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CBS Sports Radio Wants Taz To Be Taz

“All Taz wants to do is be Taz and talk sports. That means you’re going to hear about his kid’s lacrosse career, and of course there will be some stories from his wrestling days too.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Nineteen years ago, the wrestler known as Taz made a decision that would change the life of the man named Peter Senercia. If you didn’t know, Taz and Peter are the same guy. Also, if you didn’t know, the change had nothing to do with wrestling.

Taz was already a star during his run in Extreme Championship Wrestling. His defection to the WWF (remember, this was pre-rebrand) was big news in the industry, and the way the WWF chose to introduce him to their fans was even bigger news. 

He was the mystery opponent that would face Kurt Angle at the Royal Rumble in 2000. It was a perfect introduction. Taz made Angle submit, and ended the former Olympian’s undefeated streak at Madison Square Garden.

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So how did he go from that life to one that has him waking up well before dawn every morning to talk about Carson Wentz’s health or whether or not Anthony Davis will join LeBron in Laker Land? 

His journey to a nationally syndicated sports radio show began, naturally, in the professional wrestling world. Long before he and Marc Malusis were handling morning duties for CBS Sports Radio, Vince McMahon was tricking Taz into auditioning for a role at the broadcast table on Smackdown.

“I got a couple of injuries. I tore my bicep and I had this recurring neck injury,” Taz told me as we sat in an empty office at CBS Sports Radio’s Manhattan headquarters in September. 

It was the middle of 2001. The writers had put him in a feud with Smackdown color commentator Jerry “the King” Lawler. Vince had an idea to have Taz show how little he respected Lawler by doing his job for one match.

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“They wanted me to sit in for the opening match as a color commentator, mocking him and working with Michael Cole. Just one match, then Jerry was supposed to attack me from behind and take back his seat,” Taz said. 

“I was like ‘Cool. Yeah. No problem.’ And then I did the match and then I sat there. I was waiting for someone in my headset to tell me to leave, because Jerry Lawler never attacked me.”

Taz wasn’t the only one that was confused. As match after match started and ended he sat at the table with play-by-play man Michael Cole. 

“I didn’t get it. I looked at Michael Cole and he was like ‘I don’t know, man.'” You can sense some frustration in his voice as he tells the story. “Guys come out, they wrestle, and I’m like ‘What’s going on here? Why am I just calling all these matches?'”. 

Jerry Lawler eventually did attack him from behind, it just took longer than Taz was told it would. “I forgot he was coming. I mean, like, it really hurt.”

When he got back to the locker room, Vince McMahon told Taz that he liked the way Taz sounded. The only response Taz could come up with was “What do you mean?”

That is when Vince explained his vision for the next phase of Taz’s career. Injuries were mounting for him. Usually, wrestlers in that situation get released. They either retire or head back to the independent circuit working for a fraction of a fraction of what they got in the WWF. But that wasn’t what Vince wanted for Taz.

The travel schedule was taking its toll on Lawler, who was handling analyst duties on both Smackdown and Monday Night Raw. The WWF needed someone to take over those duties on Smackdown, and Taz made his home in the suburbs of New York City. It would be no problem at all for him to make the hour trip to the company’s Stamford, Connecticut headquarters to receive the training necessary to turn him into a star.

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Taz would hold various broadcasting roles for the company until 2009. That didn’t mean he was entirely done in the ring. He would win a tag team championship in 2002, and when his time at the WWE was over, he would join the TNA Wrestling brand. 

But something else happened while he was calling matches for the WWE that got us from there to here with Taz’s career.

Michael Cole, who had spent time working for CBS Radio as a reporter before finding his way to professional wrestling, had a connection at a radio station in Houston. This connection called Michael and said that Smackdown would be taping an episode at the Toyota Center while his morning show was on vacation for the holidays. Did Michael and Taz want to fill in on the show?

Cole pitched Taz on the idea. In his mind, it made total sense. The WWE was going to pay for their flight no matter when they got to Houston. Why not go a day or two early and have some fun on the radio?

Taz didn’t see it that way. “I didn’t want to do it, and he’s like ‘Taz, just do it. Come on. It’ll be fun.’ I said ‘Radio’s hard dude! I’m a TV guy and radio is very hard!’ I knew that much.”

Cole eventually won him over. They did the shows, and Taz was hooked. It wouldn’t be the last shows the duo would do together on radio either. They would go on to host a week of shows on Howard Stern’s Sirius channel and then periodically on New York’s Free FM.

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Taz says the fact that radio was so hard is why it appealed to him and made him want to be on the air more. Michael Cole told me in an email that it wasn’t as hard for Taz as Taz thinks.

“Taz is a natural broadcaster. He has a very unique take on a wide variety of subjects and really connects with the audience.”

Mark Chernoff must have seen that natural talent too. The Format Captain for sports radio at Entercom isn’t putting just anyone in morning drive on any of his stations, let alone on the company’s nationally syndicated network. 

When I asked him if he could see skills from Taz’s WWE days translating into his radio career Chernoff said, “Well, he’s an entertainer and if you don’t know how to entertain then being in the media and being on a daily radio show probably isn’t for you.

“You can’t teach entertainment. You know, people can pick up knowledge as they go, but personality and entertainment? Either you have it or you don’t. He’s got it. If you just talk to him off the air, he’s entertaining. He’s got a big personality.”

That big personality is key to what Taz and Marc Malusis do every morning on CBS Sports Radio, because all Taz wants to do is be Taz and talk sports. That means you’re going to hear about his kid’s lacrosse career, and of course there will be some stories from his wrestling days too.

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See, Taz may not make a living in the ring anymore, but he is still wrapped up in the business. He’s never given up The Taz Show, his thrice-weekly podcast where he gives opinions and responds to listeners’ opinions on the most recent developments in professional wrestling. 

If you’ve ever looked at ESPN or Fox and noticed how much their websites devote to WWE coverage or how often WWE Superstars show up on those networks, you have seen the reach of Taz’s influence. Radio.com, which hosts The Taz Show, was the first outlet that wasn’t wrestling-specific to offer real time reaction to some of the sport’s biggest events. That turned into the show streaming live on Radio.com everyday.

“I’ve been at every agent meeting and every production meeting in my history with ECW, the WWE, and TNA. I’ve sat with Hulk Hogan and in conference rooms with Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo and Vince McMahon and on and on and on,” Taz says as if he needs to sell me that he knows what he is talking about.

When I ask what it is about his show though that created an opportunity for him that didn’t materialize for other popular wrestlers-turned-podcasters like Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, and Jim Ross, his answer comes quick and is unwavering.

“Not only were we taking listener phone calls, but I was proud that (The Taz Show) wasn’t guest driven. It was topic driven. Those two things are very different, as you know.”

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In that way, The Taz Show is structured way more like a sports radio show than any of iTunes’ other most popular wrestling podcasts. It also forced Taz to drive the bus and learn how to develop topics and opinions instead of being a good listener and reacting to someone else’s story.

Still though, a lot of what Taz & The Moose is is uncharted water for the pro wrestling icon. For one, he will admit that he is still learning to be a fan of everything. That’s not easy to do when you grew up a New York sports fan and are doing sports radio in New York City.

When I ask Taz how often he has to remind himself that the show can’t just be about the Yankees and Red Sox or what the Giants should do with Eli Manning in the offseason, he laughs. “Almost everyday,” he says. “And our bosses remind us.”

Chernoff says Taz doesn’t give himself enough credit. He thinks Taz focuses so much on what he isn’t supposed to do that he forgets how much he is doing right.

“Some of our meetings it’s just ‘remember that you’re doing a national sports show,’ and I give (Taz and Marc) lists of where they’re on. You have to remember where you’re on in national radio, and when you’re on. On the West Coast, stations that are taking the show live are airing it in overnight.”

Chernoff, who in addition to running CBS Sports Radio has run WFAN in New York since 1993, is very familiar with analyzing audiences and topics. He told me that what he wants Taz to remember is that it is okay to do local radio for the affiliates.

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“On WXYT in Detroit or WJZ in Baltimore, if there’s things going on there, those are pretty big cities! Even in some of the smaller markets. You know, they’re on in a lot of Ohio. Ohio State football and all that is going on with Urban Meyer might be a local story for that audience, but there is huge national interest.”

Taz will always be able to connect with an audience regardless of what he is talking about. So what if he has to remind himself that maybe a listener in Kansas City might not care about how Manny Machado would fit in the Yankees’ lineup?

That listener probably isn’t counting on Taz to deliver a nuanced take on what Dedric Lawson allows Kansas’s offense to do when he is on the floor. They are coming to Taz to entertain them, because for so many guys in America, that is what Taz has been doing for nearly 20 years (25 if you’re an old school ECW fan).

Sitting across from him it is easy to see how he connects with people. We spent the better part of an hour together and I walked away feeling like we were buddies. Why? Because he tells great stories, has a big, infectious laugh, and just exudes charm.

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I never asked Taz if he would give up his radio success to be able to get back in the ring and compete at the highest level of pro wrestling night-in-and-night-out again. I didn’t have to. It’s clear Taz is where he thinks he is supposed to be.

“There’s nothing like radio, and I am proud to say I’m a radio guy. I’ve become a radio guy, and that didn’t happen overnight. I feel like my career has evolved over the years. I’m blessed, and I am happy about that. 

“I can tell you it is my dream job, doing daily radio. It’s tough, and yeah, it is a grind. There are some days you don’t want to go on air, but once the mic goes on, you gotta bring the energy to get people awake. You gotta have fun.”

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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