do is stay enthusiastic about the business.
Travel is certainly a little more difficult and a little more rigorous than it was, not just because of my age but the age we live in. You have to have a great deal of patience when you travel and you have to be aware that there are a lot of things that are out of the airlines' and hotels' control. With a little bit of a sugar, you can things switched in your favor. So that becomes a factor, but I am just as interested in everything now as much as ever.
I've been blessed. I came around at the right time and got to be around all these sporting events and enjoy every minute of it. It's a life I have lived and love. People ask me all the time: Why don't you write a book? I said, I don't need a book. I'll tell you anecdotes about the people I work with over a beer and share some laughs.
SI.com: There are a lot of 20-somethings who have rediscovered you on college football. Why do you appeal to young people?
Musburger: I try to be honest and try to have fun, and the best at embracing the youngsters is Dick Vitale. He's like the Pied Piper and I suppose being with Dick rubbed off a bit. I think the kids are great. I'll go out the night before in a town and listen to the kids and learn stuff about the team I don't even know. They are the fans that drive the engine. At the end of a Kansas practice recently, I was off to the side and coach Bill Self brought his team together and later relayed this story to me. He pointed to me and said, "That's Brent Musburger over there. Do you know he is, guys?" One player shot back: "Yeah, Coach. He was in The Waterboy." I love things like that. There's a whole generation that has no idea I was involved with The NFL Today and had a life before this one.