One of the greatest careers in sports broadcasting history will come to an abrupt end next week.
On Wednesday, ESPN announced that Brent Musburger will call his final game next Tuesday, Jan. 31, when Georgia visits Kentucky in college basketball. It will cap a storied career for the 77-year-old Musburger, who rose to fame at CBS hosting the "NFL Today" show, in addition to calling numerous other sports, before establishing himself as a preeminent college football voice on ABC and ESPN over the past 25 years.
An argument can be made that Musburger is the second-most recognizable college football voice ever, behind the great Keith Jackson. Now, college football will be losing both Musburger and Verne Lundquist, voice of the SEC on CBS, in the same year, with Brad Nessler set to take over for Lundquist next fall. In recent years, Musburger had been shuffled off of ESPN's biggest games and into a role as the lead voice on SEC Network.
Musburger's long career has hardly been without controversy, from a critical column written in 1968 after the Olympic protests of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, to the over-the-top commentary about Katherine Webb at the BCS national title game, to his final game, when comments about Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon at the Sugar Bowl drew criticism. According to the AP, Musburger and ESPN said his departure is unrelated to the Mixon comments.
Ultimately, Musburger will mostly be remembered for his signature voice calling many all-time great sports moments. Few broadcasters have ever made a big game sound like a big game just from their presence quite like Musburger, and it started anytime a telecast kicked off with his signature "You are looking live" opening.
Poolside with Joe Namath
Musburger, a Northwestern graduate, broke into sports journalism as a writer and can be seen in the famous shot of Jets quarterback Joe Namath being interviewed at the pool two days before Super Bowl III.
Yes, Brent Musburger is in this iconic photo of Joe Namath at Super Bowl III. pic.twitter.com/EzLPgmt6WG- Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) January 25, 2017
"I love that photo," Musburger told Newsday in November. "The picture was taken on Friday. Think about that: The Friday before the Super Bowl, we're all sitting there poolside. Try to get even in the hotel where they're staying now."
Hosting "NFL Today"
In recent years, Musburger has been best known for his college football work on ESPN and ABC. He first rose to fame as the host for CBS' "NFL Today" pregame show.
Jackson and Lundquist have both called their share of iconic plays. Musburger's most iconic play likely goes back to 1984, when a 5-foot-10 Boston College quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner named Doug Flutie launched his famous Hail Mary to Gerard Phelan to beat defending national champion Miami 47-45.
Wishing Brent Musburger well as he retires from broadcasting. We might be biased, but this is our favorite call from Brent. pic.twitter.com/xoF9ZpOSmj- BC Football (@BCFootball) January 25, 2017
An iconic NCAA Final
The first year the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams resulted in one of the most memorable finishes. Three years after Musburger helped popularize the term "March Madness," he had a front-row seat to a classic championship upset.
Villanova, a No. 8 seed, upset Michigan, Maryland and North Carolina on the way to the Final Four, where it beat Memphis State in the semifinals. In the national championship, Musburger and Billy Packer were on the call for CBS as Villanova improbably beat Patrick Ewing and No. 1 Georgetown 66-64 for the Wildcats' only national title until last season.
What greatness is all about
In 1988, Larry Bird's Celtics and Dominique Wilkins' Hawks staged an epic second-round NBA playoffs series that went seven games. They saved the best for last. The Celtics won Game 7 118-116 despite Wilkins' 47 points, as Bird 34 (and Kevin McHale scored 33) to lead Boston to the Eastern Conference finals, where it would lose to Detroit.
"You are watching what greatness is all about," Musburger said after a Bird drive to the basket in the closing moments.
The Flea Kicker
Nebraska enjoyed one of the all-time great dominant college football runs in the mid-1990s under Tom Osborne. The Cornhuskers won national titles in 1994 and '95, and in '97 they were trying to make a run again with Scott Frost at quarterback in what turned out to be Osborne's final season.
Ranked No. 1 on Nov. 8, Nebraska traveled to Missouri, where it had not lost a game since 1973, with Musburger and ABC calling the game. The Tigers gave the Huskers all they could handle, leading 38-31 in the final minute. Frost led Nebraska down the field, and on third down at the 12-yard line with seven seconds left, he fired a pass to the end zone for Shevin Wiggins. It bounced off of Wiggins, then miraculously bounced off his foot and into the hands of a diving Matt Davison for the touchdown.
Nebraska went on to win in overtime and share the national championship with Michigan.
Williams runs to the records books
A year after calling the most memorable moment of the 1997 season, Musburger called one of the biggest of '98. On Nov. 27, Texas upset rival No. 6 Texas A&M 26-24. The big moment of the game happened early: Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams broke what was then the all-time FBS rushing record owned by Tony Dorsett.
Needing 11 yards to set the record, Williams broke off a 60-yard touchdown run, with Musburger announcing "Hello, record book!" and "Ricky Williams runs to the Hall of Fame!" as Williams dashed through open space to the end zone.
Ron Dayne broke Williams' record the next year, and last month, Musburger was on the call at the Las Vegas Bowl when San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey became the new record-holder.
The 2002 Ohio State national championship team had a reputation for playing close games, right up through the double-OT classic against Miami with the title on the line. To get to the BCS championship, the Buckeyes had to survive several close calls, including a Nov. 9 trip to Purdue.
Ohio State didn't allow a touchdown, but it trailed 6-3 in a sluggish game in the final minutes. On fourth-and-one, the typically conservative Buckeyes took to the air, as Craig Krenzel stepped up in the pocket and launched a 37-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins with 1:36 left for the win, resulting in Musburger's famous "Holy Buckeye!" line.
Crabtree pulls free
The 2008 Big 12 race featured a three-way tie between Oklahoma (who ended up going to the national title game), Texas and Texas Tech, due in part to the Red Raiders' breakthrough season under Mike Leach with Graham Harrell at QB and Michael Crabtree at WR.
The Red Raiders were 8-0 and ranked No. 6 when they hosted Colt McCoy and No. 1 Texas on Nov. 1 in one of the biggest games in school history. By this point, Musburger was teamed with Kirk Herbstreit for ABC's prime-time Saturday college football games, and not surprisingly Texas-Texas Tech was chosen for the spotlight. The game delivered.
Trailing by five after a Texas TD with 1:29 left, Texas Tech mounted a drive to the 28-yard line, where it had a second down with only eight seconds left. Harrell fired a pass to his right, well short of the end zone, to Crabtree, who caught the ball, then shed a tackler to dash in for the winning touchdown with one second left.
All the Tostitos
Whether you groaned when you heard it or not, it was memorable. As Auburn kicker Wes Byrum lined up for a game-winning field goal against Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game in Arizona, Musburger's final words beforehand were, "This is for all the Tostitos." Byrum made the kick, and Auburn won the national title.
Brent and Kirk interview Eminem
There may be no more bizarre moment in Musburger's on-air career than the appearance of Eminem in the broadcast booth during the 2013 Michigan-Notre Dame game, which resulted in this awkward interview:
A nod to the "numbers crunchers"
Musburger was never shy about slipping in rather obvious gambling references to point spreads, something that seemed to become increasingly pronounced late in his career. In the 2013 Ohio State-Northwestern game, the Buckeyes were 6 ½-point favorites and Northwestern had the ball down 34-30 in the closing seconds, needing a desperation play to win. The Wildcats' attempt at Cal-Stanford magic instead resulted in a fumble back into their own end zone, where Ohio State fell on it for the ultimate last-second cover, 40-30.
"And you know what," Musburger said as Herbstreit began knowingly laughing. "There are some folks who are celebrating and others who are saying, 'You've gotta be kidding me.'"
According to the AP, Musburger is moving to Las Vegas and "leaving active sportscasting to help his family get a sports handicapping business," which is perhaps the most fitting retirement gig possible.
There is, however, no doubt that Saturdays won't ever sound the same again without Musburger's voice making big games feel like big games.