Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thoughts on Old Announcers Being Sent to Pasture

By Kevin Beane

I've waxed nostalgic about old announcers that I grew up listening to in my column many times before, but one lifelong sports voice that I do not have a particular affinity for is Brent Musberger. He says "folks" too much, I don't find is catch phrases as pleasing as other announcers', and he just grates on me sometimes.

Nonetheless, I recognize his contributions to the sports broadcasting world, and when guys like Musberger get up in years, I want them to go out on a high. In NFL player terms, I'd rather see them retire like John Elway (if possible), a Super Bowl MVP in his last game, and not like Emmitt Smith, an Arizona Cardinal.

That doesn't seem to happen often, though, in broadcasting. Musberger will no longer be the voice of ABC Saturday Night Football (and with apologies to CBS and ABC-owned ESPN, that's still the biggest game in town). Instead, he will be the new voice of the upstart SEC Network, which is also affiliated with ABC/ESPN/Disney.

The new network is not going to significantly shake up network game priorities. For the SEC (it's slightly more complicated than this, but here is the gist), CBS still gets the first choice each week, and ESPN gets second choice.

So no longer are you going to see Musberger call top-flight games. Instead you will see him doing games like Wake Forest at Vanderbilt, or whatever. It doesn't seem right for a man of Musberger's pedigree. He is also not from nor does he reside (as best as I can figure out) in SEC country. I don't see any obvious ties with Musberger and the SEC.

Sometimes a network feels their hand is forced as broadcasters get up in years and their booth performance suffers. I see two flaws with that, however.

One, and less controversially: Musberger is still as sharp as a tack. He's 74, but I don't think his performance has declined in the last 20-30 years at all, nor do I see many others saying that.

Two, and more controversially: in these days of DVRs and information overload, nostalgia is more important than occasional lapses in accuracy.

But the way Musberger is getting jobbed seems to be typical of the national TV landscape. Let's look at some examples:

Do you remember Mike Patrick? Here's a man who doesn't get his due in the sports broadcasting pantheon. He was formerly ESPN's No. 1 college football voice, as well as their play-by-play man for NFL's Sunday Night Football for many years. Now, judging by his assignments, he gets ESPN/ABC's fourth or fifth best game each week. Why? His age does not seem to be publicly offered, but he started his broadcasting career in the '70s.

Pat Summerall is probably my favorite announcer ever. Towards the end of his career, after retiring and unretiring, he was paired with Brian Baldinger on FOX and covered mostly Cowboys and Texans games on a regional basis only.

Was that at his request? Possibly. But possibly not, since he was happy to fill in for Mike Patrick on Sunday Night Football when the latter had heart surgery in 2004.

Keith Jackson may be the exception to the rule. He did absolutely request less travel in his twilight years, which meant only covering Pac-10 (at the time) games for ABC.

Barry Tompkins is another one I find vastly underrated. He was for several years FOX Sports Regional Network's main play-by-play man, covering bit Pac-10 games. But then he inexplicably downshifted to the little-seen WAC Sports Network (not an actual network, but a syndicate). Now he calls WCC basketball games.

Compare this to local broadcasting heroes. Harry Caray was at it for the Cubs until the day he died, and I don't think anyone would have it any other way even though his performance did suffer in his later years.

Vin Scully is 86 (!) and still is the main man for Dodgers radio and TV for all home games and road games close to Los Angeles, although he shares innings with Charley Steiner. If he wanted to do more than that, no one would stand in his way.

We see here that local markets tend to be more generous with heralded announcers than national markets. But there's no reason it should be that way. If Scully is venerated by millions of Dodger fans, then Musberger is venerated by tens of millions of college football fans the country over, and that ought to be the bottom line.

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