City Desk

Brett Haber Honors Glenn Brenner and the Good Old Days of DC Sportscasting

The biggest sports story in town last week wasn't a win or a loss or a trade or an owner's gaffe. It was a memorial service. George Michael's.

The goodbye to the longtime WRC-4 sportscaster also served as a memorial to an era where local news operations were a much bigger deal than today. So even WRC's competitors, who have all been whittling away at the resources and time devoted to sports in recent years and handing them over to coverage of yesterday's weather and "American Idol" updates and the like, did strong Michael pieces.

The strongest came from WUSA. After a long segment on the service that had Joe Gibbs and Art Monk's remembrances of Michael taped outside the National Cathedral, sports director Brett Haber ad libbed a sweet appreciation of the glory days of DC sportscasting.

Haber had at least one famous run-in with the departed sportscaster, when Michael screamed about a perceived slight and acted like he wanted to drop the gloves with Haber, then at Channel 5, in the parking lot at Redskins Park. But that was years ago, when Michael was wound tighter than a Titleist. All fences had between them were mended before Michael's death this past Christmas Eve. So Haber, going live from the WUSA desk, didn't have to fake any of the nice words he said about the recently departed former competitor.

But the best part came when Haber turned to Topper Shutt, the WUSA weatherman who has been at the station since 1988, and paid tribute to one of Shutt's not-so-recently departed former colleague, Glenn Brenner.

"It's been [18] years since we lost Glenn Brenner," Haber said to Shutt and the viewing audience, "and as a guy who sits in Glenn's chair every day, I aspire to live up to his legacy."

For any viewer who was around DC when Brenner ruled – he was at the station from 1977 until just before his 1992 death, and served as the sportscasting equivalent of Mozart to Michael's Salieri — Haber's short, sweet speech provided a fabulous Hallmark moment. I worshipped Brenner. Everybody I knew around here when Brenner was on the air worshipped the guy. So Haber's homage made me weepy.

But Haber hadn't grown up here — he's a New York City kid — and I figured while he might have known lots about Michael from "The Sports Machine" hosting, Brenner was DC's own, and during his 15 years at WUSA I assumed he was as insignificant outside this market as he was dominant in it.

So I called Haber over the weekend to ask how he could talk so heartfelty about a guy he never watched and a guy whose presence here, I thought, has diminished to almost nothingness since 1997, when Haber took his first D.C. job at Fox-5. It all came natural, Haber says.

"Glenn Brenner wasn't to me what he was to you or anybody who grew up here," Haber tells me. "I was aware of him, aware that he was the standard for smart funny sportscasters. But when you become a sportscaster in Washington, as I did in 1997, people will teach you about the lore of Washington, and you hear about Bernie Smilovitz and Warner Wolf, and you hear all about Glenn Brenner. If you do what I do where I do it, you know that Glenn and Gordon Peterson built the dynasty that Channel 9 became. So even though I didn't live through Glenn, I understand what he accomplished and why he was so good. Katie Couric never worked with Walter Cronkite, but she damn near knows where she sits. I feel a special kinship with Glenn's memory, and I feel a certain responsibility to remember him and what he did, and that he was special."

Haber says that early in his tenure at Fox-5, producers found a tape of all DC's rival sportscasters in a roundtable discussion about local sports hosted by that station's former sports director, Steve Buckhantz. Also on the panel were George Michael, Brenner, and WJLA's Frank Herzog. "It was amazing," Haber says. "They were all sitting around throwing zingers, and talking sports. It was fascinating for me, because I don't think you would have seen anything like that in any other market."

And Haber says when he moved to WUSA in 2004, Brenner remained a vital presence. "Everybody talked about him," he says. "And occasionally, my style invokes humor, so when a viewer or coworker would say, 'Hey, that thing you did tonight reminded me of something Glenn would do!' That's about the highest praise you can have in this town. I'm beyond uncomfortable acknowledging any comparison with Glenn Brenner, but it's beyond flattering. If I touch on his milieu of incorporating humor and smarts and irreverence into what we do, that's what Glenn mastered, and I'm an apprentice in that field. I'll spend my career looking to perfect what he did."

I thanked Haber for his words about Brenner, and then I went to youtube to watch some old clips. Yeah, he was the best.

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  • Rick Rosendall

    God, has it really been 18 years since Glenn Brenner died? I loved watching his sportscasts even when I didn't care about the subject matter. Haber is right that "he was the standard for smart funny sportscasters." No one else (with apologies to the more recently departed) has come close. I'll never forget some of his classic moments, such as a clip involving a bucking bronco stomping his fallen rider in a sensitive spot, which dissolved Brenner into helpless laughter punctuated with, "I know, it's not funny, it's not funny...." Brenner made non-sports-fans interested in sports.

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  • Justin

    My childhood totally coincided with Glenn Brenner on WUSA (who else remembers that its former letters were WDVM?) Favorite segments were the Weenie of the Week, the nun who picked the NFL games, him and Sonny doing Redskins Sidelines with a live studio audience, and more. There was one Sidelines where, if I remember, there was a big snowstorm going on and the Redskins' players who guested couldn't make it. So Gordon Peterson showed up as hockey player "Guy Le Guy." Just amazing.

    And I still get chills remembering how, after Brenner died, Ken Mease was at the desk doing a remembrance and just lost it.

  • http://BoxingAlongTheBeltway Gary

    I had the honor of working as an intern at channel 9 when Glenn was there! It was a fabulous experience and I learned so much from Glenn, James Brown, Lee Zeidman and later, Ken Mease! I sat during an interview between Glenn and Jim Valvano and it was so funny!

  • Dan

    Justin, you are the only other person who I have EVER heard mention the "Guy Le Guy" show. That was the most funniest show I have ever seen. I still smile when I think of that episode. I remember reading in the Post that they got like 2,500 requests to re-air the episode even though they never did. I would pay good money for a copy of that episode.

  • Holly

    I still miss Glenn Brenner. I grew up watching him and I worshipped the man. I, too, was not even at all interested sports until I discovered him and no one else has ever lived up to his brilliance. I remember thinking it was just a matter of time until the national networks lured him away and at some point hearing rumors that his local station gave him a huge raise in order to keep him in DC. But he was not just funny, not just brilliant, he was kind-hearted. I wish someone would do a a bio of him.