Five years ago, I received a panicked voicemail from CBS PR executive Robin Brendle.
“We need to talk,” she said. “Call me!”
That was followed by a text message and an email message with the same message: “We need to talk!”
Thinking that longtime CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus was stepping down — why else would she be so persistent? — I called as quickly as I could. Robin immediately started to pitch me on a weekly studio show that was launching on CBS Sports Network called, yes, “We Need To Talk.”
Only Robin Brendle could have pulled that one off without making me angry. Of course, I ended up doing the story.
I thought of that experience last week as Robin retired after 37 years in CBS Sports’ communications department. Robin joined CBS Sports in 1982, following in the footsteps of her father, Bill “Catfish” Brendle, who worked as CBS Sports’ press liaison from 1963 to 1981. Before that, Bill worked in ABC Sports’ publicity office from 1953-63.
This means that for the first time in 66 years, nobody named Brendle is working in network sports television. That is truly the end of an era.
A New York sports fan with a fondness for the Jersey Shore, Robin’s good nature and easy smile are two of the traits her longtime colleagues remember best. It is why Jim Nantz described her as “probably the most popular CBS Sports employee” during a video tribute at a May 30 party for Robin in Studio 19 at Black Rock.
About 75 colleagues and friends gathered to toast Robin’s career, including McManus, who continued with Nantz’s theme.
“You are never going to find a better person than Robin Brendle,” he said. “She is kind and never, ever in a bad mood. I’ve never seen her mood fluctuate like most of ours do.”
Brendle’s 28-year-old son Tucker laughed loudly at that description, leading McManus to quip, “Tucker has, apparently.”
McManus spoke of how Robin, as the lead publicist for the “NFL on CBS,” worked with everyone from John Madden and Pat Summerall to Nantz, Tony Romo and Tracy Wolfson.
“She has distinguished herself remarkably with a career that is going to go down in history as one of the great careers in CBS publicity,” McManus said.
CBS presented Brendle with gifts meant to commemorate her 37 years at CBS, along with her love of the Giants, Yankees, Knicks and Rangers.
Jen Sabatelle, senior vice president of communications, compiled around 85 vignettes from coworkers, reporters, announcers and executives into a book and presented it to Robin. CBS also gave her signed memorabilia from players on her four favorite teams — Giants quarterback Eli Manning, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, former Knicks guard Allan Houston and Rangers legend Rod Gilbert.
The party, though, did not fit Robin’s sensibilities. She always hated being the center of attention. I’ve known Robin for 13 years, and this is the first time I have ever included her name in one of my stories.
Robin saw her job as getting publicity for the network and its talent. She had no interest in the limelight.
Three years ago, in the run-up to Super Bowl 50, CBS Sports wanted to pitch a story about how Robin’s dad was the lead CBS publicist for Super Bowl I and Robin was the lead CBS publicist for Super Bowl 50. It was the type of story that I would have loved to write. But I never heard about it. I was first told about it last week.
Robin had put the kibosh on it.
Toward the end of her CBS run, her colleagues wanted to get someone to write a retrospective of her career. Again, Robin said no.
“Robin, to the end, never wanted the spotlight to be on her,” Sabatelle said.
Robin’s career — almost her entire life — has been intertwined with CBS Sports.
Veteran PR executive Lou D’Ermilio, who worked with Robin in the early 1990s, recalled stories Robin would tell from when she was a little girl and her dad ran PR for CBS Sports. On occasion, she would tell D’Ermilio, she would wake up to find Pat Summerall sleeping on the family couch.
On May 30, Robin’s CBS Sports life came full circle as she walked out of Black Rock for the final time as a network employee, with her son Tucker at her side.