Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed is used to delivering shots but on Sunday afternoon he took one from an unlikely figure:
"Clooney said to me, "Hey, Reed, you hurt me bad -- I'm a Bengals fan,' Reed told SI.com Sunday night. "I told him, 'Hey, man, they hurt themselves!' But it's awesome he's a Bengals fan. I really enjoyed talking with him."
Of all the red-carpet reporters working in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon, only one was a sure-fire NFL Hall of Fame safety. Reed got his first taste of broadcasting -- a profession he's thinking about when he retires -- as an Oscars correspondent for The Rich Eisen Podcast. He and Eisen producer Chris Brockman stood at the mouth of the Dolby Theatre in L.A.-- sandwiched between a Chinese television station and a Spanish language network -- and interviewed a ton of Hollywood A-listers including Clooney (alongside former Ravens cheerleader Stacy Keibler), Jennifer Hudson, Zoe Saldana, Chris Tucker, Kathryn Bigalow, and Naomie Harris. Reed's interviews will be seen Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. ET when "The Rich Eisen Combine Special" airs on The NFL Network. (The audio portion of the special will post on NFL.com/iTunes on Wednesday afternoon.) Here's a preview of Reed's work.
"Usually I'm the guy not doing interviews," said Reed, when asked to analyze his work. "I'm focusing on my job. So to do something different was fun. I think I did all right."
How did the assignment come about? Eisen had Hines Ward work the red carpet last year and given the host thought the segment was a success, he wanted to repeat it. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was Eisen's initial choice ("Who better to put in a tux and plop in the middle of the glitziest event in American pop culture than the Gronk?," Eisen said) but Gronkowski pulled out last week, leaving Eisen and Brockman scrambling. Eisen said he had met Reed over the course of covering several Pro Bowls and liked him immensely. He offered him the gig and Reed accepted. "He's an incredibly engaging, hilarious, normal person who just happens to also be a Hall of Fame athlete," Eisen said.
"It's the Oscars, man, the Super Bowl of movies," Reed said. "I'm a big movie fan and it was dream come true to be among stars in a different field."
As Oscar tradition warrants, Reed, decked out in a purple-tinted tuxedo, purple bow tie and black and purple shoes, asked Hudson and Saldana who they were wearing. He also made his way backstage (thanks to a Ravens-friendly security guard) and chatted up Jamie Foxx. "I also shook hands with Halle Berry," Reed said. "I wanted to take a picture with her but she walked out so quick. Beautiful woman, man."
Reed said he might be interested in broadcasting after his NFL career ends but knows he needs "a lot of coaching." Said Reed: "I think I would enjoy it. It's just a question of how much time it would be away from my family."
Along with his weekly audio podcast -- David Duchovny is booked for the week of March 6 -- Eisen's podcast has morphed into one-hour television specials for the NFL Network around the major tentpoles of the NFL calendar. He cited his two producers (Chris Law, who produces the audio version for NFL.com and iTunes, and Brockman, who edits the conversations into a TV version) for their tireless work to make it a success. Asked for his three dream podcast guests, Eisen said Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart and actress Mila Kunis.
"My official movie reviewer of the podcast is [former NFL coach] Jim Mora Sr. -- his father worked on the Twentieth Century Fox lot for decades and Jim has been a movie buff since birth," Eisen said. "In several appearances reviewing movies or making Oscar picks, Jim has called Mila Kunis 'a fox' and has sworn to me that he better be invited if I ever get Ms. Kunis in studio. It's a mission to make this happen."
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the weekend)
1. Fox Sports dutifully played the role of Captain Louis Renault yesterday during its pre-race coverage of the Daytona 500. Working as auxiliary PR for NASCAR, the network gave short shrift to the 12-car accident during Saturday's Nationwide Series race that injured at least 28 fans in the Daytona International Speedway grandstands (My colleague Lars Anderson called it the worst racing incident he had witnessed involving injured fans in his 10 years on the NASCAR beat.)
Race announcer Mike Joy did read over a 20-second highlight of the crash early in the pre-race show and included a one-sentence mention of those injured ("We are ready to race, but 14 people were taken to local hospitals, two of them critically injured," said Joy.) Viewers then saw plenty of packaged features, from the debut of the Generation 6 car (which touched on safety but only in positive strokes) to an interview with Brad Keselowski that painted him as NASCAR's James Dean to live music from the Zac Brown band.
Host Chris Myers did ask driver Michael Waltrip and analyst Darrell Waltrip about the accident 10 minutes into the broadcast, which was good, but there was no report from the hospital, no interviews with the families of those hurt in the accident, no interviews with fans about the safety of attending the Daytona 500 and no sitdown interview with Nascar president Mike Helton. Thankfully, there was time to interview actor James Franco, who once starred in Pineapple Express.
Unlike the see-no-evil Renault from Casablanca, Darrell Waltrip seemed to at least understand that the impact of the accident was a big story. "When drivers get hurt, that's our problem," Waltrip said. "But when fans get hurt, that's everybody's problem." Fox eventually updated the story 127 minutes into its coverage (and after a wreck) when Myers gave a 60-second update on those who had been taken to the hospital.
1a. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio host Claire B. Lang was sensational Saturday evening with her coverage of the Daytona Nationwide accident. Measured with her reporting, asking smart questions of drivers and thoughtful with callers, Lang stayed on the air hours beyond her normal shift, barely taking a break. Praise, too, for the SPEED channel (especially host Adam Alexander and trackside reporter Bob Dillner) for fine work with witness interviews, updating injuries with reports from the Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, and live shots of the raceway after the accident. SPEED also provided smart thoughts from contributor Kyle Petty, the son of Richard Petty and a longtime driver. (SPEED is owned by Fox Sports and clearly outshined big brother on this story.)
1b. ESPN was rightly lambasted by plenty for some curious decisions on Saturday regarding the Nationwide accident, including leading with Danica Patrick on a SportsCenter intro prior to crash details and an initial lack of images from those injured at the track. Those criticisms were fair. From what I saw later in the evening, though, ESPN caught up well on the journalism front, giving the story the attention it deserved.
1c. Fox experimented again with "side-by-side" ads, meaning it stayed with the live coverage in the upper right hand box of your TV screen while ads played in the center. As a long-term play, this is a good development for both sports viewers and advertisers.
1d. Myers did an excellent job in the post-race coverage, providing the audience with salient information and ably playing traffic cop from pit reporter to pit reporter.
1e. Fox released the overnight ratings for the Daytona 500 on Monday morning. The race drew a 10.0 rating, up 30 percent over last year and the highest overnight rating for the race since 2006. The top local markets? Greensboro, Indianapolis and Charlotte.
1f. Production-wise, Fox is usually strong at major events and so was the case at Daytona. On the last lap of the race, race director Artie Kempner was on his game, switching between a multi-car crash behind the leaders and quickly back to the front of the pack.
1g. Julie Sobieski, an ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions, said her network is interested in renewing its deal with NASCAR when the negotiating window on the current contract opens later this year. (ESPN's current deal, which includes the rights to the Chase for the Sprint Cup races at the end of the Sprint Cup Series, ends in two years.) "We have a long history with this sport," Sobieski said. "We're certainly interested in continuing our relationship with NASCAR." Last October, NASCAR and Fox announced a $2.4 billion, eight-year extension that runs through 2022 and kept the first third of the Sprint Cup Series (including the Daytona 500). Turner Sports carries six Sprint Cup midseason races.
2. Another month, another example of Colin Cowherd dropping socioeconomic nonsense on ESPN Radio with zero reporting. The man who judged leadership in sports on an athlete's paternal lineage and declared that those in rural Indiana and Ohio have brought unemployment on themselves has now inferred that the Indiana Pacers' attendance woes are rooted in race, an argument debunked (far too classily) by Indianapolis Star sports columnist Bob Kravitz. What's that sound you don't hear? Oh, that would be ESPN management. Worth noting is Cowherd's show returned to the FM dial in Indianapolis on Feb. 19, the same day he made his comments.
3. If you read this space, you already know my feelings about ESPN2's First Take and its collection of on-air monorail salesmen. ESPN president John Skipper has addressed issues about the show in multiple places, including recently with Newsday's Neil Best. But I was curious to ask Skipper a question that he hasn't been posed: In his opinion, why has First Take been criticized as much as it has?
Skipper offered a long response, and readers can judge for themselves:
"Oh, I think it's a lightning rod. You have two personalities in Stephen [A. Smith] and Skip [Bayless] who tend to ignite polarizing opinions. They are both smart guys, even though you have been critical of the format. Here is what I think is unfair to the show, the notion that 'Gee, don't you guys at SportsCenter feel a little queasy that this show is here?' We are a great big company, with lots of networks, lots of different kind of genres of show. Because we are ESPN, there is no place to hide behind. It's not, 'There's the news division, there's the reality series division, there is the games division.' We are going to do a breadth of different kind of shows. There is criticism in the context of, 'Gee, it's not journalism.' Everything we do is not journalism. The show itself attracts a real audience. Maybe the "Embrace Debate" thing almost invites a little backlash.
"I also have no objection to scrutiny. We need scrutiny because of our position. We get that, and I think that's a good thing and we generally react to it. If we think it's fair, we will make changes. I did make a statement after [the over-coverage of Tim] Tebow, saying, 'Guys, come on now.' Rob Parker, too. Part of it is there is so much volume. There is going to be a mistake here or there. I am anxious to see as when our competitors do similar hours if they are capable of not saying something stupid."
4. SportsGrid, the plucky sports and opinion website founded by the ABC legal analyst Dan Abrams, has been acquired by Fantasy Sports content provider RotoExperts. The formal announcement is expected Monday. The new entity -- following a summer redesign -- will live on SportsGrid.com, which has long produced entertaining sports media posts. "I've been looking for the right partner to transition RotoExperts from a fantasy sports business to a broader media company with a focus on fantasy sports," said RotoExperts founder Louis M. Maione in an email. "The plan is not to change the tone, content, name, or URL of SportsGrid, just to expand it by fusing sports entertainment news and fantasy entertainment in one ultimate destination."
Maione said RotoExperts has been contributing original fantasy content to SportsGrid for nearly a year, and the new entity will have additional RotoExperts fantasy content, including a 24-hour daily fantasy sports video content. Those who listen to SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio are likely familiar with the weekday RotoExperts morning show featuring staffers Scott Engel, Adam Ronis & Dr. Roto.
5. How worried is ESPN about losing talent to Fox Sports, which next month will announce plans for cable channels Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2? Not much, according to ESPN's president. "I can say sincerely that we don't worry," Skipper said. "It's natural. We have a thousand [on-air] people under contract so there really is no other farm system out there but ours. The notion that there has been some significant migration [from ESPN] is not true. We will lose some people, but that's okay because it will provide some opportunity from other people."
6. Among the memorable pieces this week:
? The National Post (Canada) had a remarkable graphic on how Oscar Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp.
? ESPN The Magazine's Scott Eden wrote a sensational piece on one of the world's best NBA gamblers.
? As always, The Economist's weekly obits are brilliant. Check out this one on Chinese table tennis champion Zhuang Zedong.
? Golf Digest's Franz Lidz had a terrific profile of The Golf Channel analyst David Feherty.
? Boston Globe reporter Callum Borchers examined nonprofits operated by professional athletes and found some troubling numbers:
? A non-sports piece all should take note of: This New York Times piece on love was written by a 17-year-old. Extraordinary.
7. Will there be a repeat on ESPN of the overwhelming Tim Tebow coverage we saw this NFL season? I asked Skipper how confident he was that his network's all-Tebow, all-the-time ethos would not be repeated. "Oh, I'm not confident," Skipper said, laughing. "Look, it's always a balance. We are going to go after some stories that people are interested in. But I have asked everyone to be cognizant when we are into our last hour of SportsCenter to get some other things in. I think you will notice we have been doing some unusual stories, some features. It is an ongoing process."
8. How will Ray Lewis do as an analyst for ESPN? I asked his longtime teammate. "Ray is very passionate and he understands the game," Reed said. "One of the ultimate football players. Once he gets coaching, I know he'll do a great job. I remember him being on a TV panel a couple of years ago and he was great. Ray is built for it. He understands what people want and we need people who understand the game talking about it."
8a. Former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli has been hired by SiriusXM NFL Radio to work as a contributor throughout the year. Pioli also worked last week for the NFL Network, serving for both entities as an analyst for coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine. Is Pioli interested in a career in broadcasting? Unclear. He declined comment via NFL Network PR when SI requested an interview on his broadcast work.
9. The St. Louis Dispatch reported last week that Fox has had preliminary discussions about broadcaster Joe Buck doing play-by-play for a handful of Cardinals games on FS Midwest. But here's the catch: Buck would push the traditional play-by-play announcer role by chatting with players on the bench or in the bullpen during the game
9a. After 58 years of broadcasting baseball, Joe Garagiola announced his retirement last Wednesday at a news conference in Scottsdale. The Arizona Republic spoke to the 87-year-old Garagiola about his five decades in broadcasting.
10. Turner Sports analyst Charles Barkley is a fan of Knicks center Tyson Chander. "He's probably the most underrated player in the league," Barkley said.