Those who continue to hold a grudge against NBC's Bryant Gumbel for his "Bo Diddley Tech" put-downs of BYU's national championship football team in 1984 will probably be glad to know that a suitable revenge has been obtained.
I kicked his champagne over.OK, OK - so maybe it was just an accident. And maybe the man gallantly apologized to me for having left his nearly full glass on the floor where a clumsy person with size 12s would have a hard time avoiding it. And maybe it did come just as he was about to begin a press tour press conference Saturday that showed him to be charming, gracious, honest and unpretentious - new 3-year, $7 million contract notwithstanding.
Still, if it makes you feel better, consider yourselves avenged. Gumbel would certainly understand. After all, he's been living with his "bad boy" image throughout most of his career.
"If I were interviewing me," he told TV critics during the press conference, "I would ask myself, `How come I'm such a nice guy, and how come my press is so bad?' "
Gumbel, it should be noted, was smiling broadly when he said that, in between puffs on a barely smoldering cigar. It was clear he was comfortable and relaxed, even when the critics tossed the toughest questions at him. He said he would not want to interview humorist Garrison Keillor again because "he is not a nice person." He called the amount of promotion NBC would like to do on the "Today" show "scary." And he refused to complain about his "Today" show hours because "there are a lot of people in this country who have to get up very early, and I dare say they do it for a lot less money than I do it."
"I'm pretty blunt about things," he said after the press conference. "I would like to think that honesty is an asset, but that's not always the case. It's just always been difficult for me not to express an opinion."
For example, he freely addressed the ongoing feud that seems to have sprung up between him and fellow NBC star David Letterman even though he admitted that "if I were a smart person I'd say `No comment.' "
"I don't expect David to do a mea culpa on the air," Gumbel said, referring to Letterman's penchant to use him as a butt of numerous "Late Night With David Letterman" jokes. "But I would have thought that he would have been enough of a man to pick up the phone privately and say, `Hey look, it's gotten way out of hand. I'm sorry.' "That hasn't happened. And I'm not asking for it to happen. I'm really not. But the fact that it hasn't happened tells me a lot about the guy.
"Do I want to be on his program? No. Do I hate the guy? No. Do I want him on my show? No."
And these days at NBC, what Gumbel wants, Gumbel gets. Now in the sixth year of his association with "Today," his new contract reportedly makes him the network's second-highest paid star - right after Johnny Carson. And he claims that NBC's offer wasn't even the biggest one he received when his last contract expired.
"What do I think about the numbers that people who do what I do command?" he asked in response to a question. "They're certainly disproportionate to our worth to society, if the truth be known. But I tend to think they are proportionate to our worth to our employers. Which of those two is the stronger? I don't know. I really don't."
Still, he accepted NBC's offer because "I like where I am and I like what I do. It's just that after 17 years with this network I had reached the point where I wanted to feel wanted again. And I guess that bottom line, NBC was able to make me feel that way."
One of the things that helped Gumbel to feel "wanted" by NBC is the network's decision to use the former sportscaster as the point man for its 179-and-a-half hours of coverage of the 1988 Summer Olympics from Seoul, South Korea. As the prime time host for the Games, Gumbel is charged with the responsibility of keeping the coverage flowing smoothly and providing context and texture for the home viewing audience.
"I hope to not only bring us on and off the air with a certain amount of form and fashion," he said, "but I hope to provide a consistency, a constancy of storyline. I hope to bring us from one venue to the next smoothly, providing an over view and, where necessary, clarification. And in the event of controversy, make sure someone is able to justify what went on."
It's a big job, requiring preparation that has limited his "Today" show time lately and kept him running from meeting to interview to library to get everything together. And it's taken it's toll.
"I'm meetinged-out, I'm read-out, I'm prepared-out, I'm venued-out, I'm toured-out, I'm talked-out," he said. "I just want to get it on. Let's be done with the (deleted) thing.
"And come Oct. 3rd (the day after the Games end) I'll be real thrilled and very drunk."
Provided, of course, that no one kicks over his champagne then, too.