CBS sportscaster Greg Gumbel will be in Oklahoma City to host the 37th annual March of Dimes Mercy Sports Headliner Banquet at 7 p.m. Thursday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
Gumbel, 67, who was raised in Chicago, rose quickly in his sportscasting career, which included stops at Chicago's WMAQ-TV, ESPN, MSG, CBS and NBC and calling two Super Bowls for CBS. He has been a longtime advocate for the March of Dimes and serves as an assistant to the organization's president. His brother, Bryant Gumbel, also is a network broadcaster and hosts a monthly show for HBO.
I turned 67 in May. People have asked me about retiring. And I have had friends who retired and they said, “You'd get bored.” I'm not real sure about that. I'm pretty sure I could wake up in the morning and lay out by the pool and get a little sun, come back in and make a mojito or you know. I'm pretty sure I could do that. I've been very fortunate with CBS. I do football from September to January and then I host basketball from February to the first week in April. Then I'm off during the summer. Even for a 67-year-old guy, that's not terribly taxing and I feel very, very fortunate to do those things I love doing. As long as I can continue to enjoy it and as long as CBS will have me, I will continue to do it.
Hosting March Madness is the hardest I ever work. Those first few days of the tournament are murder. You're talking about 16 games the first day, 16 games the second day. You get into the studio about 8 in the morning. Production meetings. You're on the air at noon and then you go to about 12:30 or 1 in the morning. You go back to the hotel and then you do the same thing the next day and the day after that, and the day after that. It is a hellacious schedule, but it is fun.
I wasn't offended by Doug Gottlieb's comments. (On the air, Gottlieb told the other four studio analysts, all black, “I don't know why you guys ask me, I'm just here to bring diversity to this set, give kind of the white man's perspective.”). First of all, he isn't an offensive type person. He certainly didn't mean it the way a lot of people took it. It was just a joke that fell flat. Some people thought it inappropriate. I always look at intent and I don't think there was any bad intent at all. Someone said, I was like looking around behind me when it happened. I said well it's like, you look for a foxhole when grenades start to go off. Doug is a nice guy and Charles Barkley made the point on the air, people who are offended by that need to get a life.
I flew in a few years ago to host a dinner in Detroit for the March of Dimes. The president of the March of Dimes, Jennifer Howse, was on the plane with me. I don't mind saying this, she kidnapped me from the airport and we stopped by a hospital and we walked through a neonatal care unit. I was looking at so many of the premature babies. Basically, the March of Dimes has had a tremendous hand of helping over the years. The rate of survival for premature babies has skyrocketed over the last 15 years and it's basically from a lot of research, which is helped along from the March of Dimes. I actually saw a baby in the arms of her father and the father could take his wedding ring and slip it over her hand and upper arm, that's how small this baby was. What Jennifer House did was sink the bait into me. She asked me to a member of the national board. I served the maximum time on the board, which was two six-year terms, then she named me as a special adviser.
I played mostly neighborhood sports growing up. My dad played a little minor league baseball and really taught us well. One of the great, great disappointments in my life and my brother's life was that my dad never lived long enough to see either one of us on television. He's the one who taught us all that we knew about sports, what was right about it, what was wrong about it and the things to appreciate. He died at the age of 53 of a heart attack. He was a judge in Chicago. Richard D. Gumbel Jr. was the smartest man I ever knew.
I was just flying up to Chicago a couple of weeks ago to see the Rolling Stones in concert because you will not find a bigger Rolling Stones fan. Sitting across the aisle from me was a guy I went to high school with in Chicago (De La Salle) named Rich Daley, who used to be mayor. In fact, my high school has produced four mayors, including three in a row.
Bryant and I really got along too well to fight. Even if we did fight, there was a standing order in the house that if we were going to fight we had to fight my father first. So that wasn't going to happen. We had our share of brotherly arguments, especially where sports is concerned because he was the Cubs fan in the family and I was the White Sox fan. You know how wrong he was on numerous occasions. My dad was always the referee. Who was the better shortstop, Ernie Banks or Luis Aparicio?
I played baseball at Loras College in Iowa. I started the first game my freshman year at shortstop and I made four errors in five innings and my coach walked up to me, put his arm around me and said, ‘Son, you're an outfielder.' So I played center field until I ripped up my knee and then I played first base my senior year.
I had been in Detroit for a year and a half, working for a hospital supply company, and my brother called. He said they are looking for a weekend sportscaster in Chicago. Are you interested? And I said, “Mmm, baseball, bedpans, baseball, bedpans.” I flew in and I auditioned with a couple hundred other people. I began at Channel 5 (WMAQ) in March of 1973. It's something that both my brother and I have reflected upon often. The fact of the matter is it's a tough enough business anyway and he and I were both fortunate. He got his start in Los Angeles and I got my start in Chicago.
I really thought that for the longest time that I would be at Channel 5 forever because I knew the city, the city knew me after 7 1/2 years and I loved being in Chicago, but that local news stuff can be a real pain because they don't care about sports at times. There would be days where there would be 17 news stories and I would have 3 minutes on the 10 o'clock news. Sports wasn't important to them unless the team was in contention.
In 1981, along came ESPN. They flew me out to Bristol, Conn., for a look around. Instead of doing three minutes of sports at 10 o'clock, they offered me an hour at night and they offered me an opportunity to host a weekly NBA show and do a couple of other things. I was at ESPN for about 5 1/2 years. Then along came Madison Square Garden Network. And they said, “Look, in addition to doing the hosting duties, which we love, we'll also give you an opportunity to do play-by-play.” In addition to hosting a couple of shows at the Garden, I did play-for-play for the Yankees and the Knicks.
During my third year at the Garden, I got a phone call from the executive producer at CBS Sports, Ted Shaker, and he said we would be interested in you doing some play-by-play of NFL games for us. And I said, “Why, because I had never done it before.” He said, “because we think you can.” I signed an agreement to a minimum of five games that first year and I ended up doing 11. At the end of that football season, they asked me to do some freelance play-by-play in college basketball and NBA basketball. Then in the summer of 1988, they offered me a full-time position.
I was there until we lost about everything when I left in 1994. We lost the NBA, we lost Major League Baseball and we lost NFL football. NBC was offering me the opportunity to do Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA. So, I signed a four-year contract with NBC. When it came to 1998, CBS had reacquired the NFL and they asked me to come back and at the same time NBC lost the NFL. So I came back in 1998 and I have been there ever since.
I did the Super Bowl in '01 and '04. The first one was a blowout, the Baltimore Ravens just blew the New York Giants away 34-7. The second one, the Seattle Seahawks staged a tremendous comeback in the fourth quarter and tied the game and Adam Vinatieri won the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots with a kick at the last second, 32-29. I would consider that one my highlights, to do something that few others have been able to do.
They asked me to come back in “NFL Today” for a couple of years. This was my second go around because Terry Bradshaw and I did it in the early '90s. It was fine. It's one of those jobs that every broadcaster in the country would give his right arm to do. But after awhile for me personally, you miss the activity of the game. I can't begin to describe how hectic it can be in a studio during the “NFL Today” whereas if you're not rehearsing for halftime, you're doing updates and then you're doing halftimes and then you're doing halftime for another game ... The fact is you don't get to watch any football. And if you're a football fan, that tears at your heart. I much prefer being at the stadium.