I spoke with ESPN’s Chris Berman last week, a few days before he provided the play-by-play for Monday’s 49ers-Vikings game. Some of what he said appeared Sunday in a print Q&A (also available online here), but as usual there were plenty of outtakes that didn’t make the print cut. Here are some of those leftovers:
RB: While you have many fans, you also have detractors who don’t like your style. How do you handle criticism, particularly when it can become amplified by social media and non-traditional media outlets?
CB: Not everybody is going to go to a restaurant and order the same meal. Nobody, whoever you are, is going to be beloved by 100 percent of the people. It’s impossible. I am who I am. I don’t act. … You can tell an actor from someone who is legitimate. I feel that my style on the air is speaking with or maybe to people, not at them. But the fact that I’m known for nicknames, which you asked about, or “he could go all the way,” or the way I do highlights, which I think is a very important skill in sportscasting and kind of a lost art if you really want to get into it, it’s more about not me trying to be funny but just the way I would look at a play. It’s inclusive. … I think the most important thing on TV is to be who you are. I’ll use an example of someone who started at ESPN with me in 1979, Bob Ley. He’s totally different than me. He’s a great professional, I have the utmost respect for him, but I would never do sports the way he does them. And he wouldn’t do them the way I am because he’s not that way. If you’re just yourself, you have to trust that that’s going to be good enough. The TV job is hard enough as it is. If there’s criticism, it’s fine. Again, some people want fish, not steak. This is who I am. But I’m kind of similar as I was in the 80s to now as far as who I am. I’m not trying to be anybody else. I’m fine with it. I think more than fewer enjoy hanging out us and getting football from us, and that makes me happy.
RB: You’ve been at ESPN for 36 years, a span during which countless high-profile personalities have come and gone from the network. What’s been the secret to your longevity there?
CB: I’ve been loyal to ESPN and they’ve been loyal to me. … I felt a long time ago that if I could be fortunate enough to retire with the same jersey on my back that would be awesome. I can’t thank them enough for that opportunity. I think I’m the same guy who walked in the door in 1979 — plus a lot of pounds and minus a lot of hair, maybe — and I think that’s factored into it. Maybe another thing is, and I can’t speak for those who left, but I like sports, I like the people in it and I like the fans who watch it. I think that’s never wavered, and I think it’s served me well. After all, I’m still here. I fooled them for this long.
RB: In a 2008 story, it was suggested that you might not want to keep working at ESPN past age 60, which is now your current age. What’s your updated timeline for how long you want to keep at this?
CB: All right, so I lied (laughs). If I’m fortunate enough to be here at the most five more years, that would make it 65. It’s just a number but there’s more to it than that. That would be (over) 40 years here, and the coolest thing about that — again, it’s not why you’d do it, if they’ll have me — but I began in 1979 and I turn 65 in 2020. If you really look at it and you want to get technical, I have the rare opportunity, as does Bob (Ley) — I told him this, too, and he says he never thought of this — we started in the 1970s, albeit just a few months, and we can finish in the 20s. That’s six decades. That’s pretty good. It’s not a reason to do it. If I’m here 40 years, they can give me a watch and shake my hand and thank me for my service. I’ll thank them for giving me an opportunity I dreamed about in junior high and high school, and we’ll move along. I think if I’m 65 and you ask me this question and ask about an updated timeline, there won’t be that question. If I’m fortunate enough to get to 65, that will be it.