By Matt Youmans
VSiN Senior Editor
Some remember it as the greatest game ever played. Brent Musburger called it for CBS, and more than 40 years later it remains the most memorable night of his broadcasting career.
With the 1976 NBA Finals tied 2-2, Boston Celtics general manager Red Auerbach set out to rile up the home fans by accusing the announcing crew — Musburger and former Hall of Fame player Rick Barry — of favoritism for the Phoenix Suns. Auerbach’s comments to the local media were heard loud and clear.
“We went back to Boston for Game 5 on a Friday night,” said Musburger, who was courtside before the game while Barry hid out in a back room. “I had to have a security guard peel a guy off of me. I took all of the abuse from the liquored-up fans. It was pitchforks and torches that night in Boston. It was a special night.”
The Celtics won a controversial triple-overtime thriller 128-126 and went on to take the championship in six games. Months later, Musburger crossed paths with Auerbach and asked for an explanation.
“Auerbach was a good friend of mine,” Musburger said. “Red said, ‘Don’t worry about it, Mus. I wanted to fire the town up. Don’t worry about it, Mus.’”
Musburger will walk into Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday and get a much warmer reception on another special night. It will be the last call of Musburger’s career. He announced his departure from ABC/ESPN last week, and Georgia-Kentucky is his finale.
But don’t call it a retirement.
Musburger, 77, is moving from the sidelines to a new studio in Las Vegas, where he will be the face of VSiN (Vegas Stats & Information Network) and host a daily show on SiriusXM Radio from the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa. The first sports gambling information network debuts Sunday with Musburger hosting a three-hour Super Bowl pregame show.
A sports broadcasting icon who has called countless major events, from the Boston Garden to the Rose Bowl, Musburger is prepared to turn the page to the next chapter of his career.
“First and foremost for me, I’m ready for the new challenge,” he said. “The arenas and the big games, no question I’m going to miss that. But I don’t have any withdrawal. I’ve done a lot of games for a lot of years, so it isn’t like I would miss out on that part of the dream.
“This is very exciting. I’m energized by it. We’re building something from ground zero, and we’ll see what we can do.”
Early last year, Musburger and his brother, Todd, a Chicago-based attorney and agent, discussed plans for VSiN. About two months before Musburger’s Jan. 2 call of the Sugar Bowl for ESPN, he made the decision.
“I said, ‘Todd, let’s do this,’ and that’s how it went.”
Todd Musburger and his son, Brian, are co-founders of VSiN, which is set to launch as the first multi-channel network dedicated to sports gamblers by providing live-streaming videos, exclusive data and handicapping information. Musburger’s daily show begins Feb. 27.
"I can't think of a better talent than Brent to build a sports gaming network around," Brian Musburger said.
“You are looking live” — the famous catchphrase he first used as CBS’ studio host of “The NFL Today” in the 1970s — is moving to Las Vegas with Musburger, whose outspoken gambling references during games have set him apart from most other broadcasters.
The time is right, Musburger said, to start a network featuring credible sources who analyze the games from a betting perspective, starting with the Super Bowl and NCAA Tournament.
“To be able to talk about the NFL and NBA and March Madness in particular, it will be great taking a little bit of a different kind of view of the games with the bookmakers and my friends in the desert,” he said. “I’m definitely looking forward to talking about the NFL again, which I have not done for a number of years.
“Sports betting is a growing business. It’s being accepted more and more by American society. It has come out of the dark alleys. I know it has played a huge role in the growth of the National Football League through the years. The NFL sometimes doesn’t like to acknowledge that, but that’s the truth.
“I know something about the gambling, and there’s a lot of interest in that information if we can get it out there. I think we can deliver a lot of good information - without trying to sell, ‘I’m 8-2 this week’ - to help bettors win. It’s a fascinating topic. I understand the integrity of the games. That’s so important to the industry and the people who run it.”
It’s the dawn of a new time in Las Vegas, with the city’s NHL expansion team taking the ice for the 2016-17 season and the NFL readying for a vote on the Oakland Raiders’ relocation to a new stadium near the Strip.
Musburger’s 15-year stay at CBS started in 1975 and ended on April 2, 1990, when he called UNLV’s 103-73 victory over Duke in the NCAA championship game. He enjoyed a close relationship with late Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian.
“The Shark was a great friend,” Musburger said. “I loved to go out with the Shark because I knew we would go to a great steakhouse or an Italian restaurant. I knew he would be comped, and I was along for the ride.”
Musburger called boxing and poker events in Las Vegas for CBS. He recalled “listening to tales” from poker legends Doyle Brunson and “Amarillo Slim” Preston and hitting the Strip with “The NFL Today” colleague Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder.
“I remember going out with the Greek one night, and he said, ‘We’re going over to Barbary Coast.’ He said they had the best parlay cards over there. Ties win,” he said.
Musburger, who was raised in Montana, was among the first crossover media talents. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, he was a columnist for the Chicago American before transitioning to television.
As a baseball writer, he was sent to Los Angeles in 1963, the year the Dodgers swept the New York Yankees in the World Series.
“Jack Brickhouse was doing TV at that time for the Cubs, and he said, ‘Come with us to Las Vegas,’” Musburger said. “The first big show I ever saw was Liberace, and I loved it. It was one of the most entertaining shows I’ve seen to this day.
“That was the first trip to Vegas, and I was hooked. And now I’m coming back.”
Musburger was the longtime ABC/ESPN voice of college football, calling seven BCS national championships, and he’s going out with a college basketball game at Rupp Arena, one of his favorite venues.
His next calls will come from Las Vegas, where South Point owner Michael Gaughan has built a state-of-the-art studio for VSiN.
“We could not have pulled this off without Mr. Gaughan,” Musburger said. “He has built the stadium, and that’s what I call the studio. He’s just a wonderful guy to be around.”
Musburger and his wife, Arlene, will sell their home in Jupiter, Fla., and relocate to join his friends in the desert.
“I’m not a handicapper. A lot of people do better picking games than I do,” he said. “I’m a recreational bettor. I enjoy it, and I would not try to attempt making a living on betting.
“I enjoy talking to people. I love Las Vegas, and living there is going to be fun. This is an adventure. It’s fascinating to me on a lot of levels. I’m looking forward to it.”