After Nearly 50 Years in Sportscasting, Brent Musburger Announces Retirement; A Legendary Voice of NFL, NBA, College Basketball and Football Contests, Musburger Will Call His Final Game on January 31

By Walters, John | Newsweek, February 17, 2017 | Go to article overview

After Nearly 50 Years in Sportscasting, Brent Musburger Announces Retirement; A Legendary Voice of NFL, NBA, College Basketball and Football Contests, Musburger Will Call His Final Game on January 31


Walters, John, Newsweek


Byline: John Walters

In 1990, when Brent Musburger was at the peak of his broadcasting career, a most wonderful thing happened to him: He got fired. There are indeed second acts in American life, and no one appreciated his more than Musburger, 77, who on Tuesday announced his retirement.

Musburger's career spans six decades, from his start in print at the now-defunct Chicago American newspaper in the mid-1960s to calling Monday night's college basketball upset of No. 2 Kentucky by Tennessee on ESPN. The Montana native has done play-by-play for the NBA Finals, for the NCAA Final Four--he is credited with introducing the term "March Madness" on TV--and for college football national championship games. He was the first host of the original NFL pregame show, The NFL Today, on CBS and he is seated at Joe Namath's feet in the iconic photograph of the New York Jets quarterback relaxing poolside before Super Bowl III in Miami.

From the mid-'70s until 1990, in a sports television landscape that predated ESPN having much of a footprint, Musburger was as ubiquitous and versatile as any broadcaster. Only NBC's Bob Costas and perhaps ABC's Howard Cosell, then in his twilight, had their numbers called by their networks as often. Musburger's signature salutation to viewers, "You are looking live," was as familiar to sports fans as "Live from New York--" was to denizens of late-night comedy.

Then, on April Fool's Day 1990, in the midst of a Final Four that Musburger was calling, CBS fired him. It happened on the eve of the national championship game between Duke and UNLV, as CBS executives were eager to rid themselves of Musburger's $2 million annual contract, which was expiring that summer, and create space for rising stars Greg Gumbel and Jim Nantz (both of whom still work for CBS). Musburger, who had been with the network for 22 years, called the Duke-UNLV contest, then signed off by saying, "Folks, I've had the best seat in the house. Thanks for sharing it. I'll see you down the road."

If Musburger, then 50, had never worn an earpiece again, he would be remembered as a supreme broadcasting talent. Seamless, professional and energetic, he improved any game he called. What he was not then, but became after his termination from CBS, was beloved.

One month after CBS canned Musburger, ABC hired him. Soon, ABC Sports was folded under the Disney tent and there were far more broadcasting opportunities, most of them less prestigious than Musburger was accustomed to calling. It mattered not at all to him. "What I told the guys at ESPN," Musburger told me in January of 2012, when I spent a day shadowing him in Lawrence, Kansas, "is that I'll call whatever you want me to. I'm just happy to be here."

Much like Bill Murray's Phil Connors character in Groundhog Day, Musburger seemed to undergo a catharsis following the trauma of being fired. His paradigm shifted. Instead of expecting to puddle-jump from the Final Four to the NBA Finals to the Belmont Stakes each spring, etc., he sounded thrilled to be calling the Iran-USA soccer match at the 1998 World Cup. Appreciative, even. The timbre and intensity of his voice had always been nonpareil, but now there was an ebullience to the Northwestern alum's calls. It was undeniable: Brent Musburger sounded like someone who'd just been handed two free tickets to the game.

Having already summited Everest, Musburger spent the last quarter-century of his career savoring the vista no matter how modest the peak. In the '70s and '80s, he had provided the soundtrack to unforgettable contests, from the triple-overtime classic between the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns in the 1976 NBA Finals to the "Hail Flutie" pass in 1984 to the Miami-Notre Dame epic ("Catholics vs. …

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