In his son, McKay has his biggest thrill Pride: ABC broadcaster Jim McKay believes his son, CBS Sports president Sean McManus, is his finest accomplishment.

May 15, 1998|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN SPORTS MEDIA CRITIC

Jim McKay has a theory about parenting that explains why he became so emotional four months ago when his son, Sean McManus, brokered a landmark deal in their family's business, sports television.

McKay, a star of ABC Sports for more than 30 years, believes the success a child achieves says more about his parents than anything the parents achieve on their own.

That's why when McManus, the president of CBS Sports, called McKay in January to tell him that CBS had beaten fairly long odds to get back into broadcasting NFL games, it meant more to the father than all the Emmy awards, the Peabody and all the other accolades that McKay, 76, has earned.

"You're proud of yourself, but then you say, 'Doggone it. It's that little kid that has grown up and had amazing success at a reasonably young age.' It's tremendous pride," said McKay, who lives in Monkton with his wife, Margaret McManus. "The odds were so much against it. People were saying they'd never get it."

McManus recalled his father's reaction to the phone call.

"He was speechless when I said it to him and reacted very, very emotionally. What he said was, 'I think you ought to talk to your mother for a moment,' " said McManus, 42. "He was not able to speak. He was emotionally affected by the fact that something that I had been talking about regularly for a year might actually come to fruition. He was totally overwhelmed.

"You have to be really lucky to get those kind of moments in life, and I think I was really lucky to be able to experience it and to be able to share it with him. It was one of those watershed moments that you sort of remember the rest of your life."

Celebrities and their offspring often do a "circle dance" trying to balance love and notoriety. Singer Bonnie Raitt, the daughter of Broadway star John Raitt, wrote a song with that title about her relationship with her father. It includes the lyric:

"I'll be home soon

That's what you'd say

And a little kid believes

After a while I learned that love

Must be a thing that leaves."

McKay tried to stay off that dance floor by sharing as many moments as possible with McManus, taking him on ABC road trips, for "Wide World of Sports" or the Olympics or whatever else was on the itinerary.

As a kid, McManus, who grew up in Connecticut, spanned the globe with his father, watching Lee Trevino win the 1968 U.S. Open in Rochester, N.Y., witnessing A.J. Foyt win three Indianapolis 500s.

Once on a golf trip to Jacksonville, Fla., Sean, who was 12 at the time, went to work as a "go-fer," getting coffee and running errands. When the broadcast was over, a unit manager saw McManus standing around and asked him why he wasn't in the pay line with the other temporary help.

"Sean said, 'The pay line?' " said McKay. "He just assumed he was supposed to do what he was doing. He went over and got his $25 a day."

They went to Kentucky Derbys, British Opens and all the rest, father and son.


Best friends

"He's my best male friend by far and he has been really since he was a kid," said McKay.

"Except for the fact that he missed a lot of weekend football and baseball games I played in, there's no downside to being the son of Jim McKay in any way, shape or form. It was a whole lot of fun," said McManus, who is getting married May 23 to Tracy Torre, an interior designer.

Said Margaret McManus: "Sean really feels that each one of us, in his own way, is a role model. If you were going to measure love, and I don't know how you would do that anyway, I know he's probably closer to his dad, but I don't think that means anything."

McKay started out as a reporter at The Evening Sun in 1946. A year later, he left to work at WMAR-TV, going on the air with the station's first broadcast. James K. McManus became Jim McKay when he left Baltimore to do a CBS show called "The Real McKay," and he kept that as his professional name, while his family retained the McManus moniker, to give his wife, daughter and Sean privacy.

And while Sean McManus has always appreciated his father's gesture, he could never run from being the son of Jim McKay. In fact, he never tried.

"The fact of the matter is that everybody I meet knows who my father is," said McManus. "When I went to college, he said to me the same thing he said when I went to prep school: 'Everyone's going to know who your father is. Some people are going to treat you either better or worse than they normally would, but you're not my son. You're yourself.' "

As a student at Duke, McManus interned one summer at a brokerage, where a family friend was vice president. When he graduated in 1977, with a double major in English and history, McManus received a tantalizing offer and a guarantee: Work at the brokerage full-time and you'll make $1 million a year by the time you're 30.

McKay asked McManus to think about the offer, and McManus, as he has done often, asked his mother for her counsel. But the son's mind was made up pretty quickly.

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