Perhaps what's left is the performance. Berman says he'll know it's time to leave for the land he already owns on Maui when his references to the Rolling Stones fall dumbly on hip-hop ears. Already there are signs that ESPN is getting away from him a bit. He claims not to have seen an NBA game in 10 years, and at this year's major league All-Star Game, when SportsCenter led with the trade of Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat instead of baseball, an open microphone caught Berman telling broadcast partner Harold Reynolds, "Now you know why I don't watch our show anymore." And there's an awful lot of ESPN programming now aimed at kids who look at Chris Berman the way he once looked at Ray Scott.
"I'll be gone quicker than people think," he says. "I still see Willie Mays, falling down in centerfield. But I do know this, I'm not going to sour on sports. I'm going to watch the games. I could walk right now--for about a year and a half, and then I wouldn't know what to do."
So when did it happen? It never stopped happening, not since the day when all of us, even the Bermans of Rye, N.Y., invited the thing into our living room after it promised to behave like the rest of the furniture, and then it didn't. We are passing out of that first generation now, out of the generation that learned about cable television by watching broadcast television.
"Nobody here draws a distinction between cable television and over-the-air television except people as old as me," says Bob Ley, who's been carried along on the great arc of it himself. "We recognize that the world is changing."
And perhaps that will be Chris Berman's legacy--that he remembers when television pulled its programming out of the sweet, free air, and that he's one of the first people who learned his life's work 500 channels at a time, the way we all would come to learn so many things, good and bad, and keep learning them today. Chris Berman learned his lesson well, and he learned how to be a television star from the only teacher that really counts. He learned it from television.