We’ve entered the infection phase of this ill-advised, money-grabbing, Ghostbusters-like battle to resume sports amid a pandemic, as a familiar soundtrack hums ominously: “I ain’t afraid of no COVID.’’ I wasn’t shocked to hear from an agent friend confirming that one of his NBA players had tested positive for the coronavirus, which, I assumed, would prompt the league or the player’s team to immediately test the agent and any family members and friends who’d been in close contact.
I assumed wrongly.
“Those of us who have been around him haven’t been tested yet,’’ he texted Thursday, saying it was difficult “to get in anywhere’’ in a virus-pounded state.
A day passed. “Still haven’t been tested yet,’’ he wrote.
Another day passed. Finally, he decided to proceed urgently without the team’s help. “Pulled up to (a public testing site) and got lucky. 30-minute wait. (The team) was taking too long,’’ he wrote, adding that the player’s girlfriend and others also were tested and nervously awaiting results.
My thoughts turned to Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner. He’s the one league boss positioned to be remembered as a miracle-worker … or the madman who oversaw a colossal disaster in his Let’s Save Society Bubble at Disney World. Unlike Major League Baseball, the NFL and college football — whose seasons are imperiled by too much human interaction with the outside world — Silver has created an isolated environment that seemingly gives his league a chance to complete its postseason in early October. Yet already, before players arrive in the Orlando area, there is a crack in the plan, concurrent with a 65 percent rise in U.S. coronavirus cases over the last two weeks.
Why couldn’t the NBA or the team secure tests for an infected player’s inner circle? According to league protocol, a player who tests positive “will remain in self isolation until he satisfie(s) public health protocols for discontinuing isolation and has been cleared by a physician.’’ Understood. But what about loved ones, their health and the health of those with whom they’ve been in contact? It’s disturbing they had to wait days before finding their own pathway to tests, increasing their risk of spreading COVID-19 to others.
As it is, the $200 billion sports industry is hoarding medical resources — including tens of thousands of tests — as surges overwhelm hospitals, strain laboratories and force desperate test-seekers in hard-hit Florida, Arizona, Texas and other states to wait for hours in chaotic car lines, often to no avail. The ongoing fear is that the country’s health-care systems will implode, and, in an ideal world, sports would set aside its zeal to recoup lost fortunes and use its influence to help America get well. But hey, the commissioners keep telling us, the White House has urged sports to play on, never mind that some of those leagues — hello, NBA — have excoriated President Trump for years. For that matter, consider the protests of Texas Rangers employees who say they fear for their health — “We are terrified for our safety,’’ one told ESPN — and feel pressured to report to work at new Globe Life Field in an organization blitzed by the virus.
Those are glaring examples of how a fraught, delusional venture into the unknown represents a daunting whack-a-mole game for sports, a dam that could burst at any moment in coming weeks. In what feels like only Round 2 of a 15-round brawl, these houses of cards depend entirely on testing protocols that will determine whether seasons are miraculously finished or collapse in an avalanche of infections and spreads. Yet with preseason training set to begin, the NBA and MLB appear to be viewing coronavirus infections — which can cause victims to become violently ill or die; have the potential to spread wildly through teams, leagues and communities; and do particular damage statistically within Black America — as no less severe on a diagnosis scale than a sprained ankle.
Test positive, self-quarantine for at least seven days and no longer than 14 days, then return to your NBA team.
Test positive, self-quarantine, produce two negative tests at least 24 hours apart, show no symptoms for 72 hours, then return to your MLB club.
Suck it up, get your ass back out there and risk your life because — to paraphrase the immortal Mike Gundy — we need to run money through the leagues and broadcast networks.
Sports reflects a divided America, split politically and geographically about the dangers of the pandemic, with leagues bullrushing back to a desired new normalcy. Are the owners and commissioners any different than the Mask Truthers who create the cultural disconnect? “It appears America isn’t just dealing with a deadly strain of coronavirus — it’s also dealing with a deadly strain of stupidity,’’ said the social commentator, Trevor Noah. It’s still difficult to wrap my brain around the lunacy that baseball and basketball seasons are starting, soon to be joined by football camps, while infection numbers are exploding, states are backtracking on reopenings and people continue to die in large numbers.
In one corner, we have Malcolm Jenkins, the activist and NFL Players Association committeeman, speaking the truth: “Until we get to the point where we have protocols in place, and until we get to a place as a country where we all feel safe doing it, we have to understand that football is a nonessential business. And so we don’t need to do it. And so the risk has to be really eliminated before … I would feel comfortable with going back.” In the opposite corner is Tom Brady, idolized by millions as the greatest quarterback ever, recklessly disregarding virus-related orders in ravaged Florida by continuing to hold workouts in public settings with Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates. Apparently believing that his TB12 wellness plan is bigger than All Things COVID-19, Brady — now a month from his 43rd birthday — used Instagram to post a photo of himself drinking water beside a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “Only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’’
Tell that to the families of at least 123,000 dead Americans, who might want the NFL to call out Brady and another COVIDiot, Russell Wilson. It was good to see DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, strike first. “They’re not in the best interest of protecting our players heading into training camp, and I don’t think they are in the best interest of us getting through an entire season,” Smith told USA Today.
It’s one thing to test perilous waters, quite another to attack COVID-19 as some sort of heroic war mission. If so, the leagues are kamikaze pilots venturing into a harrowing air raid. Emboldened by business and athletic egos that have pushed them to become massive successes, the leaders of this resumption movement are striving to somehow be larger than the health crisis of our time, as if they’re action figures trying to take down Godzilla, King King and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. They actually think they can pull off the historic upset, in the tradition of major sports upsets such as Miracle On Ice, which suggests their audacity to proceed with live games involves more than financial interests. Never mind that competitive integrity will be shredded. The traditional purpose of sports — crowning a champion — has been blown out by the overriding goal of finishing a season, making back lost money and conquering the virus.
In Silver’s case, legacy is largely at play. Aware that he was the first commissioner to shut down a league, after Rudy Gobert’s positive test on March 11, Silver and his messengers aren’t afraid to send a bold message: The NBA’s plan is too big to fail, which sounds much like, “I ain’t afraid of no COVID.’’ But when they say that, are they aware Gobert says he hasn’t fully recovered? The Utah Jazz center told the French sports publication L’Equipe, “The taste has returned, but the smell is still not 100 percent. I can smell the smells, but not from afar. I spoke to specialists, who told me that it could take up to a year.’’
A year, he said. How is that newsflash going to fly among teammates — including Donovan Mitchell, who still thinks he caught the virus from Gobert — and opposing players inside Silver’s Magic Kingdom? And how about rumors that LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers players have been secretly scrimmaging at a billionaire’s Bel-Air mansion? If athletes can be so dismissive of a government quarantine, do we really expect hundreds of players and support staff members — most in the category of millennials and Gen Zers who don’t grasp COVID-19’s inherent seriousness — to faithfully stay in the bubble for weeks and months? Should I bring up abstinence, the implausibility of NBA players not having sex for extended periods? When family members are allowed in the bubble after the first playoff round, will they follow orders? And what about Disney employees, those who cook and clean and maintain the bubble, who currently aren’t required to test in the bubble? If this pipedream has any chance in hell of working, every detail must be airtight. Isn’t that impossible, when human behavior can’t be controlled?
I’m just being real. Silver prefers to think hopefully.
“We believe we’ve developed a safe and responsible way to restart the season,” he said on a media conference call. “We are left with no choice but to learn to live with this virus. No options are risk-free right now. We can’t sit on the sidelines indefinitely. We must adapt. We’re coming back because sports matter in a society. They bring people together when we need it the most.”
His thoughts are echoed by MLB, which wrote this to union members in a 101-page operations manual concerning health and safety: “This is a challenging time, but we will meet the challenge by continuing to work together. Adherence to the health and safety protocols described in this manual will increase our likelihood of being successful. We hope that resuming baseball will, in its own small way, return a sense of normalcy and aid in recovery.”
Sports doesn’t matter to society any more than Hollywood matters, Broadway matters, music matters. So why have those entertainment industries shut down for the calendar year while sports marches on? Why have Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Guns N’ Roses and all other musical acts canceled 2020 events at new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles — where one construction worker died in a fall and 18 others have tested positive for COVID-19 — while two NFL exhibition games remain on schedule for Aug. 14-15? Because sports is powered by television and the assumption that game-starved fans will watch in record numbers, even in buildings without spectators, regardless of predictable obstacles: coronavirus victims, defections by athletes who decide they don’t trust the risks, injuries caused by long layoffs and short preseasons, and the lack of energy without fans whose importance to the live sports experience is taken for granted.
The anticipated TV ratings, backed by advertisers also anxious to energize their brands, is why the risks are worthwhile for leagues. Silver knows a crash is possible, which would leave a permanent stain on the league and how he is remembered. Already, several prominent players — Nikola Jokic, Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick Jones Jr. — are among the most recent roll call of 16 who tested positive, meaning at least 30 players have been infected and probably many more. Which poses another problem: Will leagues be transparent about who tests positive during the season, such as if a superstar is infected? Face it, if James or Giannis Anteteokounmpo failed a test, it would create a public outcry to shut down the NBA. Same goes for the other leagues. Wouldn’t it be convenient for everyone involved — including ESPN, which has abandoned all pretenses of independent journalism concerning its business partners — to call the injury an ankle sprain? If so, Silver and other commissioners better be watchful of the gaming industry they’ve been eagerly courting. If you want gamblers to bet on games during a pandemic, you’d better be honest with them about COVID-19. Or else, you’re committing consumer fraud.
Privacy laws might protect leagues and teams when they decline to identify names. So they want fans to watch and gamble — and, technically, pay for TV sports packages — without knowing who has tested positive. Is that ethical? No. Said Andrew Friedman, baseball operations president of the Los Angeles Dodgers: “We’ve had some people in our organization test positive, none that have resulted in symptoms that have been problematic. It’s very much a personal thing that if any want to share, it’s up to them.”
It’s another reason to pause and wonder: Why are they doing this?
Allow the imagination to wander. Just as there are billions of reasons for leagues and networks to resume, there are billions of reasons why the plan might not succeed. At least Silver knows that, saying, “If we were to have significant spread of coronavirus throughout the community, that ultimately might lead us to stopping. We’re not saying full steam ahead no matter what happens, but we feel very comfortable right now with where we are. We’re working closely with the Players Association, Disney and public health officials in Florida as to what that line should be. It hasn’t been precisely designed. I think we want to get down on the ground and start to see how our test is working and how protocols are working, and then we’ll make decisions as we go.’’
When examining the four major sports leagues and college football, the NBA does have the best shot. There is no faith that MLB boss Rob Manfred, who has failed at labor talks and game pace and sign-stealing justice and pretty much everything else, will pull off a 60-game regular season and postseason without disruptions and an eventual crash. Tests are being administered only every other day, unlike the NBA’s every-day procedure, further jeopardizing players and support staff as virus carriers who will be in contact with family members after long days at local ballparks, not to mention road trips and hotels. Baseball players, by nature, are the least likely to abide by protocols. “What happens when we all get it?’’ tweeted Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brett Anderson, speaking for many.
The NFL has the advantage of a regular season that doesn’t begin until early September, allowing commissioner Roger Goodell to take notes and adapt. But football, as a collision sport played by sweating and breathing warriors, is the riskiest of all coronavirus challenges. “The NBA is a lot different than the NFL because they can actually quarantine all of their players or whoever is going to participate. We have over 2,000 players, even more coaches and staff. We can’t do that,” Jenkins said. “So we’ll end up being on this trust system, the honor system, where we just have to hope that guys are social distancing and things like that. And that puts all of us at risk, not only us as players and who’s in the building, but when you go home to your families. You know, I have parents that I don’t want to get sick.’’ In that vein, college football has zero chance as long as reckless young people jam into bars and spread the virus among themselves and fellow students, with an elite program, Clemson, shaming itself with 37 coronavirus cases. Hockey, like basketball and football, is defined by non-stop contact and in-your-face proximity, giving commissioner Gary Bettman time to study the NBA bubble. And golf? We’d have thought the one socially distanced sport would have few problems, but the COVID-19 dramas build by the day, with Brooks Koepka among players dropping out of the Travelers Championship after caddies tested positive.
“It’s pretty clear this virus isn’t going anywhere,’’ said PGA Tour boss Jay Monahan, warning of “serious repercussions’’ for those not obeying policies. That didn’t stop CBS analyst Nick Faldo, who should know better, from mocking Koepka’s absence. Faldo, ticked off about Koepka’s remark that golf announcers should “shut up and listen’’ in his opposition toward networks placing live microphones on players, said this on the broadcast: “I was looking forward to hearing some more fascinating stuff from him, but unfortunately he wasn’t around this week. I know he’s watching at home, because he loves listening to we analysts and our scintillating insights. He’s probably poolside in his thong, you know, enjoying himself.’’
No, that animal would be tennis king Novak Djokovic, throwing a dance party and infecting himself and others. Koepka actually was taking the responsible approach.
All of which makes me ask once more: Does someone have to die before sports is shut down? Actually, the baseball and football seasons could be canceled by one statewide order in, say California, where five MLB clubs and three NFL teams would have to scramble — to where? — to play home games. If governor Gavin Newsom was forced to close bars in Los Angeles County this past weekend, why would he open stadiums for even spectator-less games? The public health chief in Houston, Dr. David Persse, says he won’t hesitate to shut down Minute Maid Park, which would put the cheating Astros out of their misery. Here is where Silver has another edge: No way Florida governor Ron DeSantis, father of America’s second coronavirus wave, would cancel the NBA season.
Even when it reaches the point where he should, to save lives.
It’s a Golden Era For Bob Fescoe And Kansas City
“Since 2014 we’ve been on a fairy tail run. We had the Royals make back-to-back World Series and then we’ve been to three-straight AFC Championship games and two Super Bowls.”
The golden era of sports radio in Kansas City is happening right now. The Chiefs have the most exciting player, as well as the most exciting team in the NFL and could be on the verge of the next dynasty in football. The Royals are nearly six years removed from a World Series title, but the excitement level in the city is still high, despite the team being at or below a .500 record every year since.
Ratings are good. Sales are good. It’s a great time to be a host in Kansas City.
Bob Fescoe is right in the middle of the action at 610 Sports as the host of Fescoe in the Morning. He’s one of the most established and beloved hosts Kansas City has ever had and now he’s enjoying the success of the two hometown teams. He’s truly living his best life.
But it’s not exactly where the eight-year-old version of himself thought he would be. A huge New York Giants fan in the 80’s, Fescoe was more drawn to the play-by-play side of the business, because of Pat Summerall and John Madden
“John Madden was so entertaining to me,” said Fescoe. I always loved him and I realized at that time I was never going to play professional sports. I could already tell that at 8 years old. So what was the next best thing? Being behind the mic. I always thought I wanted to do play-by-play and thought I could be good at it.”
Fast forward a few years and the kid from New Jersey is in south Texas for his first radio job out of college. He still had aspirations in play-by-play and was doing it heavily at KWED in Seguin, Texas, a town right outside of San Antonio. Fescoe was the voice of Texas Lutheran University, a Division 3 college football program and was traveling in busses all across south Texas, north Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
“I was also doing play-by-play for four or five different high schools and dealing with their coaches, which was a lot of fun,” Fescoe said. “I learned so much as to why certain coaches are really good at what they do. I also got to cover the San Antonio Spurs. That was 1999 and they had just won their first championship that year. I really wish I could go back to those years and understand who I was around and who I was covering. At 22 or 23 years old, Greg Popovich wasn’t the same guy as he is today. He was a totally different guy. David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Avery Johnson, Sean Elliott, it was an unbelievable group of people I got to be around, but I didn’t pay much attention to it because it was the Spurs and it was just the beginning of their dynasty. I really wish I could go back and appreciate being around those guys a little more.”
After nearly two years at KWED, Fescoe made the move to Kansas City to work at KMBZ where he truly discovered his love for sports talk radio. The station was the flagship for both KU basketball and the Royals and he was immediately drawn to the format and the ability to talk about what was happening in the community. There was something about the ability to make a difference in people’s lives that instantly stuck. He realized his new passion. It wasn’t play-by-play, it was being a host on a sports talk radio station.
He was hired to be the producer of the afternoon show. After just a couple of months, he had his own show.
“People say you never remember where you were on September 10th, 2001, but I do,” Fescoe said. “That was the first day I got my own talk show. It was a night time talk show and another guy did that while I was producing the afternoon show. There were a lot of KU and Royals games at night, so there weren’t a lot of night-time shows until the winter time. But that first day we were on the air on September 10th talking about sports and the next day, everything changed. For the next two weeks, we were doing news radio and talk radio and dealing with the after effects of 9/11.”
Fescoe would produce the afternoon show and do his night-time show for a couple of more years, before moving across the street to the competition at WHB Sports Radio 810. After three years on the job, he moved outside of the market to St. Louis.
From the outside, one would think Kansas City and St. Louis are very similar markets. They’re both in the midwest, they’re both full of baseball fans and they’re even located in the same state. But though there are some similarities, the differences of the two markets are pretty extreme.
“It’s definitely a completely different market,” Fescoe said. “That may even apply more today than it ever has before, because of the provincial nature of the city. The people in St. Louis had no interest in having me there, and never gave me an opportunity, because I wasn’t from there. St. Louis is all about what high school you went to and they would make their determination on you based on that. I grew up in New Jersey. I didn’t go to high school there. I think it was a little bit of a shock to them that a guy that wasn’t raised there was talking about their teams.”
It just wasn’t a fit for either party. Fescoe would later leave and go back to Kansas City, but he still got a lot out of his radio experience in St. Louis. Mostly, because he was working with Jason Barrett.
“Working with Jason was great,” Fescoe said. “I went to St. Louis to work for him, because I had talked to him about a potential job in Philadelphia. Jason was the first person I was around that I got real, true radio feedback from. I’ll never forget doing a demo show in Philadelphia and the feedback was like 10-15 pages off a three-hour show. I was like, wow, there’s so much to learn. I had the opportunity to work for him and really pick his brain to find out a lot of stuff that makes radio work. Some of the stuff you still do today, I learned from Jason back in 2007.”
Kansas City is where Fescoe belongs. Not only is he a beloved host but he’s made a real effort to endear himself to everyone in the community. That’s extremely important in a market like Kansas City. He’s on the board of directors for multiple non-profit organizations and people have noticed. If you take the time to embrace the community, they’ll embrace you right back.
“Kansas City is the most giving and charitable community I’ve ever been a part of,” Fescoe said. “We treat everyone in this town like they’re our own. That was one of the things I learned during the 2014 World Series run is how many people were using baseball in this town to get through tough times in their life. We had people on the air during that time talking about battling cancer, or their kids battling cancer, or they themselves had illnesses and the only thing that made them happy during the day was watching the Royals at night. Being connected to the community is vital in this town. I don’t know how it compares to other cities, but this is the most charitable place I’ve ever lived.”
Being charitable is never questioned about Kansas City, but it’s favorite sport routinely is. Is it a baseball town or a football town? That’s a popular question people from outside the market like to ask. It’s often debated with the answers almost always seemingly split. But Fescoe can accurately answer the question of if the sports fans in Kansas City prefer football or baseball more with just one word.
“People here are truly passionate about their teams,” Fescoe said. “Since 2014 we’ve been on a fairy tail run. We had the Royals make back-to-back World Series and then we’ve been to three-straight AFC Championship games and two Super Bowls. At its core I think Kansas City is a baseball town, because October of 2014 is the greatest month of my professional career, just to see the way that Kansas City came alive and fell in love with this baseball team and was living and dying with every pitch. It gets me kind of emotional to talk about those teams. People were living it every single day and the joy that ballclub brought everyone. I’ve never seen a team turn around a city from an attitude and a belief standpoint like the Royals did in 2014 in Kansas City.”
That 2014 season is a big reason why Kansas City is in the golden era of sports talk radio. Throw that Mahomes guy in as a big reason, too. The Chiefs and Royals have had success in the past, sure, but never at the same time. The past six years they have, and it’s unveiled a passion that can rival any market in the country.
Kansas City sports radio hasn’t just benefited from the golden era on the ratings sheet, but on sales sheets, as well. Local businesses have flocked to get their name attached to the local teams and it has greatly benefitted stations such as 610 Sports.
“When the sports teams are good it’s something everyone wants to be a part of in Kansas City,” Fescoe said. “In any way they possibly can, whether it’s sponsoring a coaches show or being on the air and mentioning the things that are going on in town, they just want to be a part of everyone’s listening habits, because when those teams are good, obviously the ratings are better, because people care more when the teams are winning. I’ve had conversations with people over the years and they’d ask if I’d rather have a losing team or a winning team. It’s not even close. It’s definitely a winning team. When you’re losing, people check out, but when you’re winning, more and more people than you’ve ever imagined are tuning in. Then you’re capturing all kinds of different audiences.”
The golden era of sports talk in Kansas City will likely last as long as Mahomes is playing quarterback for the Chiefs. Judging by the contract he signed last year, hosts such as Fescoe have a lot to look forward to.
“This is the golden era of Kansas City sports,” Fescoe said. “There’s never been a better time in their successes being at the exact same time. That never happened before 2014.”
Anatomy of An Analyst: Drew Brees
“His early work is being met with mixed reviews, but what can really be expected of a guy that just stepped off the football field?”
When you hear the name Drew Brees, you likely think of the guy that led the New Orleans Saints to the franchise’s only Super Bowl title in 2009. The NFL was his way of life for 20 years, but Brees decided it was time to walk away after last season.
It’s never easy for a guy as talented as Brees to realize that the time has come to retire from the sport he loves. Luckily for him, Brees had somewhere to go to keep that connection alive. Networks were reportedly climbing over one another to secure his services as an analyst. NBC won the bidding and now Brees calls the network home.
At NBC, he serves as an analyst on Football Night in America and joins Mike Tirico in the booth on Notre Dame Football broadcasts. NBC also plans to use Brees during their Super Bowl coverage and during future Olympics.
ROAD TO NBC SPORTS
Brees was born in Dallas to parents with athletic backgrounds. His dad played basketball at Texas A&M and his mom was a former all-state athlete in three sports while in high school. Brees didn’t even play tackle football until high school, and his freshman year, he lettered in baseball, basketball and football. It was said that he considered playing baseball in college, but after an ACL tear his junior year, most recruiters shied away from him. Brees overcame the injury and led his football team to a state championship with a 16-0 record. He was voted the Texas High School 5A Most Valuable Offensive Player in 1996.
He received offers from only two schools, Purdue and Kentucky. He chose the Boilermakers. During his college career Brees set two NCAA Records, 13 Big Ten records and 19 Purdue marks. Even with all those accolades to his credit, he wasn’t taken until the first pick of the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers. He slipped because of a perceived arm strength issue and his smaller than a pro quarterback stature (6’0”).
After 5 seasons with the Chargers, they allowed him to leave via free agency. He joined the Saints in 2006 and led them to nine playoff runs, seven division titles (including four straight from 2017 to 2020), three NFC Championship Game appearances and the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl title in Super Bowl XLIV.
In spite of all the doubters, Brees retired as the NFL leader in career pass completions, career completion percentage and regular season passing yards. He is also second in career touchdown passes. He also was the MVP of the Saints’ Super Bowl XLIV victory.
HOW IS HE DOING SO FAR?
Brees is a rookie again, and under the microscope in a high-profile job. His early work is being met with mixed reviews, but what can really be expected of a guy that just stepped off the football field? It’s one thing to be a good subject for an interview, it’s another to be the person on the other side of things and having to analyze and also interview. In his role on Football Night in America, he’s criticizing former teams and teammates that he just played with last season. Imagine that.
“The Carolina defense completely shut them down today. There was no run game, they got after Jameis Winston,” Brees said. He then added: “These Carolina Panthers came ready to play.” That’s all he had to say, but in a few short sentences he’d said a lot about his former team.
Not a bad start by Brees, who may still be trying to find himself and his style in the early moments of his new endeavor. I’m sure he was thinking and his bosses probably were too, if he takes a glancing shot at his team, that leaves every other team in the league open to his words. I get that, you have to be careful, especially as Brees points out he still has relationships with many of his former teammates. He’s still close to Sean Payton as well. Baby steps for an analyst, but important steps none the less.
It’s all part of a lot of firsts for Brees in his post football career and new media gig. Opening week of the NFL season, his Saints put a whooping on the Green Bay Packers. Brees was watching it from a television monitor. Then last week, he had to call a college football game, Notre Dame facing his alma mater of Purdue.
I went back to watch the NBC broadcast of the Irish and Boilermakers to get a better idea about Brees as a color commentator. There have been rumors that NBC would like to see him in this type of role going forward. I’ll break down what I saw and heard as I watched the game.
I felt like Brees was still finding his way through a broadcast. He didn’t really have much to add as Mike Tirico set the stage for the game. Brees actually played in this rivalry so I would have thought the producer of the game would have liked him to speak to how intense it gets with the schools separated by less than 150 miles.
Tirico did a brilliant job early of asking Brees direct questions to bring him into the broadcast. There was some silence still in places where I’m used to hearing the analyst chime in. The early stages of the first quarter are fairly devoid of any commentary, Brees didn’t bring much through that point. Some of his early analysis was fairly generic, he started to explain how a near interception by a Notre Dame player resulted because the “pass in the flat, from the opposite hash, may be a 5-yard pass, but it’s in the air 35.” I was all ears, but then he ended with “lucky that pass didn’t get picked off.”
Look, there is a timing, not just in the game, but with the broadcast itself. Television, as I’ve explained a lot, belongs to the color commentator. He should be the star. When you have a rookie in that spot, he/she may tend to defer to the announcer, when they really don’t need to, or have to in these cases.
Like any rookie quarterback, I thought Brees really improved as the game went on. Especially when it came to play calling and the work of the quarterbacks on both sides. After a Purdue sack, Brees said that “(ND QB) Coan needs to understand where the rush is coming from and feel it in order to make a play.” He’s been there and yes; he knows how to read a defense.
It’s almost like a light switch went on in his head during the latter stages of the 1st Quarter and into the 2nd. He had some tremendous insight about Purdue being in third and short situations and knowing how many different play calls they could make in the situations Purdue faced.
In the 2nd quarter, Brees had some excellent commentary about Notre Dame’s young quarterback Tyler Buchner. Brees, relayed what Brian Kelly told him during the week about what can be expected from Buchner.
Brees explained, “They are not trying to rush him along, they’re not trying to give him more than he can handle, at this point. They want him to be able to play fast, play confident. Certainly, they see this kid’s upside and his ability to throw the ball, even though a lot of that’s happened outside the pocket thus far, both with the runs and RPO’s,” Brees said. “What I’m looking to see today is are they going to call some pocket passes with him, because if I’m Purdue’s defense all I’ve seen from Tyler Buchner thus far is him making plays outside the pocket, I haven’t seen him make a play from the pocket yet. Guys, keep this guy in the pocket…don’t allow him outside the pocket, let’s see if he can beat us from there.”
This particular bit of verbiage showed me a couple of things. He can relay and pay attention to what a coach is telling him about a particular player. In other words, he was doing his homework on a player that many Notre Dame fans want to watch and see him develop. Brees didn’t betray any type of confidence because as he continued, “what I’d like to see” turns it right back on his experience as a high-level quarterback. From this point of the game on, I was happy to see and hear more confidence in Brees. He jumped into the fray without Tirico having to “invite” him and his timing was so much better.
There were a few times it sounded like Brees was back in the huddle, explaining how time management for Notre Dame was critical and that Coan needed to tell his team that they had lots of time to get a completion and with two time outs toward the end of the half, they could even afford to run the ball. Experience was talking right there and that’s what I want to hear from an analyst as a play-by-play guy. That gives our broadcast credibility.
The most impressive thing about Brees in that game, by my count he only slipped up once and dropped a “we” when it came to Purdue. After a completion in the flat and some run after the catch he said, “we’ll take that every time!” Not bad and understandable.
More and more reps, like he needed as a young quarterback will make Brees better as time goes along.
DID YOU KNOW?
Brees still gets a copy of the Saints game plan? During an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, it was revealed that Brees stays in regular contact with both Jameis Winston and the Saints’ backup and gadget play quarterback, Taysom Hill.
“Are you an unofficial assistant coach?” Dan Patrick asked.
“I will say this,” Brees said laughing. “I did have the game plan for the (Packers) game in my hand prior to the start of the game.” It came directly from the Saints according to Brees.
Brees got attention for a lot more than his work during week one. Apparently, his hair was the talk of the internet. Fans on social media were surprised to see Brees with a fuller head of hair, and noticed that his “hairline” has seemingly drastically improved in post-retirement life.
Brees has a future in the industry. Just like all those former players that came before him, repetition and learning the ways of the broadcasting world will serve him well. Brees has the background and credentials that make him a credible analyst, now he just needs to learn how to incorporate his thoughts within the structure of a broadcast. He’ll figure out how to make statements that are powerful, meaningful and understandable. It all comes with time.
Is Bama Beating The Sports Talk Audience?
“Hosting shows is about more than just being right.”
College football tapped me on the shoulder this past weekend and told me I needed an attitude adjustment. I’ve been guilty this year — as many other hosts have — of focusing too much of my attention on Alabama’s dominance. Highly ranked teams were slow out of the gate to start the season while Bama looked more like Usain Bolt sprinting down the track. After the Tide dusted Miami 44-13, I turned into a “can’t-beat-Bama” broken record. I now see how that’s the wrong message to harp on.
It wasn’t the Florida Gators that made me realize this as they made Bama sweat out a tough 31-29 win. It was actually the great atmospheres at various colleges Saturday that caused me to rethink my stance. Penn State was a madhouse as it hosted and beat No. 22 Auburn. Indiana’s home crowd was so hyped to face No. 8 Cincinnati that fans in the student section ripped out an entire bleacher. Why? Because they were fired up beyond the point of making rational decisions.
The thought finally popped into my head; it’d be really sad if fans around the country said, “We can’t beat Bama so what’s the use?” Think about that. Picture half empty stadiums as fans refused to show up until their odds of dethroning Nick Saban improved. No energy. No excitement. Just blah. No jumping around at Camp Randall. No tomahawk chop at Tallahassee. No white outs in Happy Valley. Nothing.
Passion is what makes college football so great. You can even feel the electricity in the crowd while watching at home. It would be depressing if great fan bases shrugged their shoulders and weakly accepted that Alabama is better.
If all of that would be lame, then why would harping on Bama’s dominance work in sports radio?
Look, there are certainly times for hosts to stir the pot and be the bearers of bad news, but it shouldn’t be all of the time. Nobody wants a nonstop reality check. Imagine if you grabbed the mic from the PA announcer and said, “Hey, all of you Penn State homers, don’t forget that Bama would smoke you by three touchdowns.” Think that would go over well? Nope. So why would it be much different on the air?
Hosting shows is about more than just being right. Rosie Perez once said in White Men Can’t Jump, “Sometimes when you win, you really lose.” Sometimes in sports radio when you’re right, you’re actually wrong. Instead of predicting the winning team on ESPN’s College GameDay each Saturday, picture Lee Corso saying, “Neither one of these teams is beating Bama so the heck with it.” Although Corso would probably be correct, he wouldn’t benefit from the wrong approach.
One of the things that makes the NFL so great is hope. Many fan bases have realistic hope of winning a championship. That isn’t the case in college football. Imagine if the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers got the first pick in each round of the NFL draft. They’d be even more dominant. Well, that’s basically what happens with Alabama as the defending champs reload with the best recruiting class each year.
Constantly reminding people of that reality is like your smartwatch saying, “You’re overweight. You’re overweight. You’re overweight.” Nobody wants that. You’d chuck that thing into the closest body of water if that were the case.
It’s not just about what hosts are saying, it’s about what they’re selling. If a host keeps saying Alabama can’t be beaten, that host is selling a reality check that most people don’t want. Instead of a vendor at a baseball game saying, “Get your popcorn here,” the host is actually saying, “Get your harsh dose of reality that you really don’t want here.” Who’s buying that?
Hosts should be mindful of how things land. Colin Cowherd once alluded to this thought on his show. I can’t remember what he was specifically talking about, but he referred to a topic and said something in the neighborhood of, “It’ll probably be clunky. It’s not going to land well.” The last part always stuck with me.
It’s a great advantage to be aware of how your comments will land with others. It’s one thing to say, “Hey, wanna take a trip somewhere? It’d be fun.” It’s completely different to yell at your partner, “I refuse to be in a relationship where we don’t go out and do things.” The goal is the same; let’s go do something. But the approach and outcome is much different. If you’re aware of how things will land, you can arrange your comments to be beneficial.
I understand that one of the core ingredients of sports radio is stirring the pot, but not all stirring works. Saying the Dallas Cowboys stink or the Los Angeles Lakers are overrated largely works because most people want that to be the case. Who wants Bama to be unstoppable? Bama fans. Anybody else? No, that’s pretty much the entire list.
By touting Bama, you are selling Bama. Hosts might not even realize they’re doing it. Heck, I didn’t until this past weekend. I was focused on being right instead how things would land. It’s always wise for hosts to ask themselves, “What am I selling?” It’s so simple yet so easy to overlook. You start thinking, “What can I talk about today? I can mention this. I can bring up that.” You forget that your stance on any topic is basically a sales pitch.
Why would you sell despair? Especially relating to college football! One of the greatest strengths of college football is the enthusiasm. Don’t throw a bucket of ice water on that excitement; tap into it. At the very least don’t beat a dead horse. If you’re going to talk about college ball, bring more to the table than, “Can’t beat ‘Bama.” All it will earn is a collective eye roll. That basic take won’t land well.
There are certainly times for hosts to go against the grain, to argue against what listeners think or want. But it’s hard to make a career out of that approach. You’re selling what they aren’t buying. Like Jalen Rose quoting The O’Jays; you got to give the people what they want. There is an excellent line from Proximo in the movie Gladiator; “I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd and you’ll win your freedom.” You can’t win the crowd in sports radio by selling what listeners don’t want.
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