They pay him to talk on television, so what was Brent Musburger supposed to do when they turned the camera on Miss Alabama, just stare? And what’s a man supposed to say when he sees Miss Alabama, nothing?
Maybe if you’re 73 years old, as Musburger is, and Miss Alabama is 23, as Katherine Webb is, maybe you don’t go all Hugh Hefner on her. But they pay you to talk and they pay you to entertain. So you identify her as Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s girlfriend and you say to your sidekick, Kirk Herbstreit, once an Ohio State quarterback, “You quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking women. What a beautiful woman."
Herbstreit said, “Wow.”
Musburger said, “Whoa.”
Only instead of Whoa being a quick one-syllable word, it became an Andrew Lloyd Weber aria.
I imagined Musburger with a hand over his heart, hoping it stayed in there.
After that, ESPN cut away to Miss Alabama on a happily regular basis. I don’t know what the score was when we first saw Katherine Webb. I know the game reminded me of that crisp fall day in 1916 when John Heisman threw a hissy fit and had Georgia Tech roll it up on Cumberland College, 222-0. So I’m thinking somebody in the ESPN home office made a good call: America should see less of Manti Te’o missing tackles and more of Miss Alabama being beautiful.
We need to cut Musburger some slack. It’s true that a guy who has renewed his AARP discount card this many times should know what’s creepy and what’s not and what’s the time and place and what’s not. Still, he has this affliction. He is one of hundreds of millions of human beings who carry the Y chromosome. It causes them to shout out the occasional geriatric-perv-whoop.
The difference is, most do it in privacy. Musburger did it on national television. Viewers were shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- to hear a grown man go slightly off his rocker in the presence of a beautiful woman. But it has happened before. The first time it happened to me, I asked the girl to marry me. She said yes. Mumblety-mumble years later, we’re still married and she sat alongside me when Musburger sang his aria to Miss Alabama.
“Oh, sweet,” she said to the TV, meaning, “Oh, shut up.”
By now Musburger likely has apologized to everyone offended by his remarks, and I suppose we all should apologize to Katherine Webb for whatever the Y chromosome caused us to think. At the same time, it’s worth noting that in one phase of the Miss Alabama competition Katherine Webb chose to wear a bikini only a little larger than two of AJ McCarron’s chin straps. She might have been going for a whoop or two.
Odd, the way life happens. It was halftime of Miss Alabama’s football game when I checked email. There was a note from a friend. He had seen a story I did 30 years ago about a Duke basketball player. Dick DeVenzio was a good little point guard and, more important, the first big-time athlete to challenge the NCAA on athletes’ rights. Only minutes after Musburger spotted Katherine Webb, then, my friend’s email told a DeVenzio story that my wife thought was truly sweet.
“DeVenzio was a distant friend of mine,” the email began. “He was two years ahead of me. He was one of a kind. His games that stood out were the ones against South Carolina coached by Frank McGuire -- it was almost vicious inside Cameron when they came. There were some great Carolina games, some he just took over. All fire, spunk. Taking on the big guys. What a guy.
“I used to be a gym rat, nowhere near DeVenzio's talent, and back then, if it wasn't a game day and it wasn't time for the varsity to practice, anyone could walk into Cameron and get a pickup game. So I was there almost every day, and used to see him in there. He was a superb passer, a joy to play with. Completely down to earth. Fairly serious and intense; didn't have a ready sense of humor. I can't say we were good friends; he wasn't aloof or pretentious, but had a little of the bubble of protection because everyone knew him on campus.
“We had one thing in common: we both dated Emily Madison (not her real name) -- an extraordinary girl who resembled Judy Jones in Fitzgerald's ‘Winter Dreams’ with her drop-dead beauty and extraordinary, sometimes whimsical ability to seize any room she entered -- and superior to Judy Jones because of her acting ability and beautiful singing voice -- played the guitar, sang like Joan Baez. When I read Nancy Mitford's biography, 'Zelda,’ I was blown away by how much Emily resembled Zelda.
“Needless to say, DeVenzio won that heart. It wasn't close -- I had dated her twice my freshman year. Then every senior glommed all over her. I left Duke after my sophomore year, the year DeVenzio graduated, and as far as I knew, they were still dating. I never saw either DeVenzio or Emily again.
“Then in the late '90s, when I got onto this issue of the employee status of college athletes (he’s a lawyer), I came across something about his work, and we talked on the phone. He was discouraged by all the work he'd put in on the issue by then, having it not come to much.
“Finally, I said, ‘Around the time you graduated, weren’t you dating Emily Madison?’ His voice really brightened up. You could tell I'd struck something. ‘Ohh, Emily, Emily. Most amazing woman I ever knew.’ Then a long pause. ‘Emily, I couldn't hold her. Nobody could.’ Then another pause. ‘She was the best woman I ever knew. But she wouldn't marry me. Damn....’ and his voice tailed off. ‘Whatever happened to her, do you know?’ I told him I didn't.”
DeVenzio died in 2001. My friend learned that Emily is married and living in Maryland.
Here I should confess my own Y chromosome failings, or, in the interest of time, one of them. This was a night on a moonlit beach on the South Carolina coast. I was there to interview Charlize Theron. She’s the goddess who has come to Earth in the guise of a movie star. She walked down steps from her costume trailer. She wore a red, fringed flapper’s dress. As she descended, she did a shimmy and said, in a purr, “Scandalous, aren’t I?”
After that, I don’t remember much.