If you answer the telephone and Brent Musburger is on the other end, you know as soon as the first word, “Hello,” is said. A day later, when Pat Summerall is on the other end, again, no introductions were needed after “Hello.”
Musburger and Summerall and their deep-timbered, constantly tone-changing, higher, lower, emphatically textured sounds mean it’s college bowl season, at least to those of us past a certain age.
Musburger called the Rose Bowl on Thursday for ABC, his third straight since replacing the retired Keith Jackson. Summerall does the Cotton Bowl game today between Texas Tech and Mississippi.
I grew up listening to Jackson do the Rose Bowl and Lindsey Nelson do the Cotton Bowl and Musburger or Summerall doing one or another of the (much shorter) bowl season games.
Just as the Marshall Fields department store Santa Claus and his “ho, ho, ho” meant it was Christmas time in our family, hearing the voices of Jackson, Nelson, Musburger or Summerall meant shrimp cocktail and homemade Chex snack mix and beef tenderloin sandwiches and the family New Year’s Day bowl pool, where we’d pull numbers out of a jar and pray that the score at the end of the quarter of each of the day’s games added up to your number.
You really didn’t want the five.
This year there are 34 bowl games on different television outlets (is the NFL Network really the NFL Network if it’s showing Rice beating Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl?) with at least 24 different announcing combinations. When you hear Charissa Thompson’s voice today during the Sugar Bowl game between Alabama and Utah will you say, “Yes, that’s Charissa”? How about Daryl Johnston? He’s on the Sugar Bowl too.
Matt Vasgersian is on the Fiesta Bowl on Monday. If he called your phone would he have you at hello?
“I guess I compare where we are and where we were this way,” Musburger said. “We were once part of a monopoly, three or four networks with small, boutique-like sports coverage. Now we’re a large department store where everything is available but it’s a little more impersonal.
“Will there ever be another voice so recognizable to baseball fans when Vin Scully decides to retire? Heck, I think my voice is pretty familiar, but I don’t kid myself. Keith Jackson will always be the Rose Bowl to a lot of fans.”
Summerall said it was not a testament to his vocal instrument or his study habits or his singular love of football that has made him still a recognizable voice.
”It’s just a matter of the numbers,” Summerall said. “There was a time, if you turned on CBS, it was me. If you turned on ABC it was Keith Jackson. With the number of outlets now, the number of exposures, the emergence of ESPN being able to bid on so many things, more and more you’ll have no idea who is calling the game.”
Musburger said when he came to the 2007 Rose Bowl and Jackson wasn’t in the booth any more, “I thought, ‘I’m following a legend.’ There is no way to replace Keith Jackson, or Mel Allen who had called the Rose Bowl.”
And that won’t be happening much any more. Pretty soon there won’t be legends to replace. There will just be other voices moving in for voices you never much knew.
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