Culture / Sporting Life

The Inside Story of the Mark Berman Retirement — Strong Praise From Nantz and Nolan, the Wife Who Always Has His Back and a Houston Media Legend’s One Wish

Chasing All the Stories For 43 Years and Leaving an Unmatchable Houston TV Sports Legacy

BY // 05.13.23

This is one of the only times that Mark Berman has ever underestimated just how big a story is. Berman, who might as well have The Best Reporter in Houston permanently attached to his name as universal (and deserving) as that praise is, just can’t quite get it. Because it is about him. Berman doesn’t seem to completely grasp just how much his 43 years in Houston sports and his retirement announcement from Fox 26 means to so many people.

When you’ve spent a lifetime breaking story after story, it must feel weird to finally be the story yourself.

But Mark Berman is that big of a deal, that much of a one of a kind force in Houston sports. Just ask Jim Nantz. Nantz got back to me when I reached about Berman retiring, even though he was out having dinner with his kids on a rare Friday night off, because it was about Mark Berman. Nantz who graduated from the University of Houston three years after Berman did makes it clear just how highly he thinks of his old one-time mentor, former Houston sports colleague and forever friend.

“There has never been anyone in the city of Houston, media or otherwise, who has worked harder or represented excellence at such a high standard,” Nantz tells PaperCity of Berman.

If you know Nantz, or have any understanding of just how much the national voice of CBS Sports loves Houston and holds its sports legends in the absolute highest regard, you know praise doesn’t get any greater than that from him.

“I’ve watched Mark for 40 years with great admiration,” Nantz continues. “He has been relentless in his pursuit of a story. I’ve never seen anyone so dogged with their thirst to break news. He has been a credit to the city of Houston for two generations worth of viewers. His energy and passion has never wavered.”

For Berman, the Nantz praise hits him hard. Just like so many other emotional tributes that have come pouring in since he broke the news of his own retirement on his Twitter account (just another way to deliver news he adapted to and conquered during his four-plus decades of telling the stories of Houston sports) have left him a little reeling. With gratitude.

“That’s a Hall of Fame compliment,” Berman says. “Because I think the world of Jim.”

There will never be another Mark Berman. They just don’t make reporters like this anymore. You could argue Berman’s single-minded focus on getting the next story isn’t even all that healthy. But it’s huge part of what makes Mark Berman who he is. No one else is announcing his retirement after 43 years and then hustling over to Sugar Land to cover Jose Altuve’s first rehab game with the Space Cowboys. But that’s what Mark Berman does on Friday night, getting all the videos and every morsel of info, fretting that someone else could be getting a better story the whole time.

Mark Berman still burns to win. Every single day. Every single story.

This is a reporter and TV sports anchor who is still on the top of his game. So why is Berman retiring now (or more accurately on June 12, which will be Berman’s last day on air) having just turned 67? In a time when the President of the United States is going strong at age 80, in an era when legendary Houston TV news anchor Dave Ward retired at age 78, in a city where Kelvin Sampson still looks like the best coach in all of college basketball at age 67 himself . . .

To many, the retirement announcement seems sudden. But Berman reveals that’s not actually true.

“My wife and I have discussed it for about a year,” Berman tells PaperCity. “And I turned 67 on Monday and it just felt like it was the right time. I have a great boss — general manager — in D’Artagnan Bebel and we talked about it a couple of months ago. We discussed it over the last few weeks and just determined it was the right time.

“When is there ever the right time to walk away from a career you’ve dreamed about being? I dreamed about being this when I was growing up in Hempstead, Texas. I literally sat in the back of my dad’s store and pretended to be doing sports. I’m getting to do what I’ve always wanted to do.

“When is it ever the right time?”

For Mark Berman, it’s about his wife Joy in many ways. Their 30th wedding anniversary is coming up in September and Berman, who isn’t the kind of guy who has many hobbies (if any), sounds like he wants to enjoy some time with the woman he loves. The woman who’s always stood behind him and only given unconditional love.

“My wife has put up with this,” Berman says. “. . . And she’s put up with a whole bunch. And it’s my turn. It’s my turn to give back to her really. It’s time for me to give back to her. She’s put up with a lot.

“She never ever said a word about anything. Other than ‘Go get ’em.’ Phone rings at 3’o’clock in the morning? She don’t care. She figures I’m doing my job. It doesn’t work unless you have a team in a marriage. That’s kind of what’s going on here.”

Mark Berman Fox 26
Mark Berman has been on the Houston sports scene, breaking more stories than anyone, for generations. (Courtesy Fox 26)

What is going on here is a Houston TV sports career that never will be matched again. Which is why the overwhelming reaction to Berman’s retirement announcement does not surprise anyone but him. Berman is clearly touched by the response. He’s not that good of an actor to be pretending or going on any type of false modesty kick.

With Mark Berman, what you see is what you get. Always has been.

“This is something that I haven’t talked about to anybody,” Berman tells PaperCity. “Among the responses that I got today were pretty amazing when you think about it. . . J.J. Watt had a wonderful tweet. (Former Texan and current Kansas City Chief) Justin Reid just put something out there. I got a great text from (former Astros manager) A.J. Hinch. And Roy Oswalt.

“But I got a really good phone call — a special phone call today — from Nolan Ryan. And that’s pretty damn cool. I don’t care who you are.”

Berman’s never lost his genuine love for sports and the athletes who compete in these games. Sometimes other reporters try to mock the questions he asks as being too simple or elementary. But Berman’s long understood what even some seasoned reporters never grasp. That the point of a question is to get a good response — not to try and make yourself look smart. Mark Berman almost always gets great quotes. He gets people to open up and feel comfortable enough to share their personal stories.

Berman’s never cared about designer suites or trying to dress trendy like some of the younger sports anchors he competes with either. Everyone else can try and look cool. Mark Berman still has 20 to 25 times the Twitter followers of many of his most direct TV competitors. He’ll school them on news breaking in a new media age without ever bragging about it.

Because this old school newshound really does feel like he is one missed breaking Houston sports story from disaster. Try to talk to Berman about some of the big stories he’s broken and he’ll bring up a bunch that he feels he missed on. Stories he still blames himself for not getting. His angst is real and never far from the surface.

“I don’t think about the wins, I think about the losses,” Berman says. “I think most people are like that doing what we do.”

Berman is always quick to credit another reporter if they have the story first. That is growing increasingly rare in today’s sports media world, but it’s something this reporter lifer believes in down to his soul. Mark Berman is a unicorn in this way, one of the only guys in major TV sports who never feels the need to share his opinion on air. He just tells stories. Without judgement. Without ever inserting himself into it — and making it about him.

“When is there ever the right time to walk away from a career you’ve dreamed about being? I dreamed about being this when I was growing up in Hempstead, Texas. I literally sat in the back of my dad’s store and pretended to be doing sports. I’m getting to do what I’ve always wanted to do. When is it ever the right time?” — Fox 26 sports director Mark Berman

Which may be why this retirement announcement day seems so strange to him in so many ways. Berman makes sure to mention to me how blown away he was by Houston Texans director of communications Omar Majzoub’s heartfelt tweet. How touched he is by Houston Astros vice president of marketing & communications Anita Sehgal taking the time to call him. Berman doesn’t want to forget anybody.

Nantz finds himself looking back on the University of Houston basketball team’s NCAA Tournament run in March when both men spent extended time in Birmingham, Alabama and Kansas City. “And I never had any idea he was making one last journey in his remarkable career,” Nantz tells PaperCity. “I wish I would have known.”

Still, for all the big names who offer strong words, from the Nolan Ryan phone call to the J.J. Watt tweet from across the pond, Mark Berman’s 10-year-old grandson Jackson may have said it best.

When Berman’s daughter told Jackson a few days ago that grandpa was going to announce his retirement on Friday, the 10-year-old quickly shot back, “Fox without grandpa is like McDonald’s without Chicken McNuggets.”

Twitter followers of Berman are familiar with Jackson. His grandson is about the only thing — besides maybe a few visiting deer outside of his Kingwood home — that Mark Berman ever tweets about besides Houston sports. Berman’s pride in Jackson is unmistakable when he talks about him too.

Fox 26 mark berman grandson jackson
Mark Berman loves to be at an Astros game with his grandson Jackson. (@MarkBermanFox26)

There is pride in what he is leaving behind at Fox 26 too.

“I said this (Friday) in a staff meeting, I’ll always be at Fox in spirit,” Berman says. “But the Berman name is not going anywhere. My daughter Jessica is a segment producer for the morning team. She’s been there almost four years. So there will be a Berman sitting over there.”

That is fitting. And maybe it’s also fitting that Mark Berman struggles a little to come up with an answer when I ask if there are things he wants to do in retirement. After all, when you’ve been chasing stories, all the big ones and every little one too, as relentlessly as Berman has, for as long as he has, you never had much of a chance to make plans. There are high-level CIA agents who take more personal days than Berman.

“Not working,” he finally answers on what he’s looking forward to in retirement. “Not working. I have not had a moment’s peace in I don’t even know how long. In fricking 40 years. Where you really. . . My wife and I, we went on vacation when we first got married. We went on a vacation in the first year of our marriage. And another one maybe a year or two later. And we haven’t been on another one in 28 years.

“. . . I’m going to try and find what it’s like to be at peace with the world. And not be worried about getting my backside destroyed every day on something.”

Mark Berman is very specific about one thing he is going to do on June 12th after his last Fox 26 broadcast though.

“June 12th, my last day at Fox, when I go home and I go to sleep, I’m going to turn my phone off,” Berman says. “For the first time in decades.

“. . . The phone is always on because the job never ends. June 12th, when I go to bed about midnight, it ends.”

“There has never been anyone in the city of Houston, media or otherwise, who has worked harder or represented excellence at such a high standard.” — Jim Nantz on Mark Berman

Someone could argue that Mark Berman didn’t have to treat the job like this. That he could have started letting up just a little bit over the years or even began coasting a smidge. Plenty of people in his position have. No one would have said anything. He’s a local Houston media legend after all, someone who will be in more Hall of Fames than most of the guys he covered when all is said and done. But that’d be like telling Jerry West he should just chill out when West found himself having to retreat to the parking lot to pace during Lakers game when he served as LA’s general manager.

Any such thought completely misses who Mark Berman is as a man. His very essence. There is a reason Mark Berman is sweating in Sugar Land, chasing after Jose Altuve, on the night he announces his retirement, a time when everyone else wants to celebrate him.

“I had to work really hard to stop thinking about all this bullshit and focus back on doing my job,” Berman cracks. “Because I had to be at Constellation Field covering Altuve. Right?”

With Mark Berman, there always only has been one answer to that question. You can bet he’ll keep breaking stories right through June 12th. He’s a one of a kind. Houston’s own, forever focused on telling the stories of his city. Always there, always eager to break the next one. A fixture on more than just everyone’s TV.

Part of  the very fabric of Houston sports.

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