Here's today's little-known fact: Bryant Gumbel was nearly an employee of this newspaper's sports section.
That's right, the ultra-cool host of NBC's "Today" show, which visited Charm City yesterday, was nearly an ink-stained wretch on these very pages.
It seems that former Sun sports editor Bob Maisel offered the young Gumbel a job here in 1972. But while Gumbel was mulling over the offer, his father died. In the succeeding period, Gumbel, who had been writing sports in his native Chicago, got a broadcast audition. He took the job, and the rest is history.
Gumbel, who has been host of "Today" for 13 years after anchoring NBC's NFL pre-game show, is near the end of his contract. He's done some NBC golf assignments and was prime-time host of the network's 1988 Summer Olympics coverage, so might there be a return to sports broadcasting in his future?
"You know I did it [sports] a long time, and that people think I did it well, I'm grateful, but I've tried not to look back. The years since have been too good to me," Gumbel said after yesterday's show.
"What I find is a lot of times, there are things that happen in sports, and I'm watching as a fan, and I wish somebody would say something or I'm second-guessing what they say. But, to the extent, do I sit around and say, 'Boy, I wish I was doing sports? No.' "
In an interesting twist, Gumbel's older brother, Greg, holds the post Bryant held, as host of "The NFL on NBC."
"I think Greg does a fine job and I try not to either second-guess to even comment because it seems to get in the way. Greg's got his own career and he doesn't need it to be perceived that his baby brother is watching over him," said Gumbel.
These days, Gumbel keeps a hand in sports reporting as anchor of HBO's "Real Sports," a quarterly exploration of issues in athletics as reported by a team of big-name talent, including Frank Deford, Larry Merchant, James Brown and Jim Lampley.
"When we came on the air, I made a point of saying that we're not out to reinvent the wheel. We don't want to show up and say, 'All right, we're going to show you guys how to do it.' I think that's presumptuous," Gumbel said. "What we're trying to do is add an intelligent voice, not the lone one, but an intelligent voice, an intelligent approach to certain things in sports that deserve them. To that end, I think we've done that pretty well."
Ley,'Hoop Dreams' honored
Kudos go out to ESPN's Bob Ley and to all associated with the wonderful documentary film, "Hoop Dreams," which last night received the 1995 Excellence in Sports Journalism Award from Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society and journalism school.
Ley is co-anchor of the network's SportsCenter as well as host of the "Outside the Lines" documentary series. "Hoop Dreams," which makes its television debut Tuesday on PBS, is one of the most successful and widely acclaimed documentary films, chronicling the lives of two Chicago-area boys attempting to carve out basketball careers.
Getting extra work
In addition to their WBAL (1090 AM) duties, Josh Lewin and Pam Ward will have some of their winter nights filled with basketball-related activity.
Ward has been signed up by Home Team Sports to do color for its package of Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball games, alongside Johnny Holliday, and Lewin will do play-by-play for Navy men's basketball on its radio network.