Thu. Jul 19th, 2018

Less of Musberger Is Not a Good Thing

Spoke to Brent Musburger the other day, after realizing I hadn’t heard his voice all season. ESPN, in one of its oddest decisions, has relegated him to Southeastern Conference games, which is why we seldom see him anymore.

“You’ll just have to subscribe to the SEC Network,” he says.

That’s Musburger, all right: Still crazy after all these years.

The SEC remains a plum assignment, though sentencing Musburger to what essentially is a regional telecast is like booking Placido Domingo to sing in Marriott lounges. It’s good for Marriott, but not for opera overall.

I can’t help but note that sports’ signature voices are disappearing faster than white rhinos. Keith Jackson has retired. Next up Vin Scully and Dick Enberg. With every retirement toast, sports journalism gets a little more earnest and fresh-faced. And about as soulful and satisfying as a cup of microwave soup.

“You are looking live at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California,” Musburger would crow, and you’d know in an instant you were in for a feast.

When Jackson retired, Musburger became the voice of the Rose Bowl, not the smallest of footsteps in which to follow. He did what all the legendary announcers do, wove a storyline, introduced you to the cast — what the player’s daddy did, how until junior year in high school some fleet safety had focused more on the trombone than on football. It was homespun, a tad corny. And, in the end, as rich and autumnal as a Robert Frost poem.

For all its flaws, football remains the Great American Romance — we can’t get enough. We seem to want to make something mythic of this sport, when it’s far more than that. For most of us, the sport ranks somewhere between a fetish and a religion.

It’s as if football were brought here on the Mayflower, or placed as an addendum to the Declaration of Independence. The coaches all used to look like Teddy Roosevelt. Now most of them resemble your dentist. But the game … oh, what a rich and resonant game.

“One word: television,” Musburger says. “Football and television were made for each other.”

Yet, for vast technical achievements and amazing camera work, I’m struck by how dry and unmoving most of today’s announcers are.

“The biz and the industry have changed,” explains Musburger, now 76. Because of the conference TV deals, he says, telecasts are playing to more of a niche audience that has a lot of background to begin with.

“And a lot of the [great] storytellers were baseball guys — Scully and Jack Buck,” he says. “They came up through the game, and had to learn to keep things entertaining. But football works at a different pace, especially these days. You don’t have the time.”

I complain to him about Fox’s World Series announcers, who focused on pitch counts and slugging percentages while ignoring the grace and spirit of the sport. He agreed, saying, “I thought there was a lot of clutter.”

“I’m a people guy, that’s my background,” he says of his preference for more biography and less statistical goo.

Read the rest of this article in the LA Times where it was originally published

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