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Collected Wisdom: Greg Gumbel, CBS sportscaster

Greg Gumbel, 67, who was raised in Chicago, discussed his long broadcasting career, which included stops at Chicago's WMAQ-TV, ESPN, MSG, CBS and NBC and calling two Super Bowls for CBS.
by Mel Bracht Published: June 15, 2013
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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.

by Mel Bracht
Copy Editor, Sports Media
Mel Bracht is a copy editor on the presentation desk and also covers sports media. A 1978 graduate of Indiana University, Bracht has been a print journalist for 34 years. He started his career as sports editor of the Rensselaer (Ind.) Republican...
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