The prelude to yesterday's announcement no doubt came on Jan. 5 of this year. That was the night Auburn played Florida State in the BCS national championship game. That was when Brent Musburger introduced himself as Kirk Herbstreit to start the ABC national telecast.
"Good evening and welcome, everybody," Brent said in his Brent voice, sitting next to Kirk, the Rose Bowl crowd a backdrop behind the two of them. "I'm Kirk Herbstreit, along with Brent Musburger. We certainly hope that everybody is warm and able to watch this game. Throw another log on the fire."
End of story.
You winced right there. You knew that some poobah out in the broadcast truck (or, even worse, at home in New York) with pen in hand, yellow legal pad on lap, also winced. Brent gets own name wrong in opener? Maybe time to go? No matter that he must have simply read the teleprompter wrong. No matter that the rest of the broadcast went fine. Great game, great call. Will be 75 years old at start of next season!!! Got own name wrong!!! Underline. Underline. Underline. You knew what would come next.
The news was festooned with positives on Wednesday, when ESPN made the announcement that Brent will be the play-by-play announcer on the new SEC Network, with Jesse Palmer as color commentator, but the bottom line could not be camouflaged. Brent has been removed from the No. 1 college football chair at ABC and ESPN.
There is nothing wrong with that move, of course; the poobahs always will shift the chess pieces around the board at will, looking for better demographics, better ratings, ultimately leading to higher revenues, but it will take a bit of adjusting for the viewer. (At least, for this viewer.) The big games will not sound as big any more.
For more than 40 years, the Musburger voice has been an important part of important sports moments. He was the ringmaster for the first big-time NFL studio show on CBS for 15 seasons, keeping the conversation relevant between a former Miss America (Phyllis George), a Las Vegas gambler (Jimmy the Greek) and a taciturn, actual, real former football player (Irv Cross). On other fronts at CBS, he covered college football and basketball, the NBA, horse racing, U.S. Open tennis, the Masters and major league baseball. He was the No. 1 guy, the voice of all sports at the network, the voice of anything and everything.
He covered poker tournaments and pool tournaments, covered a tightrope guy in Rio de Janiero, covered another guy who walked across the wings of a 747 over the Mojave Desert and called himself The Human Fly, covered yet another guy who sat on a chair on top of four sticks of dynamite in a field in Skokie, Ill., and pushed the button on the detonator. The dynamite guy was a challenge. "How do you do the play-by-play of something like that?" Musburger asked. "There he is, ladies and gentlemen, his finger is moving closer to the button … What if it all goes wrong?"
Fired by CBS in 1990 as the poobahs rearranged that room, he bounced to ABC, where he covered a further assortment of sports. He was the studio host for a couple of World Cups. He was the host for NASCAR. He covered the Little League World Series, the Tour de France, anything. When he slid into the No. 1 seat in college football at ABC in 2007, replacing the longtime voice of big games, Keith Jackson, he brought all of this background with him. He was sportscasting royalty, now talking about a new generation of athletes.
The fit was terrific. Excitement crept into his voice at the exciting moments, but he always was loose and easy and knowledgeable. Definitely knowledgeable. He always had the numbers right, the players right, the situation right. He knew betting spreads and inside talk, guy stuff, tendencies and strengths and weaknesses. He was another character in the bar or the rec room. Except he was the character who knew what he was talking about.
A Brent Musburger drinking game developed, based in part on his uses of the words "pardner" and "folks" and the phrases "Kirk, my man" and "It's a foot race." All good stuff. His lead-in line, "You are looking live at [Name of Stadium] in [Name of Town] was all that a viewer needed on a Saturday night to plug into the drama. If Brent was there, the game was worth watching.
You can see bits and pieces of all of this if you put his name into a YouTube search and go from there. Look far enough, and you will find the old studio show for CBS. You will see various shots from the various sports, the good-bye to Jimmy the Greek when Jimmy was fired, the good-bye to CBS when Brent himself was fired.
The late stuff, of course, is heavy on blooper material. That's how YouTube works. The wrong-name mistake with Herbstreit is posted all over the place. The semi-creepy 2013 leer at Miss Alabama, Katherine Webb, certainly is posted. The mispronunciation of Beyonce's name is posted. Not a lot of imagination is needed to see the poobah looking at all of this. Brent doesn't know Beyonce! Everybody knows Beyonce!
A weird interview with Eminem also is posted a bunch of times. You wince for everyone concerned in that clip. Eminem is uneasy. Herbstreit is uneasy. Musburger, trying hard, is uneasy. Talk about different worlds. Then, right toward the end, the uneasiness ends. Eminem speaks from his nervous heart and says that Brent is on his all-time fantasy announcing team with Pat Summerall, John Madden and Al Michaels. Puts it right out there. Says Brent would be the broadcaster in his dream football game.
"You are a legend, my friend," Eminem says.
You wonder just a little bit if the poobah saw that one, too.