BILLINGS – Longtime play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger, the legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster and one of the most iconic voices in sports history who first came to national prominence in the 1970s and 80s for CBS Sports, called it a career this past January.
Musburger’s love of sports is rooted right here in Billings. He was raised in Billings, the son of Beryl Ruth (Woody) and Cec Musburger.
He played little league baseball and was a boyhood friend of former major league pitcher Dave McNally. He continues to return to Billings often to lend his support to charitable organizations. Last year, the refurbished baseball park at Centennial Park was named in his fathers honor.
“The entire state of Montana thought it was a strike,” Musburger deadpanned during what he admits was one of his most memorable career nights.
Musburger was calling the 2011 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., specifically broadcasting the minor miracle Billings baseball team from his home town.
It was a game Karl Ravech of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight was supposed to call. But once Billings reached the undefeated semifinal against California, Musburger specifically asked ESPN for the job.
“You know,” Musburger told MTN Sports after arriving in Williamsport, “I normally come in on the weekend. But this particular instance, I said, ‘I’m coming in early. I want to do a game.”
ESPN Baseball Tonight host Karl Ravech remembered it this way.
“I was actually supposed to do the game Wednesday and he said, ‘Look, it’s Montana and I’d love to do it.’ And I have an 11 year old boy who’s in Little League now, who’s team made it to a state championship, and I immediately was able to put myself in his shoes.”
His career spanned nearly 50 years, first arriving at national prominence for CBS Sports in the 1970s and 80s with the famous line, “You are looking live!”
Whether granting interviews in his home state or volunteering as the special guest of a fund-raising events on countless occasions, Musburger has always seemed to take care of Montana.
In 2010 a fundraiser for longtime friend and former MSU head golf coach Leslie Spalding, I asked him about controversial basketball coach and broadcasting partner Bobby Knight.
“It’s a great question,” Musburger said. “I’ve known Knight for a long, long time. I had some battles with him early on and now I consider him a very dear friend. I really like him. He could be, if he commits himself to it, the best basketball analyst out there. Because people, whether they adore him, wherever they stand on the Knight meter, they listen to him. They like to hear what he has to say.”
Moments later, Musburger was blunt when asked about the Cats and Griz toying with a move to the upper echelon of division one.
“Horrendous mistake. Montana cannot support a division one team,” he pointed out. “If they want to go up against the Washington Huskies, and the Stanford Cardinal, and the USC Trojans, and BYU and Utah, and those athletes… good luck to them. But they’d be committing economic suicide.”
Just two years ago, remembering Musburger’s roots, ESPN offered him the call for college football’s season opener between Montana and North Dakota State. He agreed under two conditions. One, wanting his weekly production crew to handle the game to assure no drop-off in qualify. And, two, he needed game tickets for family and friends. That’s how the deal went down.
Even at that point in his storied career, Musburger admitted feeling like he was still living a dream.
“Well, it doesn’t feel like a job, you know? It really doesn’t,” he offered. “I know that when the light goes on, you have to perform and identify players, and promos – all the things that go into announcing – but I wouldn’t miss it. I love every minute of it.
“The hardest thing I had to do was get tickets for the family,” he smiled at the time. “I mean, I cannot tell you how many people have asked me.”
Five years after the magical Billings Little League run – summer of 2016 – the Montana Hall of Fame broadcaster was in Missoula as guest speaker for the American Legion State AA Tournament.
Once again, he singled out the all-stars.
“A few years ago I had a big thrill with baseball in Williamsport,” he reminisced. “The Billings youngsters advanced to the world series at Williamsport and made it all the way to the final where they took on a very good California team. And I’m wondering, are any of those youngsters still with us, the Legion team?
After a handful of Billings Royals stood, Musburger proclaimed, “Wow, look at this huh?! Alright!”
A few days later, last August, he returned to Billings for the dedication of Musburger Field honoring his father Cec, who actually brought Little League to Billings decades ago.
Down the stretch, he hit a few bumps in the broadcasting road, but Musburger will always be regarded by many as a sportscasting icon.
The litany of global events. The prominent interviews. The heart-stopping calls. Through the culmination, Musburger still seemed to realize at the time six years ago, the magnitude of what had come full circle for his hometown Little Leaguers. And where it ranked on his decorated resume.
“It’s very exciting because this one’s personal,” he told MTN Sports at the time. “You know, I’m around a lot of big league guys and college football games and basketball games. So I’ve been around every event imaginable. And seeing these little kids come here from Montana, when they weren’t supposed to make it here, and not only did they make it, they’re still undefeated and playing for the United States championship. It’s a very, very memorable occasion.”