Let’s talk about the title — “You are looking live!”
For anyone who has watched a pregame show hosted by or a game announced by Brent Musburger, it’s a phrase well-known.
But do you know the origin of it? It goes way, way back to 1974, when CBS created what many believe is the most popular NFL pregame show of the time — “The NFL Today.” The show was live just before 1 p.m. Sunday kickoffs, and that was ground-breaking in itself. Before 1974, pregame shows were taped in advance.
Rich Podolsky’s new book “You Are Looking Live! How The NFL Today Revolutionized Sports Broadcasting” evokes a ground-breaking era that was a perfect match and a gateway for the growth of the NFL. Believe it or not in the 1970s, the NFL wasn’t what it is today.
Fantasy football was just that, a fantasy. Betting on games was not in the mainstream media. And it was not a pass-happy league.
Although it took years for all that mature, the NFL’s popularity — it could be argued — coincided with the growth of “The NFL Today.” It wasn’t that the show was just popular — and it was with Musburger and a host of others. It was that it was ground-breaking in many ways.
“You are looking live!” was Musburger’s way of telling the audience CBS was everywhere on Sundays. It might seem ridiculous for today’s younger audience, but there was a time when score updates and highlights weren’t at our fingertips in a moment’s notice.
CBS changed that with technology that produced in-game highlights. Fans ate it up, and wanted more. So CBS gave them more.
There was Miss America Phyllis George, who passed away in 2020. She knocked down doors for women interested in covering the NFL and provided human interest stories that went beyond the X’s and O’s.
When she interviewed former Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach for a “The NFL Today” segment, she asked him about his All-American image, Staubach replied by bringing up NFL Playboy Joe Namath, who was often compared to Staubach. His comment stunned America. Said Staubach, who was married: “I enjoy sex as much as Joe Namath, only I do it with one girl.”
There was Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, who was later added to the show for his handicapping expertise, even though the league frowned on such talk. So The Greek and Musburger would use codes for betting lines.
Musburger: “Jimmy, what team do you like in this game?”
The Greek: “Brent, I like the Cowboys. By how much? You know what happens in golf when you hit it out of bounds? Fore!”
There was Irv Cross, a former defensive back for the Eagles who brought class and diversity to the set.
Together, the group formed an iconic show that laid the groundwork for pregame shows across all forms of media and all sports. Some might say it’s never been duplicated.
It’s all played out well in Podolsky’s book. It reads as if Podolsky was an insider on the show, and for good reason. For a time, Podolsky worked for CBS on The NFL Today.
There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes tidbits, but three chapters are highlights:
• The Musburger-Greek fight — Following a show in 1980, the two had to be separated after The Greek reportedly punched Musburger at a New York restaurant. It was a feud — many in the book believe — sparked by The Greek’s frustration of not getting enough air time from Musburger, the show’s host. By Tuesday of the following week, New York newspapers had splash headline in their print editions. The next week, The NFL Today opened with boxing gloves in front of Musburger and The Greek. George rang a bell and proclaimed, “Round One.”
• The Greek’s ill-fated comments and eventual firing — Snyder, born in Steubenville, was with CBS for 12 years, and was the most popular sports handicpapper in the country in the late 1980s. His fall from grace was spectacular. In January 1988 while speaking with a TV station, he made comments suggesting that breeding practices during slavery had led African-Americans to become superior athletes. Shortly after, The Greek was fired by CBS.
• Musburger’s firing — Two years later, CBS had the likes of Jim Nantz, Greg Gumbel and others waiting for their shot, and asked Musburger to cut back on his duties. He was the lead announcer for “The NFL Today,” college football, the NBA, the Masters and more. Musburger’s contract with CBS was set to expire in July 1990, but on the eve of the men’s NCAA college basketball national championship game — April 1 — the network fired him. Most thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke, but it was no joke.
Those who follow a particular sport are wise to know and understand its history. The same should be true for sports media, a platform that seemingly changes by the minute. Podolsky’s book reads like a textbook for future Sports Media 101 college classes.
More than that, what the “The NFL Today” means to the history of the league can’t be understated.
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