It is no wonder that the Joes and O.J.s and others rarely live up to their advance billing. No one ever advises them on how to ask the tough questions, or tells them they should be critical of players, coaches, officials or commissioners when the occasion demands.
Which brings us to Tim Brant, who will play a prominent role in ABC's telecast of tomorrow's Notre Dame-Michigan game (3 p.m., Channel 6). Unless you are a devoted Maryland football fan, you may not know that Brant, the successor to Frank Broyles as ABC-TV's top college football analyst, is an ex- jock.
Brant was not a superstar when he played outside linebacker at Maryland
from 1970 to '72. The fact that the Terrapins were 2-9 twice and 5-5-1 in Brant's three seasons had a lot to do with Brant's non-star status.
His claims to fame, he says, were (1) "I was the most penalized player in the ACC (2) he was a teammate of Randy White in his final season and (3) Maryland was the opponent when Lou Holtz made his coaching debut at North Carolina State in '72 (the game ended in a 24-24 tie).
No one at ABC or anywhere else is proclaiming that Brant will be a smash in his new role. But you have to like the fact that the father of four has paid his dues.
"One thing he doesn't have," said Donn Bernstein, ABC's director of
college sports, "is instant credibility. With Frank Broyles, you may have agreed with him, or you may have criticized him, but at least you knew who he was."''
Then why did ABC, which, like the other networks, is basically in the entertainment business, switch Brant from his previous sideline duty during
college games to the analyst's job?
"Well, one reason is, O.J. (Simpson) didn't want it," Bernstein said. (Thank you, O.J. - all those years on 'Monday Night Football' were enough for these ears). "Dennis Swanson (ABC's president) decided to elevate one of our own. He's not a name superstar, but he's a solid citizen journalistically."
Swanson is the same guy who folded the circus tent at "Monday Night Football" and decided Al Michaels and Frank Gifford could handle it alone. If MNF works with Michaels and Gifford, and if Brant is a success on college football telecasts, Swanson could be a runaway winner as the viewers' TV Executive of the Year.
"This needs to be done more," Bernstein said. "We're all wrapped up in the star system. Mark Spitz wins seven (Olympic swimming) gold medals and he's on the air. This (promoting Brant) is refreshing."
Brant, a journalism major at Maryland, is the former sports director at WJLA, the ABC affiliate in Washington. Previously, he worked as a free-lance writer and in radio in Washington.
Brant's debut as an analyst was Nebraska's 34-17 victory over Florida State in prime time last Saturday night. The issue of Nebraska appealing the NCAA's suspension of 60 players for misusing their ticket allocation was still alive, and Brant felt obligated, as he should, to mention it.
"ABC presented both sides before we got on the air," Brant said, "but Keith (Jackson) and I brought it up. I addressed how the situation would impact the players in preparation for the game, how it would distract them. I will not sidestep anything."
Brant admits he had opening-night jitters.
"I felt like I was under a microscope, taking the seat Frank Broyles had had for nine years," Brant said. "I had a tremendous fear of failure. I prepared for that game for weeks."
Although Brant expects Holtz to revive the tattered Notre Dame football image, Brant is wondering how this Notre Dame team will react to its first dose of adversity.
"It's going to be interesting the first time there's a fumble or a play goes 80 yards against the Irish to see how the kids react," Brant said.
Referring to Notre Dame's embarrassing 58-7 loss to Miami (Fla.) in Gerry Faust's final game as coach, Brant said, "The name 'Fighting Irish' was a fraud that night. I really believe after a while they just quit. They knew they were losing their coach, they knew the situation they were in was hopeless, and they just quit. That's going to be one of the major problems Lou Holtz has to overcome."
Like many of us, Brant is convinced that, in its wild-eyed quest for a No. 1 ranking, Miami humiliated Faust and Notre Dame when a 40-point victory would have been sufficient to get its message across.
"Miami was playing for the rankings and (Miami coach) Jimmy Johnson might have gotten carried away with that a little," Brant said.
With Jim Harbaugh at quarterback, Michigan should get carried away with winning again this season.
"Harbaugh is the difference in Michigan's offense," Brant said. "Look at the '84 and '85 seasons: he gets hurt (broken arm) in '84 and they go .500. He comes back and they're 10-1 (10-1-1). He's the kind who doesn't make any wrong decisions and he's very evasive."
Harbaugh gives Michigan an advantage over Notre Dame at quarterback, where Steve Beuerlein returns.
"Beuerlein is a strong-armed quarterback, but he does not have quick feet," Brant said. "Defenses have a tendency to load up, knowing that he can't run that well. Harbaugh is the better quarterback, but if Beuerlein can stay away from mistakes, we should have a pretty good game."
Lack of team speed and strength are among Notre Dame's other problems.
"But I guarantee you that, being the technically sound coach that he (Holtz) is, he's going to throw every kind of offensive set that he can imagine into that game," Brant said. "Defensively, he'll do the same thing. He's going to do it with mirrors."
Brant is looking forward to visiting South Bend, Ind., and absorbing the Notre Dame experience.
"It's a legendary place," Brant said. "I played golf with Coley O'Brien the other day. He was the quarterback at St. John's High School (in Washington) when I was a sophomore. Then he played at Notre Dame with the (Terry) Hanratty and (Jim) Seymour teams.
"He said on game day you can just feel it . . . the goose bumps rise up and the hair stands on the end of your neck when they start playing that fight song. You feel like you can beat anybody."
That feeling did not work for Faust. Maybe Holtz can make it work again.