Tonight the broadcaster Brent Musburger called his final game. It was a Tuesday night SEC basketball affair between Georgia and Kentucky, which went to overtime, of course. Kentucky won, naturally, and altogether it was a mildly anticlimactic ending to a career that touched six decades.
Musburger was a great broadcaster. He was not the most objective broadcaster, nor the most discreet, nor the most accurate — Tuesday he incorrectly called Malik Monk’s game-tying jump shot a 3. But the name of the game is television, not journalism, and Musburger gave the audience a persona to interact with.
“This is show business, babe,” he told The Big Lead in 2014.
Musburger was the uncle who had a Corvette back in the 70s and knew where all the good spots were, but he’s gotten older now, older than he feels, and he means well but every now and then something will fly out of his mouth that you wind up apologizing for in the other room.
Yeah, that really became a thing with Musburger toward the end, here. It always kind of was with him. He probably still owes an apology to Tommie Smith and John Carlos. But even in modern times, nobody ever accused Brent Musburger of speaking too deliberately. There was the time he went on and on about how pretty the Alabama quarterback’s girlfriend was, and then recently he clumsily rooted for the success of Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon, who punched a woman. There were calls for him to be fired after that one. Another time he said Holly Rowe was “really smokin’.” Taken all together, you get the picture of a 77-year-old man who has fallen a step behind the times. And once that little gap opens, it never closes again.
This is to say nothing of his broadcasting talent. Musburger still has that quality of making a small game feel big, and a big game feel bigger. He’s a year older than Verne Lundquist, who retired at the end of this football season. But Lundquist, always a beat behind the viewing audience, had the gas light come on years ago. Musburger still sounds more or less like he did in his prime.
Musburger’s final broadcast partner was Jay Bilas, meaning ESPN took it easy on Musburger on his way out the door.
“I’ve warned Jay,” Musburger said during a timeout, “he can’t kiss me like Dick Vitale did on Saturday.”
It wasn’t so long ago Musburger was dragging an unprepared Bob Knight through Big Monday broadcasts like a hungover teenager on the way to Sunday school.
Musburger’s vice seems to be gambling, however. He’s starting a sports gaming network, which seems natural. Musburger always liked to keep viewers updated on the gambling implications of a given game, or play. In a pre-recorded bit, Kansas coach Bill Self joked about it on the broadcast.
“The only thing that’s a little bit bothersome to me is that your friends in the desert told people last year two years was the over-under,” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “Everybody expected you to go over. Congratulations.”
I don’t know if Musburger was very many people’s favorite broadcaster (there is only one Keith Jackson, after all), but he seemed to be one of the broadcasters people really liked talking about. There were drinking games, there were petitions to get him fired, there were all the Twitter jokes about which team Musburger had money on.
“I always felt like I was watching a game with a friend,” Bilas said.
There’s no need to get all weepy and sentimental about it, but Brent Musburger had a unique and interesting style that made games more fun, and I’ll miss him now that he’s gone.