Television sportscaster, radio broadcaster
Known for his seemingly effortless delivery style and standout work as a television sportscaster, three-time Emmy Award winner Greg Gumbel was born on May 3, 1946 in New Orleans, Louisiana to Rhea Alice LeCesne Gumbel, a housewife, and Richard Dunbar Gumbel, a county probate judge for the Cook County Court in Illinois. The family—which included Greg, a younger brother, Bryant, and two younger sisters, Rhonda and Renee—moved to a middle-class neighborhood in Chicago's Hyde Park when the children were very young.
In Chicago, Greg and Bryant attended major league baseball games at Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field. They were devoted athletes who played football, as well as Little League and Pony League baseball. As a child Greg was chubby, but his body became more muscular in high school as he participated in sports. He enjoyed playing outfield in baseball and softball. Greg would stand in front of a full-length mirror pretending to be a radio announcer calling baseball games with his brother. The brothers would grab gloves, stand in front of the mirror, wind up, pitch, and announce entire imaginary games, taking turns at every half inning. Although the brothers had similar interests, they loved different baseball teams. Greg was a White Sox fanatic and Bryant favored the Cubs, a rivalry that remained into their adulthood.
Gumbel's father taught his children by example and suggestion, stressing the value of education and speaking skills. To broaden his children's horizons, Richard Gumbel organized family outings to the Industry Field Museum of Natural History, Shedd Aquarium, and the Museum of Science and Industry, among other places. Gumbel attended St. Thomas the Apostle Grammar School in Hyde Park. He and his brother served as altar boys at the local Catholic Church.
After graduating from De La Salle High School in 1963, Gumbel enrolled at Loras College, in Dubuque, Iowa, where he played baseball. During his senior year in college, he batted .378, winning honors as the team's most valuable player. While in college, Greg considered becoming a teacher. However, after graduating in 1967 with a B.A. in English, he took a succession of sales and other business-related positions in Chicago. The following year, he moved to Detroit where he worked in hospital supplies sales as a representative for the American Hospital Supply Corporation. In 1972 when Gumbel was twenty-five, while he was still working for the hospital supply company, his father died after having a heart attack outside his court chambers. In an interview with TV Guide, Gumbel said his greatest regret was that his father died before he and Bryant had begun careers in television broadcasting. It was a great disappointment for both him and his brother.
- Born in New Orleans on May 3
- Graduates from Loras College
- Works as sales representative for American Hospital Supply Company
- Begins broadcasting career as weekend sports anchor for WMAQ-TV in Chicago
- Becomes co-anchor of ESPN's SportsCenter
- Leaves ESPN; joins Madison Square Garden Network
- Hosts morning programs on WFAN Radio in New York
- Joins CBS as play-by-play announcer
- Co-anchors NFL Today on CBS television
- Covers the Winter Olympics in Albertville, France; hosts Super Bowl XXVI (Minneapolis)
- Announces the American League Championship Series (play-by-play)
- Hosts NFL on NBC; prime-time anchor of Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway
- Works for NBC Sports
- Hosts Super Bowl XXX (Tempe, Arizona); hosts Summer Olympics in Atlanta
- Hosts Super Bowl XXXII (San Diego)
- Returns to CBS; hosts NFL on CBS
- Becomes first black play-by-play announcer of a major sports championship broadcasting the Super Bowl XXXV (CBS network)
- Hosts NFL Today (CBS); hosts Super Bowl XXXVIII (Houston)
Begins Career in Broadcasting
Gumbel began his broadcasting career in 1973 as a weekend sports anchor for WMAQ-TV in Chicago. He landed the job under the urging of Bryant, who was in Los Angeles making a name for himself as a newscaster. It took Gumbel some time to learn the craft; he even admits that as a novice he was so frightened about going on the air that he would perspire profusely, earning him the nickname "Waterfall" from the boys in the booth. Gumbel was once demoted to sports anchor because he made mistakes due to his inexperience. He finally got over his fright and his on-air performance again earned him the weekend anchor's chair; eventually he was promoted to the station's top weekday sportscaster. His hard work and dedication earned him two Emmy awards while at WMAQ.
By 1981, Gumbel had earned the position of anchor for the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network's (ESPN) SportsCenter, a flagship program that aired twice nightly. During that time, ESPN was a new, all-sports cable network with headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. Gumbel's experience there was helpful, but at times it was hectic. Because the announcers were responsible for the content and there was no floor director or teleprompter to assist them, there was a lot of ad-libbing and improvisation. His numerous responsibilities at ESPN allowed Gumbel to gain overall experience in broadcasting, which in turn led to awards as Outstanding Sports Personality for 1982 and 1983 given by On Cable Magazine.
As ESPN's reputation grew, so did Gumbel's. In 1986, Gumbel decided to leave ESPN to work for Madison Square Garden (MSG), a New York City-based sports network. Some thought it odd for Gumbel to leave during a period of growth for him and ESPN. But MSG gave him the opportunity to do play-by-play broadcasting. At MSG, Gumbel began serving as an announcer for some New York Knicks basketball games, and later he called New York Yankees baseball games. During this time, Gumbel also served as the anchor for three weekly programs: Sports Forum, Jets Journal, and High School Sportsweek. The following year, Gumbel began hosting a morning show on WFAN, an all-sports radio station in New York. His four-hour morning segment on WFAN included updates on sports news from the previous evening with post-game comments from athletes at the arena and interviews with news personalities. The show became a hit with sports fans.
Ted Shaker, the executive producer of CBS Sports, became a fan of Gumbel's radio show. He was impressed with how Gumbel would take the listener from one sport to the next. Shaker hired Gumbel in 1988 to do play-byplay announcing for NFL games. Once Gumbel was on board at CBS, his duties expanded to include covering professional and college games for the network. In 1990, Gumbel was given the job of anchoring the network's major league baseball broadcasts, a job that included game analysis, score updates, and occasional interviews. Later that year, Gumbel was surprised to learn that he had been given an even more high-profile assignment, hosting the Emmy Award-winning The NFL Today, a pre-game show that aired prior to Sunday football games. As host of The NFL Today, he succeeded Brent Musburger, a veteran sportscaster who had been fired by CBS. CBS executives wanted to redesign the program by replacing Musburger's hard news style with Gumbel's laid-back delivery style. CBS teamed Gumbel with Terry Brad-shaw, a former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback known for his rough-edged, wise-cracking style. Although the pair's on-air relationship didn't quite mesh at the beginning, the chemistry between the two eventually began to work and resulted in Gumbel becoming quite popular.
In the early 1990s, Gumbel added another assignment to his undertakings. He began working as a sports commentator for CBS's This Morning, a competitor of NBC's Today Show, co-hosted by his brother. In 1992, Greg became co-anchor of CBS's weekday-morning broadcasts of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. Gumbel was not wild about going to Albertville because of the cold weather, but he ended up loving the role and he received praise from many television critics.
Following his coverage of the Olympics, Gumbel resumed covering professional sports, including baseball. In October 1993 he was the play-by-play announcer for the CBS broadcast of the American League Championship series between the Toronto Blue Jays and his favorite team, the Chicago White Sox. This opportunity was a pleasant surprise for Gumbel. It came at a time when he had experienced some disappointments in his four years at CBS, including the network's loss of broadcast rights to televise professional basketball games.
In December 1992, Rick Gentile, the senior vice-president of the production of CBS Sports, announced that Gumbel would anchor another Olympics, the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. This time Gumbel would be serving as the network's sole primetime host of the Olympics. According to Gentile, Gumbel was the perfect fit for the job. Driven by a fear of making a fool of himself, Gumbel spent months preparing by studying reports on Olympic events and athletes. He went to Lillehammer determined to be as unobtrusive an anchor as possible. Gumbel realized that his job as general host required him to simply set up the scenes and tell people what they were going to see.
On February 23, 1994, Gumbel and CBS covered the women's figure skating competition. The public had a keen interest in the event because earlier in the year a person associated with American skater Tonya Harding was charged with attacking fellow American skater, Nancy Kerrigan, with a club. Kerrigan recovered in time to compete in the Olympics, but there was still a flood of publicity about the women that turned the skating competition into a melodrama. CBS realized that broadcasting too much of the incident could be counterproductive and turn viewers off, so Gumbel decided to use the low-key approach and used only one piece of melodrama in his broadcast during the introduction of the women's figure skating competition. Gumbel's approach proved successful. Leonard Shapiro, a sports columnist for the Washington Post, commented that Gumbel had finally set himself apart from his brother after his excellent coverage of the 1994 Olympics. Shapiro also referred to Gumbel as a smooth operator with a pleasant interviewing style.
After the Olympics, Gumbel left CBS. He made his NBC debut as host of the pre-game show for the 1994 baseball All-Star game. The next fall, he began working as co-host of the NFL on NBC. He was excited to rejoin the Sunday morning airwaves with Ahmad Rashad and analysts Joe Gibbs and Mike Ditka. In the 1995 baseball season, Gumbel served as play-by-play announcer for both regular season and post-season games. Gumbel also served as the pre-game host for NBC's coverage of Super Bowl XXX in 1996. Later that year, Gumbel had the opportunity to cover another Olympics competition, this time in a warmer climate, when NBC appointed him to be the daytime anchor for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Gumbel resides with his wife, Marcy, a former nurse, whom he met in Detroit while selling hospital supplies. He and Marcy have a daughter, Michelle, whom he adopted from his wife's previous marriage. Gumbel returned to CBS's NFL Today in 2004. When he is not announcing for CBS, he speaks at business gatherings, conventions, universities, and other venues. Gumbel is a strong supporter of the March of Dimes, and has been a member of the March of Dimes National board of trustees since 1996.
Few in the business have earned more respect than Gumbel. His low-key broadcasting style cannot be matched, nor can his affable personality. In 2001, Gumbel made history when he became the first network broadcaster to call play-by-play for a Super Bowl when he broadcasted Super Bowl XXXV on the CBS network.
In addition to the hosting roles that he is best known for, Gumbel has covered a variety of sporting events, such as the College World Series and the Daytona 500. When asked about the secret of his success in an interview with the Daily Record, he replied that people should not take themselves too seriously and that they should enjoy a good joke. He also mentioned that having a good education was invaluable in his career.
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