For months, I had Martzke on my list of story ideas. I finally decided to get it done after I did a Q/A last week with Martzke’s replacement, Michael Hiestand, who recently took the buyout from USA Today.
Histand said: “The first thing I think about with Rudy is that whenever I talked to someone in the business, they all felt like they had to tell me a Rudy Martzke story.
Indeed, there will never be another Rudy Martzke in our business, both in terms of personality and for the power of his TV Sports column. Especially on Mondays, when Martzke reviewed the weekend coverage. A harsh critique could ruins a broadcaster’s or an executive’s week. Heaven forbid someone should get a “Dreaded Glitch Award.”
In 2000, John Walters wrote about him in Sports Illustrated:
While it may be argued that Rudy Martzke is to journalism what Rudy Ruettiger was to football, there is no denying that his Sports on TV column has influenced the fate of many a talking head. “Network executives, every one of them, don’t breathe until they read him in the morning,” says CBS college basketball analyst Billy Packer. “They’ll never admit it, though.”
Readers couldn’t get enough. They still ranked Martzke as their favorite columnist in USA Today years after he left the paper in April, 2005.
Martzke, 70, now lives with his wife in a retirement community in Florida. When I talked to him last week, he just came off the golf course, where he shot a 90, “two strokes better than my handicap.”
Martzke still has his hand in the business, doing some consulting work. And yes, he still watches TV sports with a critical eye. Who knows? Maybe he’ll even publish his thoughts again one day. I offered him the opportunity to vent at Sherman Report. Everyone should consider themselves warned.
Here is my Q/A:
So what is Rudy Martzke doing these days besides playing golf?
When I retired from USA Today, I had some entities that asked me to do some consulting for them. I did some work for the Pro Bull Riders Association. I watched some of their show and gave them reviews. What they did well; what they didn’t do well.
I do some work for a sports agent agency. I’ll recommend some announcers for them.
I’ve got a card that says, ‘Martzke Consulting: Media and Marketing.’ I put in a few hours a week, not a lot.
Why did you decide to retire in 2005?
I did the column for 23 years. I enjoyed it immensely, but I worked it quite hard. For a while, I wrote it five days a week. We only came out five days a week. I always was on call. People would call me with tips and I always wanted to get the scoop.
One day, I called human resources. I asked, ‘What would my pension be?’ They said it would be this much. I’ll say this, it was pretty surprising. I said, ‘OK, I think I’ll retire.’
I thought it was time.
How did it feel? Did you suffer through any withdrawal?
Yeah, there was somewhat of a withdrawal. But there also was a sense of relief at deadline time.
My day used to start at 9 a.m. I’d get on the phone and call all the PR folks. I always checked in with everyone every day.
One time, I put in a call to Mike Tirico. I finally got a call back. We’re talking and I hear a whoosh. I said, ‘Mike, are you playing golf?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Mike, are you in the rough?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’
In 2000, Danny Sheridan and Mike Gottfried organized a roast for me in Mississippi. It was for charity. Tim Brando was the MC, guys like Cris Collinsworth, Lee Corso, Randy Cross, Brent Musburger, Billy Packer were there.
Corso got up and said, ‘We’re all here because we’re afraid of the little SOB.’
I didn’t expect any of this. I just enjoyed being home and watching sports on TV during the weekends. I started writing about the good and bad I saw. I had pet things like ‘Dread glitch’ and ‘Say what?’ It just took off.
I had people tell me if they made a mistake, they hoped I wasn’t watching.
How do watch sports on TV now. Do you still critique things?
Yes, I still do. I’ll wince if I see something I don’t like. I also like it when someone gets off a good line or there’s a good production angle.
I can’t watch sports on TV without watching it like I used to. I guess there’s something in my system.
Who do you like now?
There are a lot of new people coming up. It’s great to see. However, during the last Sports Emmys, who were the guys getting the big nominations? Al Michaels, Bob Costas, Jim Nantz. Those were the top guys when I left.
I took a lot of pride in touting guys before others did. One of them was Cris Collinsworth. I knew he was going to be good. Now he’s the top NFL analyst.
Another guy I caught in his infancy was Dick Vitale. I remember one time early on, we were driving. He was complaining (starts to imitate Vitale), ‘Rudy, I don’t know if I can make enough money in this business.’
I said, ‘Dick, you’re good. Just keep at it.’
Sure enough, the guy now is making millions.
What strikes you now about the business?
You look at what has happened to newspapers. There have been a lot of changes and a lot of people have lost jobs.
My feeling is that there always will be room for newspapers as long as they move with the times. It took longer than it should have, but a lot of them have caught on.
You covered rights fees for a long time. Do the massive right fees astound you?
Yeah, it does astound me, but at the same time, it shouldn’t. I remember when negotiations would begin, the networks would say, ‘There’s no way they are getting that kind of money.’ They always would.
Sports is the dominant force for the networks. It’s going to be that way for a long time.
Do you spend much time reading what’s out there on the Internet?
No, not really. I’ll read the Sherman Report (thanks, Rudy).
I just don’t read a lot of media stuff. I’m involved in a lot of fantasy sports leagues. So I stay up on that. We travel a lot. So I read a lot of newspapers when I’m on the road.
Do you know there is a Twitter account in your name? It started as @FakeRudyMartzke, but now it is @RudyMartzke2013.
Yes, my son told me about it. At first, I thought, ‘He’s trying to copy me.’ Then people told me it’s almost like a badge of honor.
I’ve got no complaints with it. It’s a compliment that someone still remembers me.
Hiestand has departed at USA Today. The sports media column has been a staple at the paper. What do you think they will do?
I was very pleased Michael came in and was successful at it. I’m proud of the tradition of the TV Sports column at USA Today.
Early on, I remember once I was in on a Sunday, and the sports editor said, ‘We have no room for your column on Monday.’ Later on, the sports editor called me in. He said Gannett did a survey, and it showed my column was the most read thing in the paper after the weather page. So I was in every Monday after that.
I would hope USA Today continues the column at some stage. If there are stories involving network TV and broadcasting, somebody should write it.
Rudy, it’s been great catching up. If you ever get the itch to vent about something, my space always is available to you at Sherman Report.
Thanks. I might take you up on that.