Barber: At first listen, Musburger misses the mark

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I watched the Raiders’ 23-21 victory over the Cardinals on CBS on Sunday afternoon, but I listened to the home radio broadcast via an app on my phone. There was a small gap in coverage; the radio feed was about five seconds behind the TV feed. That was unfortunate. It would have been more appropriate if the radio call were, say, 35 years behind television. Because Brent Musburger is doing the Raiders’ radio play-by-play.

This is a nagging issue among Bay Area sports fans, who can’t help but compare Musburger to his predecessor, Greg Papa. Papa has done play-by-play for all the major sports, and he’s one of the best I’ve heard. No one has ever prepared more for a game. Papa knew each opposing team better than some broadcasters know the home team, and his deductions after the snap were fast as lightning.

I’m not saying Papa was perfect. Some fans complained that he threw too much jargon at them. And he was sort of in love with his own “Touchdown … Rrrrrraiders!” call. But I learned things when he did Raiders games, and he filled in blanks that I might not have noticed in the heat of the action.

Papa was also a local institution who revered Al Davis and was deeply steeped in Raiders culture. Unfortunately, current owner Mark Davis, Al’s son, took offense to things Papa said on the radio and fired him. That’s Davis’ prerogative, and I don’t begrudge him for it.

But when the Raiders announced that Musburger would replace Papa, I was bewildered. What? Brent Musburger? The creepy old guy who leered at A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend — and McCarron’s mother — during the 2013 NCAA national championship? The man who, as a young journalist, compared Tommie Smith and John Carlos to “black-skinned storm troopers” when they protested racial inequality at the 1968 Summer Olympics? The broadcaster whose heyday was sometime around the first Clinton administration?

Well, sure. I guess Pat Summerall is dead, so whom else could the Raiders turn to?

Sunday was my first extended opportunity to listen to the Raiders’ radio team in 2018, and nothing surprised me much. Analyst Lincoln Kennedy is excellent, full of insights and with a particular emphasis on line play, always the most inscrutable element of football. Sideline reporter Chris Townsend is fine. And Musburger is sort of a cross between Ron Burgundy of “Anchorman” and a Tostitos billboard.

There’s a classic Monty Python sketch in which one TV announcer kicks the camera to another, and then another, and another and another, and each of them has the same serious-BBC accent and cadence. You could write a similar sketch for 1970s American sportscasters, and you could toss Musburger into the scene without skipping a beat.

The guy is all patter. The meaning of the words seems to mean less to him than their lilt. He comes from a different era of broadcasting, practically a different world, when we had so little information at our fingertips that we were happy merely to be entertained during a sporting event. Just give us the score every 15 minutes or so, and we were good. It’s a style that doesn’t work so well in 2018.

Musburger has a couple of odd obsessions, too. One of them is tight ends. I had never noticed this before.

Musburger’s primary fixation, though, is the university system. This shouldn’t be a big surprise, as he has spent years calling NCAA football. So I get it, but I don’t necessarily need to be reminded constantly that Mike Iupati is “out of Idaho,” or that Arizona defensive end Zach Moore is “from Concordia, of Saint Paul, Minnesota,” or that Christian Kirk “was a great return man at Texas A&M.”

Circling back to Kirk at one point, Musburger said, “He had a good career down there for Kevin Sumlin. And wouldn’t Kevin like to have him down in Arizona right now. What a drubbing the Wildcats took at the hands of the Washington State Cougars on Saturday!”

Hey, Brent! Over here, buddy! There’s an NFL game we could use some help with!

Musburger isn’t a disaster. He gets most things right, though he did refer to Cardinals offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich as “Bryon” as couple times. He clearly works at his rapport with Kennedy and Townsend, and he was candid when the Raiders screwed up. “Oh, my, what terrible tackling!” Musburger said after Kirk’s breakaway catch-and-run late in the first quarter.

Oh, one other thing he’s good at: reading sponsors’ ads. It may be his highest calling.

One problem with Musburger is that he has no real ties to the Bay Area. During the Raiders game, he got word that Washington quarterback Alex Smith had suffered a season-ending leg injury. Papa would have realized that Smith is one of the most popular athletes to have played here in the past 20 years and treated the moment with gravity. Musburger’s take was: “Fortunately for the Redskins, they’ve got Colt McCoy to step in.”


Musburger’s real shortcoming, though, is that he fails to execute the basic role of the play-by-play man — to paint a picture of what is happening on the field, as it happens, with enough detail to make it vivid.

Papa was a master at it. Musburger, whether it’s due to lack of ability or lack of interest, rarely tells you who is doing what at the moment they are doing it. He’ll tell you that a pass is spiraling deep downfield, or that a pass rusher is leveling Derek Carr. But the identity of the pass receiver, or the cover man, or the sacker? Your guess is as good as his.

After the play, he’ll fill in the gaps — or turn to Kennedy for answers. “Did you get to see a replay of it, Lincoln?” Musburger asked his partner after officials called a personal foul on Arizona’s Jermaine Gresham with a couple minutes left. Maybe he was being politely deferential to Kennedy, the former NFL player. Or maybe he couldn’t be bothered to watch the replay himself.

I hate to sound ageist, but Musburger comes across as too old for this job. He’s 79, and his eyes don’t move around the football field, or the words don’t come to his mouth, quickly enough to guide you through a game. He mumbles a bit. Sometimes he sounds as though he’s doing the game with a gin and tonic in one hand.

I don’t begrudge Musburger for taking this job. Good for him if he wants to stay busy at this stage of life. But what was Mark Davis thinking? As if Raiders fans haven’t suffered enough indignities this season.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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