Longtime ESPN/ABC broadcaster and prior to that announced for CBS will be remembered doing many big-time sporting events for Americans everywhere
Born May 26, 1939 in Portland, Oregon, young Brent Musburger after being a minor league umpire would later have two transgressions involving not following the rules of driving properly.
Once he came off scott-free, he decided to give newspaper reporting a shot after studying at the famous Medill School of Journalism on the campus of Northwestern University. Working for the now-defunct Chicago’s American, Brent was a night sports editor for the afternoon edition. The paper lasted until two other name changes finally ended the era on September 13, 1974.
During that time, most Chicago commuters heading home by train or the El platform would either get their news from the wraparound editions or listening to his reports on the newly fledged WBBM Newsradio 780. The once popular talk format that blossomed starting in 1964 gave way to people wanting their news quickly.
This was in an era where there was no Internet, blogs, or any type of social media for that matter.
Whenever a big story happened, Brent was always there.
Within a year from the station’s May 6, 1968 launch, Brent Musburger was the first Sports Director and covered the afternoon shift. He was one of a handful of people hired by legendary General Manager Bill O’Donnell.
The list also included, according to radio historian Chuck Schaden’s 1988 book on the history of WBBM Radio: Yesterday and Today the News and Programming Director Van Gordon Sauter, who would later become President of CBS News. Other people brought on for the 24-hour all news format were Carole Simpson, who would later work at ABC News, Dick Helton–longtime WBBM Newsradio anchor, Sherman Kaplan–more famous for his “Restaurant Reviews” and other cultural things taking place in and around the Chicago Loop until his retirement in the early 2000’s, and longtime business reporter Len Walter.
Here is a link to a Chicago Tribune article from December 4, 1969 when he talked about keeping a wire service in his home to file as many as four reports per weekday. Please remember to tap or click on the Read Selected Text link at the top right corner to read a more legible, typewritten copy instead of the slightly smudged print from the actual paper:
A few years later, WBBM Channel 2 would make him their Sports Director. If you look for a website simply called FuzzyMemories.tv, look for a clip from July 28, 1972 labelled Number 4 and you can see that his folksy delivery was just taking shape.
Brent would forever be remembered for the many times at CBS Sports
CBS Sports would hire him first to do play-by-play on NFL and NBA games. He would also join future CBS News anchor Connie Chung on KNXT (later KCBS) in Los Angeles to co-anchor the nightly news for two years.
Once the groundbreaking pregame show The NFL Today began on September 21, 1975–the viewing public took notice. In the early days, Brent was paired with Hammond (Ind.) High School legend Irv Cross and one-time Miss America Phyllis George. Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder would be hired the following year and stay with the network for a dozen years.
And he also did baseball games and NFL recaps on CBS Radio. Here is Brent doing halftime recaps during Week 9 of the strike-shortened 1987 season:
One year after ESPN Radio launched in 1992, he did short snippets under the banner of ESPN Sportsbeat.
Yes, it would be my grandfather that would introduce me to Brent after one of his weekly walks to Sunday Mass. And what an opening segment it was.
Later on, the likes of Jayne Kennedy, Dan Dierdorf, longtime Boston Globe reporter Will McDonough, and legendary Chicago Bears linebacker from the 1960’s Dick Butkus would join in on the fun each and every fall Sunday afternoon.
Here is one I distinctly remember–12:30 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, September 3, 1989:
By this time, Brent had called eight straight NCAA Tournaments and five straight Final Fours after taking over from Gary Bender to call Villanova’s near perfect game effort against once mighty Georgetown in 1985.
Captured during 1986 Final Four pregame show outside old Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas–thanks to YouTube
Other key events he would cover were the Belmont Stakes, the 1987 Pan Am Games from Indianapolis, the Masters golf tournament, NASCAR Daytona 500 and when Jeff Gordon won his 500th career race, U.S. Open tennis, college football including the 1984 Doug Flutie Hail Mary contest and the 1988 “Catholics vs. Convicts” game when Notre Dame edged Miami, and dozens of NBA games would fill his non-NFL calendar during the rest of the 1980’s.
However, a power shift inside the Tiffany Headquarters in Manhattan sent the biggest April Fool’s Day shocker of all-time. When I first heard the news on WBBM Newsradio that Sunday afternoon when word came down across the wire services that Brent was being fired from CBS after nearly 17 years, I was in total shock.
I recall reading articles from USA Today on a periodic basis during my long bus rides home from high school saying Brent would be the number one announcer to cover the 16 regular season games that year in Major League Baseball and was slated to be the prime-time announcer for CBS’ coverage of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.
Once Brent shared his final thoughts in Denver’s former McNichols Arena after UNLV crushed Duke 103-73 for the 1990 NCAA title, he would surface four nights later on April 6 during ABC News’ newly minted weekly news program Primetime Live.
I recall watching the show at my grandparent’s house and distinctly remember this quote after answering one of a handful of difficult questions from Sam Donaldson:
“I am not your typical broadcast monster.”
Within a few weeks, ABC and ESPN would hire Brent mainly to do college football and basketball. He would later cover the Rose Bowl, the former BCS title game for a number of years, handle the NBA on ESPN Radio, the Little League World Series, the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba, two World Cup soccer tournaments, and the Indy 500. He also called parts of two seasons of the ill-fated Baseball Network, which included the memorable five-game 1995 American League Division Series when 2016 Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. made his mad dash for home as Seattle came from behind to stun the New York Yankees.
Yes, the comments about playing for “all the Tostitos” in 2011 was mild in comparison to why he could not get enough of talking about Jenn Sterger in September 2005 and later on speaking so glowingly about Katherine Webb during the 2013 BCS college football title game. He even cited that the recent insensitive comments about Oklahoma football player Joe Mixon during the Sugar Bowl definitely rubbed some people the wrong way, but it was not the primary reason he was stepping down.
His final assignments are in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday when Florida plays Oklahoma at 2 p.m. Eastern, as Dick Vitale will be by his side and Kaylee Hartung patrols the sidelines. The curtain finally comes down during the Georgia/Kentucky college basketball game alongside Jay Bilas on ESPN Tuesday night.
According to ESPN’s social media accounts on Wednesday, Brent had signed a multi-year extension earlier in 2016, but backed down on giving a firm retirement date. Rather, it was not known internally until ten days prior to the Sugar Bowl.
Moving on–it may surprise some of you what his final act will be.
According to his brother and longtime agent Todd Musburger, Brent will be a part of a sports handicapping business based in Las Vegas.
And yes, we were all definitely looking live–but ESPN Senior Vice President of Studio and Production, Stephanie Druley had some very interesting thoughts about him on and off camera:
Whenever the history books will write about the greatest broadcasters in American sports history, you can count the names on two hands:
Curt Gowdy, Ray Scott, Pat Summerall, Jack Buck, Jim McKay, Dick Enberg, Marv Albert, Bob Costas, Al Michaels, and Brent Musburger.
EPILOGUE: During his final broadcast on Tuesday, January 31, the University of Kentucky and Head Coach John Calipari gave Brent a really cool retirement present at halftime.
The first clip is from KentuckyWildcatsTV and the second one from Campus Insiders shows his final words before signing off for the final time at ESPN after Kentucky knocked off Georgia 90-83 in overtime:
What a legend. So long, Brent.