On a stormy Texas evening earlier this month, almost 900 men turned out to catch ESPN’S Chris Berman at Houston’s fourth annual Men’s Nite Out.
The popular event, hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, gives the beleaguered sex an opportunity to leave the dishes behind, see old friends and indulge in passionate sports talk. And who better to lead the charge than the robust, down-to-earth Berman?
The award-winning broadcaster was a little-known sports radio talk show host when he joined ESPN in 1979, a month after the all-sports network got its start. Berman quickly made a name for himself with his knowledge and wit and, most of all, with the nicknames he gave athletes — names like Curtis “My Favorite” Martin, and Roberto “Remember the” Alomar.
Since then, the Connecticut native has lived every boy’s dream, covering 24 Super Bowls and 17 World Series while serving as host of such ESPN shows as “NFL Primetime,” “Sports Center” and “Baseball Tonight.”
Berman’s appeal knows no bounds, as men ranging in age from 20 to 70, from the suited to the casually dressed, gathered at Houston’s Westin Galleria Hotel for the event.
When the time came for Berman to leave his table and walk to the stage, the encouraging audience chanted, “He could go all the way!” — Berman’s trademark homerun call.
On taking the stage, Berman noted how nice it was to be among the brethren and the 20 or so“sistren” at the event (all of whom were thrilled that there was no line for the ladies’ room).
Dressed casually in an open-neck pink shirt, a dark jacket and gray slacks, the surprisingly tall — 6 foot 5 — Berman riffed on last year’s height-challenged speaker, Bob Costas. He also bestowed nicknames on several local bigwigs and said, “Kinky Friedman, okay, I knew about him, but I didn’t think there were 1,000 Jews in Texas!”
For more than an hour, Berman gave a freewheeling talk about sports today, some of his career highlights, and told stories of ESPN’s early days.
“The first game we covered was a men’s professional, slow-pitched softball game,” he said. He also confessed to announcing play-by-play for darts, and recalled the time that a skunk entered the control room, didn’t like what he heard, and, well, became a critic.
Berman’s pick for the most memorable game he broadcast was when Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s “unbreakable record” for consecutive baseball games played, on September 6, 1995. “We were crying,” he said. “We won an Emmy for 22 minutes of silence.”