Chris Berman and Mark Whipple have both had their greatest career successes around football, but their four-decade old friendship started around baseball.
Whipple was the starting shortstop for Brown, and Berman was calling the games for WBRU, the student radio station.
“We just hit it off,” Whipple said. “One of his roommates played baseball with me.”
They bonded over the San Francisco Giants, Berman’s favorite team, who played spring training in Whipple’s hometown of Phoenix.
“Here was a kid from Brown I could talk about the Giants with,” Berman said Thursday.
Forty-one years later the two Brown alums are still in regular touch. They trade texts and the occasional phone call during football season and make sure to golf together in the offseason.
Berman, 61, who was at ESPN at its 1979 inception, the legend, has taken a reduced role at the network. It allowed him to serve as a celebrity coach at UMass’ spring game Thursday at McGuirk Stadium.
“It was fun because I saw (Whipple) in his element,” said Berman dressed in a black golf shirt and white hat, both with UMass logos. “It was really kind of neat seeing as I’ve known him for 41 years.”
Berman came to Amherst on Thursday and spent time with the UMass players before the game. He enjoyed seeing his friend work up close.
“I’m proud of the way he carries himself and what he stands for and I’m not surprised,” Berman said.
Berman, who recommended Whipple to Bill Cowher, when Whipple was hired as the Steelers’ quarterbacks coach in 1999, thought Whipple could have thrived in a higher profile job.
“He’s a brilliant offensive mind. Had the dice rolled a little differently he’s certainly capable of being and ACC head coach or an offensive coordinator in the NFL,” Berman said. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen. But he loves it here. He loves being back here with his sons on his staff.”
After posing for pictures with several UMass fans following the spring game, Berman recalled 20-year-old Whipple.
“He wasn’t quite as refined as now. I might have put him on his first barstool or kept him on it. I’m not sure,” he said. “He was a guys’ guy. He never boasted. He was never a self-promoter. Not at 20. Not at 60. We both had a lot more hair, a little less gut.”
Their friendship cemented as adults when Whipple was the coach of New Haven and Berman was in his early days at ESPN. They were neighbors in Cheshire, Connecticut.
“He lived around the corner,” Whipple said. “We’ve stayed the same. He hasn’t changed, I haven’t changed.”
Berman’s reduced role at ESPN allowed him to visit because there was no draft to prepare for.
“Who is the eighth best tackle? This year I don’t know and that’s O.K.,” he said.
In the fall, Berman will have some free time he’s lacked during football season for decades. He has a two-week golf trip to Northern Ireland planned in the early fall and a yet to be determined plan to return to Amherst.
“I’ll come up for a game,” he said.”