Brent Musburger still going strong at 73, enjoying the ride of his life
"It's a labor of love," said Brent Musburger, who, with Kirk Herbstreit, will call Saturday's MAACO Bowl Las Vegas between Washington and Boise State.
Times staff columnist
LAS VEGAS — Still wearing sweat clothes, Leon Spinks is walking through the casino at the Las Vegas Hilton. He's alone and looks lost.
About two hours earlier he had authored one of the most momentous upsets in boxing history, beating Muhammad Ali and winning the undisputed world heavyweight championship.
The man who called the upset on television is watching Spinks, curious why the newly crowned champ is alone. Where is the entourage? Where is the party?
Brent Musburger gets up from one of the tables and intersects with Spinks.
"Let's go see a friend of mine," Musburger says to Spinks.
He takes the champ backstage of the main show room and finds his friend, comedian Bill Cosby, who is preparing to headline the late show.
Cosby looks at Spinks, feigning disbelief. "You did what?" he hollers at Spinks. "You beat who?"
"Leon just looked at Bill and smiled that gap-tooth smile of his," Musburger said on Thursday night, laughing as he told his story. "He didn't know what to say to Bill. It was like Spinks didn't know what he'd just done."
Brent Musburger has stories to tell. The next one better than the last.
After five decades in the sports business, first as a reporter for the now-defunct Chicago American and then as one of the nation's most distinguished play-by-play broadcasters, he has been at the elbow of sports history.
Musburger has met and mingled with the high and mighty of sports. He has called or covered just about every major sporting event in the world, including the first Super Bowl.
He's done everything from the Little League World Series to soccer's World Cup. He was the voice of the Final Four and is the voice of the Rose Bowl and BCS championship game. He has covered numerous Olympic Games, the Masters, U.S. Open tennis, NASCAR races and the Indianapolis 500.
He has worked alongside a disparate group of analysts including Dick Vermeil, Dick Vitale, Bob Davie, Kirk Herbstreit, Bill Russell, Rick Barry, Mendy Rudolph, Phyllis George, Jim Valvano, Jimmy the Greek and Oscar Robertson.
"It's a labor of love," said Musburger, who, with Herbstreit, will call Saturday's MAACO Bowl Las Vegas between Washington and Boise State. "I have a love of the game and the people who play them. It's always been my life. If I wasn't doing this I'd be watching all of these games on television. I'm a junkie. I love watching people compete."
At a restaurant inside Mandalay Bay, Musburger, who still has the energy and the love for sports of a person 40 years younger, talked about his life in the games. He is a giant in his business, but is as approachable and engaging as a next-door neighbor.
When Musburger calls a game, that game seems automatically elevated. At 73, he still is one of the best. And, at 73, he is entertaining no thoughts of retirement.
"The truth of the matter is, I would have loved to have been an athlete good enough to compete at the professional level at anything and I wasn't," he said. "This was the best way to stick around and see these games. It's been an unbelievable adventure. I've loved every minute of it."
He called the NBA Finals in the days when the league still was finding its way and some of those games were shown on tape after the 11 o'clock news.
He covered the Portland Trail Blazers' championship in 1977 and the back-to-back Sonics trips to the Finals, including the title-winning series against Washington in 1979.
He was in the Kingdome announcing Edgar Martinez's series-winning double for ABC in the 1995 Game 5 playoff win over the New York Yankees.
"A baseball game can't get more exciting than that one," Musburger said. "And Edgar Martinez, in that series, he was as tough a hitter as there was in the game. He was a tough out."
Musburger was the first host of CBS's pregame studio show, "NFL Today." That show became the model for every studio show to follow. More than a decade before "SportsCenter," there was "NFL Today."
Now he has replaced Keith Jackson as the voice of college football for ABC and ESPN. One icon replacing another.
Musburger doesn't act iconic. He understands his good fortune. Doesn't take himself too seriously. He even makes the inevitable bumps in a career seem manageable.
He was fired from CBS after the 1990 Final Four between Duke and UNLV. He didn't spend a minute wallowing in self pity. He just took a job with a competitor, ABC, and hasn't missed a tick.
"I've watched a lot of rodeo guys," Musburger said. "They're getting their butts kicked. They're face down in the dirt, scrambling around, trying not to get stepped on, just trying to get a payday. And after (the firing) I thought to myself, 'Get back up. Get in the saddle and see what you can do again.'
"I knew I had a lot of years left. There was no second-guessing for me. I was uncertain as to why they (CBS) had made the move, so there wasn't anything I would have done differently with my career. I wouldn't have changed anything."
The best in the business make it seem as if they're sitting in the stands with us and allowing us to eavesdrop on their conversation about the game. The best make the viewers feel like they're one of us.
Musburger is one of the best. And one of us.
"The key is to get people to ride along with you," he said. "I try not to wear them out. I take the job seriously, but I try not to take myself seriously.
"The best way to do it is to think that you're talking to one person, who's a friend. If you were to think about the millions (who are watching), you might get a little spooked by it. But I want that one person to understand what I'm talking about. I want people to enjoy themselves."
Kickoff at Sam Boyd Stadium is at 12:30 p.m., and if I can make one safe prediction about this game, I believe Brent Musburger will have a good time and he'll make sure his viewers enjoy the ride with him.
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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