CBS’s Jim Nantz on calling Super Bowl 50, Peyton Manning and more
How’s this for an exclusive fraternity: CBS Sports broadcaster Jim Nantz is one of only six living voices (Jack Whitaker, Dick Enberg, Al Michaels, Greg Gumbel and Joe Buck) to call a Super Bowl, an honor he’ll be afforded again on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara. It’s the fourth time Nantz has called the final game of the NFL season, and he’s also served as the studio host for two games. (Nantz, Enberg, Gumbel, Curt Gowdy, Michaels and Whitaker are the only broadcasters to call a Super Bowl game and host the Super Bowl pregame show.)
This year’s Super Bowl game will be the 50th in NFL history and 50 is a number that keeps popping up for Nantz professionally. Along with calling Super Bowl 50, he was the studio host for the 50th NCAA Final Four in 1988 and made his Masters debut for the 50th Masters in 1986. Last week SI.com had a long conversation with the 56-year-old broadcaster on multiple topics, including his revelation that his professional goal is to be part of the CBS Masters broadcast in April, 2036, when he would be 76 years old. Why 2036? That tournament would be the 100th Masters in history.
Richard Deitsch: How much pressure, if any, do you feel when calling an event the magnitude of the Super Bowl?
Jim Nantz: I don’t know if pressure is the right word but I feel every time I am on the microphone, I feel a challenge or an anxiety to get it right. The audience size does not enter into my head. It really doesn’t. I know this game comes with a lot of buildup. It is a milestone Super Bowl, a big deal, and I am honored beyond belief that they are entrusting me with documenting the game. But am I going to be overwhelmed by the fact that there are going to be 100 some-odd million people watching versus 20 million that would watch on a regular Sunday? If you think I would approach it differently, I’m not. No matter the event, a Super Bowl, an NFL game, a rank-and-file golf tournament, there is a demand when you are live and exposed to try to get it right and do justice to the event. That’s the way I have always approached it. In full disclosure, when I was 26 and got called up to the network, I battled nerves big time. I had to conquer that. I think anyone would be lying if they did not say that was the truth. But you get the repetitions, and there has just been so much tonnage of on-air experience for me that I draw from those. The most pressure I ever felt on the air during my career was when my former college roommate (Fred Couples) won the Masters and I was there to present him the green jacket. I was really nervous on that day—April 12, 1992. It was difficult to get the words out.
RD: You will call the 50th Super Bowl, you were part of the 50th Final Four coverage and the 50th Masters in 1986 was your first Masters for CBS. How do you view that symmetry?
JN: I didn’t really realize the symmetry of all this until I was in Kansas City last September. I was being interviewed by our affiliate there. I was asked about calling the 50th Super Bowl and I harkened back to being part of the 50th Final Four in Kansas City in 1988. In the middle of that answer, it also dawned on me that I had been there for the 50th Masters. I have to admit in my first Masters, that being the 50th overall Masters Tournament, I had no knowledge of that at the time. I was just trying to survive it. I was a 26-year old kid. I just was hoping to be invited back a next time.
In Kansas City I was the host of the NCAAs. At halftime when the clock hit zero, Brent [Musburger] threw it to me and I did a 10-second tease. I looked at the graphic and said, “How fitting is this? Our halftime score in Kansas City. Oklahoma 50. Kansas 50. And we’re at the 50th Final Four. And we’ll be back in a moment.” It was a very fitting moment. I was still young. It was my third Final Four and I was starting to get more comfortable getting those assignments. But this [the Super Bowl] is the biggest one. This is America’s favorite sport, favorite event, it blows out everything else as far as interest and audience size.
A couple of weeks ago I was at the Television Critics Association conference and we brought in Jack Whitaker. Jack happens to be a very dear friend, a mentor, an attendee at my wedding. He is a really a part of my life. It’s not just a hit-and-run relationship. He’s a special man in my life. So it hit me last week that the last time I was at the TCA, I was in that very same hotel in Pasadena when we [CBS] got the NFL back. It was Jan 12, 1998, and I was there with the CBS Sports team in advance of the Olympic coverage. [CBS Sports chairman] Sean McManus was in New York making the last ditch attempt to get the NFL back to CBS, to make us whole again. I was in the lobby coming out of the conference when my phone rang. It was Sean and he said one of the first calls was to me because I had stuck around from the old days when CBS had broadcast the NFL. He said, “I just wanted you to know we got it. We are back. We got the AFC Championship.” He said we would have the Super Bowl in our third year, Super Bowl 38. I could not help myself. I started doing the math on it with the rotation of the three networks and if they stayed the same, I realized on that phone call and said to Sean, “If we are the beneficiaries of a few more contract extensions, you know that means? It means we will have Super Bowl 50 on our air.”
The short of it is, this game has been on my mind and the minds of CBS for a long time. Jack was at conference last week—he called the first Super Bowl for CBS and is the last surviving broadcaster for Super Bowl I. A few years ago I was getting an honor in Los Angeles and Jack flew in to be my presenter. I made the comment in that talk and I truly mean this that when I was young boy, I would walk around telling people I wanted to one day work for CBS. That was my goal. It know it sounds like good copy but it’s real, it’s true, it is authentic. I wanted to work for CBS because I loved the way CBS broadcast the Masters and I loved the way CBS presented the NFL. I loved the voices I heard.
RD: How many Masters events would you like to work?
JN: I would like to work 50 Masters Tournaments. That would be the thing that keeps me going. I want to work 50 Masters. Knowing that the Masters always ends on the second Sunday in April every year, I looked it up: My 50th Masters would be April 8, 2035. So I thought that would be the day I would retire. But then I sat down and had an after-dinner drink with Jack after the event he presented me at a couple of years ago. He said I heard what you said up there about doing 50 Masters. I said, “What do you think?” He said, Well, you have to do 51.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well 2036, that will be the 100th playing of the Masters and you need to be there.”
So Jack Whitaker if you will gave me a new goal, redefined what I want the back end of my career to look like. I know it sounds a little crazy. Here we are in 2016 talking like this. But there are great, iconic voices working in their 70s, churning out quality work. This is all subject to be reexamined but I really want to make it to 2036 health willing and CBS willing. I’d really like to do that for Jack Whitaker. I would be 76 years old. There are broadcasters working at that age and even older. I love what I do. Every show is it’s own challenge and I love it. It will be a hard thing to let go of but that is one thing I would love to be able to achieve one day.
RD: You and your partner Phil Simms have had an enormous schedule the last couple of years in terms of games and travel. It’s a grueling schedule for a broadcasting team. What have you discovered in the past two years about your schedule and how realistic is it for one team to do both the Thursday and Sunday games year after year?
JN: I don’t think you could do it unless you got the occasional Sunday off. That’s where you regenerate. You have to have a chance to catch your breath. I am really hopeful that we are going to get it [the Thursday Night package] back. I learned a lot that first year of the Thursday Night package. Where it really gets you is when you have back-to-back doubleheader weeks on CBS. You end up doing five games in 15 days and they are not in the same city usually. When you have those back-to-back stretches, your private life shuts down, you can’t get home, you can’t send personal emails, you can't manage anything because you are just trying to keep your head above water so you can be prepared or the next game. Now, I always cringe when I say this because people might get the short, condensed version and you get comments like, “You are calling football games. Where do I sign up? Quit complaining.”
I never want to complain. I’m just saying it is harder and challenging. It’s not manual labor and I’m grateful for every single second I have doing this as a profession. But that is where it is difficult. You hopscotch to five different cities and what normally takes people a week to prepare for since the NFL began all those years ago, you are now doing five in 15 days. You have to find ways to condense, stay up later. Again, it’s not hard work and I love the process of researching and getting up to speed on a game. I love to read and research. I figure I read 300 to 400 pages a day. I read everything. I am a compulsive reader. But then you do get regional weeks when you are home and when you have children [Nantz has a toddler daughter] and you get to have a Saturday or Sunday or home, that is gold. I had seven of those this season and it meant a lot.
RD: Phil has faced an inordinate amount of criticism this year on social media. Understanding that social media carries its major share of negativity, how would you assess the year he has had, and that you have had as a partnership?
JN: I don’t do that and I would not do that if you asked me about any one of the sports I broadcast. I will tell you this: I am oblivious to what is being said on social media. So you can tell me whatever the feedback is. All I know is that he is a tremendous partner to work with. No one outworks him. I admire the effort he puts into it every time we do a game. It is as thorough as it gets. He watches more film, talks to more coaches and coordinators. He is proud to be going into this Super Bowl which will make him second all-time to Madden for most games called by an analyst. I really admire him. He’s a friend and will always be a friend.
RD: Do you feel your broadcast is as good in 2016 as it has ever been?
JN: Again, they don’t ask me to do that [evaluate himself]. I am really proud of our work. This team has been in overdrive since the Thursday Night production and that has been well received. This group has been together for quite awhile and I really like our team.
RD: You have a relationship with Peyton Manning as a broadcaster but you also have done commercials with him. There’s a relationship that goes beyond the playing field. How should viewers feel about your relationship with Peyton Manning away from the field?
JN: Well, I think you could ask that question about a lot of different athletes that I cover and others in the NFL and other sports as well. I also think that would be a fair question to ask a lot of other broadcasters too. You can’t help but know the stars of the sport that you cover, those that have had longevity like Peyton and Tom Brady have. I respect them. But I am not in steady communication with Peyton. In fact leading up to Week 17 I did not have a conversation with him at all. No text, no email. In fact, I did not have a chance to attend the production meeting with the Broncos because I was sick that week [Week 17]. I have to tell you that what I have seen of Peyton Manning, I really respect. What I have seen of Tom Brady, I really respect. What I have seen of Larry Fitzgerald, I really respect. I respect these guys. From my viewpoint, where I sit, people you enjoy covering are the ones who take advantage of the platform they have been given and they do something with it. That sounds like a lot of ideology but that is where I am coming from. I feel the same way about my life and the platform I have. I have been given a gift and I say this out of deep gratitude. I feel like I have the greatest job in the world. I am so grateful and I better do something with that other than racing around having the best seat in the house at big events.
So I will give you an example of how I know Peyton. This was probably five years ago. He asked me to come to Indianapolis to speak at his annual fundraiser for the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. That day I had a chance to get a glimpse of what he does and how he interacts with people and how much this means to him and what he has done to give back. Pretty remarkable. Now, does that taint how I am going to cover Peyton? I don’t know. I can tell you this: Virtually every top NFL broadcaster has done that exact same event that I just mentioned. Have they been tainted? Or, has that left an impression on them too, that Peyton is doing the most with the gifts that he has to positively influence his community and people less fortunate?
I am aware of what’s evolved off my comments on [WFAN host] Mike Francesa’s radio show. It’s taken on a life of its own and I am a little bit amused by it. I think it really has been misportrayed or overblown and I have been anxious for the chance to clarify that. I have sat back and watched this gain steam and everyone thinks, “Okay, he co-conspired with Peyton or an agent and tried to put an end to this story.” The reality is I made that comment on that Sunday morning, the third of January when they were getting ready to take on San Diego. I went on Mike’s NFL show and Mike asked if I was going to bring it today (meaning on the air, Jan. 3), That’s what he asked me. I said no. It is a non-story. Why breath life into it? Now I was answering a question about it that day. At that point the story was eight days old. It had been discussed and detailed by every NFL pregame show the previous Sunday and was referenced a little bit in the Broncos-Bengals Monday Night Game six days prior.
So in the next six days, the story disappeared. Whether it was viewed as having run through the news cycle or people felt it lacked credibility, I don’t know but it basically disappeared. So here we are six days after the story had gone away and that was my answer for Mike that day. I didn’t know it that morning but as the New York Daily News reported the next day, all the networks, CBS, FOX, NBC, NFL Network, 17 hours of coverage that day, not one mention of it. So if I had it wrong, everyone had it wrong. No one mentioned it. And Peyton was in the discussion that day of all the shows because he was returning to uniform as a backup. So it could have come across at any point but in 17 hours of coverage, not a breath.
RD: How do you feel about your decision as we talk about this today (on Jan. 19)?
JN: We are three weeks later and there is nothing new to the story except they [Al Jazeera America] are getting sued and Al Jazeera America announced it is going out of business. Now if something appeared on the eve of the AFC Championship Game and you are in a fresh news cycle, I would mention it. In fairness to me, that story was uncovered for six days leading into that day and was ignored in 17 hours of coverage. I was not the only voice that made that decision that day.
RD: I want to ask more of a philosophical question on this. As a general rule, how do you feel about discussing negative news of people who you have a relationship with whether it’s Peyton Manning or Robert Kraft?
JN: I have done it my whole career. I have to. I have done it for 30 years. For 30 years I have never had anybody call into question my bypassing a story. Never. You have to realize we are doing the game so you never get into issues and answers. Whether someone has done something newsworthy or it doesn’t shine a bright light on them or something unsavory, it is a tricky thing to try to summarize between two football players. But like everyone else who calls the game, I have learned the art of being able to address it and move on and get back to the game. It goes with the territory.
RD: I work for a place that covers the NFL 365 days a year, including Peter King’s MMQB site, and all of us watch and take notice of the violence of the sport while doing what we do and loving the sport. What do you make of the dichotomy of calling something very violent in front of you such as the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati playoff game and having a significant role in this controlled violence?
JN: That game (Pittsburgh-Cincinnati) still draws a lot of passion and Cincinnati fans are still outraged and rightfully so. There were a lot of things Pittsburgh did in that game as well. It wasn’t just the Bengals that day doing things that did not reflect proudly on the NFL. But as I was doing that game, I was the first to enter the word “disgraceful” into the arena. That is a strong word and I wasn’t hedging given our relationship with the NFL. It is a strong word. I wasn’t hedging or thinking how it would sit on Park Avenue [the NFL Headquarters]. When I saw the back and forth and the tugging on Reggie Nelson’s hair and players coming off the bench, when I saw water bottles being thrown at Ben Roethlisberger as he was being carted off the field with an injury, I kept thinking: “This is so out of control.” I continued to say that … And Phil gave some very strong comments. He said it was a disgrace and a sad day for the NFL. I was really proud of our crew that day. No one pulled any punches. If anyone thinks we are not trying to speak the truth, I think they should go back and listen to that broadcast.
RD: What is the most important thing for you during the Super Bowl regarding preparation?
JN: I will say that having the actual week in between spreads it out a bit. You are anxious for the game to come along and break out in front of you. One of the benefits of having Thursday Night Football is we are familiar with the whole league now and not just the AFC, as well. We have seen everyone on the AFC side and I have had a steady diet for years of New England and Denver and Peyton [Manning] and Tom [Brady]. I call the games we are assigned and we call the best games and they are on the best teams. We have had a very high number of games involving them including eight times Brady-Manning. And Phil did several others before I joined him.
For the two-week process, you don’t get more exposure to the teams than you do in a regular week. On Wednesday we will go to one practice for maybe three or four hours and then Thursday we will do the other team. The greatest benefit for me preparing to call a Super Bowl were two discussions I had with gentleman who had been there. They offered me some pertinent advice. I will give you another Jack Whitaker story. When I prepared for my first Super Bowl to call, I went to Palm Springs, Calif., to meet with Jack two weeks before the game. We had dinner. He told me a story about Super Bowl I. CBS and NBC were both broadcasting Super Bowl I and we at CBS had four broadcasters for that game—Ray Scott, Jack Whitaker, Frank Gifford and Pat Summerall. Ray called the first half, Jack called the second half, Frank was the analyst and Pat was on the sidelines and did postgame interviews. So Jack waited the whole first half to get his swings in.
It was a 10–7 game at the half, and Jack recalled to me the second half kickoff. There was a tackle made on the kickoff, a pretty pedestrian play. All of a sudden they are lining back in kickoff formation. Technology not being what it is today, there were no mic’d officials at the time and Jack did not get the immediate explanation. It bothered him. He could not tell his audience what had happened and why they were re-kicking the ball. Why was there a mulligan in the Super Bowl? What was then relayed to him a short time later was NBC was in commercial and they decided to kick it again. Hard to imagine today a Super Bowl having a phantom play. So I took away from Jack this piece of advice: Be ready for the opening kickoff. That’s what he kept repeating. I took it literally to mean you never know what could happen. Something can happen like what happened to Jack. Be on sensory overload. I took it to mean more figuratively, that every play is its own chapter in a larger book.
So I went into my first Super Bowl call (Super Bowl XLI, February 2007) with a mindset of “I am going to restart with every single play and kick myself into thinking this might be the play of the game so I will be ready.” Fast forward and we are in Miami for the game. [Producer] Lance Barrow calls for an on-camera right before kickoff, one last final thought. I come on camera with Phil and I thought this is the perfect time. I wanted Jack to know I was thinking of him and Pat to know too. Pat was a dear friend and a mentor and we worked side by side on golf for 10 years. I wanted Frank Gifford—who was alive at the time and I didn’t know as well—to know that I knew he worked Super Bowl I for CBS. Those were the voices of my youth and I have always respected the history of the medium. So we are approaching Super Bowl 41, and I say this is the 16th time CBS has broadcast the Big Game. We were there for Super Bowl I and it was broadcast by Ray Scott, Jack Whitaker, Frank Gifford and Pat Summerall. Then I gave it to Phil for a last thought. The truck came off of us and then to a shot of [Colts kicker] Adam Vinatieri putting the ball on the tee. I had that little kickoff thought and tried to channel Jack’s be ready for the opening kickoff. I mentioned that Vinatieri would be kicking to the most dangerous return man in the NFL and the Colts had trouble covering kicks all year, last in the league in kick coverage.
Now the ball is in the air, the flashbulbs go off, that paparazzi moment as the ball landed in Devin Hester’s arms. He took it the distance for the first and only Super Bowl kickoff TD [on the opening play] in NFL history and all I could thinking was as he was running down the field, slow motion in my mind, I was thinking about Jack. I was thinking be ready for the opening kickoff and here it was being returned for a touchdown, something that has never happened before.
My first Super Bowl call was probably my favorite call of my career. Hester galloped all the way to the end zone for what remains the only Super Bowl kickoff return in NFL history.
RD: That’s pretty cool.
JN: Three years ago, before doing the Super Bowl in New Orleans, I did a golf championship before the AFC Championship and Super Bowl. We had the occasion to be in San Diego and I had dinner with Dick Enberg. It was a blessing having Dick at the end of his career come to CBS and be someone I could kind of hang around with a few times a year. I respect him so much. So during dinner I was picking his brain and he told me during the 1983 Super Bowl game, he and Merlin Olsen came on the air and they were having audio issues, feedback in their headset. They would hear their words back in their headset, very confusing and disorienting. Dick said he was so upset. He went through the whole first quarter being more spare than he had ever been in his career. It was just confusion. This is my interpretation of how he called the game: He was doing more of a name, rank and serial number call. There were the ambient sounds and the excitement of the stands bleeding into the broadcast. It was a pulsating feel jumping off the screen at home.
So Dick’s call was more of a down and distance, ballcarrier, tackler, yardage gained, and Merlin’s commentary matched up with that. It was very short and succinct and a lot of space filled by crowd noise. Anyway, Dick wasn’t happy. Then he says you know what happened, I got back to the hotel after the game and people said, “Man, you have never sounded better in your career. That was awesome the way you approached the game. It was jumping off the screen. All those layouts made the game gigantic.” So Dick told me you might want to remember that when you call the game in New Orleans in a couple of weeks. I thought, “Man, that is a great approach as opposed to drowning people with all the information that you have cobbled, instead of showing off your research.” I mean, people watch this game in large gatherings. It’s a party. And people are talking as they watch. The game is viewed differently. It’s so big it is bouncing off the walls in your house. I mentioned that conversation in our production meeting the night before the game. We went with that approach down in New Orleans and I intend for us at the start of the game in Santa Clara on Feb. 7 to be very similar.
I can talk about this game a million different ways. I could do the game right now, I really could. You tell me the teams and I can call the game right now. I know the names, the numbers, the anecdotes, the information. I trust my memory. It is there right now. That does not mean I won’t start from zero but the point is to be able to able to harness yourself and realize the big picture, that this event and what is happening on that field. You don’t get in the way. This game is not about you.
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most compelling sports media stories)
1. Strong directing by longtime CBS NFL hand Mike Arnold in the aftermath of the Broncos’ 20–18 win over the Patriots on Sunday. Arnold rightly stayed with Peyton Manning immediately after the game and the sequence of shots in order: Tom Brady and Peyton Manning talking; Patriots coach Bill Belichick embracing Tom Brady; Brady walking off the field dejectedly; Manning embracing New England special teams player Matthew Slater; Manning embracing Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower; back to Brady walking off the field, all framed by streaming confetti. Viewers really felt like they were on the middle of Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Well done.
1a. The Wall Street Journal reported that the NFL is seeking a sizable rights fees increase for its Thursday Night package as well as splitting the package among multiple broadcasters. According to the WSJ, the league wants to divide the schedule between two broadcast networks as well as the NFL Network. The WSJ reported that CBS (the current rightsholders) and NBC are in the lead.
2. Sam Farmer is the lead NFL writer for the Los Angeles Times, a position he has held for the last 16 years. With the Rams moving to Los Angeles for the upcoming season, I sent him a couple of questions on the media coverage ahead:
Richard Deitsch: As specific as you can, how does Los Angeles getting a football team change your job?
Sam Farmer: I was a Raiders beat writer for the San Jose Mercury News from 1995–2000, before coming to the Los Angeles Times. For the past 16 years, I’ve had the unique job of covering the NFL in a massive market that doesn’t have a team. That afforded me all types of different opportunities that I wouldn’t have had as a beat writer, among them traveling to Germany with Paul Tagliabue to visit U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, traveling with an officiating crew, climbing Mt. Rainier with Roger Goodell, spending a week during the Seahawks season with Pete Carroll and sitting in the ABC Monday Night Football booth with Al Michaels and John Madden. Some really cool stuff.
Getting a team will change that, even if I’m not slated to be the beat writer and instead will continue as the overall league guy. The excitement and passion for the NFL will be ramped up in Los Angeles, but we will also be viewing the league through a prism that hasn’t existed for two decades. The combine: Who might be a fit for the Rams? The draft: Who are the Rams going to take? Free agency: Rams. You get the idea. If there are two teams in L.A., same drill.
It’s funny, throughout the years people have said, “I bet you can’t wait to get a team of your own.” Well, for 16 years, I haven’t written about a backup left guard, or fixated on whether it’s a guy’s right or left ankle that’s sprained. I’ve been able to cherry-pick the best stories all around the league, and build relationships not only with players and coaches, but with league staff and executives, as well as team owners.
RD: What kind of press coverage do you anticipate the Rams will get locally and why?
SF: Judging by the coverage of the Los Angeles Times, this is going to be a big, big story for a while. Virtually every day since the Rams were awarded the market, we’ve had stories dominate not only the front of our sports section, but often the front page of the paper. I’m actually a little surprised by the reaction both in the media and general public, because up to this point there was a bit of a too-cool-for-school apathy about the NFL. Los Angeles took pride in the fact it wasn’t going to sit up and beg for an NFL team, that it didn’t mind consuming football from the couch—or doing one of 100 other things on a Sunday afternoon. But now that the NFL is coming, there’s a buzz here like I’ve never felt. My wife said her Facebook feed is filled with people she didn’t think cared about football now chattering about the Rams. I went to the grocery store yesterday, and whoever stacked the soda boxes did it in the shape of the NFL shield. It has only been a week, but the NFL vibe seems to be everywhere.
RD: Why do you think this will be a huge news story for the entire season in Los Angeles?
SF: This isn’t just a story about an individual NFL franchise. It’s more the story of the Los Angeles market, which for years was more valuable without a team, as a leverage point—read: sledgehammer—than with a team. A lot of people have tried to characterize the market as halfhearted fans who only go to games to be seen, and who’ll lose interest after the first lousy season. Here’s betting most of the people who make those sweeping generalizations haven’t even visited Los Angeles. I think the market is much more robust and engaged than that late-arriving, early-leaving stereotype. But that will be part of the hugeness of the story, the reunion of the nation’s No. 1 sport and No. 2 market. Hollywood loves a comeback.
3. Episode No. 38 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Fox NFL analyst Troy Aikman. In this episode, Aikman details in-depth how he prepares for a broadcast, what kinds of questions he is asking of coaches and players, how he gets evaluated by his bosses, where he sees his evolution as a broadcaster, why while following the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl in Arizona in 2008 he was as depressed professionally as he had ever been, how he views the concussion issue and what role he should take on it as a broadcaster, balancing work and family life, how he approaches talking about the Cowboys on-air, his respect for partner Joe Buck, why he wishes he could work in a booth with Don Meredith and much more.
A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, and you can view all of SI's podcasts here. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions, please comment here or tweet at Deitsch.
4. Non-sports pieces of note:
• From McSweeneys: “Millennial Think-Piece Bingo”
• From The Guardian: Alexander Litvinenko: The man who solved his own murder
• Via Terrence McCoy of The Washington Post: How it feels to be a poor mother living without heat in the middle of a blizzard
• From Aeon: Disturbing essay on ISIS as a revolutionary movement and why it could be here to stay
• From The Washington Post: What if Flint’s water was poisoning rich kids?
• Via New York Times Magazine: Why Is It So Difficult for Syrian Refugees to Get Into the U.S?
• The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson on Michigan officials’ disdain for the people of Flint
• From Pickup Artist to Pariah, via New York Magazine
Sports pieces of note:
• ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg on Tom Brady
• SI’s Ben Baskin on Jackie Smith’s famous drop in the Super Bowl
• Hardball Times writer Stacey Gotsulias wrote with poignancy about her relationship with her dad and how baseball brought them together:
• Nice work by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with this project that catches up with a pair of Steelers Super Bowl teams
• Great piece from MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas on what goes on when teams interview prospective head coaches
5. The Sporting News had a roundtable of writers offering thoughts on NFL announcers
5a. ESPN Radio host Dan LeBatard announced on his radio show Friday that ESPN has asked him to go to Cuba with his parents—Cuban exiles—when MLB plays games in Cuba (Games are airing on ESPN). The host said his mother did not want to go on the trip—her animus for the Castro regime is understandably strong—and LeBatard embarked on an interesting segment on the multiple emotions he would feel (anger, excitement etc.) if he made the trip with other family members but not his mother. Interesting radio.
5b. On Saturday I emailed asking if ESPN commentator Bob Ryan had been suspended for his comments on ESPN Radio about fellow ESPN colleague Mark Jackson. The network referred me to this PR statement on Jan. 8 and declined additional comment. On Sunday, The Big Lead website reported that Ryan had been suspended and returned on Sunday to ESPN’s regular rotation of talkers. ESPN’s lone consistency on suspensions over the past two years has been that they weigh attacks on their own people far more severely than NBA MVPs and other athletes.
5c. Whit Albohm, a well-liked coordinating producer at ESPN who has worked closely with ESPN2 shows First Take, His and Hers and SportsNation, has left the network to take a larger development and production job at FS1. He’s the fourth (as of now) senior-level ESPN producer hired by FOX Sports National Networks President Jamie Horowitz, who has poached a couple of his producing pals as he turns FS1’s morning and afternoon blocks into Thirsty Takes and millennial bashing. Albohm, according to multiple ESPN-ers I trust, was well-liked and respected by management, other producers and on-air talent. Keep this in mind: Albohm has a great relationship with Skip Bayless, whose current ESPN contract expires this summer.
5d. The longtime NFL writer Dan Pompei (Bleacher Report, Sports on Earth, Chicago Tribune etc.) has a new website, danpompei.net, focusing on the NFL. “I started this website because I think it has become important for people like me to foster and maintain our brands,” Pompei said. “This is not something I thought about much in my previous three decades as a member of the media, and in fact, I would have been uncomfortable with this. But given how this business is evolving in unpredictable and potentially volatile ways, I now see the value in self-advocacy. I also have my fingers in a number of pies. This concept enables me to offer one-stop shopping for all of those pies.”
5e. ESPN drew a 2.9 overnight for its Saturday Night debut of the NBA on ABC, the highest-rated non-Christmas Day NBA game this season across all NBA networks.
5f. Last week’s Aston Villa-Leicester City match on NBC last weekend drew one million viewers, the sixth match this season to pass the one-million mark and the first match on NBC not featuring Manchester United, Man City, Chelsea or Arsenal to deliver over one million viewers.