NFL

How would you compare Musburger to Cosell? The two men were both gifted and rarefied behind the mic

You Are Looking Live!: How The NFL Today Revolutionized Sports BroadcastingBrent Musburger wasn’t the most beloved broadcaster in America. He hopped onto the CBS turf unceremoniously in the early 1970s, appointed by the network’s sports head, Robert J. Wussler. The two worked together in Chicago.

CBS was dominated by soft-spoken mic-men: Ray Scott, Jack Whitaker and Pat Summerall. The trio rarely emoted or shouted. For the most part, they sounded sedate, certainly compared to ABC’s Howard Cosell and even NBC’s Curt Gowdy whose voice was lovable, caring and often throaty. Many World Series, Super Bowls and Basketball Final Fours.

When Whitaker, a poetic and gifted essayist made a comment that didn’t meet Augusta’s austere measures, he was banned from CBS’ coverage for several years, (1966-1972). What was Jack’s terrible sin? He used the word “mob” to describe an overfilling number of folks on the somber Georgia grounds.   

The sharpest and edgiest years for the two sports voices nationally were Howard Cosell in the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s. He shadowed Muhammad Ali through the 80’s and from the 70’s on, he was the king of Monday Night Football.

Ask Americans where they first heard of the death of John Lennon, they’ll tell you it was on ABC Monday Night Football. Cosell, extemporized it beautifully.

Musburger rocked through CBS’ air in the 1970s, not long after taking shots at Olympian track stars John Carlos and Tommie Smith in Mexico in 1968. The duo had  the right to express a black-power salute. Good judgment or bad is debatable. They had every right to do so. This is America. Brent too had the right to share his view of the affair afterward, ridiculing the two men, locally in Chicago’s media. The world has changed. 

Brent might not ever make it to the Football or Basketball Halls of Fame. Fair or unfair? Few play-by-players engage their analysts richly like Musburger. He challenges them, folks like Kirk Herbstreit, doing college football on ESPN. Musburger drilled him. Rich Podolsky wrote a wonderful piece, straight down-the-middle, about Brent, his strengths and weaknesses. One man’s vote against Brent Musburger’s entry into the Pro Football HOF; A checkered past?

Be it what it was, Brent’s comments about Katherine Webb’s pulchritude on the 2013 BCS National Championship Game eventually killed his career at ESPN. It opened the door for Chris Fowler. Brent turned to his now hometown, Las Vegas, calling Raiders games. After he ran into issues with owner Mark Davis, it was gone goodbye. 

Meanwhile, in 2017, Brent, a nephew Brian, and other investors, established Vegas Stats and Information, for which Mus is still the lead host and managing editor. He focuses on production too through the Streamcast.  

(VSiN) was sold to DraftKings in 2021 for a reported $100 Million. Not a bad payday for Brent, the family and other investors.

This leads to the 2024 Pro Football HOF Rozelle Award in Canton which is still to be determined. During the recent Super Bowl telecast on February 11th, Jim Nantz heaped praise on Brent with the hope that he’ll be bestowed during the next crown. Not everyone though loves him.

All those years in the CBS Studio beginning in the 70s, Musburger, like him or not, built the NFL on TV. The last time an actual play-by-player or analyst was enshrined occurred in 2020, Joe Buck of Fox. Since then, none of the honorees were game callers: John Facenda, 2001; Howard Katz, 2022; and Fred Gaudelli, 2023.

All well earned. 2024 is coming up! Does Nantz know something we don’t? Jim is well connected.

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Timeline:

1968 – Brent Musburger begins his broadcast career on WBBM Radio and TV. in Chicago. Spends 22 years with CBS overall. He also wrote for the now defunct Chicago American.

1973 – A pivotal year, Brent gets CBS regional NFL play-by-play assignments.

1975 – Picked up paramount assignments and he put lots of personality into each event. NBA

1976 – Does NBA play-by-play, including triple overtime gripping final.

Becomes best known NFL studio host on CBS, play-by-play of NCAA Final Fours, covers Tennis’ US Open, the NBA Finals on TV, the Masters, the Belmont Stakes and the College World Series. He also handled baseball play-by-play for CBS Radio. Through his years at ESPN, Brent was on college football all the way through the title and the NBA title series on ESPN Radio and CBS TV.

1980 – Studio partner Jimmy the Greek and Brent Musburger got into it physically at a local New York restaurant on a Sunday night after NFL assignments. They were both ridiculed by the national media.  

1990 –  CBS’ sports head, Neal Pilson didn’t acquiesce to Brent’s unending request for more personal visibility, namely the new baseball play-by-play which the network had acquired. The news of Brent’s departure made huge news, national TV, radio and print. 

2015 – Shortly after the Webb incident on ESPN, Brent’s contract wasn’t renewed. It was then that he partnered with his family on their (VSiN) venture, helping build the studio and the programing that came with it. Meanwhile, he was hired for radio play-by-play in Oakland, then moved with the club moved to Las Vegas, (2018-2022). Brent Musburger had network assignments from 1973 through 2015 and local radio through 2022. 

Brent was controversial figure who stood out for his edgy comments – and never a dull moment.

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David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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