At some point after the upcoming football season, Chris Berman apparently will depart ESPN, where he hosts “Sunday NFL Countdown” and “Monday Night Countdown.” With the Worldwide Leader in Sports in expense-cutting mode, it makes sense the brass would be eager to ease a big salary (reportedly about $3 million a year) out the door with a contract expiring.
It also is not shocking that the story was strategically leaked, to a website called The Big Lead: “Berman, 61, joined the network a month after its inception in 1979 and in addition to being one of the company’s longest-tenured employees, he’d certainly go on ESPN’s Mount Rushmore. As such, the network has lavish plans for a send-off that one source said might be akin to the way the Lakers sent Kobe Bryant into retirement.”
The shocking thing is that Chris, a big man with a bigger personality, is a mere 61, despite having been around forever. He was in his mid-20s, fresh off a weekend TV gig in Hartford, when he started anchoring “SportsCenter” and creating shtick that won’t soon be forgotten. (His “back-back-back-back” call on an outfielder retreating was a tribute to Red Barber; the “he … could … go … all … the … way” in football was homage to Howard Cosell. Hopefully nobody will ever try to imitate Boomer’s unique nicknames, like Kevin “Smallmouth” Bass.)
Nobody at ESPN has commented, but no doubt the bosses would prefer Chris not show up elsewhere on cable. Perhaps an emeritus position could be negotiated, but that may not be in the cards. His agent has fired the first shot, telling The New York Times: “Chris is NOT retiring. Loves what he’s doing too much and is too young to hang ‘em up. Perhaps people with an agenda put it out there.”
I’ll close with a long-forgotten fact: When Chris joined fledgling ESPN as a greenhorn, his older brother Len (now 68) was already a big-name sportscaster on local TV in New York, occasionally for the NBC network. Len aged out of his TV gigs and, after lengthy stints out of broadcasting, now hosts a morning radio program in New York that covers both news and sports.