The story is almost three decades old, but Brent Musburger insists on setting the record straight: he did not strip the gears in Danny Ford’s pickup while “borrowing” it for a trip to Clemson’s famous Esso Club.
“He’s exaggerating,” Musburger said of Ford, the Tigers’ coach from 1978-89. “I’ve got to light him up for that. Hey, I’m from Montana; I know how to drive a stick.”
The story, as told by Ford, happened the week of a Clemson-Florida State game, which Musburger was in town to broadcast. “Danny was bragging how people lock their cars in cities and how he never took his keys out,” he said. “I walk outside, his truck’s there, and I figure I’ll teach him a lesson.
“I drove it to practice – not a bar.” He laughed. “Then Danny shows up with a couple of 250-pound state troopers who act like they want to put me in handcuffs.”
The story is classic Musburger, who’s at least as legendary as Ford in college football lore, and considerably longer-tenured. Musburger, who turned 77 in May, has been broadcasting sports nearly 50 years.
He returns to South Carolina this weekend to anchor the SEC Network telecast of Georgia-USC, set for 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Williams-Brice Stadium after being delayed by Hurricane Matthew. Probably his most significant appearance in-state was in 2014, when he hosted the SEC Network’s inaugural football broadcast, Texas A&M at USC.
Musburger’s was the first voice heard when the network debuted on Aug. 14 of that year. He’s had football and basketball play-by-play duties for ESPN/ABC since 1990, or more than half his long career.
And that career shows no sign of ending. In May, Musburger signed a multi-year contract extension with ESPN. Sports Illustrated headlined its story with “Brent Musburger May Never Retire.”
“I was not misquoted,” Musburger quipped, telling SI then, “I take those AARP mailings that I get frequently in the mail and throw them in the wastebasket.”
Nothing this season has changed that attitude.
“I don’t like what I do, I love what I do,” he said this week. “Roll the balls out and let’s play. I love the energy of college football, the passion of the fans, especially in the SEC.”
When Musburger was first installed at the SEC Network, reports suggested he was unhappy being replaced by Chris Fowler as ESPN’s go-to anchor for each week’s top national game. Whether he accepted the “demotion” or found new life alongside analyst Jesse Palmer and sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung is, at this point, almost irrelevant.
He told SI in May that ESPN “had to move on and get younger and they did.” Besides, he said, “I was never unhappy about SEC football. Some assumed that … but I always knew it’s intense, good competition, great coaches and the best players overall.
“And the SEC Network is an enormous success. It doesn’t have the overall attraction of the NFL; (college football) is a regional sport with a few exceptions, but especially in the Southeast, the fans are the most passionate.”
Musburger also is drawn to the SEC’s outsized personalities. He admits being disappointed – and initially “very surprised” – Steve Spurrier is no longer coaching in Columbia.
“No question, we’re missing something with Steve out,” he said. “Steve was a superstar in everything he did, and he was going to be missed whenever he decided to leave. (Alabama’s) Nick Saban is a Hall of Fame coach, maybe the best ever, but he’s not as colorful as Steve was. We miss that unique humor of the ol’ ball coach.”
Musburger claims he created Spurrier’s nickname, which the coach tried to modify.
“He told someone, ‘Tell Brent I’m not the ‘old’ ball coach, I’m the Head Ball Coach.’ ” Musburger laughed. “So I started calling him the Ol’ Head Ball Coach, just to needle him.”
Coaches come and go, even if Musburger hasn’t, and USC-Georgia features new sideline personalities in Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart. The veteran announcer knows both men well and expects each to succeed … eventually.
“It’s going to take Will a while,” he said. “Fans need to give him a few years, but the expectations are for them to get back to a bowl game. It’s not easy, but I’m pulling for him.”
Smart’s situation, Musburger said, is more challenging.
“With (former Georgia coach Mark) Richt, the disappointment was not winning national titles,” he said. “But to capture the love of Georgia fans, Kirby first needs to get to Atlanta and beat whoever the West representative is. For him to be (considered) successful, he has to win the SEC first.”
Awaiting that, Musburger lists this year’s SEC story lines: No. 1, “the way Tennessee is winning, completely opposite the way they lost games last year;” No. 2, Alabama “reloaded, marching again;” No. 3, LSU firing coach Les Miles.
Of the last, Musburger said, “I think to a certain extent, coaches have a shelf life. You look at Les’ record: second only to Saban’s, a national title. But the crowd there was restless. If Richt had won (another) SEC title, he’d still be there.
“One thing the (College Football Playoff) is producing (is) a lot more pressure on coaches.” He laughed wryly. “That’s just the way it is.”
For coaches, perhaps, but Musburger’s “shelf life” apparently has no expiration date. Naturally, that suits him just fine.