In 1988, a group of local reporters, including myself, gathered at the Arizona Biltmore for the NFL Spring Meeting. It was there that the move of the St. Louis Cardinals to Phoenix was to be officially approved.
Owner Bill Bidwill spoke to the media after the vote. He talked of what the NFL in Phoenix would mean. However, even that didn’t seem to really signify it was happening.
For me, it was the interview I did with Chris Berman. As soon as he talked about the NFL in Phoenix, it seemed real.
That was 28 years ago. To today’s young reporters, it wouldn’t be the same feeling. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
The fact that Chris Berman may have worked his last MLB Home Run Derby is being met with applause. Lots of it.
This is not easy to talk about, because Chris Berman is a broadcaster, and the old adage goes those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. It seems, however, that Berman bashing is as much a mid summer tradition as the All Star Game itself.
Berman reportedly is about to embark on his final season handing NFL assignments on ESPN, so people are coming to the conclusion that he’s going to walk away from every assignment on the network. If that’s the case, it’s appropriate to examine all sides of the Berman equation.
For those who were watching when he debuted in 1979, Chris Berman represented something special. Television had never had a channel where you could get scores and highlights at all hours, and never had a sports highlight show where the anchors were having fun. He showed a generation how to have fun with sports. He was FOX attitude before FOX attitude.
There’s a danger people run when they get comfortable doing things the way they’ve always been done, especially when that way tends to bring attention to one’s self. The act gets overexposed.
At that point, a person like Berman faces two choices. Either abandon the “schtick” and come off as phony, or stay with the same old approach and risk having people get sick of it.
He is still doing things the way he’s always done them, and judging from social media, America has had enough.
This is not the way it should end for a pioneering broadcaster, but a lot of his wounds are self- inflicted.
Berman has, to some degree, become his own worst enemy. He gets assignments (Monday Night Football and ESPN Radio postseason baseball play-by-play) that he is clearly not prepared to handle, but his contract allows him to do them. It doesn’t align with his everyman image.
It is impossible to believe Berman is not aware of how he is barbecued on social media. It is also impossible to believe it doesn’t bother him to some degree.
The lesson to be learned is, whether we like it or not, we must evolve and change with the times. ‘The Tonight Show” changed from Carson to Leno to O’Brien to Leno to Fallon. “The Price Is Right” with Drew Carey bears little resemblance to the show Bob Barker left in 2007. Chris Berman never changed, and while we celebrate consistency in sports, in the broadcast world it’s deadly.
In fairness, changing things up doesn’t always work. Go to You Tube and watch Dick Vitale from a game in the early 1980’s and you’ll see why he was so popular. Then listen to one of his recent games and you’ll find out why people have changed their opinions on him.
Come the fall, Berman will be back saying “no one circles the wagons like The Buffalo Bills”, he’ll run the footage of him catching passes from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during his Friday “Swami” segment and he’ll remind us each week how long he and Tom Jackson have been together. It’s just what he does. Some of us will remember the young face on the TV that greeted us late at night to tell us what happened in sports that evening. Sadly, most will count the days until he’s gone.
No one who has meant as much to the history of sports on television deserves to be booed off the stage, but all Chris Berman has to do is ask one simple question: Whose fault is it?