BY MICHAEL HAMMOND | Yankton Press & Dakotan
April 24, 2017 | 2016 Al Neuharth Award
VERMILLION, S.D. — Back, back, back, back in 1979, Chris Berman joined ESPN.
Monday; almost four decades later, he was in Vermillion to accept the 2016 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center (SCSC).
Between 1979 and now, Berman spent his entire media career at ESPN. He hosted a string of programs, including “SportsCenter,” “NFL Countdown,” “Baseball Tonight” and his personal favorite, “NFL Primetime.”
Berman became known for using his trademark phrases, “he could… go… all… the… way,” “whoop!,” and (borrowing from broadcast legend Keith Jackson) “rumblin’, bumblin’, stumbling.”
Berman also became well-known for the nicknames he gave to athletes and for his own nickname “Boomer,” which came from his booming on-air voice.
He covered some of sport’s most memorable moments, such as the game when Baltimore Orioles baseball legend Cal Ripken Jr. set the record for the longest streak of games played.
Berman is the first sportscaster to win the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media since its inception in 1989. The list of award winners includes names like Walter Cronkite — the first recipient — along with Yankton native Tom Brokaw and Larry King.
Berman indicated he will be the first to say he was shocked when he got the call that he had joined the prestigious line of Neuharth Award winners.
“When I got the call, they told me I may know the first guy to get it, Walter Cronkite, then Tom Brokaw and Charles Kuralt, and we can go on and on. You can see the list,” Berman said. “I said, ‘Fine, why are you calling me?’
“The first name you see is Walter Cronkite and I am still overwhelmed, even though I got the award over ten months ago.”
As a recipient of the award, Berman was first presented the award at the Newseum Institute in Washington, D.C., last June. He took the opportunity to appear in Vermillion on Monday to speak again and to hold a pair of workshops for media students at the University of South Dakota.
“I look forward to any time I get to speak to college kids,” Berman said. “I am honored to win the award, represent Al Neuharth and what he stood for, and visit his alma mater.”
Berman gave tips to students on sportscasting and media careers in private sessions before giving a speech open to the public at the SCSC. He told students to find something they like, take a shot, and to keep taking shots while they’re young.
“It’s not brain surgery,” Berman said. “Have fun, but not at the expense of presenting the information.”
During the speech he shared stories from stepping out during a live television break and eating McDonald’s to interviewing George Halas to doing play-by-play for a darts tournament.
Berman mentioned that ESPN was a gamble, just like Al Neuharth’s gamble to start USA TODAY.
“USA TODAY, it was a year or two after us (ESPN),” Berman said. “It was a gamble. A national newspaper? Really, that’s going to work? Cable sports? That’s going to work?” he asked.
“I always felt a little kinship, even though I never met Al. This means more than just a journalism award, this is from something I saw from the infancy and we were in a similar boat.”
In his closing remarks, Berman explained that everyone, regardless of their demographic, can have the same discussion about sports, even if they were strangers.
“No one is smarter than anyone else as long as you watched the game,” Berman said. “There is that certain togetherness about sports.”