Growing up, one of the more thrilling experiences as a fan I can recall would be the return of a big time wrestler to the ring after months and sometimes years removed from the sport itself. Back then, some of the biggest names and personalities in sports (if we’ll graciously bundle pro wrestling into the sports category) were pro wrestlers like the Macho Man, Sting, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart, and Shawn Michaels among many others. Because of contract disputes, injuries, attempted retirements, etc, often you’d find maybe a good third of the top names of the sport MIA and with no real explanation why as the internet was in its infancy and the wrestling federations would rarely comment on what was really going on behind the scenes.
You’d almost forget about them, distracted by all the other crazy things going on and then BAM! Either their music would come on or they’d just appear running towards the ring or perhaps on the jumbotron and you’d totally lose it as would the announcing team. HE’S BACK! OMG HE’S KICKING ASS AND TAKING NAMES AGAIN! HOLY SHIT MAN!
Start at 8:30 ish
That’s what Saturday Night felt like when Brent Musburger returned from his exile on the SEC Network.
Many college football fans still have no idea where Big Game Brent disappeared to (we constantly got tweets asking where he went). Those who knew his demotion would put Musburger on the SEC Network probably didn’t know the extent of how awful his slate of games would be. Below is a look at what at an age motivated demotion looks like.
Week 1 – Texas A&M vs. South Carolina
Week 2 – Sam Houston State vs. LSU
Week 3 – Kentucky vs. Florida
Week 4 – South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt
Week 5 – Louisiana Tech vs. Auburn
Week 6 – Florida vs. Tennessee
Week 7 – Florida vs. LSU
Week 8 – Kentucky vs. LSU
Week 9- South Carolina vs. Auburn
Week 10- Kentucky vs. Missouri
Week 11 – UT Martin vs. Mississippi State
Week 12- Missouri vs. Texas A&M
Week 13 – Western Carolina vs. Alabama
Running through this schedule, Musburger never did a game between teams now ranked in the Top 25 all year. The two games he called featuring a current top ten team were against Western Carolina and UT Martin. With only one game featuring SEC teams with winning records and the likes of Sam Houston State and Louisiana Tech also one of his assignments, needless to say you may have had more pressing affairs on a Saturday than figuring out if you have the SEC Network, finding it, and listening to Big Game Brent run you through the sacrificing of the Catamounts or Bearkats.
But similar to wrestling, it was easy to forget that someone was missing from the limelight with everything going on. College football is still an unrivaled regular season viewing experience due to the peril of championship aspirations.
With the help of CBS sending the Iron Bowl to ESPN, Musburger was fished out from under the SEC Network storm drain and back for what ended up being one of the most action packed Iron Bowls of all time. His return was thunderous and I wouldn’t be writing this article if that was just my perspective.
OK really, really great to hear Brent Musburger's voice for a big game again and not something like Mississippi State-UAB.
— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) November 30, 2014
"You are looking live." Always love Brent Musburger's opens. Great to see him get to call the Iron Bowl.
— Andrew Bucholtz (@AndrewBucholtz) November 30, 2014
Twitter lit up from all corners including a big contingency of ESPN employees. The SportsCenter anchors after the game came off as straight giddy to send it back to him after postgame. I believe one said “Brent Musburger just said my name.” It was quite frankly a revelation how unified and enthusiastic the reaction was to Musburger’s return.
Brent Musburger does that to me.
— The Student Section (@TheStudentSect) November 30, 2014
God, it's so great to hear Brent Musburger's voice.
— Patrick Maks (@maksimuspatrick) November 30, 2014
Musburger, a year removed from being in front of a true national audience, was in classic form and the game provided quality entertainment for a Saturday Night even for those alone on the couch. That said, it only reinforced Musburger’s exile exists on a level of sports media malpractice rarely seen by fans.
Good to see Brent Musburger back calling a big game. He’s so great.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) November 30, 2014
Brent Musburger sounds great doesn't he? Has never lost his fast ball.
— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) November 30, 2014
I 100% get the motivation behind Musburger’s relegation. The SEC Network needed a little pop, needed to get out of the gate with some gusto, and then there is the flip side of it. ESPN holds quite a strong hand of college football announcing talent, almost all of which is younger than Musburger. Nothing disenfranchises younger talent or talent in general than being stuck without prospects for upward mobility professionally.
That’s not to say ESPN’s top college football announcers or whomever forced the issue here, but that’s not to say their agents didn’t voice some grumblings on this front or planted the seed that they could look elsewhere (although I imagine none would leave unless Gus Johnson or Verne Lundquist could be displaced). It’s no secret that Chris Fowler had his contract up last year and had his eyes on the job. It’s clear that ESPN risked losing the host of GameDay and their top play by play man for their tennis coverage if they didn’t give him Musburger’s seat.
Also playing a role in the decision is likely the fact that many likely believe ABC stayed with Keith Jackson as their number one announcer ahead of Musburger for a little too long and the product suffered at times. As a Buckeye fan who romanticizes their Houdini-esque 2002 National Championship, I can tell you there was a very noticeable drop-off in broadcast quality as Musburger did a large chunk of the season only to have Jackson give a lackluster performance in one of college football’s greatest games of all time. The drop-off was stark to be honest.
Whatever mix of rationales played a role in the decision, ESPN thought it was wise to move Musburger down on the depth chart and while I can understand that, having him on the scout team is a disservice to everyone involved. Frankly, I’m amazed he hasn’t made any comments or eluded to this situation as the quality of his games became more depressing.
I said this last year. I'll say it again tonight: Brent Musburger should be calling one of the college football playoff games.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) November 30, 2014
Many remain optimistic ESPN will double down on having Musburger get at least one playoff assignment. If that’s the case, it would be another drum beat to move away from the SEC Network experiment. He doesn’t have to be on ABC or paired with Herbstreit. Fans don’t necessarily care about those things but merely want Big Game Brent, you know…… not calling a shitty Kentucky game on channel 611 at 9AM out here on the west coast.
I imagine some of his peers would not like being reshuffled a bit, but it’s abundantly clear that’s what the fans want. While opinions on announcers are always subjective and quite often skewed all over the place, the desire to not have Musburger fadeaway on the SEC Network is extremely vocal and passionate.
Let’s hope Bristol reverses course and listens to fans as it’s just plain wrong to relegate someone that beloved to such a lousy corner of the college football media landscape. I’d like to start the new year by “Looking Live” at Musburger back in the saddle once more and it’s abundantly clear the majority of fans do too.