Brent Musburger Had a Legacy as Complicated as the Ohio State Teams That He Made Immortal

By Johnny Ginter on January 27, 2017 at 10:20 am
Looking live at Ohio Stadium

I used to be of the opinion that Brent Musburger, for all of his ubiquitousness as a sports play-by-play announcer, kind of sucked.

And, I mean... I still am. He always struggled to get the names of players correct, repeated his catch phrases way, way too often, undercut big moments by trying to call them before the play was even complete, and went on weird, borderline sexist tangents that were more "let's laugh to cover up the awkwardness" funny than "actual humor that doesn't make me extremely uncomfortable" funny. His recent and full-throated defense of Joe Mixon (after the video of his assault was released) was especially galling, and signaled that his time was up.

Still, before his talent was replaced entirely by repeated catch phrases and inappropriate or odd asides, none of that was on our minds. Like that weird clicking sound in your jaw, or mushrooms in anything, or that stubborn black mold on your bathroom ceiling, once you live with something for long enough, you sometimes begin to develop a weird affinity for something that you initially found extremely irritating. You start to wonder just how much different things will feel without it in your life. Inexplicably but inevitably, you find yourself even a little sad that it might be gone.

My initial reaction to the news that Brent is about to retire from the play-by-play hustle was more or less a "Well, good" coupled with a shrug, but that's not really fair to a guy who had spent decades near the top of the game.

For ABC, ESPN and the SEC Network, Musburger has hosted and/or called play-by-play for the NBA, college football (including seven BCS National Championships) and basketball, golf, NASCAR and IndyCar races and the 2006 FIFA World Cup. He called the Little League World Series from 2000 to 2011. He also hosted Super Bowl XXV's pregame and halftime shows as well as the 1991 Pan Am Games from Cuba.

That's a hell of a resume, and in the process of trying to be really smug, I started to understand that Brent Musburger meant a lot more to me as an Ohio State fan than I realized. Way, way more, in fact: every time that hokey Northwestern alum insisted that I was looking live at something, I learned a little bit more about sports.

JANUARY 1st, 1997

John Cooper's finest hour is also the first game that I can remember attaching my personal sense of self-worth to. I was insanely, ridiculously invested in the outcome of this game, at least in part because Brent repeatedly and insistently built up Jake Plummer to be some unholy combination of Joe Montana and Sauron bent on the destruction of Ohio State. When Joe Germaine (for that moment the Frodo in this story) hooked up with David Boston (Treebeard? Faramir?) for a game-winning touchdown, Musburger was there to make my relief tangible.

His call isn't great; he's slow to recognize that Boston is wide open and finishes it with a "Wow, college football!" but dammit if Brent doesn't have a talent for drawing out a syllable to make you feel the same kind of inertia that he does.

NOVEMBER 9th, 2002

I actually never got to hear "Holy Buckeye" live. I was a senior in high school in 2002, and at the same time that Craig Krenzel was dropping bombs in West Lafayette, my cousin and I were driving back from Columbus to Middletown after watching a soccer tournament. We were listening to the game on the radio, and instead of one of the greatest calls of all time, all I heard was "KRENZEL THROWS TO THSDH KSSSRRHHSHSHHSHHHSKSKSSSHHH," which I assumed meant we had lost. I turned off the radio and glared teenagedly out the window.

Then it turned out we had won, and I had to wait until the invention of Youtube to enjoy one man ad-libbing a nonsensical but utterly brilliant line. It's the best call in Ohio State football history. You've seen and heard it a thousand times but I know you're going to click on that video because you are physically incapable of resisting its siren song.


The Michigan games of 2005 and 2006 couldn't have felt any more different, especially with regards to the kind of stakes involved, but every touchdown pass is a magical one to Brent Musburger. His call of Troy Smith's last minute comeback in the Big House in 2005 is a master course in drawing out commentary (and his extremely early anointing of a Ted Ginn run is kind of the opposite), but my favorite Musburger Michigan moment was him getting completely fooled by a Jim Tressel playcall.

Look, I was at the 2006 Michigan game. Everyone and their mother saw that fake coming from the second Ted Ginn split out wide. The fact that Brent Musburger didn't, and in fact continued to be fooled even as the ball was in the air, represents a special kind of childlike awe for The Game that I've tried to retain for as long as I watch football.

Brent Musburger's time as an announcer was gone some time ago. His skills have seen a marked decline over the last decade, and some of his on-air comments would've gotten anyone without broadcaster tenure fired or moved a long time ago.

And maybe that's the last thing that Brent taught me. That 1997 Rose Bowl was incredible, but Ohio State was playing in it because they had screwed up and lost to Michigan in the final game of the season. Holy Buckeye is iconic, and took place in a championship season, but probably never should've been necessary against a 4-5 Purdue team that had amassed six points by the end of the game. His calls of Michigan games were great, but the more you saw the less you were convinced of either his or Ohio State's superiority. The seams began to show, and no amount of jokes about betting or interviews with Eminem could cover them up.

Ultimately Brent Musburger's legacy is going to be one of a man with many, many iconic moments, which was marred by times by sloppy work and comments that were either inappropriate or simply wrong. While I'll miss him on my television through whatever sports-induced Stockholm Syndrome he's infected me with, I'm not going to be sad he's gone.

The Ohio State Buckeyes had success that mirrored some of his ups and downs, but the biggest lesson that I've learned from Brent is that it takes a lot of work and self-reflection to stay on top, and no one can do it forever.

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