Berman, Hous­ton tied by re­silience in the face of tragedy

Long­time ESPN host praises kind­ness in wake of wife’s death, city flood­ing

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - COMMENTARY - By David Bar­ron­ twit­­bar­ron

Chris Berman rook a mo­ment dur­ing ESPN Ra­dio’s cov­er­age of the Red Sox-Astros series to re­flect on Hous­ton’s kind­ness to oth­ers in the wake of re­cent dis­as­ters and, off the air, to re­flect on the kind­ness that so many have shown him since the death of his wife this spring.

Berman, 62, who is in the first year of a scaled­back role at ESPN af­ter 31 years as the host of “Sun­day NFL Count­down” and 38 years at the net­work, is call­ing the Bos­ton-Hous­ton play­off series with Rick Sut­cliffe, aided by pro­ducer Jon Madani, the for­mer pro­gram di­rec­tor at ra­dio sta­tions in Hous­ton and Austin.

Along with record­ing vi­gnettes on NFL his­tory for “Mon­day Night Foot­ball” tele­casts, the Amer­i­can League Divi­sion Series is among his first ex­tended stints on the air since Kathy, his wife of 38 years, was one of two driv­ers killed in a two-ve­hi­cle col­li­sion on a ru­ral road in Con­necti­cut in May.

“Per­fect strangers will stop me and say ‘We’re pray­ing for you’ or ‘We’re think­ing of you,’ ” Berman said. “It’s a re­minder that, as you folks in Hous­ton are aware, that when the chips are down, hu­man na­ture is very im­pres­sive.

“We spent an in­ning dis­cussing this (dur­ing Thurs­day’s Game 1) about the re­siliency of this com­mu­nity and the im­pres­sive peo­ple. I’m buoyed by their spirit. I re­ally feel that.”

Berman has called a Divi­sion Series for ESPN Ra­dio since 2009, but in pre­vi­ous sea­sons he would have to jump ship to host “Count­down” on Sun­day. Hav­ing passed along those host­ing du­ties to Sa­man­tha Pon­der, he and Sut­cliffe will call the na­tional ra­dio­cast of Game 3 on Sun­day from Fen­way Park and other games if nec­es­sary.

“It’s a way to stay in­volved in base­ball. It’s a treat. We call it a day off,” he said. “It takes me back to why I fell in love with the game at 7,8, 9, 10 years old. We all lis­tened to base­ball on the crys­tal set, even though I’m not that old.

“When ESPN and I fig­ured out what I would do (un­der his new con­tract), one of the first things I said was the divi­sion games. I like do­ing day games be­cause more peo­ple seem to be in their cars lis­ten­ing. They will tell me that they heard us, and it takes me back to how I learned to love the game.”

Berman still has a series of Mon­day night vi­gnettes to write and help pro­duce — Mon­day’s episode for a Vik­ings-Bears game will be the 1985 de­but of Chicago de­fen­sive line­man Wil­liam “the Re­frig­er­a­tor” Perry as a run­ning back dur­ing a Pack­ers-Bears game — and he will do other NFL in­ter­views dur­ing the fall, cul­mi­nat­ing in “NFL Prime Time” fol­low­ing the Su­per Bowl next Fe­bru­ary in Min­neapo­lis.

One of his most mem­o­rable Su­per Bowl mem­o­ries, he said, oc­curred in Fe­bru­ary at NRG Sta­dium when Pa­tri­ots coach Bill Belichick went from the tro­phy stand to spend 12 min­utes on the air with Berman and his “Prime Time” col­leagues.

“I looked at Steve Young and Randy Moss and said, ‘We haven’t even done high­lights yet, but we’re done. We got (Belichick),’ ” Berman said. “So I’ll do that and some more play­off stuff, but cer­tainly not the work­load I’ve had in the past.”

He was proud of the 22-minute seg­ment that “Count­down” de­voted to the NFL an­them protests two weeks ago.

“There are a lot of opin­ions on that topic, and most all of them are valid,” he said. “It’s not like chose ‘A’ or ‘B.’ So I was proud of what my guys did. I was proud of my team.”

Chris Berman is call­ing the Astros series on ESPN Ra­dio.

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