We’re currently operating in a world without sports. Airing classic games and moments has served as a coping mechanism for networks and viewers alike, and with that as inspiration, we thought we’d poll the staff on which moments or characters we wish we could have written about as they happened.
Joe Lucia: I’ll say two, because they were similar incidents that came within a couple years of each other, were swiftly dealt, and would undoubtedly result in some contrarian takes today. I’m talking about Al Campanis on Nightline and Jimmy the Greek on a local Washington DC network.
Both men were fired in the immediate aftermath of their comments. Neither worked in a high profile job again. To me, the most incredible part is how fast the Dodgers and CBS moved in making their decisions, given there was no internet for each man’s comments to go viral on. What would have happened today? Each comment was far more blatantly offensive than the dog whistling you typically see across the media today. Would either man have gotten a job again in the new media world? For instance, would Jimmy the Greek be shilling for DraftKings or another gambling company? Would another network look past Campanis’ comments and hire him as an analyst based on his career in the baseball industry? Would there be loud protests against the Dodgers and CBS for being politically correct?
I think today, if either man made the comments he did to get fired, there would be much more fallout, each man would have many more defenders, and the discourse that followed would be an absolute shit show. With that being said, covering all of that fallout and discourse sure would be interesting.
Matt Clapp: I’ll go with basically the entire Jim Mora coaching era with the New Orleans Saints (1986-1996) and Indianapolis Colts (1998-2001).
Imagine pressers like these being a regular thing today? Social media would go wild.
You don’t see that consistent level of brutal honesty and profanity-laden rants anymore from head coaches (and that’s understandable, with every interview being recorded by several outlets these days, and every notable quote ending up on social media immediately). It would’ve been plenty of fun to cover the Mora rants.
Ian Casselberry: Imagine how the internet would explode if ESPN hired Rush Limbaugh for its Sunday NFL Countdown show right now. Maybe it did break in 2003 when ESPN actually did just that, but there weren’t websites covering sports media, nor social media to express mass befuddlement and outrage over a right-wing media pundit being invited into the guys’ club of an NFL pregame show.
Stick to sports? That was probably the intention. ESPN hoped to attract a new audience, wanting to stand out from the competition on Fox and CBS. And whatever you might think of Limbaugh and his politics, he is a talented broadcaster who might offer a real-world perspective among all the jock talk.
Yet Limbaugh is also a provocateur. Eventually, he would try to be the truth-teller in the room. While discussing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, Limbaugh took the conversation beyond football to a criticism of political correctness and moral agendas from the media.
“I’m sorry to say this, I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go,” said Limbaugh. “I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.”
The look on Tom Jackson’s face would’ve spawned a thousand GIFs and memes these days. He and Steve Young tried to turn the discussion back to football (and Michael Irvin somehow had little to say), but the spill had already spread across the table no matter how much the regular Countdown crew tried to soak the mess up.
Facing uproar from political figures and possible advertiser boycotts, Limbaugh resigned from Sunday NFL Countdown three days later. Jackson pushed for Limbaugh to be booted from the show, then publicly said what most were likely thinking: This was a bad idea from the start. Amazingly, it took days for this to become a national thing. Had social media been around, reaction would have been instant.
Limbaugh being hired and his eventual remarks would’ve fueled weeks, maybe months worth of content for us. If only we’d been in a position then to cover this.
Ben Koo: I put a few seconds of thought into various entertaining train-wrecks like Jim Rome getting pummeled by Jim Everett and Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction, but I’m going to go with Artie Lange’s infamous appearance on the debut of HBO’s Joe Buck Live. You just don’t see television that uncomfortable and cringeworthy, yet somehow still funny?
It all seems pretty normal until Lange goes rogue with his first comments, asking Buck if his second favorite website is “suckingcock dot com”. The show had been hijacked and it was far far far from being over. For a long period of time, the pair seemed on the verge of fighting. It didn’t happen, but the uncomfortable banter was probably more entertaining. I can still vividly hear Lange saying “Sorry to ruin your fucking great show”.
None of Buck, Paul Rudd, or Jason Sudeikis, are able to extinguish the flames, or even escape them. In total the fire burned for 15 cringeworthy minutes and left the sports media world in shock. HBO had bought very high on Buck at a time where most fans were sick of him. It was a very odd idea and would have probably been long forgotten if not for Lange. This was right before I started writing about sports media and at the time, I was passionate about Joe Buck being on television less, so a story like this really scratched me in all the right places. This was an epic bad toast at a wedding that you secretly enjoy while the room is in shock. I would have loved to have sucked out all of the blood out of this infamous moment and sadly, don’t think another disaster like that will come back around anytime soon.
Jay Rigdon: One of the classic games I’ve watched during this sports hiatus was the Cubs-Mets opening day game from 1994, featuring Tuffy Rhodes hitting three home runs. Watching it for the first time in forever, I thought once again by how much content Harry Caray would have provided. (“Here’s Sammy Segui to lead it off,” Caray said, announcing Sammy Sosa.) There’s one anecdote that I remember vividly, though, and that I would have loved to have written up: when Harry learned about the existence of seedless grapes long after they’d become common, reacting as though he’d witnessed Apollo 11 all over again.
It stuck with color man Steve Stone as well; Stone mentioned it in his book Where’s Harry?, excerpted here:
I was nine, watching alone in the afternoon before my parents came home from work, doubled over laughing at the seedless watermelon punchline. I have no idea if it was intentional or not, and I don’t want to know. I do know I’d give anything for video.
Andrew Bucholtz: The one that stands out for me is the Dave Hodge pen flip. The backstory to this March 14, 1987 event: Hodge was the studio host for the CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada, a role he’d held since 1971. On that day, their main game was the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs. That game ended early, so CBC added bonus national coverage from the regionally-televised game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Montreal Canadiens (which had only been shown to viewers in Quebec). But with Philadelphia-Montreal heading to overtime at 3-3, CBC executives decided to cut away nationally at 11 p.m. Eastern during the intermission, only showing the conclusion of the game to the Quebec viewers. And that led to this incredible act of protest from Hodge as he updated viewers on the decision:
“Now, Montreal and the Philadelphia Flyers are currently playing overtime, and, are we able to go there or not?…We are not able to go there. That’s the way things go today in sports and this network, and the Flyers and the Canadiens have us in suspense, and we’ll remain that way until we can find out somehow who won this game, or who’s responsible for the way we do things here. Goodnight for Hockey Night in Canada.”
Hodge resigned following that, but was told he could have his old job back if he apologized. But, as Hodge told Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt of Sportsnet 590 The Fan in 2018, he didn’t feel he had anything to apologize for.
Hockey Night In Canada was only part of Hodge’s job at that time anyway, as he was working as sports director for Vancouver radio station CKNW and hosting Vancouver Canucks radio broadcasts; he continued on with those roles after this and also joined the CanWest Global Network for NHL playoff coverage. He’s done all sorts of things in the sports media world since then, too, including broadcasting CFL games on the league’s Canadian Football Network and calling play-by-play for the Minnesota North Stars. He’s also been a prominent TSN personality since heading to that network in 1992, hosting shows like Inside Sports, That’s Hockey, and The Reporters. So this didn’t work out too badly for him. But it still stands out as a remarkable act of defiance against management, especially given Hockey Night In Canada‘s prominence, and as a rare case of an on-camera personality trying to stick up for viewers against poor decisions by executives. And it’s a moment that’s still memorable for many.
Ken Fang: If Awful Announcing and social media had been around in 1990, Brent Musburger would have definitely been trending after his firing from CBS. From 1973 through 1990, Brent was the face of CBS Sports. Whether it was as host of The NFL Today and the Masters, the top play-by-play man for the NCAA Tournament, college football or the NBA, Musburger was The Man at CBS. Not only was he part of sports broadcasts, he was also a news anchor for CBS’ Los Angeles station and one year, fronted the network’s New Year’s Eve countdown.
So imagine the shock when news leaked during the 1990 Final Four that he was fired. The date of the firing, April 1, 1990 is significant because it seemed like an April Fools prank, but it wasn’t. The news led SportsCenter and was reported not just in the sports section of the nation’s newspapers, but also on some front pages.
At the time of his firing, Musburger was slated to be the Voice of Major League Baseball on CBS and had been named as the host of the 1992 Winter Olympics. Instead, CBS went in a different direction, hiring Jack Buck to call baseball, bringing in Jim Nantz to replace Brent on the NCAA Tournament and Greg Gumbel as the host of the NFL Today. Believe it or not, CBS tapped Tim McCarver (!) and Paula Zahn to be co-hosts of the 1992 Winter Olympics. CBS brought in five people to replace Brent. Five people!
Musburger was allowed to call one more event for CBS and that was the NCAA Championship between Duke and UNLV. He was allowed to say goodbye at the end of the telecast:
“As you know, this was my last assignment for CBS. After 22 years with the television network, radio network and the (owned-and-operated television) stations, and I have had an opportunity to work with some of the greatest directors, producers, technicians in the world. Not to mention analysts like my good friend, Billy Packer …. Folks, I’ve had the best seat in the house. Thanks for sharing it. I’ll see you down the road.”
After going on a brief media tour on ABC and NBC blasting CBS and mulling over a few offers, Musburger chose to go to ABC and ESPN where he became the halftime host of Monday Night Football, called college football (eventually succeeding Keith Jackson as the main voice), college basketball, Little League Baseball, hosted the World Cup and NASCAR. Musburger ended up working longer for Disney than he did CBS, giving us some great moments along the way.
It was once unthinkable to imagine Musburger at another network, let alone CBS Sports firing him. That would have been quite a day to be online.