Page 1

GQSports

*

Big Event Brent

After forty years in the business, Brent Musburger is still scrambling our brains with his misnomers and his mania, still calling every play of every insignificant game like it’s the Shot Heard Round the World. We could say he’s the only constant in our sports-watching lives, but that wouldn’t come close to capturing his significance by Matthew Klam

five years into my marriage, we couldn’t get her pregnant and things had gone stinko and I was leaving, in my mind. And yet I never felt closer to L., never felt so obligated as I did when I thought I could leave. It was terrible. And then, finally, when we did get her pregnant, it didn’t get easier. Once she was carrying our baby, I felt completely alone. That winter I couldn’t get any work done, was having financial problems, along with whatever else was seeding trouble in my heart and mind. It was a memorable time. What I mean is, life was bearing down on me, and it was January, I think, and I couldn’t sleep. I was lying on the couch, and I had a vodka mixed with 7 Up resting on my stomach, and I was watching some ›››

( P h o t o g r a p h s b y T U R E L I L L E G R AV E N )

NOV.06.GQ.c om.1 75


GQSports stupid basketball game on ESPN2. I had a little moment with myself then, a little teacup and saucer of peace, and I just wanted to preserve it for as long as possible before I went to bed and woke up a little more scared, a little older and uglier. I think it was Michigan State versus whothe-hell-cares, and Brent Musburger was calling the play-by-play, rolling out that old stale poetry with a gusto normally reserved for the Rapture. Was he kidding? I’d always thought his overblown way of calling the game was an inside joke, but now I’d lost my sense of humor, or he’d lost his mind. In a few months I’d be turning 41, and I’d be a father. Soon I’d be as corny and old as Brent Musburger. Which made me think vaguely of my father, at my age, and how there were more than a few times when he sat in his purple vinyl recliner watching the game on TV, with three kids, a job in sales, as my brother and I lay on the dog-hair-covered rug at his feet. Brent was there back then, too, enthralling us with his verbitude and hyperbole, grinning in a CBS blazer, hu∞ng in the cold in a furtrimmed duster. Would he ever just give it a rest? The idea of working until I’m Musburger’s age was making me tired. How did he do it? Did the college kids also watching him that night with their caffeinated beers and their cheese-in-the-crust pizzas have any clue who this man was? Was I the only one who realized the gap between Brent Musburger and me was shrinking?

***

at five o’clock, I stand facing Brent Musburger in the lobby of the Omni Hotel in Los Angeles. He wears a coat and tie and calfskin driving loafers. “WHADDAYA SAY KID!” he calls out when I spot him behind some ferns. “We ready for this? It’s gonna be INTERESTING AS HELL!” We’re heading to the Staples Center for the playoff opener between the Nuggets and Clippers, and Brent’s already all ready! There’s actually a slight gap between who he is in my mind, the A/V version, and who he really is. There’s some TV membrane that’s hard to traverse. (I’m not alone. It’s been happening for years; people spot him and say, “You look exactly like Brent Musburger,” as though he can’t be real, as though he’s dead.) He’s taller than I’d thought he’d be, six feet one or two. He’s got a little Stay Puft girth now, and he looks 67, no plastic surgery here. His hair is less puffy, but it’s neatly parted. He’s holding a binder made of actual basketball leather, distributed by the Clippers’ press department, and as he glances into it, I have the urge to call my brother up on the phone and say, “Guess how close I’m standing to Brent Musburger right now?” And then I think how great it would be if some other benevolent, unerasable figures from my childhood would 1 76.GQ.c O m . N OV.0 6

emerge from behind the other ferns, maybe Flip Wilson, Doug Henning, the guys from Sha Na Na. Instead, Tom Tolbert arrives, and Brent really lights up. “WHADDAYA SAY MY MAN BIG GUY TOMMY T!” Tolbert played seven seasons in the NBA and now works as an ESPN color analyst and is the size of a Coke machine. We follow him out, and it’s fantastic to see the giant put himself into the car, his mammoth shoulders, knees to his chest, wedging in his dress shoes, but he doesn’t fit. Brent contorts himself, too, gassing about Tolbert’s talk-radio show in the Bay Area, wondering what the big guy thinks about Bonds. It’s a little disappointing to see Brent assuming this subordinate role, so far away from the cameras, especially when the athlete is Tom Tolbert. On cue, a hotel guest yells up at Tolbert’s shining bald head for an autograph and then spots Brent and freezes, trying to put a name to that older man’s face. Brent blows right back at the guy, “HAH YA DOIN!” and we’re off. Past security, into the bowels of the Staples Center, past a row of gleaming

above and on previous page, at *theBrent, Little League World Series in August.

Escalades and Chrysler 300s belonging to Clippers players, past the ESPN production trailer where tonight’s live broadcast will be assembled, he moves like a candidate, pumping himself up for the tip-off as golf carts whiz by and roadies haul TV cameras and snaking electrical cables threaten to trip us. He nods to ticket takers, “WE READY FOR THIS?!” and concessionstand guys, “HOW ABOUT IT LADS?!” A military color guard rehearses backstage, and a fat little Homeland Security guard waddles by holding a walkie-talkie. We pass a lone, mostly nude cheerleader, a Clipperette or whatever they’re called, and Brent almost breaks his neck. “THE DOLLIES ARE IN THE HOUSE!” Then a journalist steps up and shakes his hand and won’t let go, and Brent says, “LET’S ROLL THE BALLS OUT!” We’re joined by tonight’s producer, a smiling, bull-necked man named Tom McNeeley (whose younger brother, Peter McNeeley, was flattened by Mike Tyson ten


GQSports years ago), and our sideline reporter, Jim Gray (who carries a bag of multicolored Twizzlers in his pocket), as we head to the visiting-team locker room to interview Denver Nuggets coach George Karl. A guy in the stands dressed in crazy Clippers attire yells, “Hey Musburger! Lemme see the socks.” Brent waves and smiles. We keep walking. He turns to Gray. “What?” Gray shrugs. “My socks?” “I have no idea,” Gray says. Outside the Denver locker room, a Nuggets forward stops by and shakes Brent’s hand, and over the next couple of minutes a second player and then a third do the same thing. The talent moves on. Brent turns wistful. “Game one of the playoffs, everybody’s all smiles,” he says. “By the end of it, not a fucking word. It’s just GAME FACE.” He actually makes a game face. ESPN crew members all offer genuinesounding paeans to the guy, telling me how other announcers have thrown cappuccinos in anger when the sprinkles are missing but that Brent’s not a tantrum thrower, not a boozer, not a womanizer, doesn’t drink coffee. Brent seems to have inherited from his mother, Beryl Musburger, and from his

father, Cecil, a kind of uranium-powered happiness, a preternaturally sunny disposition. He’s polite, pleasant, and happy, just like he’s always been, only louder these days, in case you’re deaf. In close conversation, he says fuck a lot, which is fun, and he’s a little repetitive, but he’s unpretentious and has a deferential bearing that makes you feel that what you’re saying is “interesting as hell” and that you’re always right. He’s been interviewing athletes for four decades and can make a zucchini sound like Einstein. For twenty long minutes we wait outside the locker room. Coach Karl is treating us like his cocktail waitress. Tolbert leans against the wall, apart from the group. He gives me a few tidbits about NBA players getting laid on the road, but it’s off the record. I’m a little tired of Tolbert, so I don’t ask too much about the road whores and groupies and sex junkies who may have targeted him, and I don’t take notes, although I double-check a few things. Earl Boykins walks by in practice shorts and socks and says hello. He’s the smallest player in the NBA, five feet five. “Every time I see him, I think he’s the ball boy,” Jim Gray says. Gray and McNeeley mull over ideas for tonight’s sideline reports. Everything is stale. McNeeley wants something involving

the crowd, but Gray wants to focus on the coaches. “Would you rather see the crowd or the coach?” Gray asks. “The crowd is idiotic.” “The coach!?!” Brent snaps. “Every single game, they show the coach 168 times!” Gray reminds us that last fall, while Brent was calling the play-by-play of a Florida State–Miami football game, the camera panned the crowd and focused in on one particularly attractive woman in bikinisized cutoffs as Brent observed, “Fifteen THOUSAND young red-blooded AMERICAN MEN just signed up to go to FLORIDA STATE NEXT SEMESTER!” “That girl is in Playboy this month,” Brent now says proudly. Coach Karl is huge, round, and bald, a former player with seventeen seasons coaching and a rep for limited verbal skills. That is, until he spent the 2004 season as a color analyst for ESPN. Earlier today, he was quoted in newspapers as saying, “A win in playoff basketball is better than sex. I’m old!” Now, in the small, bare visiting-team coach’s o∞ce, his game suit on a hanger behind him, Karl emits fluent paragraphs brimming with coachspeak. He’s hoping to “steal one on the road” from the less experienced Clippers. “When you win the first one,” he says, “you have ace-king.”

*

THE BRENT MUSBURGER DRINKING GAME

Legend has it that an Oklahoma Sooners fan going by the name of Lou Fanoukie created the Brent Musburger Drinking Game in 2001, after hearing Brent call the Big 12 championship game. Below, we bring you an abridged version of Mr. Fanoukie’s extraordinarily complex brainchild.

Rule #2 “Folks.” Everyone drinks one when Brent says “folks.” However, if Brent says “Hold on, folks,” everyone must drink once— but the first person to drink has to finish his drink for not holding on. Rule #3 “It’s a footrace!” Whenever Brent says “It’s a footrace,” everyone must finish his drink. The first one done becomes “That Man” and gets to punch the Pardner in the arm. Rule #4 “There’s that man again.” After someone becomes “That Man,” he gets to give away three drinks to someone of his choosing the next time Brent says “That man.” That 1 78.GQ.c O m . N OV.0 6

person then becomes “That Man.” If Brent says “That Man” before “It’s a footrace,” the Pardner becomes That Man. If the Pardner becomes That Man first, he gets to punch the new That Man in the arm twice after giving away the three drinks. Rule #5 “Jack Arute.” Whenever Brent says “Our ol’ buddy [sideline reporter] Jack Arute,” everyone has to say “AROOOOOOT!” Last one to do it has to take a shot. If everyone does it simultaneously, the Pardner must take a shot. Rule #6 Calling a touchdown before the player actually scores. For example, during an interception return, Brent might say “It’s a touchdown!” before the player crosses the goal line. In this case, everyone must start drinking and continue to drink until the player actually scores. If by some odd event the player does not score, everyone must finish his drink. Rule #7 “Gary, my man.” Whenever Brent says “Gary, my man,” the Pardner gets to choose

someone to be Gary. From that point on, that person must be referred to as Gary, My Man, until the game is over. Gary, My Man, gets to give away five drinks during the rest of the game anytime Brent says “Gary, my man.” If there is someone playing the game actually named Gary, that person is automatically Gary, My Man. Rule #8 “The Major.” If Brent has a pet nickname for one of the players during the game—for example, calling Major Applewhite “the Major”—everyone must drink five anytime Brent uses this nickname.

Rule #9 “John Saunders.” The first time Brent quips with John Saunders, everyone must drink one. The next time, everyone must drink two, and so on. Rule #10 “My Friend.” Every Pardner gets to choose a “Friend.” The Friend must always get up to get the Pardner another drink (since the Pardner will be doing quite a bit of that). However, when Brent utters “My Friend,” the Friend gets to punch the Pardner in the arm for making him get up so much. —With thanks to LOU FANOUKIE

PHOTOG R APH BY MICHAEL EDWARDS

Rule #1 “The Pardner.” A person is picked to be the Pardner (must be pronounced this way, as Brent would say it) at the beginning of the game. The first time Brent says “pardner,” the Pardner has to take one drink and then picks someone else to be the Pardner. The next time Brent says it, the new Pardner has to take two drinks and then pick a new Pardner, and so on and so on.


GQSports

We pass a lone, mostly nude cheerleader, a Clipperette or whatever they’re called, and Brent almost breaks his neck. “The dollies are in the house!” Gray asks, “Can you force the issue and get them in a running game?” Karl says, “I think we can.” Tolbert looks up from counting on his giant fingers and says, “There are thirteen pairs that are better than ace-king.” Karl ignores him. “I like winning on the road.” Brent asks, “Can you guard Chris Kaman with one man out, or do you need help?” Karl says, “We’ll start with strong yo-yo, trap him in the paint.” Brent asks, “Motherfuck the referee and go home?” Karl nods. Not exactly sure what anybody’s talking about at the end here, and I get the feeling that Brent doesn’t know either, that this is just some reflex kicking in, and that it doesn’t even matter.

F R O M L E F T: WA LT E R I O O S S J R . / S P O R T S I L L U S T R AT E D ; C B S / L A N D OV( 2 ) ; A B C / P H OTO F E S T

***

do you remember the 1970s? Not the fake 1970s as they’ve been repackaged starring Billy Bob Thornton, but the actual time in history? There was some heavy shit going on, not unlike today. Not that we were talking about it in my house. We didn’t discuss the race riots that took place at the high school across the street, or the war my uncle fought in, or the three Bronze Stars he returned home with, along with the AK-47 he was carrying when he arrived at LaGuardia. But as a kid I could sense these vibes, over dinner, and certainly in the rigid faces of newscasters, even as I kept to myself down there on the rug, staring at the TV like an idiot, watching sports. There was Howard Cosell, a straight

1969 Brent (far left) in the media

gaggle around Joe Namath before Super Bowl III in Fort Lauderdale.

man with a terrible voice, whining under his toupee, pretending to scu±e with Ali. Howard seemed to know everything; he was a bridge to the sports gods. He had a grating, entertaining way of pointing out not only their heartwarming struggles but also the sickly and stomach-churning delusions of grandeur, the terrible physical toll taken on human bodies, the backstabbing, cigar-chomping scumbags who owned the athletes, the racism and greed that tainted everything. Howard had a way of straight talking that makes today’s straight talkers like Madden and Bradshaw sound like corporate patsies, cartoons. He said and wrote things that today would get a sportscaster fired, that eventually did get him fired. I didn’t like or understand all of that as a 9-year-old, but I knew that Howard Cosell was somehow connected to the darkness of the ’60s and ’70s in a way that was real and that I wanted to go away. Brent was polished and bland and e∞cient, and he also took sports seriously, though not in the way that Howard Cosell took sports seriously. Brent took sports seriously by never getting the score wrong. His rise at CBS was well-timed, as social unrest gave way to the national search for stonewashed blue jeans. Corporations were learning to control their media, their filmmakers, their rock bands, their loose cannons on television. Brent was a professional. (Jimmy the Greek, his NFL Today cohost, would nearly be fired for socking Brent in a bar one night, and a few years later succeeded in ending his career by making a racist gaffe in a restaurant in Georgetown.) Brent didn’t make mistakes or say weird

1973 In the familiar

CBS blazer he wore for twenty-two years.

things about black people. Well, actually, he did, as a journalist for the now defunct Chicago American, when, during the 1968 summer Olympics, he called the American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos “black-skinned storm troopers.” He explains that what he meant was that they were unbecomingly pressing their political agenda, and he believed then, as he does now, that politics has no place in sports. Whatever that means. In any case, he still doesn’t believe that the tone of his comment was out of line. He has always been an enthusiast, an unabashed sports junkie who likes his games uncomplicated by irony or shame. For more than a decade he was the genial overlord of CBS Sports, the highest-paid sportscaster on television, appearing like ragweed all over the screen, hosting the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the Final Four (he popularized the term “March Madness”), the Masters in golf, the U.S. Open in tennis, Major League Baseball, not to mention all sorts of junk like the World’s Strongest Man and the New Year’s Eve countdown. When CBS fired him, he moved to ABC, and over the past sixteen years he’s lost a few highprofile gigs (the halftime show for Monday Night Football, and he was a little too loud for golf ), but he’s hung on as a kind of second-tier barnstorming workaholic, doing college football and the Indy 500, the Little League World Series, horse races and bicycle races and basketball games in any godforsaken college town. Twenty years ago, at the height of his fame, Brent said, “Not for one moment do I think I’m what’s important. I’m the messenger. The games are what count. Without them, there wouldn’t be a Brent Musburger. If I started to pontificate, they’d get tired of me in a hurry. They’d start throwing their empty beer cans at me.” When I ask what he thought about Howard Cosell attaching himself to political causes, defending civil rights, ranting against team owners for ditching their fans for better stadiums across the country, for robbing fandom of

1975 With Phyllis George and Irv Cross in the control room of the wildly popular Sunday-afternoon show NFL Today.

1977 With Bruce

Wilhelm (left) and Ken Patera at the World’s Strongest Man competition. NOV.06.GQ.c Om.181


GQSports

1980 Calling an NBA basketball game with Bill Russell on CBS.

182.GQ.c O m . N OV.0 6

It’s almost Buddhist, when you think about it, the recognition that the thing he devotes thousands of hours to every year, for decades now, has no lasting significance whatsoever. game of the Final Four, and did it without giving away anything. After the trophies were handed out, he put his arm around his color analyst, Billy Packer, and said, “Folks, I’ve had the best seat in the house. Thanks for sharing it. I’ll see you down the road.” There is an emptiness, a clarity, that reveals itself in Brent’s approach to the egodriven world of sports commentating. It’s almost Buddhist when you think about it, that recognition that the thing he devotes thousands of hours to every year, for decades now, has no lasting significance whatsoever. It’s like Bruce Lee, whose self-styled fighting system preached casting off what is useless, leaving only the essence to survive.

***

courtside, beneath the arena’s blazing lights, it’s getting louder. Brent sits at the announcer’s table, shouting into his headset, rehearsing (“THANKS MIKE TIRICO! It’s been NINE YEARS since the Clippers were in the playoffs!”). On the court, three giants in tracksuits lie prone as athletic trainers gingerly stretch their groins. Beside them, a beautiful woman screams at the top of her lungs into a microphone that plays over the head-splitting PA system, alerting people to the video blasting on the Jumbotron, which shows two guys instructing the home crowd on how to use their free hot-dog-shaped inflatable bangers, which some 10,000 fans now do. It’s very noisy, bad for eardrums. Brent reads through his notes, head bowed. The Clippers start strong and take a solid lead while the entire stadium is chewing on cheese fries and screaming. There’s

1982 Tossing a snowball

outside the makeshift headquarters of The Super Bowl Today, prior to Super Bowl XVI.

1985 During the heyday, when Brent was host to practically all CBS sports programming.

a pheromonal joy in the air, you see it on everyone’s faces; the Clippers are not going to be treated like dogshit again. Their most famous fan, “Clipper Darrell,” wears a custom-made suit, half blue, half red, matching shoes and tie. When the camera finds him up in section 107, he turns his back and pretends to make out with himself. Middle of the second period during a commercial break, the noise level has risen dramatically. And why shouldn’t the home crowd scream? The Clippers have waited nine years to make the playoffs. And they are dominating! Elton Brand has a hot hand; and Sam Cassell, 36 years old, moves like he’s 50 but finds the seams! Chris Kaman—who, as Tom Tolbert points out, has very limp hair tonight and needs some Breck shampoo—is rebounding well! The house is rocking! It’s exhausting to sit in here! I’m in the first row, floor seats, behind the announcer’s table, and the little kid next to me, dressed like a rap star, is trying to break a candy apple with his teeth. Orangefaced Mafia-don look-alike and prostitute lover Donald Sterling, owner of the Clippers, with his bombshell wife on his arm, takes his seat beside Brent. A sexy waitress brings me a drink. Brent’s hunched over the table making notes, his feet crossed beneath him. Now he’s using his highlighter. A crew member on a milk crate beside him is placing more research at his elbow that’s just been run in from spotters. At each commercial break, something happens on the court that usually involves tumbling, dancing, and nudity. Now the tiny dancers are on. Maybe a dozen little children, 4-to-7-year-olds, the “Junior Jam

2004 The long, strange trip continues: With Bill Walton, on ESPN, calling a midseason NBA game in Sacramento.

F R O M L E F T: C B S / L A N D OV ; A P I M AG E S ; G LO B E P H OTO S ; G A R R E T T W. E L LW O O D/G E T T Y I M AG E S

its soul, Brent says that he knew Howard very well and that Howard was a lawyer first. “I’ll tell you a funny story,” he says, and then tells me a story that isn’t at all funny and has nothing to do with law but is sort of interesting, about Howard doing the play-by-play of the 1968 Super Bowl—years before he became a football announcer, practicing for an audience of one, for Brent—while the two of them watched the game together from the press box. I try again and ask Brent what he thought of Howard calling Frank Gifford, Howard’s longtime colleague from the gigantically successful Monday Night Football, a charmer, a dimwit, a liar. Does he understand why, after thousands of nights in the booth, Howard felt that watching the same sports moments unfold had become akin to Chinese water torture? “Howard viewed sports with more importance than I do,” Brent says. “This game has no lasting significance whatsoever, as far as I can tell. I don’t see any great lessons. I live my own life—and nothing, none of that, came from sports. It’s a great spectacle. I like to say, ‘Pack up the tent and get outta here!’ It’s a circus.” Maybe this is the key to Brent. Maybe he’s a happy man because he doesn’t care enough about his career to let it bother him. All those years on the road, four decades now, wandering airports and racing for planes and prepping for hours before the big game, arriving home at 4 a.m. and needing a spatula to cook an egg and not knowing where the kitchen implements are hiding, then dusting off that fall wardrobe and standing in bone-chilling sideline gusts with no hat for four to seven hours, missing his sons’ baseball games and receiving the fat check, losing his sidekick, getting fired, breaking in Dick Vitale, losing his place in the footrace, bowing to the times, calling the Little League World Series every year. The night back in 1990 when he got fired from ABC, he had the option to quietly disappear but chose instead to call the championship


GQSports Squad.” The little girls throw their long hair around, make their asses shake, and grind their hips. The crowd LOVES it. Little boys slide between them, doing some judo and grinding their little crotches at the girls. The smallest kid is the size of a baby. Tom Tolbert, who has three ziplock Baggies of pretzels on the table, blabs to the producer in the truck. Both men are getting a steady stream of chatter through their headsets, and at their elbows are four TV monitors plunked down on the announcer’s table, showing four different things—this game, another game, the empty studio in Bristol, and the Telestrator. Billy Crystal is sitting by Tolbert now, wearing a shiny black sport coat. He leans over and chats with the announcers. Already Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, and Al Michaels, sportscasting titan (the kind of supernova Brent used to be), have stopped by to shake Brent’s hand. “Well, Tom,” Brent says after the break, “George Karl said, ‘A win in playoff basketball is better than sex. I’m old.’ Some of you may disagree with that. I know a lot of NBA players who say, ‘You gotta be kidding me, George! What are you TAWKIN’ ABOUT!?!’ ” Tolbert says, “I know a win in the first or second round isn’t better than sex. I’ve never been past that, so it’s possible.” Brent: “HA HA HA!” In the third period, the Clippers build a ten-point lead. Brent reminds the audience that the Clippers and the Lakers share a home court and might meet in the next round of the playoffs. ESPN statisticians have thoughtfully put together a list of all the pro teams that shared a home arena who then met in the playoffs, which Brent now reads. Last on the list are the Montreal Canadiens, who met the long-disbanded Montreal Maroons. Brent finishes the list, and both announcers sit quietly for a moment, because what is there left to say about this gripping sidebar to history? “Hey,” Tolbert says, “didn’t you have the Maroons at four-to-one against the Canadiens?” He’s talking about a game played in 1928, eleven years before Brent was born. “YES!” Brent says. “I LOVE THE MAROONS!”

***

as a kid back in Billings, Montana, Brent forged his birth certificate so he could enter a Little League tournament he’d already outgrown. He got caught, and the rest of his athletic career didn’t go so well, either, but by age 8 he already had a backup plan, imitating the radio. Cecil owned an appliance store and brought home one of the first tape recorders. Brent and his friends would sit around doing fake broadcasts. He also had a wild side, selling beer to the garbage men to make a few bucks while he was still in elementary school, stealing the maid’s car with his 7-year-old brother, 18 4.GQ.c O m . N OV.0 6

Todd, beside him, and driving all over town. One night he broke into the local dog pound to set his dog loose and then lifted every other dog over the fence as well. At Northwestern he got thrown out for a year, for driving a car on campus without a license. As a young reporter, he faked his way into the 1968 Olympics using an ID he’d made up and the name Al Silverman, because Silverman, editor of Sport magazine, had been credentialed but had not shown up. Arlene, Brent’s wife, went as Mrs. Silverman. They had excellent seats. And during those heady years at CBS, Brent had a habit of blowing through tollbooths on the Merritt Parkway, on his way home after a long day in the NFL Today studio, with a can of Moosehead between his knees. Even now, he drives like a maniac. “It’s appropriate that he covers the Indy 500,” Steve Lavin told me. Lavin, a former head coach of UCLA basketball, has been ditched by Brent at the end of a game more than once.

***

it’s now 1 a.m. Brent sits very happily in a booth in The Palm restaurant, holding a beer. We’ve been here for a while. Across the street, the Staples Center still glows. He seems only slightly worn down, a little hoarse but still neatly dressed. I get him to talk about the old days, in particular about the fight with Jimmy the Greek—“He was UP AT THE BAR! I knew he was PISSED!”—where the Greek, angry at Brent for cutting down his air time on The NFL Today, punched Brent on the side of the head and then smashed a bottle on the table to use as a weapon. Jim Gray is here with Mike Ireland, the director of tonight’s broadcast, and both are obediently laughing, slapping the table, repeating Brent’s funny lines. Tolbert is here, too, finishing his Caesar salad and trying not to listen. The discussion has now moved on to Brent’s legacy, how he lit the way for all sports-studio shows that followed, with his magical weaving of news, profiles, banter, and insider dishing. Gray and Ireland are excited, too, honestly curious, and genuinely fawning, which makes Brent bashful. But Tolbert can’t stand it anymore and says, “You pioneered the steroid guy–washing machine race!” Brent’s reflexes kick in once more, and he immediately agrees with Tolbert. It’s better to be in on the joke, and anyway mockery is a type of flattery. He launches into a story about a 1970s junk-sport spectacle he hosted on CBS prime time that he now calls “the worst FUCKING show ON THE AIR!” Built around the exploits of Evel Knievel, Death Defiers ran for one season and showed daredevils in action. “Here’s one I’ll never forget!” Brent says. “They strap this guy to the TOP OF THE FUCKING AIRPLANE,” an old DC-8,


GQSports “he’s wearing A MASK! Calls himself the HUMAN FLY!” The plane flew around the Mojave Desert for a while, and when it landed, Brent appeared above the fuselage in a cherry picker, microphone in hand. “Except the Human Fly is either FROZEN or DEAD! And I don’t know what to say, so I go, ‘Nice run, Fly!’ But the guy’s UNCONSCIOUS! He can’t SAY SHIT!” He explains, “They unstrap the guy, they take him down in the cherry picker, he disappears! I’m bullshitting into the mike, ‘Oh! The pressure must’ve got to him! He’ll be okay!’ Later they bring me some guy to interview. Whether or not it was the Human Fly, I DON’T KNOW! I have NO CLUE! I NEVER heard about the Human Fly AGAIN! They might’ve BURIED HIM IN THE MOJAVE!” Everybody laughs, except Tolbert. When Brent regains his composure, he tells a story about Evel Knievel rehearsing a jump over a tank full of sharks. “CRASHES, breaks his FUCKING LEG!” But Tolbert’s had enough: “Okay, all right, on that note…” He stands up, and the night ends. Tolbert leads, and the rest of us follow with attenuated respect for the big salad eater. Out on the street, a bum approaches, and Brent says a few words to the guy as we walk away. The man is in terrible shape. When I look back, Brent’s digging through his briefcase and gives the man five dollars. We wait at the curb. Brent has made the gesture out of sympathy for a broken soul, absolutely. But then it also seems to signal something else: gratitude for his own good luck, maybe, for this evening’s work, for the business not throwing him away or turning against him in his twilight. Then the poor old guy comes toward the rest of us, and Brent gives him the boot! “Okay, buddy, you’ve had a good night. We’ll see ya later!”

***

by now, maybe Brent should’ve taken a bow and retired to a golf course somewhere in Florida, where he could chop at golf balls with Arlene. She’s a heck of a golfer, he’s told me, but she’s going to have to wait a little longer, because ESPN is keeping him busy. When Keith Jackson, Brent’s ABC colleague and “the voice of college football,” retired this year, Jackson told The New York Times, “I’m finished with play-by-play forever. I’m 77. I don’t want to die in a stadium parking lot.” Brent just signed a new three-year contract. His brother and agent, Todd Musburger, said, “They’re going to have to carry him out in a pine box.” Last fall in Nebraska, after doing the play-by-play for a Cornhuskers game, Brent got caught drinking a can of Budweiser in the passenger seat of a car on the way to the airport. It was one of those snarky things that got reported in about

every newspaper in America, and I’d been worried that he wouldn’t want to talk about it, that maybe the incident shamed him. But Brent couldn’t wait to tell me that the $144 fine made it the most expensive can of Bud he’d ever had. And what was worse was that he didn’t even GET TO DRINK IT! It was clear, from the way he told the story, that he loved being asked about that night and that he’d already told the story about 186,000 times. According to Buddhist folklore, the Laughing Buddha is admired for his happiness, his plenitude, and his wisdom of contentment. If you rub his belly, it brings good luck. I realize I’m talking about a sportscaster here, a guy who lends himself to jokes and imitations and the Brent Musburger Drinking Game, someone who admits, when asked, that the focus of his life has absolutely no significance whatsoever. But maybe there’s something to be learned from his example, moving through life unencumbered by self-delusion or shame. Perhaps it’s not the worst way to go. Soon enough, your guns will rust. Your biceps will shrivel. Your penis will fall off and turn to dust. We are all headed for the same long afternoon nap. And whether you’re a big shot or a has-been or a neverwas, whether you, too, were a star once who got fired, you’ll have to make a choice: Hang on to the glory days with all your might, or let it all go. The trick is to keep caring about what you care about and not be afraid. But don’t go bananas, either. Keep things in perspective if you can. It was a lifetime ago now, when I lay on that couch last January, watching a meaningless Michigan State basketball game, wired and anxious and worried about the future. I couldn’t help looking somewhere, anywhere, for a clue on how to manage my troubles. Brent seemed to be saying, I know how ridiculous this is. I know you know it, too. Got something better to do? Michigan in January, maybe it’s thirty below outside, and he’s got a plane to catch when the game ends, but for now there’s still time, time to catch a buzz on the way to the airport, time to see what’s happening on the court. And somewhere in the middle of the second period, a player drives into the lane and makes a one-hand, no-look pass across his body to a lone sharpshooter ten feet away, who nails the jumper. Brent’s voice rises as though he were offering a firsthand account of the destruction of an oncoming Earth-sized asteroid. Maybe he’s seen that move 100,000 times before; no doubt he has. But that night a precious thing was in short supply, and it needed cheering on, and maybe half of it was hype, half of it was a joke, and maybe he thinks deep down it’s nothing. But, hey, what a pass! matthew klam is the author of Sam the Cat and Other Stories. NOV.06.GQ.c Om.187

Musburger story gq  
Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you