Berman, Houston tied by resilience in the face of tragedy
Longtime ESPN host praises kindness in wake of wife’s death, city flooding
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.