The colorful career of Brent Musburger, A prominent 50 years between NFL, NBA and College Ball

Brent Musburger – and his edgy charm – can still be contentious, yet always entertaining. Still – as sharp today as he was for decades.

Jim Nantz rarely takes sides. It’s not his style. Invariably, Jim is a gentleman. Firm but respectful

This past Super Bowl Sunday, up to 120 million viewers heard Nantz’s warm encouragement for the voting committee at the Pro Football HOF to award Brent with the Pete Rozelle Media Award. When I speak to folks in the industry or even simple fans, they’re in disbelief that Mus isn’t in yet. Chris Russo lost it on TV, leaving nothing behind. (Check it out on Russo then spewed some of Brent’s decades-long contributions. Musburger built NFL TV programming.

I thought that Al Michaels was held up too long, not crowned by the HOF until 2013. Al presided over ABC’s Monday Night Football from 1986-2005 and NBC’s Sunday Night Football from 2006 to 2021. He then underlined Streaming on Amazon in 2022 where he still works.

Glaringly missing is Howard Cosell who has never seemed to be seriously considered. Still a puzzle?


brent musgrove johnny most interviewBrent was still new to CBS in the early 1970s. He had attended Northwestern and began to write for a Chicago newspaper that no longer exists, the Chicago American.

It was the late 60s when he started making a major mark. It didn’t take long for his ascent in the electronic media in the country’s number two market. His resumé was unusual for network play-by-players. He had little, if any notable experience calling games. Yet it was evident that he had a command in of the mic, was assertive and definitely unafraid to express his opinion. (Brent Musburger, Johnny Most and Chick Hearn, l-r, at halftime in the Boston Garden)

The country was terribly divided in 1968. The Democratic Convention was in the Windy City and students protested on the streets. The Mayor and Democratic boss Richard Daley chased them away with Billy clubs. The media repeatedly recorded the cops beating college aged youngsters. It wasn’t pretty. Students were terribly unhappy over America’s involvement in the Vietnam war which escalated further in the years ahead. It left a terrible blemish on our wonderful country. It took a toll politically. President Lyndon Johnson announced that he wouldn’t run for reelection.

That same year, Musburger wrote and belittlingly so about the Olympic protests of John Carlos and Tommie Smith, who raised their black-gloved fists on the podium in Mexico City. Brent rose quickly from his sports-writing role to a local sportscaster in Chicago. By 1973, he was on CBS’ NFL depth chart with little if any play-by-play experience. After a few short seasons in the booth, Robert Wussler, head of CBS Sports, asked Musburger to host Inside the NFL. Brent worked for Wussler in Chicago, when the executive ran CBS’ Chicago affiliate, WBBM.

In 1974, CBS acquired the NBA rights after ABC had them. Pat Summerall called the play-by-play that very first season, 1974-’75. If Pat was a minimalist on NFL casts, imagine what he was like on his only NBA season. He said virtually nothing. The network realized it immediately and took him off basketball after just one season.

Brent was different and CBS stuck with him. He did six NBA title telecasts beginning in 1975 and later six Final Fours. The Basketball Hall of Fame though has never recognized him for what he contributed to the game, and never endowed him with the coveted Curt Gowdy Award for Broadcasting.

Before 1975, few outside Chicago, knew Brent’s name. He was opinion-driven and had little play-by-play basketball experience. Broadcasters who had built the league through radio’s incursions like Chick Hearn in the West with the Lakers and Marty Glickman in the East with the Knicks. The two quietly expressed their wrath. In time, Musburger got better and brought a critical edge that that stirred healthy havoc. He found his cadence and would eventually take command.

Pat Summerall’s soporifics were picked up from predecessor Ray Scott. It personified a conservative CBS. There was no Howard Cosell to anger viewers. Albeit Howard built Monday Night Football on ABC, he was never recognized for all he did for the NFL on national television.

But Brent and his colleagues didn’t always enjoy camaraderie. Phyllis George was added to the NFL screen bringing pulchritude, and Jimmy the Greek, weekly spreads. The antics between Musburger and the Greek turned nasty and eventually into fisticuffs on a Sunday night at a local saloon. The next day, both the local and national media engaged in edgy commentaries.

Brent’s first early basketball play-by-play on CBS was in 1975. It can be described as a rapid series of shouting and yelling drill, still though, it brought life to the NBA telecasts, a lively upgrade.

Chick Hearn, the Lakers beloved announcer, obviously felt that he should have been considered for the CBS gig. Hearn had done college football for NBC including the Rose Bowl where he was he with Mel Allen. (On black and white video of at least a half of one game is available on YouTube.) Chick had also done horse racing for NBC in the 1950s.

In May, 1975, after the Lakers finished a 30-52 season, Chick was asked by an independent syndicated network to cover a tennis event in Houston which I just happened to attend. I was doing busy work for the New York Sets of World Team Tennis. I got into an elevator car at the hotel where there were a couple strangers and Chick.

I introduced myself to Chick and asked him what he thought of Brent on the NBA playoffs? He proceeded to bellow a brief sermon, blasting Brent. Paraphrasing, “When will these networks hire someone who knows the game?” A moment later the elevator door opened and Chick left for his room. As the rest of us moved down the elevator chute, one of the other elevator just shook his head and remarked, “Wow, but that’s Chick.”

Chick was relentless. His wife Marge always had his back. I guess she felt that Chick was enjoying less of the limelight than Dodgers’ rival Vin Scully. When Marge picked up the phone one night and was told that Chick was about to be bestowed with some esteemed honor, she lowered her voice and asked the caller sarcastically, “Is it possible that you’re trying to reach, Vin Scully?”

Musburger, the broadcaster, had a business vision too. He partnered with family members in 2017, to launch VSiN, a Sports Betting Network. In March, 2021, it was sold to DraftKings for a reported $100 million. Not bad!

America will never have another Brent. He’ll be 85 on May, 26th. Musburger still has lots of juice. I miss him. He keeps things unpredictable and has continued to challenge his analysts.

Other chronicled reviews of recent years

Remembering 2023 in sports broadcasting; Memorable voices, including Suzy Kolber and others

Vin Scully named 2022 Sportscaster of the Year; He died in August at 94; Other notables also identified

Halby’s: Marv Albert is our Broadcaster of 2021; Other Voices Recognized Too

The Halby’s 2020: Scott Van Pelt Sportscaster of the Year; Awards by sport and other recognition

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.

Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Michael Green
2 months ago

That Cosell and Musburger haven’t gotten it has to be politics. That Bill King hasn’t gotten it is pure ignorance. But on Cosell and Musburger, who were sometimes compared (and at one point ABC courted Musburger to essentially take over Cosell’s role, as I recall, before he eventually wound up there), they were controversial figures. Not everyone liked them. Well, I can name winners of the Rozelle, the Frick, and the Gowdy who, frankly, I didn’t or don’t like to listen to. But guess what? They were important to their profession and the game, and they deserved it. As for… Read more »