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UB grad McHugh exceeds 'wildest dreams' at Super Bowl

University at Buffalo graduate Liam McHugh had a couple of favorite sports announcers growing up on Long Island as a New York Giants, New York Knicks and New York Islanders fan.

"Frankly, like most people, I really loved watching Bob Costas," the NBC Sports host said in a telephone interview. "I think Bob is the best."

On Sunday, McHugh will be the sportscaster being watched as one of two hosts of NBC's Super Bowl pregame show.

NBC announced a few weeks ago that McHugh would be the co-host with Dan Patrick as Costas dropped his pregame duties.

After speculation that remarks about brain trauma caused by playing football led to the legendary sportscaster's departure from the pregame show, Costas told Sports Business Journal last week that it was a "mutually agreeable" decision by him and the network. He added he had "ambivalent feelings about football" so it was better to have hosts who are "more enthusiastic about it."

McHugh is aware his new assignment on the six and a half hour pregame show that begins at noon Sunday makes him part of the Costas narrative.

"Bob's the big name and he's not doing it and I am obviously stepping into a bigger role," said McHugh. "For me, I was coming to the Super Bowl and was going to be part of the show either way. I have to say nobody wants to be the person who is replacing a person like Bob Costas. You want to be the person who replaces the person who replaced Bob Costas."

He said he doesn’t feel like he is replacing Costas, who praised McHugh and Patrick when his departure was announced.

"I feel like NBC hired me a while back to be a host of their sports programming, whatever it may be," said McHugh. "I'm still doing that. It is not like a month ago they decided let's hire this guy and bring him in to replace Bob. Bob and I have a great relationship. I saw him a few weeks back, we chatted for a while, he expressed some of the (positive) things he already has expressed to the media to me and wished me well."

"I don't really feel like I am here to replace him. I feel like I did 'Thursday Night Football' during the year, I worked with Tony (Dungy) and Rodney (Harrison) and now I get an amazing chance to do the Super Bowl with them as well."

It is the first of two high-profile jobs in February for McHugh, who will also be the prime-time host for NBCSN's cable coverage of the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

It will be the fourth Olympics for McHugh, who also was the host of NBCSN's coverage of the Summer Games in Rio (2016) and London (2012). It's his first as host of the Winter Games since he stayed with NBC's hockey crew during the Sochi Winter Games in 2014.

You could say that McHugh is the only one involved with the NHL to benefit from the league's decision to not have its players participate in the Olympics.

"Maybe," said McHugh. "That's an interesting spin. I'm just as disappointed as they are. I'm disappointed in their not going, but I am excited to be doing something different."

McHugh is a versatile host, working NBCSN's coverage of the NHL, NBC's coverage of Notre Dame football and doing some boxing alongside another announcing idol - Marv Albert.

"I was a big Knicks fan growing up so I love Marv Albert. He was somebody I definitely looked up to," McHugh said. "I got to host the fights that Marv was calling, be in meetings and go to work in a car with Marv Albert. That was an incredible thrill."

He didn't expect to be in this position when he arrived at UB at age 17.

"At UB, I was trying to think what I would do, period," said McHugh, who played soccer for two seasons and is following this year's success of UB's the men's and women's basketball teams.

He majored in communications at UB, which he noted didn’t really have a journalism tract.

"I was in a lot of large lecture classes," said McHugh. "I really didn't know what I wanted to do when I got to Buffalo. I settled on communications and I kind of got the journalism bug because I started writing for the (student newspaper) Spectrum my junior year and continued to do that my senior year."

After graduation, he was a part-time writer at Newsday on Long Island and ESPN The Magazine for a few years.

"I saw that I wasn't really moving up in the world of print and I also saw how much smaller ESPN Magazine seemed to be getting year after year," said McHugh. "It was pretty much like a phone book when I started."

Enter Syracuse University, where many network announcers, including Costas and Olympic prime-time host Mike Tirico, attended or graduated.

"I always wanted to give broadcasting a shot," said McHugh.

He received his master's degree from Syracuse in 2004, the year after the basketball team won its only national title.

"They were still good. They had Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick," McHugh said of the team.

He said his broadcasting career at Syracuse was "definitely more impactful. I learned the things I needed. I started in a small market, Terre Haute, Ind., where you really have to do everything – shoot, edit, produce. And Syracuse really gave me the background for that."

He got into communications because he liked telling stories.

"I get an opportunity to do that now on the biggest stage," said McHugh. "That's incredible. It is a pretty long pregame show and we get a chance to story tell a little bit and the Olympics are all about that -- the personalities and people competing."

He had some early success in local markets before he was hired by NBC and started getting plum assignments that have led to the Super Bowl. He has far exceeded his early career expectations.

"I thought I'd like to keep doing this," said McHugh of his early career. "It is a really nice way to make a living and hopefully I can make a career out of this. This wasn't really in my wildest dreams."

Email: apergament@buffnews.com

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