Of course, there are stories that demand a harder, more confrontational approach. It was no surprise that NFL Live did the better job of handling the story of Boston Herald reporter Lisa Olson's harassment in the New England Patriots' locker room. Patriots owner Victor Kiam was interviewed on both pregame shows and came armed with a predictably self-serving speech, which Gumbel and reporter Lesley Visser allowed him far too much latitude in delivering. Costas not only kept the Patriots' rambling owner to the subject but also raised obvious questions of his sincerity and motive. Gumbel fell short in his closing remarks, as well, characterizing the incident as a case of "immaturity in the locker room."
On the whole, though, Shaker's soft-news strategy appears to be working in the ratings department. Midway through the season, The NFL Today had recouped some of the viewer margin it had lost, earning a 5.1 rating compared with NFL Live's 3.8, a 34% differential. Not that the show can't improve: Shaker hopes that Gumbel, as he grows accustomed to his role, will allow more of his personality and sense of humor to come through.
Gumbel, 44, is very much a product of the '60s. He shares his generation's suspicion of power without accountability. "I've had a problem, down through the years, with authority figures," admits Gumbel, who demonstrated against the Vietnam War at the 1968 Democratic Convention, in Chicago. "People ask me if I'd like to do what Bryant does. I don't know. The idea of interviewing politicians, a great majority of whom I despise, doesn't thrill me." Last summer, as a guest on The Midnight Hour, Gumbel was asked what he thought of Pete Rose's sentence. "You've got to understand," he answered, "that I've got a thing about anybody who has to do more time than Nixon did." The audience applauded.
What makes Gumbel refreshing is that he includes himself in his campaign against pomposity and bombast. He means it when he says, "There are a lot of people who could do this job very well but who just don't get the chance. Being able to do it doesn't do you a damn bit of good, unless you can show people that you can do it." If Gumbel sounds relieved to have gotten the chance, keep in mind that in 1973, when Bryant called his older brother to tell him that WMAQ was auditioning for a sports announcer, Greg was peddling bandages and bedpans for American Hospital Supply in Detroit.
About the only good thing to come out of Gumbel's stint in Detroit was that it was there that he met his wife, Marcy, and her daughter, Michelle, whom he has adopted. "Neither of them are sports fans," says Greg, noting that Marcy once asked him, "Which one is Stanley Cup?"
Football is not Gumbel's first love. That's baseball. At Loras College, in Dubuque, Iowa, where he majored in English, Gumbel played rightfield for the varsity, batting .378 and winning team MVP honors in his senior year. He talks happily about the joys of baseball in his youth. "Bryant hated the White Sox, and I hated the Cubs," he says, "but we loved baseball so much it didn't matter."
The Gumbels lived in Hyde Park, the racially mixed, middle-class neighborhood adjacent to the University of Chicago campus. Unlike Bryant, whose beloved Cubs played on the other side of town, Greg was able to breathe the same air as his White Sox heroes. Minnie Minoso frequented the neighborhood, driving around in his Cadillac. "A lot of the White Sox stayed in the Del Prado Hotel, which was on Lake Shore Drive in Hyde Park," Greg recalls. "My brother and I used to serve the nine o'clock family mass in our parish, and it was not unusual to see Al Lopez, Dick Donovan, Minnie Minoso or Bill Veeck in church."
Greg's hero was White Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio; Bryant's was Cub shortstop Ernie Banks. "The greatest moment for me," says Greg, "was sitting at home the night in 1959 when Gerry Staley came in for the White Sox and threw one pitch. Cleveland's Vic Power hit into a double play—Aparicio stepped on second and threw to first—and the White Sox won the pennant for the first time in, what...40 years? They set off the air raid sirens in Chicago, which disturbed a lot of people who didn't happen to be baseball fans."
These days the brothers are busy but they make time to chat on the phone fairly regularly. "What amazes me," says Greg, "is that people want to know whether or not I agree with the many things that are written about Bryant. I don't know what they expect me to say, other than the fact that he's my brother, and I care about him and love him and couldn't care less what other people think.
"Probably the biggest difference between Bryant and me is our admitted self-confidence," he says. "Bryant tends to admit it a lot more than I do. He is extremely self-confident and self-assured and doesn't fail to let that be known. I'm confident I can do whatever assignment I'm given, but I certainly admit to having occasional butterflies."