Musburger was let go by Vegas; Can Greg Papa return? He calls 49ers now, after 21 seasons with Oakland


In honor of the great Vin Scully, we remember June 6, 1944, 78 years ago today when our nation gave of itself and willingly so, to finish off the Nazis. We knew that major casualties were coming. Invariably, no matter where the Dodgers were on D-Day, if Vin didn’t see a story in the local papers, commemorating the ‘day of sacrifice’ in the local papers, you can hear the anger in Scully’s voice. “I went from front to back page.” Vin himself was in the Navy later. The late broadcaster, Jack Whitaker was one who was on the second wave and was badly injured.

What went wrong?

Brent Musburger is a decent man. He’s very bright and can do a ton of things superbly. I’ve had several producers, both radio and television, tell me that among the best voices who can time their commentary to a split second include, Bob Costas, Howard Cosell, Vin Scully, Jack Whitaker and Brent Musburger. An additional take is generally unnecessary with these gentlemen. Perfection. But as Rich Podolsky wrote in his book, You are Looking Live, Jimmy the Greek wanted to kill Brent after the toughie from Montana stole a story from him. The Greek’s anger actually exploded into fisticuffs in a local New York saloon after a Sunday post game show.

Brent seemed to always want something. He never seemed happy with his assignment. He wanted it all. He would never let go. Just absolutely tenacious. CBS wanted baseball and finally got it in 1990. NBC had it for eons. CBS’ ratings were laboring. The network thought that baseball was the answer. What it didn’t realize is the sports world was making a mad rush toward football. In the early 1980s, John Madden came aboard. He propelled football viewership, taking fans into the world of the locker room and into the the life of a football player.

Baseball was fighting through a quagmire, bad ratings and low revenue. Not a good combination. The Tiffany network overpaid for the rights and wasn’t very lucky. There was a recession too. The incumbent president, George Bush, lost his re-election and a new pair became well known through America, Bill and Hillary,  With all this, Neal Pilson, CBS’ president, had to deal with a nagging Brent who insisted that he do the newly acquired MLB package. Todd was Brent’s brother and agent. He figured that Brent had more capital than he really had.

Musburger who astonishingly is not in the Basketball or Football Hall of Fame was enshrined recently in the Montana Sports Hall. Hardly the same but it’s where he grew up. Brent has an edge to him. But what he did for the NFL is being discounted. Same for the Hall in Springfield. I guess six NBA Finals and six NCAA Titles doesn’t make the cut.

Meanwhile Brent’s contract at CBS was running out and the media was following it closely. Musburger was the king of CBS Sports and generally ruled the roost. He wouldn’t let go. Most people didn’t believe the way this would end. On the eve of the baseball season at the Final Four in Denver, CBS Sports president, a Yale man, had enough. He told the media that Musburger’s contract won’t be renewed. Brent was out. Yet, the gentlemanly Neal Pilson said that he would allow Musburger do the title game the next night.

Greg Papa

Years later, Billy Packer who worked with Mus for all the six Final Fours Brent did, told me that he was told by CBS management that if Brent stepped out of line in the title game, they would cut Musburger’s mic and Billy would work alone. An announcer story stole game headline, the next morning.

In 1990, Musburger and John Madden were the biggest names in sports broadcasting. Howard Cosell had faded. ESPN was quickly smashing through TV screens and sports TV overall was continuing to disrupt how sports were followed.

It wasn’t the first time that Brent had to show some dominance on the stage. Very early in his career, Brent was a writer, a minor league baseball umpire, a local TV anchor and more. He knew a lot and can do just about anything. He had a degree  of charm and liked the little guy. When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in protest the same year that Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King were assassinated in 1968 at the Mexico City Olympics, Brent wrote a blistering column, critical of the two protesters. Meanwhile, Cosell backed the track stars with an embracement of his own on ABC.

Sports broadcasting wasn’t about controversy until these guys came around. A fighter from Montana, Brent, wouldn’t take nonsense from anyone. Good for him. After he was dropped by CBS, Brent battled back irrepressibly. College football and more from ABC and ESPN. It culminated when he became the Voice of the college championship game.

“When you’re a quarterback at Alabama, you see that lovely lady there?” Musburger shared infamously and mellifluously  on his final ESPN broadcast. “She does go to Auburn but she also is Miss Alabama and that’s A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend. While many thought it was funny, the PC folks were in the process of growing their support. At ESPN, it made Brent a persona non-grata. An aging Musburger was out. Time for act three. The Raiders needed a charismatic voice, someone with vibrancy, someone linked with a 24-hour town, Vegas.

His spirit is still lively. Musburger’s brother Todd and other members of the family launched a business. They figured legalized gambling will continue to explode. The Musburgers bet right and they jumped right in. Brent is the face of it. Not many years later, 2021, DraftKing bought Brent and company for a reported $100 million.

So, other than his ego, whether he was pushed our out or not is indifferent. The Musburgers now have it made in the shade. In 2017, Musburger left ESPN. In ’18 he began with the Raiders in Oakland, moving with club to Vegas and now leaving again with some fingerprints on his back.

Is he done? Brent tweeted:  “Many thanks to the  organization for fond memories. I’ll miss broadcast partner Lincoln Kennedy and the radio production crew. What’s next? I hear Mike Trout might step down as commissioner of his fantasy league. You never know!” Never bet against Brent. The man has many lives and health wise, he’s hale, at least so it appears this way.  

So what can we speculate did him in? When a team, network or an employer says nothing, it’s not a good sign. Brent also has a history of being be a pain in the behind with management. There’s more to this.

This was said on a podcast last December 21st by Mike Florio of NBC and ProFootballWeekly. But what role did Brent have in it? Podcast as uttered by Brent:

“As I told Coach (Jon Gruden), whoever took you out, Jon, that was a paid assassin,” Musburger told J.T. The Brick of the Las Vegas Sports Network. “That was one of the best hit jobs that I’ve ever been around. They didn’t go to their media goombahs. They didn’t leak this to Adam Schefter or one of those guys that break stories. They first went to the Wall Street Journal. And when Gruden was still coaching after that, then they dumped the rest of it on the New York Times. That was a professional hit job.”

Brent Musburger took the Vegas Raiders play-by-play job in 2018, the club’s last year in Oakland. A short number of years earlier, he had invested in sports betting, talking openly about point spreads. It was one the first gambling shows available through streaming. Brent and members of the Musburger family invested a chunk of change into gambling programming.

There’s talk that Greg Papa, who called Raiders games for 21 seasons and was then fired after a dispute with owner Davis could get rehired. That’s a little odd because truth be told, Greg has a better job, he does the Niners’ schedule.


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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