Says Gumbel, who denies, by the way, that he refused to introduce her TGIF pieces: "It's nothing personal against her. She just thinks everything is done better by a woman."
Hmmmm. Sounds a little like Gumbel in heels. Pauley once called Gumbel's attitudes toward women "Neanderthal." Truth is, Gumbel seems to be the anti-Alda. He likes all-male social clubs and eight-Inch Cuban cigars. Like all good men, he believes that if talking won't settle an argument, a good punch will, which is exactly what he once threatened to do to Simmons during a contract negotiation. He hates "sensitive" movies—"You'll never get me to see On Golden Pond or Julia or Tess," he says—and Woody Allen's films, but he loves Schwarzenegger's. One emotional movie he says he likes is a man's flick, Islands in the Stream, Hemingway's story of a doomed artist. Every day, a march to the grave.
That's Gumbel. A Hemingway man. A man's man. Grace under pressure. Men being valiant to other men. "I'm the kind of guy who cries when guys truly hug after a very important touchdown," he says. He can be sheer ice in a tender moment—during their courtship he signed letters to his wife with "best wishes"—but when the team is at stake, when competition is at stake, he gets emotional. In 1980, when he was wrapping up a 90-minute special on the Moscow Olympics—the Games he was supposed to host for NBC but didn't because of the U.S. boycott—Gumbel became so choked up he almost couldn't finish. Talking about it still brings tears to his eyes. "It was just so very emotional because of what we missed," he says.
True sports between men on the field, he cherishes. For instance, he is reverential about golf, partly because it is "a control game"—you control your fate, your opponent doesn't—and partly because it is primarily a man's game.
"Playing golf with somebody is such a pure thing," he says. "Sex is a pure thing too, but the closest thing you do with a guy is play golf with him. Your emotions are exposed when you play golf: humility, pride, anger, it all comes out with each swing. You lay it all on the line."
He belongs to two country clubs, Burning Tree, the political heavyweight's course in Bethesda, Md., and Whippoorwill in Armonk, N.Y. He assumes that both clubs have the same number of black members: one. And by the way, one member who helped Gumbel become a member at Burning Tree was a certain gentleman, name of Bush—George, that is.
Can you imagine if his father could be with him now, just for one weekend? Gumbel does, all the time. They would catch a game from the box seats. Take him to the club, have breakfast, get a couple of caddies and play a Nassau with the VP.
"He never sat in box seats in his life. Or had a caddie or played at a private club," says Bryant. "It's just not fair. The only reason I have what I do now is because of what he did back then. You're supposed to work hard so you can enjoy it, but he never got to enjoy it."
And so, whenever Gumbel plays with a buddy and the buddy invites his father along, Bryant aches. "It's such a beautiful thing." Pause. "Maybe I elevate golf too much."
Or is it fathers?