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Berman ’77 reflects on time at Brown, ESPN

ESPN personality since company’s inception started broadcasting career at WBRU

This past January, longtime sports broadcasting icon Chris Berman ’77 P’08 P’09 announced he would be assuming a less-involved role at ESPN after the 2016 National Football League season. Berman has been with the network since its inception in 1979 and has covered 31 NFL seasons as ESPN’s studio programming host. The upcoming 2017 NFL Draft will be the first televised draft not hosted by the six-time National Sportscaster of the Year. Over his career, Berman has also been involved with ESPN’s golf and MLB coverage. The Schwami — as he has been affectionately referred to by coworkers, athletes and fans alike — has been featured on the video screens before Brown football games and has remained tied to the University and its athletic department since he graduated.

In an exclusive interview with The Herald, Berman discussed his career development, his time at Brown and his plans moving forward.

Herald: Reflecting on your career development and your time at ESPN so far, what parts stand out to you the most?

Berman: All of them, because I had fun in all of them. I always look longingly back to the ’80s. By the end of the ’80s, (ESPN got) the (NFL), which people thought was a pipe dream when we went on the air. And I was the main anchor for the NFL — that’s a pretty good gig. I had dreamt about it in college watching Brent Musberger, and I was doing it. But this year, I knew before the public knew that it would be the last time. It was a really fun season. It’s hard to say — there are so many different eras and times, and so much that you learn. There’s no period that I wondered, ‘What I am I still doing here?’ Imagine getting a promotion every year but never having to leave. That was ESPN in the ’80s and ’90s. Imagine a place that got bigger as you got bigger. It was a perfect storm, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it.

How did you to get into sports broadcasting?

(My family) went to New York Jets games the year they moved to Shea Stadium — I was nine. The tickets were eight dollars for box seats. When I was ten, (the Jets) got Joe Namath. When I was 13, they won the Super Bowl. … It was in my blood. I was an okay athlete — played high school sports, but that was it. We even had a little radio station in high school, and on Saturday were the football games, so I announced them to the 100 people that might have been listening. … My freshman week (at Brown), in addition to the orientation, I went up to the radio station, introduced myself and said ‘I’m here to help.” But WBRU was my start — I became the voice of the Bruins. We were the Bruins then, … and by the time I was done with Brown, I had long known that I wanted to do it for a living if I was lucky enough. At WBRU, I definitely cut my teeth there.

Why did you decide to come to Brown?

I spent one night at Brown, and I felt at ease with the students. I felt like it was an Ivy League school where no one was overly impressed with themselves, and I didn’t find the same thing anywhere else. You knew that you were with intelligent folks from everywhere. You knew that the opportunities were boundless. I felt a comfort. I found everything to be very natural. I ended up applying early to Brown, and they were foolish enough to accept me. I smile every time I come up there.

What were you involved in while here at Brown?

I wrote for the BDH my freshman year every week. You can go back to the ’73 fall, and you’re gonna find a lot of articles on Brown football and basketball. I did that and the radio. I hope I wrote in complete sentences.

How did your trademark style as a broadcaster develop?

I was always upbeat. See, my style is really just an extension of me as an upbeat guy, excited about sports. That stuff came out in my early days at ESPN, not as a design to be “famous” or even funny. ESPN needed a few of us young ones to talk about sports, in my case at 2:30 in the morning — which was 11:30 in California — since I was the junior guy. I was on for half an hour a night, and at 2:30 in the morning, you are taking some chances, as the bosses aren’t awake. When I started, there were only 70 of us. There are 7,000 now. I think Brown is kind of “sink or swim” a little bit, and it was that way at the radio station. At ESPN, we were figuring things out on our own — to just to have the confidence to go out and do it, just as we did at school. I think Brown really helped me that way subconsciously.

Do you continue to follow Brown sports?

I actually went to (the NCAA men’s lacrosse semifinal) against Maryland. I went to Philly for it. I was so proud of us. I know we lost, but so what? I spoke to the team afterwards. I told them how proud of them I was as an old alum. Football, I am certainly quite involved with. (Head Coach Phil Estes  P’19) is wonderful, and Brown couldn’t have a better ambassador.

Moving forward, what are your plans professionally and personally?

Moving forward professionally, I want to keep my hand in (ESPN). I have some good friends in baseball, football and golf — making sure that I keep my relationships. That’s important. I want to have an ear to the fans still. But boy, I have a lot to smile about. I guess it’s most important to keep things in perspective. I don’t have a plan yet, I guess it’s almost like taking the air out of your tires, but you can still drive.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.



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