It doesn’t get any bigger for Rich Eisen Sunday than being the lead horse for the NFL Network’s coverage of the Super Bowl. He will host an 8 1/2-hour pregame show surrounded by current and future Hall of Famers. All in all, not a bad gig.
Yet once upon a time, Eisen was a raw anchor trying to make a name for himself in Redding, Calif.
In a Super Bowl edition of My First Job, Eisen recalls a particularly rough night when he was just breaking into the business. And I’m sure he will be delighted that I found a Youtube clip of him delivering the sports in 1995. His hairstyle, like mine, definitely has changed.
Here’s Eisen on his first job, which led to an eventual call from ESPN:
When I was in college, I did stand-up at the student union at Michigan once a month. It has made everything else I’ve done in my career very easy. Nothing comes close to the intensity and nerves of doing stand-up comedy. Going on the road–anybody who does that for a living has my utmost respect.
I decided maybe I could combine the things I love, which is sports and comedy, and get on SportsCenter.
I started in Redding, Calif., KRCR, the ABC-affiliate on election night of ’94. It’s about 3 1/2 hours north of Sacramento. It was like an episode of Northern Exposure, a Jew in the mountain community.
On Saturdays in a small outfit, there’s just me, the news anchor and one person working the tapes. One night, nothing went right. Tapes were going to black and sound bites weren’t working and the graphics were brutal. At one point, I looked at the camera and said, ‘I’m broiling in my own sweat.’ It was one of those boom-goes-the-dynamite moments. I decided to talk about the elephant in the room.
How soon did you get to ESPN?
I was in Redding for 1 1/2 years. I sent a tape to a head hunter in ’95. Al Jaffe of ESPN called me and said he saw my tape and wanted to interview me. That was five minutes after an agent from William Morris called me and said he heard I was an up-and-coming sportscasters.
I said, “OK, if you say so, I’m about to drive 60 miles to cover a volleyball game. I’m not feeling hot at all.”
I called my brother and said, “You’re not going to believe what’s happening…”
I get off the phone and the phone rings again. The guy said it was Al Jaffe.
I’m thinking to myself, ‘It’s not Al Jaffe. My brother called my friends in Staten Island and told them to call me.’
It really was Al Jaffe. So I almost carpet F-bombed Al Jaffe the first time I talked to him. Luckily, I didn’t.
Eisen went to ESPN in 1996 and stayed in Bristol until 2003. Then he made the big move, jumping the WWL to become the voice of the NFL’s new start-up network in 2003.