You are looking live at the birth of a new network.
For eight hours Sunday, I was a fly on the wall for the special Super Bowl broadcast of the Vegas Stats & Information Network in the South Point Hotel Casino.
Five days earlier, Brent Musburger was in hallowed Rupp Arena, announcing his retirement from ABC/ESPN at the end the Georgia-Kentucky game. It was not the end of his nearly 50-year broadcasting career.
Sunday, he found himself dealing with a real dog and underdogs.
As I arrived an hour before the VSiN broadcast, Musburger was studying notes for his “My Guys in the Desert” SiriusXM radio session. He was seated in a familiar spot: center chair at the anchor desk. But this time he was in the brand new glass-enclosed VSiN studio in the heart of the South Point.
Someone entered the studio with one of the Budweiser dogs, Chip, and placed him on a chair next to Musburger.
As Chip responded with a wet kiss to Musburger’s sweet talk, fellow co-host Al Bernstein, the legendary boxing analyst, arrived through the sliding glass doors.
“I’ve been replaced by a Dalmatian,” joked Bernstein.
A day filled with wiseguys, wisecracks and an epic comeback was underway.
In the corner, veteran Las Vegas oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo, 53, was getting makeup applied for his panel discussion about the single biggest wagering day of the year.
“This is olive oil tone, right?” said Magliulo, who grew up in Brooklyn.
He arrived in Las Vegas in 1978 and went to work at Michael Gaughan’s Royal Inn, later the site of Debbie Reynolds’ Hollywood Hotel from 1993 to 1999.
Now Magliulo is vice president of operations and marketing for Las Vegas Dissemination Co., which funnels wagering information, live action and results to about 90 Nevada casinos from nearly 100 racetracks around the nation.
Later in the broadcast he would tell Musburger that VSiN, which will eventually transform into a 24-hour sports betting channel, represents “a new era and I’m proud to be part of it.”
Musburger made it clear during one discussion that it’s not a tout service. “You’re not going to be dialing 1-800-Brent,” he said.
After the Atlanta Falcons, 3-point underdogs, rolled to a 21-3 halftime lead, Matt Youmans, a former sports betting columnist at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, delivered maybe the best line of the day during the halftime session.
“The Patriots’ first half was a bigger fiasco than Trump’s first week,” said Youmans, who joined VSiN as senior editor.
Former University of Minnesota standout Darrell Reid, a member of the Super Bowl-winning Indianapolis Colts in 2006-2007, cautioned about counting out New England and quarterback Tom Brady.
“If anyone can figure it out, it’s them,” said Reid, who served as an analyst during the broadcast and is in line to become an associate producer for VSiN.
“Remember the ‘Heidi’ game?” said Jimmy Vaccaro, the South Point’s legendary oddsmaker. He was referring to the Oakland Raiders-New York Jets game on Nov. 17, 1968, when NBC decided to break away in the final minute to air the film, “Heidi.”
Oakland scored two touchdowns in the final minute to win 43-32, enraging many viewers who missed one of the NFL’s greatest comebacks.
Vaccaro predicted a Brady aerial onslaught, saying, “He’ll put the ball up 30 times in the second half.”
Brady threw 37 times in the second half and overtime of the historic comeback, 62 times total, in the 34-28 thriller.
Watching the broadcast with fatherly pride was Musburger’s brother, Todd, a longtime sports agent. His clients include Phil Jackson, president of the New York Knicks.
Todd Musburger’s son, Brian, came up with the idea of starting the sports betting network.
“I can’t pinpoint the single moment. It was years in discussion,” said Brian Musburger, 45, who had 28 people working on the special broadcast.
The youngest recruit? Jonathan Von Tobel is a producer. “I think he’s going to be a real star for us,” said Brian Musburger, who hired Von Tobel, 26, away from the ESPN Radio affiliate, KWWN-AM.
It was a historic day for Team Musburger and the Patriots.
Brian Musburger said it all started from “being around Brent and Jimmy the Greek. One of my early memories was being at a Bears game in Chicago and on ‘The NFL Today’ set. Jimmy the Greek handed me a crisp $50 and said, ‘I had a hell of a day.’ At that point, I was hooked into the world of sports gambling.”
There just might be a couple more sportcasting Musburgers in the pipeline.
On Friday, after the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new studio, two boys in suits and ties settled into seats at the anchor desk. It was Brian’s sons, Shane, 10, and Coulter, 7.
Turning to uncle Brent, Shane said, “Unc, when you retire next time I’m ready to fill your seat.”
(In 1991, this writer witnessed the birth of the Colorado Rockies and broke the story in the Rocky Mountain News.)
THE SCENE AND HEARD
A spy tells me Elton John was at the Super Bowl in Houston in a wheel chair. A second source, Brent Swerneman of the Houston Chronicle tweeted: “Highlight of my Super Bowl: Holding door open so Sir Elton John could roll on out of NRG Stadium. Elton has left the building.” John posted an Instagram of himself with Lady Gaga, who performed the halftime show. He called it, “The most spectacular performance ever seen during Super Bowl halftime. Such a thrill to be there.” She attended his New Year’s Eve show at Caesars Palace.
ON THIS DAY IN…
February 7, 1960: Sen. John Kennedy brings his presidential campaign to Las Vegas, staying at the Sands Hotel. Frank Sinatra introduces the senator at his Rat Pack show that night, where he meets Judith Campbell. She later writes a book claiming they had a long-term affair.
Paris Hilton, showing up at Crazy Horse III gentleman’s club at 4 a.m. Sunday after partying at XS nightclub at Wynn. She was seen chatting with music producer Alesso.
THE PUNCH LINE
“It was announced (last week) that the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will make all of its medals from recycled cellphones. Well, they’re going to make the Olympic torch out of Samsung Galaxy.” – Jimmy Fallon.