Tuesday, I did a long story in USA Today about the significant number of announcers/analysts still going strong in their 70s, and even 80s, in TV sports at the national and local levels. It is unprecedented.
The list includes Vin Scully, Dick Vitale, Marv Albert, Verne Lundquist, Lee Corso, among others.
I talked to several of the prominent names, except one: Brent Musburger, still going strong at 74.
A little background: My connection with Musburger goes deep into my sports roots. Prior to becoming a big national star at CBS, he was the local sports anchor for WBBM-Ch. 2 during the 70s in Chicago. In the days before ESPN and the Internet, I grew up getting my sports news from Musburger. He was tremendous back then, and it didn’t take long before CBS Sports gave him the keys to the entire enterprise. In some way, I imagine he helped lay the foundation for me wanting to be a sportswriter.
So naturally I wanted to talk to Musburger. However, after several requests to ESPN, I was told that he wasn’t doing interviews at this time.
In the USA Today piece, I wrote:
With his contract expiring at ESPN this summer, Musburger is turning down interview requests. There has been talk that the network will make Chris Fowler their lead play-by-play voice for college football.
Wildhack wouldn’t talk specifically about Musburger’s situation other than, “My hope is that Brent will be with ESPN for years to come.”
OK, fine, I understood that. However, last week I saw Jason Lisk of Big Lead did a behind-the-scenes story on Musburger, Fran Fraschilla, Holly Rowe and the ESPN production crew during a basketball game at Kansas. The story included quotes from Musburger.
When I pointed out to ESPN that Musburger spoke to Big Lead, I was told that this was a different circumstance with the reporter being on campus. OK, whatever.
However, I felt bad there weren’t any Musburger quotes represented in my story. So I wanted to include his sentiments from the Big Lead story here about still being on top of his game in his 70s.
Another way that Musburger stays young? He never thinks he has it all figured out. “I guess my father taught me at a very young age. It’s what you learn — after you think you know it all — that matters. And I’ll learn something tonight about one of these kids.” He specifically cites his change in opinion of Andrew Wiggins, a player he thought was unprepared and overhyped at the start of the season, but now sees as ready to start in the NBA.
He also shows off that humor when discussing the pre-game preparation that includes chatting with the officials before the broadcast. “With Bob [Knight], a couple of them would come over, and there might be one go hide in the corner somewhere [laughs]. With Fran, they all come over.”
He didn’t want to talk about how long he could do this, or envision what it would be like to retire. “I’ve been married fifty years now. My wife will tell you it’s more like twenty-five because I’ve traveled so much. I’m not sure that she would be able to tolerate me around the house, 24/7 every day.”
It isn’t work when you love what you do, and Musburger still loves every event. “It’s energizing, and wherever I go, like I spent the week in Vegas doing the Vegas game, got a lot of friends in that town, a lot of people I like to talk to, and, listen, if I wasn’t doing these games, I would be watching them on TV anyway, so why not go out and get paid for it?”
And I loved this passage from Musburger:
“What are the best things you ever do? I hope it’s tonight, I hope that this game goes five overtimes, with a buzzer beater to end it. I’m more interested in how Oklahoma is going to stay in this game from the get go.”
“If—if—I was not interested, you would be conducting this interview over the telephone, with me touring some exotic place with my wife, like Singapore—I throw that out because I’ve got in my mind I might want to go there—and I would not be around. If I was not interested, then I’m not around you, I’m out. The day I say I’m not interested in whatever event I’m covering, then I’m done, okay. I’m out. For me, the biggest thing on my mind is tonight.”
Musburger did not address his future at ESPN with Big Lead. Clearly, though, he isn’t retiring anytime soon. The kid who grew up watching him in Chicago is very thankful for that.