Click here for this blog from five years ago. The time has changed, but the names and facts are the same, as is the result.
Click here for this blog from five years ago. The time has changed, but the names and facts are the same, as is the result.
The headline refers, of course, to ABC-TV’s Howard Cosell, who claimed to “tell it like it is” when that was not always the case.
Two things in the last week brought this subject to mind. First, a death, reported by the Dallas Morning News:
Gary Cartwright, a colorful Texas journalist who began his career on the talent-laden sports staff of the Fort Worth Press in the 1950s, died Wednesday morning after suffering a recent fall at his Austin home. He was 82.
Cartwright went on to become an award-winning sportswriter for the Dallas Times Herald and The Dallas Morning News. He left TheNews in 1967 to advance a career that included writing the 1968 novel The Hundred Yard War, inspired by his coverage of the Dallas Cowboys.
But his most prominent years as a journalist came during his time with Texas Monthly. He worked for the Austin-based magazine from 1973, when he profiled controversial Cowboys running back Duane Thomas for its debut issue, to 2010, when he retired. …
“He was certainly one of a kind,” acclaimed Texas author Dan Jenkins, 88, said of Cartwright, with whom he worked at the Press and the Times Herald. “He was a wild card, but he was awfully talented. We had a million laughs.”
Cartwright, Jenkins and mutual friend Edwin “Bud” Shrake collaborated on what may have been the most audacious, literary-minded sports staff ever assembled. All three worked at the Press and Times Herald, where their boss was an equally vivid character, the late Blackie Sherrod, who later became a columnist for TheNews.
Cartwright was well-read, Jenkins said, “and he was a fan of the trade, as we all were. It just came natural to him. We were all kind of natural, for some strange reason. It was just one of those things. We all fell together. Blackie had an awful lot to do with making us work hard.
“We laughed a lot, we joked a lot, and we kind of wrote for each other and tried to outwrite each other. It was fun, and we were all friends.”
Jenkins, who now lives in his native Fort Worth, said: “I figured it up one day. Blackie and Bud and Gary and I, the four of us, combined to have 57 books published. For a little sports staff, that may be a world record.”
Cartwright came of age as a journalist in the 1960s, which coincided with a memorable era in Dallas sports. The decade began with not one but two professional football teams playing in the Cotton Bowl.
It was a time of raw turbulence in the country but especially in Dallas, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, when Cartwright was the Cowboys beat writer for TheNews and Shrake was its lead sports columnist. The two covered the Cowboys game in Cleveland two days after the assassination, a Sunday in which a man they knew — strip-club owner Jack Ruby — gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the Dallas police station. …
But one of the most talked-about moments in Cartwright’s career came after a bitter Cowboys defeat. The lead to his game story published in TheNews remains a staple of sportswriting folklore.
On Nov. 21, 1965, the Cowboys were playing the defending champs of the National Football League, the Cleveland Browns, led by Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown. In their sixth year of existence, the woeful Cowboys had yet to experience a winning season. But on Thanksgiving Day 1965, they teetered on the threshold of a turning point.
Don Meredith, the team’s often-embattled quarterback, had marched the Cowboys to the Browns’ 1-yard-line, with 4 minutes 34 seconds remaining and the Browns ahead, 24-17. The cacophonous crowd of 76,251 was, at the time, the largest in Cotton Bowl history.
But, sadly, the comeback unraveled.
Rather than have the Cowboys run the ball, Meredith hurled a wobbly first-down pass, which caromed into the arms of a Cleveland defender.
Hunched in the press box on deadline, Cartwright crafted a lead that serves as a lasting parody of turn-of-the-20th century sportswriting legend Grantland Rice:
“Outlined against a gray November sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. You know them: Pestilence, Death, Famine and Meredith.”
That, Dan Jenkins said, “was one of the greatest leads ever.”
Sam Blair, a retired sports columnist for TheNews, once wrote a piece in which he quoted Cartwright, his longtime friend, expressing regret about something else he wrote of Meredith: “In a column I said Meredith was a loser. That was stupid. Meredith wasn’t a loser. I was.”
The second was a girls basketball playoff game I announced (one day late due to weather) at Wisconsin Heights High School near Black Earth. Wisconsin Heights is what I call a “hyphen” school district (whether or not there’s an actual hyphen in its name), a combination of two or more communities whose school districts merged. Wisconsin Heights, which opened in 1965, is made up of the former Black Earth and Mazomanie schools.
From Black Earth (nickname: “Earthmen”) came Gene Brabender, who was one of the first Milwaukee Brewers pitchers, and before that a member of the one-year Seattle Pilots. The Pilots were the subject of one of the first sports tell-all books, Ball Four, written by one of the Pilots’ pitchers, Jim Bouton. If you ever announce a Wisconsin Heights game, you are obligated to bring up the story about how Pilots players speculated on Brabender’s alma mater fight song, and they came up with “Black Earth, we love you, hurrah for the rocks and the dirt.”
The Hundred Yard War and Ball Four were two of the first sports tell-all books, even though the former was fiction and the latter was not. (Bouton wrote the book via tape recorder, unbeknownst to his teammates, most of whom reacted quite negatively when the book came out. That prompted a sequel, I’m Glad You Didn’t Take It Personally.)
Bouton, a Yankees starting pitcher who pitched in two World Series before an arm injury, reported on his teammates’ philandering and use of amphetamines (called “greenies”). He also opined freely on his teammates, manager and coaches, management, wife (eventually ex-wife) and children, and so on. In the style of the ’60s he was an outsider and nonconformist when conformity was king in baseball and, with a few outliers (Joe Namath, Bill Russell), every other pro sport.
Even if you don’t buy Bouton’s description of the poor Pilots management, the Pilots obviously had poor management, as proven by the fact that (not reported in the book) they were bankrupt before the end of their first season. Milwaukee car dealer Bud Selig bought the team in a bankruptcy sale during the 1970 exhibition season, and thus the 1969 Pilots (without Bouton, traded to Houston and into a pennant race) became the 1970 Brewers, though with the Pilots’ jerseys (with lettering and insignia ripped off and replaced by “BREWERS”). That obviously would never happen now; the big leagues are much more careful about who gets awarded their expansion franchises. (Of course, the Pilots-turned-Brewers needed nine seasons to win more games than they lost, and three more to make the playoffs. On the other hand, the replacement for the Pilots, the Mariners, have been in one more fewer World Series than the Brewers.)
Ball Four became a brief TV series …
… although not as Bouton intended. He had in mind, believe it or don’t, “M*A*S*H” set in a baseball stadium, which no viewer of the time would have accepted. (“Ball Four” had just seven episodes filmed, only five of which were aired.) There was a TV series that perhaps patterned what Bouton wanted …
… though “Bay Cities Blues,” though created by Steven Bochco of “Hill Street Blues” fame, lasted four (of the eight filmed) episodes. Then as now, most people seek sports as an escape, not to be reminded of the crappiness of life.
The News story about Cartwright notes former Cowboy receiver Peter Gent, who then wrote his own novel, North Dallas Forty. The aforementioned Jenkins wrote a more comedic novel, Semi-Tough, which became a Burt Reynolds movie.
Kirkus Reviews called War …
… a very cynical view of the world of pro football and a rather too naive psychological look at the players working out — the patterns off the field generally run to sleazy adventures while practice time is surprisingly inhuman. Generally this follows the career of Rylie Silver, star quarterback on an ailing team, a man who makes a ritual of getting drunk before every game. He’s an erratic genius and also accident prone. And obviously there isn’t the rapport between the coach and his #1 man that one has been led to assume. The book starts out well, with the tension and schemata of the draft choices as coach Andy Craig tries to get next year’s winning combination. He succeeds but is later sacked and his “”dream”” never gets off the drawing board since Iris replacement, a rather strident sadist, turns the men into instruments of their own destruction and Rylie is finally traded out. Mr. Cartwright, a sports Writer, combines an intimate knowledge of the game with a grimly intellectualized look at the creatures who play it. Oddly, none of them seem real and misapplied metaphors (“”She had breasts like pine smoke””) don’t help.
North Dallas Forty was similar, with various sex and drug use, though funnier until the grim ending where the hero gets cut and his new girlfriend is murdered. The latter detail was not included in the movie:
Both the novel and the movie are thinly veiled tales of the ’60s Cowboys. “Phil Elliott” (Nick Nolte) was the author, “Seth Maxwell” (Mac Davis) was Meredith (who said upon seeing the movie, “If I’d known Gent was as good as he says he was, I would have thrown to him more”), his backup must have been Craig Morton, the coach (G.D. Spradlin) was Tom Landry, “Delma Huddle” (played by former NFL running back Tommy Reamon, known later for coaching NFL quarterbacks Aaron Brooks and Michael and Marcus Vick in high school) must have been Bob Hayes, and so on.
One assumes the authors wrote The Hundred Yard War, Ball Four and North Dallas Forty as exposés of the dehumanizing nature of professional sports. I was in middle school and high school when I first read them, so I didn’t have an adult perspective. To me, however, they were all like the movie “Apocalypse Now,” intended as an antiwar film, which was recast by its viewers as a pro-war film. (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It’s the smell of … victory.”) I was not and am not a fan of drug abuse, but to a teenage reader another thought came to mind about each book’s depiction of pro athletes — GIRLS!
Around this time I also read the autobiography of Oakland Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum, They Call Me Assassin. The Raiders were the renegades of the NFL in the 1970s, and Tatum’s self-described exploits (for instance, a training camp air hockey tournament where cheating was mandatory, and a food fight at a team banquet) reinforced the concept that pro sports was a nonstop party even beyond games. (Years later Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler wrote his own autobiography, Snake, which reinforced more of this, though again some of his teammates denied Stabler’s reports of Raider hijinks, perhaps because they weren’t involved with them.)
The aforementioned three books paved the way for later series and movies about sports, including ESPN’s “Playmakers” (killed after one season by the National Football League, which was not amused by one of its broadcast partners carrying an unflattering portrait of pro football), Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday,” and the soccer series “Footballers’ Wives.”
Gent, meanwhile, wrote a sequel to his own book, North Dallas After 40, in which characters, well, age. (Forty was written in the first person, while After 40 was written in the third person.) Publishers Weekly reviewed it:
This sequel to Gent’s very funny look behind the scenes of professional football, North Dallas Forty , is not what you’d expect. Most of the major characters are back, and their lives after football are right on target (coach B. A. Quinlan is now governor of Texas; ace quarterback Seth Maxwell is a TV star), but the emphasis here is not on the game but on corruption, murder, savings-and-loan frauds and drugs. Phil Elliot, the alienated wide receiver, is still odd man out, in conflict with the new owners of the North Dallas NFL team, who badly want the small piece of land which is his only legacy to his young son. His ex-wife is pressuring him for everything he’s got ( except custody of their son), his body is a painful relic of his playing days and even some of his ex-teammates, back together for the 20th anniversary of North Dallas’s first championship season, seem to be in league with the forces of evil. Gent uses a series of flashbacks expertly, filling in the gaps for readers not familiar with the earlier book, but his farfetched story is too improbable to work and is helped not at all by an ending as jarring and disconcerting as an official’s flag canceling out a spectacular touchdown play.
Monday Night Football viewers since its inception know that Meredith left ABC for a couple years to announce for NBC and act:
There is a great irony in these books that the authors may not have realized. Gent and Bouton bit the hands that fed them; even though pro athletes weren’t paid like they are now, they were still paid rather well for a part-time job playing sports. Cartwright was paid to cover sports. Had the public rebelled against what Gent, Bouton and Cartwright wrote about, Gent’s and Bouton’s playing successors would have had to find some other line of work.
If you are old enough to remember the Glory Years Packers, the answer to the question of who was the Packers’ announcer those years might be Ray Scott, from CBS-TV.
Unless you missed their home games on TV because you lived near Green Bay or Milwaukee in the old NFL blackout days, in which case the answer might be radio announcer Ted Moore:
And if you’re not old enough to remember Moore, surely you remember Jim Irwin:
Before Moore, who started announcing Packers games in 1960, there was Mike Walden, who announced Badger, Packer and, on TV, Milwaukee Braves games. One of Walden’s games was the 1963 Rose Bowl, which he announced on the NBC radio broadcast with USC announcer Tom Kelly:
Apparently Walden liked southern California, because he then left Wisconsin and moved to California, replacing Kelly on radio while Kelly moved to TV.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
USC’s broadcaster Mike Walden was in enemy territory when the Trojans’ basketball team finally handed UCLA its first loss at Pauley Pavilion in 1969. When it was over, Walden climbed atop the announcer’s table and yelled, “The Trojans win! The Trojans win! The Trojans win!” much like the legendary Harry Caray.
So Walden lost a few friends several years later when he took a job across town and became the only person to serve as the broadcast voice for both USC and UCLA.
“But Mike Walden was a journalist first, and did not want to be known as a homer,” his son, Gregory Walden, reminisced in an email.
Walden, a Southern California Sports Broadcasters Hall of Fame member best known for his coverage of the Trojans and Bruins, and for his loud sport coats, died Sunday at his home in Tarzana from complications related to a stroke, his son said Thursday. He was 89.
The interesting thing about the aforementioned Walden, Kelly (who died in June), Enberg, Miller and longtime Los Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn is that they all grew up in the Midwest. Kelly’s first radio job was in Janesville, and though he started broadcasting for USC in 1962, he returned to Illinois for years to broadcast the Illinois state boys basketball tournament. Miller was one of the two UW hockey radio announcers (two stations broadcasted games until Clear Channel purchased both stations). Enberg is from Michigan, graduated from Central Michigan University, and earned a Ph.D. at Indiana while announcing its games before he too headed west. (Hmmm … do I know anyone who grew up in Wisconsin and then headed to California …) Hearn, who grew up in Illinois, preceded Kelly (for one season) at USC, and once worked with Kelly on the Illinois state tournament.
Tonight begins the high school girls basketball playoffs in Wisconsin, followed one week from today by the boys playoffs.
So it seems appropriate to bring up self-described liberal sportswriter Bryan Curtis:
Today, sportswriting is basically a liberal profession, practiced by liberals who enforce an unapologetically liberal code. As Frank Deford, who joined Sports Illustrated in the ’60s, told me, “You compare that era to this era, no question we are much more liberal than we ever were before.”
In the age of liberal sportswriting, the writers are now far more liberal than the readers. “Absolutely I think we’re to the left of most sports fans,” said Craig Calcaterra, who writes for HardballTalk. “It’s folly for any of us to think we’re speaking for the common fan.”
Of course, labels like “liberal” and “conservative” don’t translate perfectly to sports. Do you have to be liberal to call Roger Goodell a tool? So maybe it’s better to put it like this: There was a time when filling your column with liberal ideas on race, class, gender, and labor policy got you dubbed a “sociologist.” These days, such views are more likely to get you a job.
Donald Trump’s election was merely an accelerant for a change that was already sweeping across sportswriting. On issues that divided the big columnists for years, there’s now something like a consensus. NCAA amateurism is rotten. The Washington Redskins nickname is more rotten. LGBT athletes ought to be welcomed rather than shunned. Head injuries are the great scandal of the NFL.
A few decades ago, Taylor Branch’s line that NCAA amateurism had “an unmistakable whiff of the plantation” would have been an eye-rollingly hot take. Now, if you turned in a column comparing college football to the institution of slavery, I suspect few editors would try to talk you out of publishing it. But they might ask you to come up with something more original.
As recently as the turn of the century, you could find columnists hanging Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million contract around his neck. Nobody much writes about free agency like that anymore. Even a bad contract is usually called a misallocation of resources by a team rather than a manifestation of a ballplayer’s overweening greed.
In the new world of liberal sportswriting, athletes who dabble in political activism are covered admiringly. Last year, Slate’s Josh Levin went searching for the voices who were dinging Colin Kaepernick for his national anthem protest. Levin found conservatives like Tomi Lahren and a couple of personalities from FS1. In the old days, such voices would have filled up half the sports columns, easy.
And these are just issues within sports. Look at the way sportswriters tweet about politics now. “God bless the @nytimes and the @washingtonpost,” Peter King tweeted earlier this week after the papers revealed the Trump administration’s web of ties to Russia. Two weeks ago, sportswriters blasted away at Trump’s immigration ban — staging their own pussy-hat protest within the press box. Last year, Roger Angellcame out of the bullpen to endorse Hillary Clinton.
“How many sportswriters have you seen on Twitter defending Donald Trump?” asked the baseball writer Rob Neyer. “I haven’t seen one. I’m sure there must have been a few writers out there who did vote for him, but there’s a lot of pressure not to be public about it.”
Forget the viability of being a Trump-friendly sportswriter today. Could someone even be a Paul Ryan–friendly sportswriter — knocking out their power rankings while tweeting that Obamacare is a failure and the Iran deal was a giveaway of American sovereignty?
In sportswriting, there was once a social and professional price to pay for being a noisy liberal. Now, there’s at least a social price to pay for being a conservative. Figuring out how the job changed — how we all became the children of Lester Rodney — is one of the most fascinating questions of our age.
There was always a coven of liberals in sportswriting: Shirley Povich, Dan Parker, Sam Lacy, George Kiseda, Robert Lipsyte, Wells Twombly, and the merry band known as the Chipmunks. As Roger Kahn once wrote, “Sports tell anyone who watches intelligently about the times in which we live: about managed news and corporate politics, about race and terror and what the process of aging does to strong men.”
But these idealists plied their trade in a media universe almost completely different from our own. The first reason sportswriting became a liberal profession is that the product known as “sportswriting” has been radically altered from what it was 40, 30, even 20 years ago.
The old liberal sportswriter was a prisoner of daily newspapers. If he wanted to write about politics, he had to do it within the confines of a sports story.“You decide whether you think this is a lefty idea or not,” said Larry Merchant, who was a columnist at the old (liberal) New York Post. “I wrote a story about a horse that had ridden in the Kentucky Derby. Now, it was in service of the national police in riot control in Washington, D.C. To me, that’s the most natural story in the world!”
Even if a newspaper had a “political” sports columnist, he was nearly always paired with a second, apolitical columnist, who matched the former’s moral crusades with his own rigid attention to balls and strikes.
“When you treat sports as a self-contained universe into which the rest of the universe does not intrude, it will inevitably be conservative,” said Craig Calcaterra. You defer to the commissioner, to the head coach, to the reserve clause — to the reigning authority.
The internet leveled the barrier between sportswriting and the rest of the universe. It also dropped the neutrality that was practiced by everyone but a handful of columnists. “We might have been more liberal than you would have imagined we were, but we didn’t bring it in our copy, you know?” said Deford. “We separated our individual lives from what we wrote because that was what was expected.”
In a sense that Curtis doesn’t mention I can understand how this happened. Of the five Ws and one H — Who, What, Where, When, Why and How — the Why and How could have more opinion than the rest. Did a basketball team lose because it failed to score for seven minutes, or because its opponent outscored them 14–0 over that seven minutes? Did Green Bay beat Dallas because of Aaron Rodgers’ great play, or because the Cowboys defense played poorly?
The fact vs. opinion standards have always been looser in sports journalism as well.
That great liberal Supreme Court Chief Justice Hugo Black may not have approved of this. He famously said he read the sports pages first because the sports page chronicles man’s successes, while the front page chronicles man’s failures.
I do not approve of this. For one thing, it wasn’t a conservative who coined the execrable phrase “The personal is political.” I do not believe sports fans read the sports page to get a sportswriter’s sociological or political views. Sports was one of an apparently decreasing number of areas in our lives measured in wins and losses instead of lefty victim-du-jour babble, and now it’s not.
It isn’t as if sports media can afford to offend its consumers. Sports Illustrated is printing seven fewer issues this year. The increasing politicization of ESPN has dovetailed with a drop in subscribers. NFL ratings dropped corresponding to Kaepernick’s protest. There are numerous websites and smartphone apps available for those who want only the scores and avoid sportswriter opinions. And it strikes me as career suicide in an era where news media outlets are shedding jobs left and right to go out of your way to alienate a substantial percentage of your readers, who are probably more likely to follow sports than those on the left side of the political aisle.
The acronym GOAT has become known in the sports world as short for Greatest Of All Time.
(Which is a poor choice to me because “goat” has usually signified someone blamed for a loss, such as Leon Durham or Bill Buckner, whether or not they should be.)
A Patriots fan and Facebook Fan claims that Super Bowl LI should be considered the greatest Super Bowl of all time.
I disagree, not because Super LI wasn’t a great game, but to me back-and-forth games are better than big comebacks. No one except a Falcons fan is likely to have found the first half compelling, and when the Falcons took their 28–3 lead I bet a lot of people turned off their TVs.
So which Super Bowls were better?
I didn’t include any Packers Super Bowls because other than Super Bowl XLV none of the Packer wins were good games unless you’re a Packer fan, and I refuse to include Super Bowl XXXII.
… the end of a career next week, ESPN.com reports:
Brent Musburger, one of the most recognized and prominent voices in the history of sports television, will end his play-by-play career with ABC/ESPN at the end of January, it was announced Wednesday.
Musburger, 77, who brought his folksy delivery to countless games — most beginning with his “You are looking live” catchphrase — since entering the national stage in 1975, will call his final game Jan. 31 on ESPN as the Kentucky Wildcats host Georgia at Rupp Arena (9 p.m. ET).
“What a wonderful journey I have traveled with CBS and the Disney company,” Musburger said in a statement. “A love of sports allows me to live a life of endless pleasure. And make no mistake, I will miss the arenas and stadiums dearly. Most of all, I will miss the folks I have met along the trail.”
Musburger told The Associated Press that he plans to move to Las Vegas and help his family start a sports handicapping business.
A member of the National Sports Media Association Hall of Fame, Musburger joined ABC in 1990 after a long stint in which he was the lead voice of CBS Sports. He also received the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame Outstanding Contributor to Amateur Football Award in 2011 and the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports Broadcasting in November.
For ABC, ESPN and the SEC Network, Musburger has hosted and/or called play-by-play for the NBA, college football (including seven BCS Championship Games) and basketball, golf, NASCAR and IndyCar races and the 2006 FIFA World Cup. He called the Little League World Series from 2000 to 2011. He also hosted Super Bowl XXV’s pregame and halftime shows as well as the 1991 Pan Am Games from Cuba.
With ESPN Radio, Musburger handled play-by-play for NBA games, including the NBA Finals, for many years. He also was the original host of its daily “ESPN SportsBeat” segments.
“Brent’s presence and delivery have come to symbolize big time sports for multiple generations of fans,” ESPN president John Skipper said in a statement. “When he opens with his signature ‘You are looking live,’ you sit up straight in your chair because you know something important is about to happen.
“Brent’s catalog of big events is unmatched, and he has skillfully guided us through some of the most dramatic and memorable moments in sports with his authentic and distinctive style. He is one of the best story-tellers to ever grace a sports booth. We and the fans will miss him.”
During his 15-year tenure with CBS, Musburger was the host or had play-by-play duty on NFL games and the groundbreaking studio show “The NFL Today.” He also worked the NCAA Final Four, tennis’ US Open, the NBA, the Masters, the Belmont Stakes, College World Series and also did baseball play-by-play for CBS Radio.
“The biggest show of my life was ‘The NFL Today,'” Musburger said. “It was the first of the live pregame shows, the live halftimes and the live postgame. So we were really the pioneers.”
He has been behind the microphone for some huge moments in sports, including Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary pass for Boston College that beat Miami in 1984, as well as Villanova’s historic NCAA championship upset over Georgetown in 1985.
“Brent made every event feel larger,” said Stephanie Druley, ESPN senior vice president for events and studio production. “To me, there is probably not a greater storyteller as a play-by-play person. He can spin a yarn like nobody else, and it made games definitely more enjoyable to watch.”
His career hasn’t been without controversy, as Musburger admittedly didn’t “shy from an opinion” — such as his comments about Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon during the recent Sugar Bowl after surveillance video of the Sooners running back punching a woman in 2014 was released in December.
“I am not shy from an opinion,” Musburger said. “And I know many of my opinions are gonna be controversial, ’cause there are many people who don’t like them.”
Musburger, a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, started his journalism career at the Chicago American newspaper but soon thereafter joined Chicago’s WBBM-TV as sports director in 1968. He then moved to KNXT-TV in Los Angeles, where he served as co-anchor of the nightly news alongside Connie Chung.
“Nothing in the world replaces the friendships I’ve made — with crews and people,” Musburger said. “And that includes the fans. I mean, I’m never alone. Wherever I go, someone’s gonna come up. Someone’s gonna come up and ask about a team. Or a game. Or an experience. I’ve got millions of friends out there, OK?”
What did Musburger do? The easier question is what didn’t he do. (One thing not listed here: Coanchor of the 6 p.m. news with Connie Chung on CBS’ Los Angeles station.)
Musburger seemed to be everywhere either hosting or doing play-by-play for CBS in the 1980s. He was supposed to be CBS’ lead baseball announcer when CBS got broadcast rights. And then CBS fired him, according to one version because of bad ad pre-sales.
That was one contract after Musburger juggled offers from CBS (his then-present employer) and ABC (his then-future employer) and, believe it or not, WGN-TV and radio, where he was offered to work Cubs games with Harry Caray and Bears games. (Wayne Larrivee got the latter job instead before he left to announce for the correct NFL team.) After CBS fired him, Musburger went to ABC, turning down offers from WGN and Turner.
The Chicago Tribune reports:
A judge will hear arguments Wednesday on the controversial finish to a high school playoff football game, the final outcome hanging in the balance despite the lack of a flying pigskin or crunching tackles.
Regardless of what happens in the Daley Center courtroom, the fiasco involving the contest between Fenwick and Plainfield North high schools has brought to the forefront issues of sportsmanship, ethics and a basic question that does not have a simple answer: What’s the right thing to do?
As it stands, Plainfield North is listed as the victor of Saturday’s Class 7A semifinal game. The Tigers defeated Fenwick 18-17 in overtime. Or did they?
The convoluted turn of events has led to a debate over rules and bylaws, contracts and lawsuits, while drawing the customary, if always unfortunate, pointed fingers at officials. It has also prompted a discussion about the best way to act after an agonizing defeat and a debated win, a victory which all parties agree occurred because of a mistake.
“There’s a difference,” said Michael Josephson, founder and president of the Josephson Institute of Ethics, “between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”
While those conversations take place at coffee shops, on social media and sports talk radio, lawyers for Fenwick, a private Catholic school in Oak Park, will stand before a Cook County judge to urge her to overturn the result by ruling on their lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association.
“To allow this unjust result to stand would fly in the face of everything the IHSA stands for in its administration of high school athletics — fairness, reliability, accountability and integrity,” the lawyers write.
How the schools arrived at this point is complicated, even for football fans.
Near the end of regulation in Saturday’s semifinal game, Fenwick was clinging to a 10-7 lead and had the ball at its own 15-yard line. With four seconds left, the Friars’ quarterback threw a deep pass on the fourth down for an incompletion, seemingly ending the game. But the officials ruled that play to be intentional grounding, a penalty. The officiating crew then (mistakenly) awarded Plainfield North one play with zeros on the clock, allowing them to kick a game-tying field goal.
“Not sure what just happened,” the Fenwick athletic director posted on Twitter.
In extra time, both teams scored, but Plainfield North ran in a two-point conversion, setting off a wild celebration for the Tigers and eliciting anger and confusion from the Fenwick faithful.
“It would be one thing if it was a missed holding call or if it was a judgment call, but this was not a judgment call,” Fenwick Principal Peter Groom said Tuesday. “This was a rule that was not applied when there was no more time left on the clock. I don’t know how I tell my kids (to accept the outcome) in this situation.”
Several hours after the game, the IHSA issued a statement that stated the officials erred when they gave Plainfield North one final play after the passing penalty. The IHSA then cited bylaw 6.033, which states “the decisions of game officials are final,” and those decisions are not reviewable. Executive Director Craig Anderson offered “my sincerest apologies” to the Fenwick coaches, players and fans.
The IHSA board of directors convened an early Monday morning conference call about the game, determining the association’s bylaws did not allow a review of Fenwick’s appeal.
Groom said he resigned his position on the IHSA’s board of directors Monday when the school decided to file a legal challenge. He said while he bore no grudge against the organization, a lawsuit was the only way to fix what he considered an injustice.
He said the IHSA needs to have a mechanism to overturn game results in cases of clear and definitive error — he gave the example of a scorekeeping mistake in a basketball game — even though he said he understood the hazard of opening that door.
“It’s a slippery slope,” he said. “Believe me, I get it. This is a horrible situation we’re all in.”
In the 41-page lawsuit, Fenwick’s lawyers seek “a declaration to ‘fix’ a breach of contract by IHSA officials. By express written contract, all parties agree that the IHSA officials lacked authority under the contract to force the teams to continue to play after the clock expired.”
Fenwick wants the judge to issue a temporary restraining order, declaring the game to have ended when the clock reached zero in the fourth quarter.
Others are urging a more gracious solution: that Plainfield North give up the spot in the championship game as a gesture of goodwill, acknowledging their win was the result of an error.
“If we care about ethics, if we care about sportsmanship, when is it justified to hang on to a medal you didn’t earn?” asked Josephson, of the ethics institute. “The greater issue is why are you holding on to a victory you know wasn’t fairly won?”
Tom Hernandez, spokesman for Plainfield Community Consolidated District 202, said district and Plainfield North administrators and those associated with the football team empathize with Fenwick, but the IHSA “is the sole and final arbiter of this.”
“The team is practicing and they’re preparing to play at 4 p.m. Saturday,” Hernandez said.
The school is not considering forfeiting the Fenwick contest, nor giving up its spot in the championship game, Hernandez said.
Fenwick players also took to the field to practice Tuesday in case the judge rules in their favor.
Several parents of Plainfield North players lamented the situation but criticized Fenwick for taking the matter to court.
“I think everyone feels bad it happened this way, but there’s lots of bad calls in sports,” said Bill Stoll, whose son plays on the team. “At the end of the day, it’s a game. Everyone in sports has something go against them. The rules are in place for a reason.”
Football parent George Miller finds it “hilarious” that many at Fenwick have called on Plainfield North to step aside for the title game.
“It’s tragic,” Miller said. “Our kids played just as hard as Fenwick. But for them to tell us to ‘do the right thing?’ There’s a snowball’s chance in hell that if it were Fenwick in our position that they’d do that. It’s not for us to do. We played within the perimeters of the rules, and the refs made a mistake. It is what it is.”
Bruce Howard of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which writes the rule books for high school sports, said the organization had no directive governing when the results of a game can be overturned.
While some state associations have overruled the final outcome of a game, including a 2008 decision by the IHSA in a wrestling tournament, Howard was unaware of a judge changing the result. He pointed to a 2014 case in Oklahoma in which a high school sought to replay the final minute of a playoff game after officials mistakenly took away a touchdown that should have counted.
The judge declined to intervene, saying such a move “will inevitably usher in a new era of robed referees and meritless litigation due to disagreement with or disdain for decisions of gaming officials — an unintended consequence that hurts both the court system and the citizens it is designed to protect.”
The NCAA has a similar rule declaring that the score of a game is final once a referee declares the contest over. But high-profile officiating errors have prompted some to advocate for a change.
The most recent episode came in a September football game between Oklahoma State and Central Michigan. Just as in the Fenwick-Plainfield game, Oklahoma State tried to kill the clock by throwing the ball out of bounds on the fourth down, only for a referee to call intentional grounding and mistakenly award Central Michigan a final play.
Central Michigan ended up scoring on a miraculous 51-yard pass and lateral, giving the school a 30-27 victory even though officials later conceded that the play never should have happened.
“We were told the result is final and there is nothing we can do about it,” Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder said after the game. “In my mind, it is incomprehensible that a misapplication of the rules after time has expired can’t be corrected.”
An NCAA spokesman said Tuesday that while officials have had informal discussions about changing the rule governing final results, nothing official has been proposed.
Before everything else, it is hard to believe that, after a highly publicized bad call, the exact same call was made two months later. Football rules prohibit a half ending on a defensive penalty, but intentional grounding by definition is an offensive penalty, even on fourth down. If there is no time left, then the opposing offense should not have gotten that one play.
So what did the judge do Wednesday? The Tribune reports:
A Cook County judge on Wednesday turned back a legal challenge by Fenwick High School to overturn its disputed loss in a football playoff game last weekend.
The ruling by Judge Kathleen Kennedy came in a lawsuit filed by Fenwick against the Illinois High School Association, which had refused to hear an appeal by the private Catholic school in Oak Park, citing a bylaw declaring that decisions by officials shall be final.
The decision clears the way for Plainfield North High School to play in the Class 7A championship against East St. Louis on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
“Here, as on the playing field, one side wins and one side loses,” Kennedy said as she announced her ruling after hearing about 45 minutes of arguments from lawyers and taking a lengthy break to mull over her decision.
A Fenwick spokesman said the school will not pursue further legal action and wished Plainfield North luck in the championship game.
Kennedy ruled in a Daley Center courtroom packed mostly with Fenwick supporters and a few players. Fenwick’s lawyer had warned the crowd to stay quiet and show respect for her ruling no matter how it went.
A mistaken call by officials with no time left allowed Plainfield North to tie the game with a field goal in regulation and then win 18-17 in overtime on a two-point conversion.
Fenwick’s lawyer, Peter Rush, said officials didn’t have the authority to continue the game and by doing so violated IHSA bylaws that rules will be enforced.
Rush disputed the IHSA’s claim that its bylaws blocked it from correcting the controversial loss, saying the agency did just that with a downstate soccer game.
David Bressler, an IHSA attorney, said officials make hundreds of bad calls every week and that courts would be flooded with lawsuits if Fenwick won the legal fight.
“I wish there was a way that Fenwick could participate in the game, but there’s not,” Bressler said. “Sometimes the law is not fair.”
Packer fans know about that:
So, for that matter, do fans of Cedar Grove–Belgium, which lost its state championship game because of what appeared to be an incorrect call:
Bad official calls, however, are not and cannot be grounds for lawsuits. The Cook County judge had no choice, because the first judge who overturns a game result on the basis of an incorrect official’s decision will open a Pandora’s box that will never be closed. (And as it is no game is ever decided in retrospect.by one play, even the Interceptouchdown.)
Moreover, what is the school teaching its students? When a human error occurs, sue? When things don’t go your way, find a lawyer?
I wrote Thursday about announcing a state football championship game, to which a friend wrote:
I would appreciate it if you could send in some of your game tapes to FOX as Joe Buck desperately needs to be replaced. What a great announcer story. Big guy from small conference in middle America hits the big time! Almost as good as the game itself.
Independent of the fact that Fox shows no inclination to replace Buck, to think Fox would replace Buck with a part-timer who has never done network TV at any level is most kind but most unlikely. I do maintain, however, that Fox and CBS should hire announcers for each team, and then using the Second Audio Program allow viewers to choose their announcers instead of being stuck with whoever Fox assigns, similar to what TBS has done with NCAA Final Four games.
This, meanwhile, amuses me even more:
I have the privilege of announcing today’s WIAA Division 7 football championship game between Shullsburg and Edgar from Camp Randall Stadium in Madison for WPVL (1590 AM), available online worldwide at http://www.am1590wpvl.com.
It occurs to me that for someone who does this only as a part-time thing, I’m doing pretty well. In the past four years, I have announced state football, boys basketball, girls basketball, girls volleyball and, as you know two weeks ago, boys soccer. I’ve also announced college basketball, and numerous non-state games that have been great games to announce regardless of where they are or who’s playing.
I have a doubleheader of sports to announce today, ending with Lancaster at Clinton in Level 3 football at 6:45 p.m. on WGLR (97.7 FM) in Lancaster, available online at wglr.com.
Before that, I will be announcing state tournament soccer, Rice Lake against Mount Horeb, in Milwaukee for Rice Lake’s WAQE (also 97.7 FM), also available online at waqe.com and msbnsports.net. (Which marks the first time I have ever announced games for two different radio stations on the same frequency in the same day. I hope I keep one separate from the other, lest one get an unscheduled format change, given that the first is a Hot Adult Contemporary station and the other is a country station.)
When I was asked to announce state soccer, it occurred to me that there was someone residing in Presteblog World Headquarters who would know something about Mount Horeb, since the Vikings ended his season last week. And so …
… Platteville/Lancaster goalkeeper Michael Prestegard will join me on the broadcast. He’s certainly seen enough of my on-air work from the booth (including when I accidentally hit him in the face with my clipboard), but today will be his on-air sports broadcasting debut. (To add to various things he and his brother and sister have done for my main employer the newspaper.)
The closest I have come to this before now is when my father accompanied me on two interviews with microbrewery owners for a magazine story. The owners and he kind of monopolized the conversation, but I got enough material for the story just by listening and taking notes. (My father’s career was not in journalism, but if you can talk to people, that’s a start. My kids already know Who, What, Where, When, Why and How and What Does This Story Mean to the Reader.)
Mrs. Presteblog has been with me for many games over the years …
… but sadly not today due to this thing called work.
It’s a much smaller scale than, say, having Chip Caray work with his father Skip and Skip’s father Harry …
… or the numerous other father–son baseball teams (Marty and Thom Brennaman, Harry and Todd Kalas, etc.). But today will be a personal thrill for me.