What they said in 2012: Quotes tell tale of year in sports media

Part 1:

I’m a big quote guy, as evidenced by the quote I run at the top of this site.

While going through my review of sports media in 2012, I came across so many relevant quotes from my reporting and elsewhere, I decided to share them. Some are insightful; some are funny; some are just plain stupid. Yet they all tell a tale of what occurred on this beat.

I had so many, I decided to split them into two posts. Part 1 covers the beginning of the site in April through early August.

Frank Deford on current state of sportswriting: “Unfortunately, we’ve gotten swamped by the numbers. People have gotten buried under the numbers. Statistics. That has become everything. Pitch count is more interesting than what the guy is made of. I think that’s a shame because so much of sports is drama.”

Keith Olbermman tweet: “Mickey Mantle debuted in NY in an exhibition vs Dodgers 1951. Bryce Harper debuts vs Dodgers tonight. Announcer then and now? Vin Scully.”

Adam Schefter on taking heat for tweeting during the NFL draft: “I approach the draft just like any other NFL news story. When I learn informaton, it’s my job to report it. I didn’t report every pick; I was more interested in the trades, actually. But if someone felt it detracted from their experience, they could have unfollowed me or not paid attention to Twitter.”

Ohio State president Gordon Gee (a true goof): “‘Sporting News,’ ‘Sports Illustrated,’ a lot of them I don’t read. It’s bad journalism. And, so, why buy them?”

David Feherty on Hank Haney’s book on Tiger Woods: “The fact that Hank wrote the book – I wouldn’t have written the book. I just don’t think it has any class to it at all.”

SI’s Richard Deitsch on Chris Berman: “The bellowing never stops. It pummels you over the head like a hard rain, and  it’s forever accompanied by outdated references (“Mel Kiper, to quote Stan  Laurel, ‘Here’s another mess you have gotten me into, Ollie.’ “) and long-winded  intros that last nearly as long as a Presidential campaign. Mostly, there is  Chris Berman simply talking and talking and talking.”

Chris Berman:  “I just talk to people everyday walking down the street. That’s what I care about. That’s good enough for me. They didn’t like Ted Williams either. Now, I’m not Ted Williams.”

ESPN exec John Wildhack defending Chris Berman: “It seems that at times, criticizing Chris has become a pastime for some, as opposed to presenting an actual review of the work he does. What’s important is he works hard, he’s prepared, he’s extremely passionate about it and he is a huge sports fan which allows him to connect with the sports fans we serve.”

Bill Simmons in a tweet on Grantland being denied a credential to a NHL playoff game: “Still laughing that the Blues denied @katiebakes for a media credential last week. The NHL is the best. DON’T COVER US!!! STAY AWAY!”

Dave Kindred on the late Furman Bisher: “One time, two years ago, his glorious wife, Linda, called him in the Augusta  press room and Furman became a high school kid in love. “I just finished,  honey,” he said. “It wasn’t much. I keep trying. I’ll do that perfect column  someday.”

Saints owner Tom Benson on demise of the New Orleans Times-Picuyane: “It is hard for me to imagine no Times-Picayune on Monday, February 4, 2013, the day after our city hosts Super Bowl XLVII.”

Veteran sportswriter Tom Pedulla on being fired from USA Today: “If you think someone’s job was in jeopardy, you’d want to do it face-to-face to make the best possible decision. I never got a face-to-face interview to keep a job I had for 31 years.”

Former Fox Sports chairman David Hill on the future of sports TV:  “The next big development for all of us is the second-screen experience. I don’t believe that has been explored in terms of potential as it should be. If you look at multi-tasking that is going on, a valid second screen experience (people watching a second screen in addition to the primary screen) – which could be American Idol – is going to be a huge development down the road.”

Tiger Woods on new media: “You’ve got to be able to stand out somehow to get eyes going to your site or to your media, and I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s the criticism that there is. I was looking at it the other day, if LeBron didn’t have a good game, then the Heat are done and he should retire.  I’m like, geez, guys, he just won MVP.  But I think that’s just the nature of the volatility of the new media in which we are involved in now.”

Phil Mushnick controversial column on Jay-Z: “As long as the Nets are allowing Jay-Z to call their  marketing shots — what a shock that he chose black and white as the new team  colors to stress, as the Nets explained, their new “urban” home — why not have  him apply the full Jay-Z treatment?

“Why the Brooklyn Nets when they can be the New York N——s? The  cheerleaders could be the Brooklyn B—-hes or Hoes. Team logo? A 9 mm with  hollow-tip shell casings strewn beneath. Wanna be Jay-Z hip? Then go all the way!”

Michelle Beadle on rampant speculation about her future: “I find it ridiculous. It’s a little stupid. I’ve changed jobs a couple dozen times since I started in an amusement park at 16. … I got a little sick of myself. It’s been an odd situation. Hopefully, it will come and go and everybody will get back to their business. Very weird. Who knew?”

Ozzie Guillen on Twitter: “Yeah, I hate Twitter. Everybody following me can (expletive) his pants. You can quote me on that one. … Don’t follow me anymore. Twitter is a stupid thing. I never make money out of that. When you speak Spanish, you speak Spanish. When you speak English, you don’t know how to spell ‘English.’ Get a real job, get a life. I don’t make money out of that. I’m done.”

Colin Cowherd on hockey writers: “Hockey doesn’t get the cream of the crop in our business…What do you think I’m giving the kid out of Fordham? The New York Islanders. He’s cheap, he’s bright, and his brother used to play hockey.”

John Skipper on NBC Sports Network: “We’ve been doing this for 32 years and I do think  there’s a little too much respect paid to the great brand names. Everybody sort  of assumes, ‘Oh, my gosh, NBC is going to a 24/7 network and it’s a two-horse  race.” But they don’t look like we look. You guys saw all the stuff today –  mobile, Internet. We have more viewers in an average minute on ESPN mobile than  they have on NBC Sports Network.”

NBC Sports response: “The NBC Sports Group brands are among the most powerful brands in sports. We don’t look like anyone else and we’re very proud of that fact. They’ve been at this a long time and at a significantly higher cost to consumers. Our audience and market share are increasing as evidenced by the NHL playoffs and at great value to our viewers.”

CBC’s Ron McLean invoking images of 9/11 in open to a NHL playoff game: “From the capital of the U.S. of A., it’s New York and Washington. The economic and political engines of America, united in the birth of the country, they’re also linked in tragedy. They were the twin targets of the coordinated attacks on 9/11. It’s crazy to compare what the emergency responders did during that time, but a spirit has to start somewhere. And as you enjoy this series between the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals — Game 6 comin’ up, 3-2 New York.”

Dan Jenkins: “Who is the best the sportswriter who wore shorts? I keep trying to envision Grantland Rice or John Lardner in shorts. It never occurred to me to wear shorts. I’d look too silly to wear shorts.”

ESPN’s Vince Doria on hockey: “It’s a sport that engenders a very passionate local following. If you’re a Blackhawks fan in Chicago, you’re a hardcore fan. But it doesn’t translate to television, and where it really doesn’t transfer much to is a national discussion, which is something that typifies what we do.”

Donna  de Varona on 40th anniversary of Title IX: “My work in Title IX gave me a voice I wanted to have as a broadcaster. But there was a lot of pushback. My visibility was often threatened. I often got comments about my activism being an issue, forcing me to make choices. That did two things for me: It made me fight harder and stay at ABC, and also to work on Capitol Hill.”

Darren Rovell announcing in a tweet (what else?) that he is jumping to ESPN: “I’m thrilled to have reached an agreement in principle with ESPN. No matter how others bash it, Bristol is truly a magical place.”

APSE president Michael A. Anastasi in speech to sports editors: “Many of you have heard me say this before, but I think it’s worth repeating. With so much change, so much challenge, so much new, this is exactly the wrong time for editors to stop talking to each other.”

ESPN’s Vince Doria: “If social networking never existed, we wouldn’t miss it. We wouldn’t know it ever existed. We wouldn’t feel our life was impaired in any way. We lived without e-mail. How did we operate without it?”

Geoff Ogilvy’s wife, Julie, on Twitter: “How does Johnny Miller have a job when he speaks such nonsense???”

Phil Mushnick: “Allowing ESPN’s Chris Berman to call golf’s U.S. Open is like giving the Class Clown a jumbo can of Silly String.”

Skip Bayless: “Miami was the heavy favorite to win it all and I’m not backing off. I’m not writing them off. I’m sticking with them in seven games, because they’re still the Miami Heat.”

Ken Harrelson after over-the-top criticism of an umpire: “I talked to Bud Selig yesterday. We had a talk. Actually, Bud talked and I listened. If it was a prize fight, they would have stopped it in the first round.”

Bob Costas on slain Israeli athletes not being honored at Olympics: “I intend to note that the IOC denied the request. Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here’s a minute of silence right now.”

BTN president Mark Silverman on his network not covering important Penn State press conference: “We wanted to have covered it. Frankly, it was human error. There was an internal communications issue. We regret not having shown that press conference.”

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertham on Joe Posnanski’s Paterno book: “The great lesson that Paterno may have taught (a player) pales in comparison to the cover-up. People who read the book will say they don’t care about (his great deeds). I worry this will be the literary version of the Matt Millen fiasco.”

Joe Buck on Tim McCarver going into Hall of Fame: “When I had him sitting to my right and I had him seconding an opinion of mine, it gave me instant credibility. I owe him a lot and I’ll be there, the proudest one there not at the podium when he goes in on Saturday.”

Tim McCarver: “If somebody told me back in 1980 that I would have a 32-year career, and that I’d be receiving this honor, I’d say no way. For three years, I couldn’t even break into the Phillies broadcast booth. I was just hoping to make it, much less be mentioned as a Ford Frick winner. Believe me, when I started out, this award wasn’t even close to being on the radar.”

Bob Costas on turning 60: “It doesn’t seem that long ago to me that the word irreverent seemed affixed to my name. ‘Irreverant newcomer.’ I went from irreverent to venerable in what seems to me like the blink of an eye.”









Top newsmakers for 2012: No denying that everyone talked about Skip Bayless

When I launched ShermanReport on April 16, I had some initial concerns that there might not be enough fresh content to do a daily site.

Couldn’t have been more wrong.

There’s so much territory to cover, it can be overwhelming at times. For a solo performer, it is a challenge to keep up. It’s never dull, that’s for sure.

As 2012 nears a close, I’m going to reflect on the year in sports media this week. Today, I begin with newsmakers. My criteria is people who were interesting, intriguing, controversial, and generally seemed to be in the news cycle, for better or worse.

Here we go:

Skip Bayless: Yes, Skip Bayless. I can see your eyes rolling, but name me someone who has generated more sports media talk?

I know he is extremely polarizing, and he routinely gets obliterated from the critics. Twitter nearly exploded when he got nominated for a Sports Emmy.

This isn’t to say that Bayless and First Take rank as the best in 2012. The latest episode involving Rob Parker off-mark comments about Robert Griffin III are an example why many people feel the show is a stain on ESPN. A blow to its credibility.

However, whenever the topic is sports media in a podcast or elsewhere, I’m hard pressed to think of a time when the discussion didn’t include Bayless and First Take. My former Chicago Tribune colleague receives a remarkable amount of attention for a mid-morning show on ESPN2. Not exactly prime time. Love him or hate him, people tune in to hear Bayless’ and Stephen A. Smith’s views. The show continues to do a strong rating and Bayless has nearly 1 million followers on Twitter, up from 550,000 in April.

More so, athletes react over what he has to say. Kevin Durant, Jalen Rose, Charles Barkley, and Terrell Suggs, to name a few. Again, somebody must be listening.

In a Q/A I did with Bayless in April, I asked if he saw himself wearing the black hat. He said: “The thrust of our show is people trying to take me down. They just want to see me lose. That’s why they love Stephen A (Smith). He calls me Skip “Baseless.” Fine. Then I quickly prove to the audience that I’m not baseless and win the argument from him, using live ammo, real facts that he can’t refute.”

Will Bayless be at the top of the list again in 2013? I wouldn’t bet against him.

Bob Costas: Costas hit a milestone birthday, turning 60. While it’s just a number, he continued to define his status as perhaps the sportscaster of his generation in 2012. He tied it all together in hosting yet another Olympics for NBC. Even more so, he stepped out on controversial issues: The failure to do a memorial of the slain Israeli athletes at the Olympics and his anti-gun commentary during halftime of a Sunday night game. If sports has a social conscience and voice, it is Costas.

Mark Lazarus: Unlike his predecessor Dick Ebersol, the NBC Sports president took a low profile in being at the helm for his first Olympics. While the tape delay issue had viewers screaming, they still watched in record numbers. Bottom line: The Games even turned an unexpected profit for NBC. Lazarus didn’t have to say much more than that.

John Skipper: The ESPN president oversaw the network’s buying spree in 2012, locking in important long-term rights deals. Skipper also is refreshingly frank. He earned plaudits for admitting that ESPN went overboard with its Tim Tebow coverage.

Joe Posnanski: No sportswriter faced a more intense spotlight than Posnanski. His much-anticipated book Paterno was roundly criticized. The response was so extreme, Posnanski did limited interviews and virtually no public appearances. As a result, his move from Sports Illustrated to being the signature name for the SportsOnEarth site received little fanfare.

Clearly, Posnanski’s book was hurt by a deadline that was moved up to cash in on the timeliness of the story. But even worse, he appeared too close to Paterno and his family to write an objective book that this subject required.

Michelle Beadle: After several months of over-the-top speculation about her future, Beadle bolted ESPN for a package at NBC. She shined in a hosting role at the Olympics. Always entertaining, Beadle will add a new show at NBC Sports Network in 2013.

Erin Andrews: Speaking of over-the-top, Andrews also left ESPN and signed on at Fox Sports. The big lure was a chance to host a primetime college football studio show in advance of Fox’s Saturday night game. Alas, Andrews and the show generally got panned. Look for some changes in a second attempt in 2013.

Chris Berman: Speaking of polarizing figures, it’s often target practice on Berman. His act, once unique and fun in another decade, now is viewed as old and tired. It’s almost as if he has become a characterization of himself. If only he listened to the many people who have to be begging him to tone it down.

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch blew him up several times. Following Berman hosting the NFL draft, he wrote: “The bellowing never stops. It pummels you over the head like a hard rain.”

Of the critics, Berman told Michael Hiestand of USA Today: ”I just talk to people everyday walking down the street,” he says. “That’s what I care about. That’s good enough for me. They didn’t like Ted Williams either. Now, I’m not Ted Williams.”

That is quite true. He is not anywhere close to comparing his situation to Ted Williams’.

As for ESPN making any changes with Berman? Don’t count on it. He signed a long-term deal in 2012.

Jim Rome: Another escapee from ESPN, Rome took his act to CBS, where he was given many platforms. His daily show on CBS Sports Network reaches a limited audience simply because the network still doesn’t register in the mind of most sports viewers. He recently launched a weekly show on Showtime. We’ll see how that goes. In a few weeks, he will take his radio show to the new CBS Sports Radio Network.

The biggest Rome news occurred when he got in a flap with NBA Commissioner David Stern. It stemmed from a poorly-worded question about whether the draft was fixed.

The move to CBS clearly is a work in process for Rome. He knew it would take some time. However, he will want to see some progress in 2013.

Jeff Van Gundy: Van Gundy has emerged as a star for his blunt, honest analysis of the NBA for ESPN. You have to listen closely because he is capable of saying anything at any given moment. He wasn’t shy about criticizing the network when it backed out of a deal to hire his brother, Stan. He’s become one of my favorites.

Bill Simmons: ESPN’s franchise man on so many different platforms was given another toy by being added to NBA Countdown. The studio show is a work in progress, but Simmons’ addition has made for a different feel. A basketball junkie, he has a unique and at times quirky perspective on the game. I have found myself listening to hear what Simmons has to say.

Tim McCarver. The announcer called his 23rd World Series, a record. He also received the Ford Frick Award at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, an honor that was long overdue.

John Clayton: Who knew that the 58-year NFL analyst wore a ponytail, worshipped Slayer, and lived with his mother? The cult of John Clayton grew with one of the year’s best commercials. It even received a tweet from LeBron James.

Darren Rovell: Hey, somebody actually jumps to ESPN. What a concept. Rovell left a gig at CNBC where he was the big fish in a little sports pond. Now he’s swimming among fish of all sizes in the ESPN ocean that is the Pacific. The move has some risks, but Rovell felt when ESPN calls (a second time for him), you dive in.

Frank Deford and Vin Scully: Let’s finish with two legends who still are going strong. Deford wrote his memoirs in a terrific book, Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter. As you would expect from Deford, it was entertaining and insightful, covering more than a generation of sports writing. At age 74, Deford still goes strong with his commentaries for NPR and work on Real Sports for HBO.

What can you say about Scully, the ageless wonder? Now 85, he gave us the best gift possible by deciding to return for yet another year in 2013. Remarkable.










NFL TV experience still doesn’t compare to being at a game

I took the family to a Bears game a few weeks ago. I froze despite wearing long underwear; I had limited perspective with seats in the endzone; and somebody forgot to put the chocolate in the hot chocolate I ordered at the concession stand.

And I loved being there.

There has been some concern of late that the TV production quality for NFL games is so superior that people will choose the comforts of their couch over popping for those high-priced tickets. None other than commish Roger Goodell said: “One of our biggest challenges is the fan experience at home. HD is only going to get better.”

ESPN’s Outside the Lines dedicated Sunday’s show to the issue with a report from Darren Rovell. ESPN.com’s Rick Reilly gave more reasons to skip the drive to the stadium. He writes:

7) The yellow first down line.

8) Your comfy couch. Have you sat in an NFL seat for three-and-a-half hours lately? They’re approximately the size of American Girl Doll tea chairs. This makes no sense. American seats are getting wider while American stadium seats are getting narrower?

I’ve heard all the arguments, and I saw the fans in Rovell’s report who gave up their tickets to watch the games at home.

And I’m here to say that it is not the same.

Watching the game at home still is a mostly passive experience compared to being in the stands. I could doze off or watch 20 minutes of Rudy while channel surfing.

If I really care about the game, I’m definitely focused in. But I’m not nearly as engaged as being there.

I’m not standing up with 60,000 of my new friends on third and 1. I don’t feel the emotional swings of the game as intensely.

I’m not taking in all the colors on the field and in the stands, a scene that can’t be replicated on television. There’s still something unique about walking up the ramp and seeing everything for the first time on that particular day. Watching Chris Berman during the pregame definitely doesn’t compare.

In my mind, TV has been good for a really long, long time. Probably since the NBC peacock announced the upcoming game would be shown in “living color.” The fact that it has improved dramatically only makes it that much better.

I bow to the alter of Scott Hanson and NFL RedZone, the best creation since….beer?

But it isn’t the same as being at a game.

As Rovell pointed out in his report, the NFL needs to enhance the fan experience to keep up with the times. At the game I attended at Soldier Field, I required better Internet access to follow my terrible fantasy team. During breaks, I wanted to see more RedZone-like highlights on the video board. There were too few of them.

And I wouldn’t have minded some chocolate in my hot chocolate.

I’m not saying I want to go to every game. I’m fine with one or two a year and definitely not in late November or December.

I know it can be a hassle with traffic and parking. And sometimes you might sit next to an idiot.

Some things in life, though, are worth making an effort. I think plenty of people agree. Despite the Bears’ horrid effort last night, the cheapest tickets for the Chicago-Minnesota game at Soldier Field Sunday are listed at $120 for high endzone on Stubhub. There’s still something special about being there.

I will be watching from the comforts of my couch Sunday. And I know it won’t be the same.









Can he do Berman? ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown signs on Caliendo

Frank Caliendo wasn’t on the NFL sidelines for long. I would love to see him do Ditka in front of Ditka.

From ESPN:

With a single move, ESPN has added more than 100 new voices to its roster.

Comedian and impressionist Frank Caliendo is joining ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown as a contributor.

His first appearance is this Sunday, Oct. 14 (10 a.m. ET) when he joins Chris Berman and company at the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn.

“As a sports fan, ESPN has always been the place to be,” Caliendo said. “This network is why I graduated (from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) with a broadcasting degree in the first place — and now I finally get to use my degree!”

Caliendo will make a handful of other appearances on the three-hour pregame show during the regular season and playoffs, primarily in taped comedy segments.

“We have always admired Frank’s comedy, impressions and his NFL-centric humor,” said  ESPN’s Seth Markman, senior coordinating producer who oversees the network’s NFL studio shows. “He’s been working on some new material in anticipation of this opportunity which promises to be a great addition to Countdown and to our overall NFL presentation on ESPN.”


Q/A with Rich Eisen: His on-camera emotions about Sabol; progress of NFL Network; the Real Deion

First of two parts:

Rich Eisen tried stand up comedy in a former life. Humor is a big part of his repertoire as the signature host of NFL Network.

Viewers, though, saw another side of Eisen last Tuesday. Eisen was visibly emotional in announcing the death of NFL Network President Steve Sabol. Here’s the link.

Eisen knows how much Sabol meant to his life. Without Sabol, he said, there would be no NFL Network.

Eisen has been there from Day 1 in 2003. He brought the channel on the air, saying “Your dreams have come true.”

Nine years later, it has become a dream job for Eisen, who took a considerable risk by leaving a fairly great gig at ESPN. In addition to his hosting duties on NFL Network, he also has a popular podcast that allows him to hang with stars like Larry David, Matt Damon, Jon Hamm, among many others in Los Angeles. And he ventures even further out of football by hosting a reality show, The Great Escape, on TNT.

In my part 1 of my interview, Eisen discusses Sabol, his on-air reaction, the progress of NFL Network and working with Deion Sanders.

What was is it like going on the air to announce the news of Sabol’s death?

I’m like everyone else my age. I grew up on NFL Films. My love of the game was stoked by NFL Films. I had the fortune to actually meet the man, and call him my colleague and know how he affected my career. Without him, the NFL Network never gets on the air. It wouldn’t be an embryo without him and his dad (Ed Sabol).

So to be the person on NFL Network given the assignment to break the news, it was moving to say the least.

How did you feel about becoming so emotional?

I got a call earlier in the day that this could happen. On the drive in, I’m thinking, ‘Is this really happening? He’s larger than life.’ It just caught me.

My philosophy in broadcasting is if there’s an emotion to the story and you’re feeling it, there’s no shame in showing it. I didn’t even give it a second thought.

Were you thinking about how he impacted your life?

It wasn’t just me. I always have Twitter open. I love to see the reaction from everybody on Sundays. Sabol was trending on Twitter within 15 minutes of the announcement. There was a collective mourning, and people were tuning into our network as if they were laying a wreath on a public memorial.

When I wrote my book about joining NFL Network, I asked Steve to write the foreword. Within 90 hours, it was in my hands. And it was a take on a topic of the book that I never would have thought of.

He’s one of those types of people who are inspirational. I’m not talking about professionally. I’m talking about personally. When we first went on the air, I never met the guy. Within six weeks, there’s an envelope. And it’s a hand-written note from Steve Sabol, saying, ‘Great job.’ Wow, to think this guy would take the time to do it. It was inspirational.

You took a big step leaving ESPN in 2003.

In the grand scheme of things, you could say that. But at the time, if you were going to bet on a start up, a channel about the NFL, run by the NFL, specifically Steve Bornstein, you’d make that bet.

How far have you and NFL Network come in nine years?

I’m thrilled with the way everything has turned out. I love being at the center of the NFL. The idea of the NFL as a year-round venture has become more of a mainstream idea. At one of my last SportsCenter idea meetings in April, ’03, somebody brought up an NFL story and was laughed out of the room. Now ESPN has two live NFL studio shows. This network was created to raise all boats for the NFL.

It’s been great and getting to plant a flag on the podcast. I love the free-form format.

How important is it for the network to go from 8 to 13 Thursday night games?

We all understand it is a valuable commodity. The fact we’re entrusted with more games means a lot. Means more travel. It means a lot of work. But we all understand the value of live NFL programming.

To me, what we do on our postgame show is very special. Watching the players run off the field and come to our set. Some of them just want to hear from Deion, Marshall and Irvin. ‘Tell me how we did.’ That’s great.

We’re in a good place now with 13 games and our Sunday morning show. I’d put that show up against anybody’s. And our game coverage. We’re all very proud of it.

What is it like to work with Deion Sanders. Is he the same off camera?

He’s the same. The most successful people I’ve met are the same on and off the air. Chris Berman. That’s not an act. When I got there in ’96, I observed Berman do a SportsCenter. He only did a couple a year at that point. And the guy who walked into the room for an idea meeting was the same guy I had seen on TV for a decade.

Deion is the same thing. He’s a great broadcaster and teammate. He’s always aware of what other people want to say and how to set it up. Some of my favorite converations with him are about baseball. Listening to him about riding the bus in the minors. I just love everything about him. I’d go through the wall for him.

Tomorrow: Eisen on his podcast: interviewing Larry David; sitting across from Olivia Munn.



SportsCenter at 50,000 shows: Immense impact; Is it less personality driven now?

ESPN loves to mark milestones and anniversaries. I imagine they go through a lot of birthday cakes in Bristol.

Some, though, mean more than others. Thursday at 6 p.m. ET, ESPN will mark the 50,000th airing of SportsCenter.

That’s fairly significant. In this video, George Grande, who hosted the first show in 1979, looks back.

ESPN actually is going low-key with this milestone. It will mark the event with Chris Berman doing a tribute to late SportCenter anchor Tom Mees, who died much too young. Here is the link to Berman’s piece on ESPN Front Row.

SportsCenter definitely has been the franchise for ESPN. I remember in the late 80s, my apartment building in Chicago was extremely slow in getting wired for cable. When I finally got connected, I recall being thrilled at being able watch SportsCenter.

Imagine 30 minutes of nothing but sports and highlights. I was in heaven.

Now ESPN is wall-to-wall SportsCenter on the main outlet, and a 24/7 edition on ESPNNews.

Charley Steiner, a SportsCenter anchor from 1988-2002, said it best during a conference call:

“You’re talking about 18 hours of SportsCenter a day.  We didn’t have 18 hours a week.  We had three 30-minute shows, no re-airs.  The only thing we didn’t have were rabbit ears.  We had a 7:00, an 11:00 and a 2:30 a.m. show, which is where they stuck me in the beginning.  We would go home and tee it up again the next day.”

SportsCenter truly has become an iconic symbol of the network. Much like Saturday Night Live and culture, the program introduced catch-phrases and created new lingo for sports. And it basically sets the agenda, for better or worse (Tebow!).

When you get through everything else, the most important thing SportsCenter does is document the day and night in sports just like a game telecast would document a game,” said Mark Gross, ESPN’s senior vice-president and executive producer.

Added Scott Van Pelt: “I always think when I’m out there, regardless of the hour of the day, how long you’ve been there, whatever the case may be, I never say I have to do SportsCenter, I say I get to do SportsCenter.”

The ESPN conference call, which also included Sage Steele, lasted more than an hour. Thanks to Steiner’s participation, it was enlightening and extremely entertaining.

When it finally became my turn to ask a question (much further back in the line than from my Chicago Tribune days, Josh), I asked if SportsCenter has become less personality driven in its current form?

I definitely think that’s the case. Heck, the ABC show SportsNite was based off the Dan Patrick-Keith Olbermann pairing. And it wasn’t just those two guys. You had Steiner, Robin Roberts, Bob Ley, Mees, Rich Eisen, Stuart Scott, a young Mike Tirico, among others. Then there also was Berman, who was wildly popular back when the majority of people thought his catch-phrases and nicknames were cutting edge.

Now there are so many SportCenter shows and anchors, they all seem to blend together. To me, it seems to be more about the content, and less about the person delivering the content. Maybe, that’s inevitable given the bulk of the shows.

Anyway, here are the responses I got to my question:

Steiner: In those days, remember, technologically we were cavemen compared to where it is now, number one.

Number two, when we were doing our show, the 7:00 eastern with Bob, Robin and I, because there weren’t highlights, by nature, how else do you convey information?  It became more of a writers’ show, more of a repertorial show.  I think that’s why they put Bob, Robin and I together.  Whatever strengths we had, those were them.

Now again, with the ability to get highlights from anywhere and everywhere, from a cell phone to whatever, the dynamic I think of all of the shows is considerably different.

Again, when I started back in the paleolithic era, there were three and a half hour shows.  Morning SportsCenter was a business show.  So comparing us and them, then and now, is a difficult task.

Those were the rules by which we had to play in those days because of what we had at our disposal.

Gross: It’s simple really.  We expect the anchors to be themselves.  We’re not asking Scott, Sage or anybody else to go and invent nicknames, home run calls.  We expect them to be themselves.  If they’re themselves, we’re going to be just fine.

Van Pelt: To that end, I wouldn’t speak for Sage, anybody that ends up on the set has some level of passion for sports, anybody that ends up on that set is in some way, because you’ve seen other people do it, you have some sense of how the show has been done.

But I also think it becomes almost a lazy criticism to say everybody is out there trying out for the Chuckle Hut.  I don’t think everybody treats their Brewer/Red’s highlights to say seven funny things.  If you do, my personal opinion is you’re failing because that’s not the goal.

If you can be organically funny, if a moment presents itself, by all means.  If you have certain things in the way you deliver things, people don’t mind.  I’ll drop a useful shot which is a note to Sam Torrance.  It’s a word and never more than that.  The personality, I always look at it like this, it’s like sugar, and a teaspoon might be enough, but three would want to make you puke.

If you’re authentic, it comes across that way, I think people appreciate that.  I don’t feel like anchors go out there and say, Where are the seven times I can try to be cute, because if they do, again, my own personal opinion is you’d be making a mistake.

Steele: I was going to say when I got the job here five and a half years ago, I was leaving the D.C. area, everybody said, What is going to be your thing?  What are you going to say?  I thought, gosh, I’m not smart enough to come up with something that clever, it’s too hard, forget it.

I am me. They know what they’re hiring. They know who they’re hiring.

Have times changed? Absolutely. The way the shows are formatted, there’s a lot more sponsored elements. It’s a business, and the shows have definitely changed.

Sometimes I even forget I’m on TV, God forbid.  That means you’re out there having fun, owning your highlight.  I don’t think of a cute moment to potentially put in there.  I’m more concerned about this highlight is important, why.  Why do we feel this highlight is important enough to show all the people watching and what’s the story behind it.  Sometimes it’s what you say, not what you see as well.  Too much to worry about out there to be cute.

Check back for more upcoming posts from the teleconference and about SportsCenter at 50,000 shows and counting.











Berman could go all the way…to becoming the most polarizing announcer in sports

Go away for a couple of days, and what do they do? ESPN lets Chris Berman call an NFL game.

Reaction was intense yesterday with the news that Berman will do play-by-play for the San Diego-Oakland game on the Sept. 10, the second game of ESPN’s opening Monday night doubleheader.

Fortunately, ESPN didn’t name Skip Bayless as the analyst for that game. Twitter might have exploded. Instead, Trent Dilfer will be working with Boomer.

Coming off the heels of Berman’s agonizing presence at the U.S. Open, the idea that he actually will call an NFL game did not meet with universal approval to say the least.

Here’s a sample of the outrage.

awfulannouncing Reactions to the ChrisBerman MNF announcement range from “why why why” to “Dear God why?” to “GOD NOOOOO!!!”

BobVorwald Honey, you can have the TV all night on Sep 10 RT

richarddeitsch All we ask as viewers is not to be hoodwinked. So pls. don’t say ChrisBerman on SD-OAK is for fans. It’s a vanity play, pure & simple

Drew Magary of Deadspin did a post ripping apart Berman.

Berman is intolerable even as studio host, even when he’s on the mere fringes of a sporting event. Every time Tirico throws to Berman for a halftime preview during MNF, I tear both labrums reaching for the mute button. Now he’s gonna throw his gunt around and commandeer the booth for a whole game? Christ, that’s the worst.

SportsbyBrooks, which broke the story last week, almost pulled a Twitter groin with a series of angry tweets.

SPORTSbyBROOKS ESPN knows 1) it is indulging Berman 2) he campaigned for it 3) fans lose. Berman’s elaborate denial = PR ruse

The reaction clearly shows that plenty of people really don’t like the guy. The shelf life for his act probably was 20 years. It was fun for a while, but there’s a quota on cute name variations.

Listen, I’m not outraged that ESPN wanted to throw Berman a bone and let him call an NFL game. It’s the second game of a doubleheader, and most people in the East and Midwest time zones probably will be asleep for most of his call.

However, as a golf fan, I have this wish. I hope ESPN said to Berman, “We’ll give you an NFL game in exchange for taking you off the U.S. Open for the rest of time.”

ESPN’s Season-Opening MNF Doubleheader Commentator Teams (2006-present):

Year Game ESPN Commentators
2006 San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders Brad Nessler, Ron Jaworski and Dick Vermeil
2007 Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers Mike Greenberg, Mike Golic and Mike Ditka
2008 Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders Greenberg, Golic and Ditka
2009 San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders Greenberg, Golic and Steve Young
2010 San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Nessler and Trent Dilfer
2011 Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos Nessler and Dilfer
2012 San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders Chris Berman and Dilfer





ESPN exec responds to criticism about Berman: We recognize that his work will never be praised universally

The Chris Berman detractors came out in full force again last week after his performance in the U.S. Open. Giving him such an extensive role on Thursday and Friday is wrong on so many levels, and it just magnifies all of his excesses that the critics hate.

Dan Levy of the Bleacher Report wrote a piece with this opener:

Chris Berman has lost his fastball.

Once the ace of the ESPN announcing crew, Berman—who has been with ESPN since the network first went on the air in 1979—has become the TV equivalent of a junk-ball pitcher, throwing the same stuff at audiences for years in hopes that something still works.

I say he hasn’t lost his fastball as much as he can’t control it. He goes too over the top with too much of his schtick.

John Wildhack, Executive Vice President of Production at ESPN, did respond to the criticism. Naturally, he defended Berman, although he did allow that the big man isn’t universally beloved:

Chris has been in this business for more than three decades. We recognize that his work will never be praised universally.

It seems that at times, criticizing Chris has become a pastime for some, as opposed to presenting an actual review of the work he does. What’s important is he works hard, he’s prepared, he’s extremely passionate about it and he is a huge sports fan which allows him to connect with the sports fans we serve.

Regarding his misplaced role on the U.S. Open, Wildhack said:

Currently, the event portion of Chris’ schedule is less than his NFL studio role. With that said, the U.S. Open Golf assignment is something he’s been doing for a long time. He is an avid golf fan, knows the sport and players extremely well and the USGA supports his involvement every year.

Alice Cooper is a golf nut too, but I doubt ESPN would let him anchor the U.S. Open. For such an important tournament, it’s just too jarring to hear Berman on the call. Let him do a long-drive contest.

As for whether ESPN has asked Berman to tone down his act, Wildhack said:

It’s a delicate balance for sure. Our goal as a content team is to provide an entertaining presentation with authority and personality.

Obviously, the balance may change by event. The Home Run Derby is a fun, exciting program that gets huge viewership. With that said, its popularity and significance is not essentially based on who wins or loses like events such as the BCS Championship or NBA Finals. Our production approach – including where our cameras/microphones can go and how our commentators approach the telecast – reflects that.

I have to believe behind the scenes ESPN has asked Berman to tone it down, but he won’t or just can’t do it at this point.




A no-no: Berman links his situation to Ted Williams

I winced when I saw the quote and I’m sure the ESPN PR folks did too.

In Michael Hiestand’s column about the NFL draft in USA Today, ESPN’s Chris Berman is asked about his critics. This is his response:

 “I just talk to people everyday walking down the street,” he says. “That’s what I care about. That’s good enough for me. They didn’t like Ted Williams either. Now, I’m not Ted Williams.”

Yes Chris, you’re not Ted Williams, but you just compared your situation to that of Ted Williams. Not good.

It’s totally, totally different. If Williams was a good guy and had a good relationship with the press, much like Ernie Banks in Chicago, he doesn’t hear boos in Boston. Williams, though, could be quite nasty, and it took him longer to be beloved.

Berman receives criticism because there are people out there who don’t like his work. The barbs definitely hurt, regardless of what he says.

Berman would have been fine if he ended his quote with “That’s good enough for me.” Instead, he opened the door to more ridicule by linking his name to that of a sporting icon.

That’s dangerous territory, Chris. Don’t do it again.

Saturday flashback: ESPN’s rough coverage of ’81 NFL draft; Questioning why Giants took LT

I’m going to offer a blast from the past on the weekends. It could be an old video, a print interview or profile of a famous newsmaker, or a classic story.

Given that the NFL draft is next week, I thought it would be appropriate to show a clip from ESPN’s coverage in 1981.

The draft was held at the New York Sheraton in a cramped ballroom. They probably had a Bar Mitzvah in it the week before.

My goodness, was this rough from all angles. It looks like a basement-like amateur production compared to the extravaganza you see today.

Check out the crude NFL banner hanging behind Pete Rozelle. Somebody then had to turn on his microphone.

New Orleans selected George Rogers No. 1, and a few minutes later, he stood awkwardly at the podium, unsure of what to say to the crowd.

The coverage was hosted by George Grande with analysis from Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman and Sal Marchiano.

Fast forward to the 7-minute mark, and there’s Chris Berman, with a full head of hair, conducting an interview in a restaurant.

Then at the 8-minute mark, Sam Rosen, in an interview with New York Giants punter Dave Jennings, asked if the team made a mistake choosing a defensive player with the No. 2 pick. That player just happened to be Lawrence Taylor.

And why would ESPN be talking to a punter? Can you imagine when the Colts draft Andrew Luck Thursday, an ESPN producer yells out, “Get me an interview with their punter.”

Yes, the draft has come a long way since then.