(USA TODAY) - If you figured Brent Musburger would ignore the Katherine Webb controversy in his return to the broadcast booth, think again.
The ESPN announcer was calling his first game since making headlines during last week's BCS national title game for ogling Webb, the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. He made it through almost all of Monday's Kansas basketball victory over Baylor without referencing the incident or alluding to his network's apology for the comments.
Then, as he launched into his usual sign-off, Musburger dropped an unexpected, jaw-dropping line.
"Once again, your final score, Kansas 61, Baylor 44," Musburger said in the manner he has hundreds of times before. "Coming up next, SportsCenter. For Fran Franschilla and Holly Rowe, who was really smokin' tonight, I want to say 'so long from Lawrence.'"
There was extra emphasis on the "really smoking," like he wanted to make sure you heard him.
Oh, we heard you and our jaws hit the floor.
There's a small chance it was a coincidental, unfortunate word choice. Small, but unlikely. Probably, it was a caustic dig at the controversy and/or the ESPN executives who decided an apology was needed.
Assuming Rowe was keen to the gag, I think it's hilarious. The whole Webb thing was so overblown. (I should know; I was part of the group overblowing it.) Both she and her father told ESPN and the media to go easy on ol' Brent. He wasn't nearly the creepy old man he was made out to be, just an announcer who didn't know when to stop talking.
Subtly referencing the Webb comments with a sly wink at the end of his next broadcast is brilliant. Please don't be so PC that you can't find the humor in that.
There's only one cause for concern: If Rowe was an unknowing pawn in Musburger's late-game compliment, I'd be less supportive of him. I doubt Musburger meant the "smokin'" comment as anything but a reference to the Webb thing, but the fact that some could believe he was complimenting or digging his excellent sideline reporter would be unfair to her. She shouldn't be dragged into this unless she knew it was coming. (Maybe it's an inside joke, or something.)
Whatever happened, you are looking live at an audacious 73-year-old who doesn't seem to care what anyone think about his in-game comments. Unfortunately, he may soon find out what his bosses think about that.