Thom Brennaman will call his third game at Soldier Field this season Sunday, when the Bears host the Giants on Fox. If network rules allowed, he’d love to call all eight Bears home games every year.
“And I would never complain one time,” he said.
It might surprise some to hear Brennaman speak glowingly of Chicago, particularly Cubs fans, given his handful of spats with them while calling Reds games the last 13 years. But chalk those up to frustration with his team (mostly) because if it weren’t for the Cubs, Brennaman wouldn’t be the broadcaster he is today.
He was a member of Fox’s original six broadcast teams when the network began carrying the NFL in 1994. He hadn’t called a football game of any kind before he auditioned. But his work on then-superstation WGN caught the attention of Fox executives, and he has been with the network ever since.
“I tell people, when people in Chicago think that I’m anti-Cub, they gave me the single biggest break I’ve ever had in my career,” said Brennaman, 56. “If it’s not for the Cubs and getting that chance at WGN, there’s no way I get an opportunity to go work at Fox.
“It was an incredible time. Great job, great town, great franchise, great people. Just awesome.”
It might have been the modern heyday of Cubs broadcasting. Brennaman worked from 1990 to ’95, sharing play-by-play duties on TV and radio with Hall of Famer Harry Caray. Steve Stone was the TV analyst, and Bob Brenly (1990-91) and Ron Santo served on the radio.
“That was such an unbelievable group of people that worked together,” Brennaman said. “The five of us, we had so much fun together, no matter what we were doing. We spent so much time together, socially and professionally, we just had an absolute ball.”
But it came to a seemingly unnecessary end.
When Brennaman came aboard, he replaced Dewayne Staats, who left in part because the Cubs didn’t promise him Caray’s role if and when he retired. Six years later, they were prepared to make that promise to Brennaman. But it required him to give up his job with Fox.
“We were two years into the Fox thing, and that looked like a pretty good place to hang around for a while,” Brennaman said. “But the Cubs were, too. They just felt like they had to run their business the way they wanted to, and I felt I was in a position where I had to run my life the way I wanted to.”
The Diamondbacks didn’t have a problem with Brennaman’s double duty. They hired him in 1995 to help the fledgling franchise develop a brand before he became their first play-by-play voice in 1998, their inaugural season. He left in 2006 to join the Reds and his father, Hall of Famer Marty Brennaman, who retired this year after 46 seasons as the voice of the team.
All the while, Thom has called NFL games on Fox (in addition to college football and the MLB game of the week), which on occasion brings him back to Chicago outside of baseball season. He still has lots of close friends in the area and a sister in the western suburbs. It’s quite a difference after coming to town in 1990 and not knowing a soul here.
The Bears didn’t show him much in his first two visits, a 36-25 loss to the Saints (he filled in for Joe Buck, who was calling the MLB playoffs) and a 17-16 loss to the Chargers. And with the 4-6 Bears hosting the 2-8 Giants, Brennaman knows he’ll be talking to a lot of angry and frustrated fans.
“But you can’t come in and just start pounding people,” he said of his on-air plans. “You have to find some good stories. Everybody might want us to sit up there and kill Mitchell Trubisky and kill Matt Nagy and kill Pat Shurmur or whatever it might be, but that’s not the way it’s gonna go.”
Brennaman will tell it like it is when it needs to be told. And he calls games with great command, emotion and knowledge. But he won’t bash people for the sake of it, no matter what Cubs fans say.