“You’re looking live” — Brent Musburger

Dear ESPN,

College Football is not something you can Disneyfy. College Football is a violent game, played in loud, raging cathedrals where the noise bounces off the walls and reverberates to heaven to hell and back on the field. Our stadiums have names like ‘Death Valley’. Not ‘Heaven Valley’. You might want to call Penn State’s stadium ‘Happy Valley’, but you’re an idiot. It’s actually ‘Beaver Stadium’, and we’ve been, and for a big game, we swear angels have feared to tread there. We jump around. We shout. We’ll dress our stadiums in white, black, blue, orange to give our fans souls the unity that we feel and a memory they’ll never forget.

It’s not about religion (OK, it is if you’re Notre Dame), because college football IS our religion. We are faithful. We are attached. We don’t change our college, however hard it is to during the bad times. We allow ourselves to demand change, and we hoot and holler with the best of ’em.

We show up early to tailgates, drink before games, get plastered on beer and bourbon (and if you’re at Ole Miss, champagne, wine and cocktails), and play drinking games. We live on gumbo, Texas steaks, and pulled pork. A lot of us smoke, which is also bad for you, and some of our students smoke stuff that’s not entirely legal in anywhere but the State of Colorado (where your man Chris Fowler went to school. He didn’t engage in the sort of things they engage in in Boulder, I’m sure of it (wink! wink!)). And people drink AT games, too. You know it. I know it. I’ve indulged in the hip flask passing round session in Neyland Stadium with some Notre Dame fans during the Tennessee game in 2005. And  you know what? It makes us a little louder. And that OK.

Our students might swear. In fact, they probably do. Because that’s what people do in sports. They swear, a lot. They are passionate. Our women have been known to show their fingers at the same games, or scream their hatred of LSU at the top of their lungs, while their boyfriend is YouTubing her. If your quarterback misses his wide receiver by a mile, or your team can’t defend worth a crap, you probably use a bit of language. Because it’s the language of frustration, and maybe, a “****ing Yes!!” is the language of elation, too. I’m sure Auburn fans used the “*****ing Yes!” in 2013 as much as they did “*****ing No!” in 2014. LSU fans screamed abuse at Nick Saban, their hated ex-coach in the same way that Tennessee fans mouthed off to Lane Kiffin. Ohio State will say all sorts of things to opposition players and fans when they walk into the Horseshoe, one of the loudest places on earth, and that’s part of the game. Hospitality and neutrality sometimes don’t go hand in hand. On the other hand, there are some of our students who like to dress up. Especially down south. Our frat boys and sorority girls like to bring a little class to the game by their bow ties, khakis, and cocktail dresses and constant smiles and constant reminder of campus power. A lot of our sorority girls – and it’s not hard to work them out in a stadium – are great-looking, because the cameraman’s looking for them as much as we are. We’ve seen it on CBS and ESPN’s coverage.  In the SEC, we’re never without a shaker, either, and we know how to time our singing and shaking.

And people gamble on the game. You know that, and I know that. It’s all about spreads, Vegas and silly things. If you didn’t think it was serious business, ESPN, then you wouldn’t post the line on your website on ‘Game Schedules’, would you? We know about this, because we’re still swearing about Auburn vs Florida State from a year ago.

And the players themselves? They are the gods of the game. They come from different corners of life, and they are the future. They make plays, we cheer. They screw up, we boo. It’s long and storied tradition. We vet them for the future with the big guys in the NFL from the start of their college career to the end. But to be honest, we’ve been vetting them since high school, and hoping – if he’s good – that he signs for our schools, and brings us back to the Promised Land that we deserve. We live on recruiting sites, hoping that the 5-star recruit from Texas will sign to us not to Texas (here’s looking at you, Malik Jefferson), and it’s big news. The great thing is is that Nick Saban can’t have all the great recruits in the country, because there are rules on scholarships, although coaches have been using some stuff to get around that. Oh, and we have boosters who can pay money to kids to come play for us….and hopefully we don’t get caught at it.

Head coaches and their assistants are there to make our gods play well. If a head coach does well, we’re happy. If he doesn’t after a couple of years, we lose our patience, and we beg for the boards of our universities to find someone new. The ESPN-given money to the game lets big schools offer exorbitant amounts of money to the big coaches, so they might stay or they might come. No-one knows if you’re going to come to Michigan, Jim Harbaugh, but you’ve been offered a lot of change by the maize and blue. And don’t screw up it up. And if our coach doesn’t do the job, then he’ll pocket millions in a buy-out clause and quite possibly go into another job as an assistant, or work for TV.

This brings me to Brent Musburger. For me, Musburger has been as much commentator as student of the game. We miss the phrase “You’re looking live!” or his comments about favoritism connected to Vegas. He used words like “This part of the world”, and brings you into the world. In rivalry games, he’s always completely on point, and he’s not afraid to ask an analyst his opinion on something. His best moments have been many. There was the time when we saw Florida State lass Jenn Sterger in a cowboy hat and cowboy outfit for the FSU-Miami game in 2005 and he said: “And suddenly 1,500 red-blooded Americans just decided to apply to Florida State“. Sterger became famous. There was also Katherine Webb, Alabama QB AJ McCarron’s girlfriend, which created much controversy when he said how good-looking Webb was. ESPN apologised, and people took to Twitter until….Webb said she wasn’t bothered by it. “I think the media has been really unfair to [Musburger],” Webb said. “I think that if he would have said … that we were hot or sexy or made any derogatory statements like that, I think that would have been a little bit different. But the fact that he said we were beautiful and gorgeous, I don’t see why any woman wouldn’t be flattered by that.” So if you’re in batting average, he’s 2-for-2 in helping beautiful college ladies launch careers.

But this isn’t about Musburger and his schoolboy humor in a male-dominated environment, Musburger made his comment from knowing his audience.There was also the USC-Penn State game, when Penn State were getting savaged but driving at the end of the game to score a touchdown that would have lowered the spread. “And suddenly, Vegas is on its feet!” he said, and we smiled. Because a lot of money (as we’ve already mentioned) gets swirled around college football in terms of gambling, and Musburger wasn’t afraid to mention it. He appeared on College Gameday in 2013 to give tips on Northwestern’s game with Ohio State (he’s a NW grad, by the way), and was absolutely fantastic. And he did a great job in the most exciting National Championship Games in recent years.

ESPN decided to replace him with College Gameday host Chris Fowler (while staying with analyst Kirk Herbstreit) after the season ended.

He said at the time: “Obviously, I was disappointed I was not going to be doing one of the semifinals and the final. I’m not going to mislead anyone with that and I have told [ESPN head] John Skipper and [ESPN executive VP) John Wildhack the same thing. But I also know that was not going to change anything. It was time to take a different challenge and move on. Did I sit around and cry about it? Absolutely not. There’s no need for me to look back. I have to look forward.”

We can only wonder how Chris Fowler would have taken the news if it was the opposite way round.

He was moved the SEC Network, which we all knew was a move downwards. If this was the EPL, it was a relegation. And how we knew it was a relegation? Easy. The games that Brent Musburger’s called for the SEC Network which he was GREAT at, have been awful in their standard, for want of a better word. I mean, if there’s a crappy third-rung game in the SEC, Brent’s going to be calling it. And calling it well.

He also had: Sam Houston State vs LSU (Week 2), Kentucky vs Florida (Week 3), South Carolina vs Vanderbilt (Week 4), Louisiana Tech vs Auburn (Week 5), Florida vs Tennessee (Week 6), LSU vs Florida (Week 7), Kentucky at LSU (Week 8), South Carolina at Auburn (Week 9), Kentucky at Missouri (Week 10), UT-Martin at Mississippi State (Week 11), Missouri at Texas A&M (Week 12), and Western Carolina vs Alabama in Week 13.

In these games, there were one or two 12pm games, a few 4pm games (which go head-t0-head with the SEC game on CBS, which is always a big draw, blow-out or no blow-out), and a few prime-time games, which again go head-to-head with the bigger, nationally televised games commentated on by Chris Fowler, who’s as smooth, friendly, and non-offensive. Look, we love him when he does College Gameday (and couldn’t imagine it without him), but we hate it when he does the play-by-play. He’s got no call sign, no amusing takes on different fanbases, and the only thing he’s ever done in living memory was act like one of the school bullies in the playground off-air laughing at a Clemson fan distraught at his team’s loss.

As with every game, he’s brought it. He’s never sounded disinterested, or as monotonous as the rest of his SEC Network commentators. For someone who’s just been relegated, he’s managed the situation with Championship grace. You know, because that’s what full professionals look like.

Someone at ESPN must have gotten the fact that Brent Musburger did a better job than any of his commentating colleagues at the SEC Network, because he was returned to ESPN for the Iron Bowl, everybody loved his return.

So please ESPN, let’s have more of Brent in 2015 on the ESPN channel rather than Louisiana Tech vs Auburn or Western Carolina vs Alabama….and crappy bowl games like the ones he’s been given this year. We realize that you don’t owe him anything, but you owe the fans at least a commentator we can enjoy for a big game.

Here’s some awesome Musburger moments.

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