LAS VEGAS – Brent Musburger positions himself at the center of a desk as a man in his element during this new phase of the legendary announcer’s life.
On this recent Thursday afternoon, a flurry of activity carries on within a small studio at the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa before he begins his two-hour show, My Guys in the Desert, as part of the Vegas Stats & Information Network. He slips on a pair of large black headphones. He’s ready for another day of sharing his passion with the world.
“Living the dream,” Musburger says.
Soon, Musburger’s voice spills into the microphone as he welcomes his audience to the broadcast. He speaks about Las Vegas’ searing heat, which reached 117 degrees two days earlier. He talks about the NBA draft and the excitement about the Vegas Golden Knights, an NHL expansion franchise. He teases a discussion to come about SEC football.
“We’ve got some more big games in college football,” Musburger tells his audience during his opening remarks, “including a few that I’m very familiar with in the SEC.”
Musburger, 78, became one of the most recognized voices for college football fans during a career that allowed him to witness many of the sport’s biggest games. He worked for CBS Sports from 1973-90, before he called action for ABC and ESPN from 1990 until this past January. Then he moved to Las Vegas for this current venture, which looks like a delightful mix of work and play for him.
Over the years, many came to associate Musburger with his veiled gambling references during broadcasts. Here, he’s part of a fledgling network founded by his nephew, Brian Musburger, that seeks to cater to sports bettors and fans who enjoy taking a deeper look at the numbers behind their favorite games and events. One year ago, Sirius XM agreed to broadcast VSiN’s shows.
“We’re the CNBC of sports gaming,” Brian says. “And that’s what we set out to be.”
Musburger is the network’s most recognizable figure. About 10 minutes into his show on this Thursday, talk turns to Florida’s game against Kentucky on Sept. 23 at Kroger Field. Chris Andrews, South Point’s sports book director, sits to Musburger’s left and explains why the Gators opened as a two-point favorite. The topic allows Musburger to relive a memory from his former professional life, when he called Florida’s triple-overtime victory over Kentucky in 2014 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
For Musburger, the past is never far away.
“Remember the news anchor, the youngster, who became kind of a legend across Awful Announcing when he went ‘boom goes the dynamite’?” Musburger says on the show. “That particular game allowed me to use it. When [Kentucky running back] Boom Williams hit the pylon over there in overtime, I couldn’t resist. I went, ‘Boom goes the dynamite!’ I was just waiting for an opportunity to be able to use it.”
Brent Musburger loving life at the center of it all
The show’s energy is attractive even if a listener doesn’t hold a heavy interest in sports gambling. Musburger and others break down notable SEC games for the coming season, including Georgia-Tennessee, LSU-Florida and Auburn-Texas A&M. The talk is a blend of insider-gambling nuggets and lively banter that resembles something that would be heard at a typical sports bar throughout the country.
Eventually, Musburger makes a quip about sharp feedback he received from a Pac-12 fan on Twitter about the heavy SEC focus.
“Will you shut up about the SEC and the Big Ten?” Musburger says, reading the tweet on air. After some laughter, Musburger offers, “OK, OK, I’m sorry. I apologize.” Then he dives into a discussion about USC’s game against Colorado on Nov. 11.
This kind of broad appeal is what Brian pictured when he developed the idea for VSiN about six years ago. During a trip to Las Vegas with his uncle, Brian met Jimmy Vaccaro, an oddsmaker at South Point. Brian became captivated by listening to his uncle, Vaccaro and other oddsmakers talk shop. During the drive back to Chicago, Brian switched on sports talk radio and found the conversation he absorbed in Las Vegas to be much more fascinating.
In time, Brian’s vision became reality. He began work on the project about four years ago, and VSiN launched in February. The network showcases six hours of original programming during the week and five hours on weekends. There are plans to expand the broadcast schedule in the fall for what Musburger calls “king football.”
“I thought, ‘If I can just give people the opportunity to hear the conversation that I just heard, I think that they would find it so much more compelling than what’s on sports talk radio now,’” Brian says.
“Even if you’re not betting on the games, understanding what these guys are looking at, it’s fascinating. I don’t care if you’ve never bet a dollar on a game. The conversation and the way that they look at it, it’s truly remarkable. It’s something that I have great respect for what they do. I am not a huge sports bettor, but I do love the conversation. And I have tremendous respect for what these guys do and their knowledge of the game.”
Musburger shares that view. To him, gambling references and gaining knowledge about sports gaming have a place in the current landscape.
“It’s just part of sport,” Musburger says. “People like it. What’s the difference between betting on a football game or a horse race? What’s the difference? … It never was a morality thing with me. I guess I traveled enough into the UK and Europe. It’s just part of the culture over there. You just walk into a bet shop, you walk out and watch a race or a bicycle race or a car race.
“For a lot of us, it’s kind of like working a crossword puzzle. It’s just kind of like a little hobby that we engage in, that we have a little fun with. I lost yesterday with the [Chicago] Cubs, a small bet. And I thought I had the game won, and I wasn’t paying any attention. My wife [Arlene] told me I had lost the bet, and I didn’t even know it.”
Musburger added that the recent move by networks to reference betting lines for college football games was overdue.
“That should have been done a long time ago,” he says. “That’s just part of the [experience]. It’s not as though the announcer is either betting the game or encouraging to bet the game. But listen, these guys pay attention. If you want to talk to sports fans who know what’s going on, you talk to bookmakers, because their living depends on it.
“I never tried to make a big deal out of it. There are coaches who look at the lines every week. They won’t admit it, but they want to know, ‘What do the bookmakers know that I might not know?’”
VSiN hopes to tap into that interest by providing content for consumers who want a deeper understanding of the numbers involved with sports handicapping. The network’s studio is located within South Point’s sports book, which is a hub of action on the recent Thursday afternoon.
Red and green lights are seen beyond one of the studio’s glass walls as the day’s baseball action unfolds on televisions scattered throughout the area. As a sign of the network’s young age, VSiN executive producer Rick Jaffe sits at a blackjack table that acts as a secondary desk a few feet from where Musburger entertains his audience.
At one point during Musburger’s show, a man and a woman at South Point’s sports book stop behind the glass and look toward the famous announcer. Musburger is a large draw, and he’s known to be welcoming. It’s common for him to greet those who seek him out at the casino by posing for pictures, signing autographs and participating in small talk.
Jaffe recalls a time when someone who had listened to Musburger on Sirius XM stayed at the casino with hopes of seeing the announcer. When Musburger heard the story, Jaffe said, Musburger told the fan, “Come on. You’re coming on the show.”
“You can just tell that he’s having fun,” Jaffe says of Musburger. “This isn’t like a job for him.”
That ease is on display after Musburger’s show goes into a break about 50 minutes into the broadcast. To Musburger’s right, a man stands outside VSiN’s studio and begins to wave. Musburger acknowledges the visitor by smiling and offering a thumbs-up gesture with his right hand.
“Good to see you, kiddo,” Musburger says.
He starts laughing.
“I just told him to take the 10,” Musburger says, smiling. “I don’t know what game he was talking about.”
Musburger will miss the SEC
After the show, Musburger exits the studio and walks toward a lounge to his right. He moves past slot machines and the cacophony that makes Las Vegas a city of wonder and dreams as large as the views in this desert oasis. He grabs a Budweiser bottle from the bar and slides into a seat at a table. He begins to talk about the SEC.
“I loved the SEC,” Musburger says between sips. “I think everybody who deals with it understands that. I’m going to miss the enthusiasm and the crowds and the people, coaches and players. But this gig allowed me to talk about other things I still follow, like the National Football League, National Basketball Association, horse racing, all those things I’ve been around. So as you start to slow it down, to be able to go back and renew acquaintances and feelings about those, that’s the best thing about it. It’s a broader scope rather than a narrower scope. So I love that part.”
Musburger’s affection for the SEC remains strong. He won’t find himself in an SEC booth this fall, but he holds plenty of opinions about the action to come.
He says Alabama will win the conference for a fourth consecutive season. He calls Kentucky a dark-horse pick. He’s adamant that LSU messed up by not playing Florida in Gainesville last year. He names the Crimson Tide’s 2009 and 2011 teams as the best he saw in his time following the conference. He labels Georgia’s Herschel Walker as the top college running back he witnessed during his storied career.
The SEC will remain part of Musburger, even though many miles separate him from the conference’s most decorated venues. His “You are looking live!” persona is gone. (He didn’t use the famous line to begin his VSiN show.) But his legacy as a voice of the SEC and college football will stay with many.
“I was on a trip in Auckland, New Zealand,” Musburger says. “And I got into a bus a couple years ago, a couple nice women sat down next to me. They kind of did a double take as they looked at me. They kind of whispered to each other. And then one looked over at me and said, ‘So, what’s the Crimson Tide going to do this year?’ I’m in New Zealand, you know what I’m saying?
“[The SEC] has the greatest fan base in the world. And I will miss that. I will miss that every weekend, for sure. But I’ll be watching. I’ll be watching the SEC Network. And occasionally, I’ll be betting on those teams too.”
Musburger remains as passionate as ever
As Musburger sits in the lounge, a Canadian Football League game between the Montreal Alouettes and Saskatchewan Roughriders catches his eye on a television to his left. Montreal quarterback Darian Durant connects with wide receiver B.J. Cunningham for a 65-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter.
“First touchdown of the season right there,” says Ron Flatter, a co-host of My Guys in the Desert who’s sitting at the table with Musburger.
“Is that it?” Musburger says. “Which team? Is that the Alouettes? Let me see what American receiver caught it.”
Flatter does a quick search online and relays the fact that Cunningham played for Michigan State from 2008-11.
“I did a lot of games with B.J. Cunningham,” Musburger says. “He was a very good Big Ten receiver.”
The moment serves as a glimpse of Musburger in his comfort zone within this new life phase. He used to provide memorable play-by-play calls for fans throughout the country, each acting as a first draft of history. Now he’s a dedicated observer himself.
“It has energized all of us,” Flatter says of VSiN. “We get to talk about stuff that we couldn’t talk about before.”
“It was always great to hear his calls. But now to be alongside him, I learn something every day from being with him in terms of his expertise,” says Vinny Magliulo, Gaughan Gaming’s sports book director and a VSiN oddsmaker. “What I really love about him is his passion for not only sports but for what we do in our industry. And he’s a great ambassador.”
Musburger has embraced the chance to explain sports gaming’s place in the modern culture.
“We think it’s time to talk in the open about things like that,” he says. “It’s not a back-room [discussion] anymore. It’s part of our culture, and we shouldn’t be denying it. It’s certainly not the most important part of a game. But it is an integral part of why people are interested in sports today.
“It’s just kind of a hobby. Listen, there are a lot more important things in the world going on. Obviously, there are people who get in over their head [betting on sports]. But there are troubled gamblers. But there are troubled drinkers. There are troubled everything else. So we have to deal with it as a society. Most of the people I find in here every day, it’s not a bad habit to do it. I guess that’s why I get a kick out of it. It’s very enjoyable.”
The enjoyment will continue for Musburger and his guys in the desert. Before long, he rises from the table, another day complete. He grabs his black roller bag and moves toward an exit. The casino’s hum provides a comforting soundtrack as he makes his way into the dry evening air outside.
This fall, college football viewers won’t look live at Musburger anymore. But he will watch from afar as part of this new reality for him, as passionate as ever.