There are many similarities between newspaper columnists and sports radio hosts. They constantly search for interesting angles to accentuate their opinions. Both look for captivating stories to tell. The occasional, “Man, I really stepped in it,” is also a possibility. Geoff Calkins is a man who wears both hats as a writer and radio host. He has chronicled Memphis sports for more than two decades — formerly at The Commercial Appeal and currently for The Daily Memphian. He also hosts The Geoff Calkins Show weekdays on 92.9 ESPN.
Geoff tells entertaining stories about Hubie Brown, Jason Williams the pen thief, and a tuba playing bet payoff in our discussion below. He also shares an intelligent view about chasing dreams.
As a writer with decades of experience, Geoff is obsessed with word choice. I’m not as magniloquent as Mr. Calkins, but his presence in Memphis certainly hasn’t been fugacious. Unfortunately, photosynthesis doesn’t fit here, so it looks like this is my intro stopping point. I hope you enjoy the interview.
Brian Noe: Is there more pressure writing words that don’t go away, or speaking words without having the ability to go back and edit yourself?
Geoff Calkins: I feel more pressure writing words that don’t go away. I’m always struck by how the things in print for whatever reason are held to a higher standard. Honestly I’m looser with what I say on the radio. In some ways that can get you in trouble. I’ll say things that I would not write. That’s just true; that I’m not as well reported, there are more theories, and more bouncing things off.
I would say there’s more pressure to write words that will not go away. When I’m writing a column, I think about every word. I’m obsessed with words. Word choice matters to me deeply when I write a column. When I talk on the air, I do my best. I try to find the right word, but there are so many words that you can’t sit there and sweat over every single one. It’s a very different enterprise.
BN: Does it feel liberating to be on the air compared to stressing over each word of a column?
GC: Talking is easier than writing. Writing is hard. It just is. It’s like putting bricks together in a way. They all have to fit together just right in that line, but then the whole structure has to work too. You have to think ‘Okay, how am I going to start this? What comes next? What’s the perfect word here? Oh, that’s not quite working, let me try another.’ When you’re talking on the air, you’re just being yourself, or a stylized version of yourself. The labor is not close.
When you work for a newspaper — now I’m with an online newspaper — the job is just a wonderful job of going out and talking to people. It’s just the best job in the world because you have this freedom to go talk to anyone you want about anything you want. The reporting is fun. Being at events is fun. Getting to people’s stories and life stories is a great pleasure. But then there always comes this moment where you sit down at the computer and have to write. That is work in the way that nothing that I do on the radio feels like work. The next two hours of writing, that is hard work of the sort like writing a paper in college. That process is more difficult than anything we do on the radio.
BN: What is your 60-second resume that led to where you are now?
GC: I’m someone who always wanted to be a sports writer who took a detour into the law because he thought it was more respectable, and subsequently realized it was a mistake. I was a tremendous law student, but I was not a great lawyer. I was a very unhappy lawyer. At age 30, I said I’m going to try this again. I did journalism before; I had worked for the Miami Herald one summer, and I had worked for People magazine one summer in college. Those were college jobs.
After I had been at the law firm for a couple of years I said you know I’m going to try it one more time. I’m not going to pretend I’m a news writer. I’m going to be a sports writer because that’s what I wanted to do when I was 12. I was a kid who was one of nine. I grew up outside of Buffalo. If my parents punished me, they would take away my sports page reading privileges. They’d take away The Buffalo News and the Buffalo Courier-Express. That’s what I wanted to do when I was 12 and I just lost track of that because of money and prestige and all of that. I ended up unhappy and so I tried again and it worked.
BN: What other stops did you have before getting to Memphis?
GC: I wrote 300 newspapers and the only one who hired me was The Anniston Star down in Alabama. A guy named Joe Distelheim had been the sports editor in Detroit and was now the managing editor at Anniston. He hired me to do a 10-week internship covering high school sports for 225 a week. At the time I was making six figures as a young lawyer. Back then six figures met something, but I did it. I did two years there.
A guy named Fred Turner in Fort Lauderdale hired me to be the Marlins beat writer. He took a ridiculous chance on me to do that. I was not cut out to be a baseball beat writer, but I was having fun in a way that I never was as a lawyer. In Anniston I was having fun. I loved covering high school football games on a Friday night and Auburn on a Saturday. I was having a blast in a way that I just never was as a lawyer.
Fort Lauderdale was fun and then they took a chance on me here. I had only been a sports writer for four years when they gave me the column job in Memphis, which is a big chance that The Commercial Appeal took on me.
Now I was older because I didn’t start until I was 30, so I was 34. I don’t think I thought I’d stay here forever. In many ways Memphis is like Buffalo in that they’re sort of underdog places but a real strong sense of place and self. I fit here. I was happy. When you’re happy, I always figured why roll the dice on greater happiness somewhere else. I was happy here and so here I’ve stayed for now 25 years.
BN: Did you ever have a moment in journalism school or when you went from six figures to 225 where you were like, “What am I doing?” Did that ever pop in your head?
GC: Yes. What I made for The Anniston Star was not sustainable. I would not have stayed in journalism if I was going to make 225 a week working in a small town in Alabama. As much as I liked Anniston, if that was where I was going to end up, I would have gone back to being a lawyer and said I’ll watch sports in my spare time and I’ll buy season tickets with my money.
I do think that one of the keys with people who want to do this for a living is to take a shot at it, but there is a certain amount of luck and a certain amount of ability that you have to have to make it to a level where this is both satisfying and where you can pay your bills. I’m not an idiot. I would not have stayed as a sports writer for 225 a week forever. I just wouldn’t have.
I tell people whether they want to do radio or print journalism, I tell them to give it a shot because you’re going to kick yourself if you don’t. If that’s what you really, really, really want to do. But be self-aware enough that after you’ve done it for a few years, to figure out if you have what it takes to get to a place in the industry where you’ll be happy because it’s really hard. Not everyone will make it. To me it’s not unlike someone who wants to move to L.A. and try to be a star. I’m not saying we’re stars but I think it’s become kind of a crapshoot like that.
You move to L.A., you give it a shot, and if you make it, great, if not, go be an accountant. Give yourself five years or 10 years, but you don’t have to work washing dishes for 30 years chasing your dream. Maybe I’m too much of a pragmatist. I’m enough of a dreamer to think you have to give it a shot, but I’m enough of a pragmatist to think that at some point you have to realize that sports journalism in whatever form may not be how you’re going to find your greater satisfaction or happiness.
BN: What’s the best advice you got as a journalist and what’s the best advice you got as a sports radio host?
GC: The best I got as a journalist, there’s no substitute for making the next call or for being there. Just always make the next call. When you’re reporting a story and you can make three calls instead of two, make the third call. It’s stunning how often the third call is when you get the exact quote or the exact tip or whatever else that you need. And be there; actually a young journalist was asking me recently how to develop contacts and sources. The first thing I said was to show up. Be at everything. Be at every practice. Be at every Zoom call. Make sure they know that you’re serious and that you take your craft seriously. You’re covering people who take their craft very seriously, so you should take it as seriously. To me that’s the most important thing in journalism.
In terms of sports radio, Brad Carson, who’s our program director, is always urging us to get to the point quickly. I can meander a little bit. I think that was useful. There was someone early on who told me that a radio show is like staging a Broadway production every single day, that it’s not just yammering away about the events of the day. From the beginning to end, it is a production and we can’t craft it with the care and the months of preparation each day that they do in putting on a Broadway show, but in the end we are presenting something to people. Whatever it is — entertainment, opinion, interviews, laughter — to think hard about what exactly you want to present to people every day.
BN: We all know how much Ja Morant means to the Grizzlies, but beyond that, what does he mean for your jobs?
GC: There’s not much more fun in either print or on radio than celebrating wins, celebrating your town, your team, celebrating together. I grew up listening to the Buffalo Sabres. The Bills didn’t win much so I thought more of the Sabres at the time. They had a show called the Fourth Period. Ted Darling was the voice of the expansion Sabers at the time. After a win, I was the 11-year-old kid in bed listening to the Fourth Period because you just want to relive it. Ja Morant is going to give this city and all of us who covers sports a lot of moments that people are going to want to relive. He already has. We’ll see where it goes.
Things can go badly for Rookies of the Year. Anthony Davis, he wasn’t Rookie of the Year actually, but he didn’t work out and in the end he forced his way out of New Orleans. There are no guarantees, but it appears that he’s going to give us the kind of superstar that certainly at the professional level this town has never had. At the college level we had it, but it’s fleeting.
We had a year of Derrick Rose. We had two years of Penny Hardaway. We’ve had fleeting tastes of a superstar. We haven’t had a decade of a superstar ever in Memphis. Ja could be that. When you can just come in and celebrate with the city, be an outlet for that celebration, radio doesn’t really get more fun than that.
BN: It probably means you don’t have to play your tuba outside of the arena though, right?
GC: [Laughs] Where did you hear that story?
BN: [Laughs] I was doing crack research on you before this interview. Can you tell that story? It’s a great story, man.
GC: In the early days of the Grizzlies, they were starting another season. They were 0-9 or whatever they were. The previous year they had started — I’m making up these numbers — something like 0-13. So you run out of things to say about losing teams. I said if this team gets to 0-13, I’ll play Christmas carols on my tuba outside of the Pyramid. This was back when they were in the Pyramid.
Sure enough, they lose, they lose, they lose and we get to the fateful game. I referred to them in my column again. At this point the pressure is building. They were playing the Golden State Warriors and the head coach, I forgot who it was, printed out my column and put it on the seats of the Warriors’ bench before the game to further inspire their team to victory.
I remember Antawn Jamison hit a 3 and said start warming up that tuba. I had to play Christmas carols on my tuba outside of the Pyramid. But what I did was, I called the tuba player for the Memphis Symphony and I got another two dozen tuba playing friends and we had a little tuba Christmas outside of the Pyramid. It was fun.
BN: What’s a memorable story of a player or coach that either ripped you or complimented you for your work?
GC: Okay, well on the bad side was when Jason Williams stole my pen in the locker room. Jason Williams came after me after a playoff game. Mike Miller had to peel him off of me. The audio of Jason is, “You ain’t writing nothing, homeboy.” Actually we use that clip of Jason saying that to start my radio show every day, as if by taking my pen he could stop me from writing something. He later returned to the Grizzlies and they had a little press conference. I put 20 pens in my pocket, so when I walked up the first thing he saw was me with 20 pens. He got fined $20,000 for that though, so it was an expensive pen. Then Calipari I would say. John Calipari hated me. Those are the two.
You know who was great was Hubie Brown. Hubie Brown came here at a time when his career as a coach was supposed to be over. People mocked Jerry West a little bit for the hire. It seemed very unusual for a young team to bring Hubie out of mothballs, but it was really fun. It was a fun few years and Hubie won Coach of the Year. Here’s a guy, every single press conference of his was a tutorial. It was just wonderful. Memphis kind of fell in love with him and his sort of grandfatherly ways.
Hubie, probably more than anyone else, went out of his way to thank me for the way I covered him. Given that he is such a pro, I think that’s why that one sticks in my mind. For Hubie, who knows more about basketball than I would ever think of knowing, for him to thank me for the way I covered him was particularly meaningful.
BN: Is there anything that you would like to accomplish or experience before you retire?
GC: Not really. I’ve covered great events. I think the most fun was the Olympics. I’ve covered eight Olympics and that’s plenty. They’re just a total blast to cover. Super Bowls and Masters and all of that stuff, but to me the fun part was always to be connected to a community, to be one of the voices in a community.
I wanted to be Larry Felser. Larry Felser was the columnist in Buffalo for The Buffalo News that I grew up reading. When I was a 12-year-old kid, I wanted to be Larry Felser. In a way I’ve become that in Memphis. Because of the state of newspapering, there won’t ever be another sports columnist that can have the reach that sports columnists of the past had in Memphis. I don’t just mean me; I just mean everyone who preceded me. The job has changed, but I got to be that for the better part of two decades.
Now I’ve gotten to transition and to be part of doing it differently on a radio show where the conversation is more intimate and there’s more dialogue. You actually are talking to the community. The fun part is being a part of a community and I’ve been able to do that. I just want to keep doing that for a while.
It would be nice for Memphis to win a championship. Memphis has come close. To get back to the Final Four and to have no Mario Chalmers shot or to have Ja carry this team to an NBA championship. But I don’t need that for me to feel like I’ve had fun with this. It’s been a blast.
790 The Ticket Was Something Special And Stugotz Knows It
“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen, that they’ve ever heard.”
When I was making the transition from the rock world to talk radio, there was one show I looked at as a guide. I got laid off from 96 Rock in Raleigh, NC in the summer of 2011. That was the beginning of my flirtations with streaming and podcasts, which is how I stumbled onto The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on 790 The Ticket out of Miami.
Coming from a format that I felt out of place in at times, I instantly latched onto a show that reveled in pointing out how out of place it was in its own format. It became a daily listen for me, which opened me up to hearing other voices on the station like Jonathan Zaslow, Joy Taylor, Brian London, Brendan Tobin, Brett Romberg and others.
There were unique thinkers and passionate sports fans in every day part on 790 The Ticket. What set the station apart though is that I never heard anyone that sounded uncomfortable when the conversation turned to something that wasn’t a Dolphins’ loss or LeBron’s stat line. They talked sports the way normal human beings talk about sports. It was part of their lives, not the only thing they paid attention to.
Look at the outpouring of love for the station on Thursday. Hosts, producers and programmers from across the country took to social media to eulogize the station when the news broke that it would cease to exist the following week.
I can’t say for sure that all of those people felt the same way I did about the station and I cannot say whether or not it was for the same reasons. What I can say is 790 The Ticket had an influence that stretched far beyond South Florida.
Jon Weiner, better known as “Stugotz” to fans of the The Dan Le Batard Show, helped start the station in 2004. He told me that it didn’t take long for him to learn just how much The Ticket’s approach was making an impression on everyone in sports radio.
“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen or heard,” he said in a phone call on Sunday. “I had people from out of market who had secure jobs at places that weren’t startups sending resumes and tapes because they wanted to be part of it. So yeah, we were aware and it is what we were going for. We got there pretty quickly and we were aware of the impact, not just in South Florida, but throughout the country.”
Last week, Brian “The Beast” London said his internal alarm bells first went off when he heard the Miami Heat were giving up their relationship with 790 the Ticket. The station and the team had been partners since 2008. He said in a YouTube video that it was hard to imagine the team’s games being heard anywhere else.
I asked Stugotz if he had the same feeling when he heard that news. He said in hindsight, he realized it was the beginning of the end, but he didn’t really get a sense something was up until Jonathan Zaslow was let go.
“[Zaslow] had been there since basically day one with us. And so I just kind of figured, yeah, between the Heat and then that I felt, okay, you don’t make a move like that unless there’s going to be some sort of seismic change. Otherwise, there’d be no reason to let him go. That was the moment I was like ‘okay, 790 is likely going away.'”
His feelings are no secret. He took to social media immediately on Thursday and said that the news that 790 The Ticket would soon be going away filled him with both sadness and pride. What Stugotz told me in our phone call was that he realizes that the station lasted about 15 years longer than it should have.
When the station was sold to Lincoln Financial Media, he was not expecting that company to want to keep a sports station. Senior Vice President Dennis Collins surprised him.
“The company saw so much potential in what we had built, both from a lineup and a sales perspective that they kept it going and that’s why it lasted all the way to 2022. We got it up and going and were responsible for the first three or four years, but Dennis saw the growth potential with the lineup we put together. That made me feel great because I had a pit in my stomach like ‘Oh, man, this thing we started is going to go away. It’s going to be three, four years and gone.’ And he said, ‘No, we love it. We want to keep it going’. So that was a huge compliment to everyone.”
Stugotz described the original owner of 790 The Ticket as a “young, good looking real estate mogul driving around in Lamborghinis.” That certainly helped the image of the station when it launched, but it is also a phenomenon that was very of the moment. It’s not 2004 anymore. Lamborghini-owning real estate moguls aren’t chomping at the bit to pour money into radio stations.
The conditions may be similar to what Stugotz and his partners saw in 2004. You could look at the radio landscape in Miami and see a way that a new challenger could fit in the sports radio scene. But what are the chances it actually happens?
“It’s a great question,” Stugotz said. “So just to go back to that time, two sports radio stations were popping up in every market. I’m not certain if that’s still the case anymore just because of podcasting and the way the way younger people are consuming media through Tik Tok, Snapchat, and other things that aren’t AM radio.”
He is quick to commend Audacy, the current owners of the 790 AM frequency. Dan Le Batard and Jorge Sedano were part of his early lineups at 790 The Ticket because Stugotz recognized the Cuban-American community in Miami was not being served in the sports space in 2004, just like it isn’t being properly served in the news/talk space right now. That’s why there’s room for the conservative-leaning brand Radio Libre in Miami and other markets are likely paying attention.
“It seems like a good plan, and I know it’s something that the Spanish population should have and deserves to have and probably was not being catered to correctly. So, yeah, I could see there’s a warning sign to some other sports radio stations or news stations in other markets where the Hispanic population is great. Absolutely!”
It is a shame that 790 The Ticket is no more and it is concerning that a station with its legacy and influence can simply disappear. But if we are being real, it isn’t the first station of its kind to suffer that fate and it won’t be the last.
As the media business changes and leaves sports stations vulnerable to something cheaper and with broader appeal, 790 The Ticket and stations like it should be touted as examples of how to rise above the noise and make an impact. Stugotz and his partners looked around in 2004 and said “we can be different and we can do this better” and that’s exactly what they did.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Chris Simms And His Self-Professed ‘Big Mouth’ Enjoying Life At NBC
“One of the things that I worried about was that I came from Bleacher Report and is NBC going to try to curtail my personality a little bit…sometimes I like to swear on my podcast and do stuff like that and they’ve really allowed me to be me which I really appreciate.”
To be a good football analyst, one certainly has to know and love the sport but you also can’t be afraid to use the most important tool that you have to do the job. Chris Simms has all of those attributes and NBC lets him use them to the best of his abilities.
“I love football and I love X’s and O’s and I got a big mouth so it’s a great combination,” said Simms. “Between my podcast, Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio, and Sunday Night Football, I get plenty of time to talk and get my studies out there.”
There’s no doubt that Chris inherited that self-professed big mouth from his father, former NFL quarterback and longtime NFL on CBS analyst, Phil Simms.
So, the question had to be asked…does Chris have a bigger mouth than his father?
“Yeah, I probably do,” admitted the younger Simms. “That’s a big mouth to overcome, but I think I probably got him beat in that department.”
Chris Simms set out to follow in his father’s footsteps on the field and played quarterback for Ramapo High School in New Jersey where he earned a pair of All-State honors. After graduating high school in 1999, Simms moved on to play quarterback at the University of Texas where he posted a 26-6 career record as a starter and was the team MVP during his senior season in 2002.
Simms was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft and he would guide the Bucs to a playoff berth in 2005. He would also go on to play for the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos completing a seven-year NFL playing career. He spent one season as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots before taking his talents to the world of broadcasting.
He started with FOX Sports as a college football announcer in 2013 and then joined Bleacher Report in 2014 while also serving as a color commentator for the NFL on CBS.
And then in 2017, Simms joined NBC Sports where he has certainly found a home.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Simms. “It’s a great company to work for. Just good people all around. They’ve given me the platform to be me. One of the things that I worried about was that I came from Bleacher Report and is NBC going to try to curtail my personality a little bit…sometimes I like to swear on my podcast and do stuff like that and they’ve really allowed me to be me which I really appreciate.”
Simms wears many different suits at NBC Sports, most notably his role as a studio analyst on Football Night in America leading into Sunday Night Football. He’s also a part of the SNF post-game show Sunday Night Football Final on Peacock, Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio, and Chris Simms Unbuttoned, a streaming/digital show that is also a podcast multiple days a week.
But the most eyeballs are on him during Football Night in America, the most watched studio show in sports.
“I grew up wanting to play in these games more than be the guy in the studio but this is like the second-best thing,” said Simms. “I was kind of that kid at 4 or 5 (years old) who could tell you every player in the NFL, their number and all that type of stuff. It’s the NFL on the biggest stage. It’s such a well-done show. I get to be there with Maria Taylor along with Tony Dungy, and Jason Garrett, and Mike Florio, and Matthew Berry. We got a great team and it makes Sunday fun.”
From the “it takes one to know one” category, Simms has also made a name for himself with his ranking of NFL quarterbacks. He’s very diligent when it comes to watching the live action and also in his film study and his top-40 rankings have become a hot topic within the business and around the office coolers.
Simms is well aware that his rankings have become a lightning rod of discussion.
“It all kind of started organically just because I would make statements,” said Simms. “People were like ‘Why don’t you start making a list?’ It’s a really hard thing to do. It offends a lot of people and I hate that. I root for all of these guys and I say on my podcast all the time I hope this guy proves me wrong. I hope he shits on me and shows me that I was wrong. It’s certainly not personal. One of the things I pride myself on is studying and immersing myself in the game all of the time.”
Simms became a full-time employee of NBC Sports in 2019, but his first role with the network came in 2017 when he became a studio analyst for Notre Dame Football.
Here’s a kid that grew up in North Jersey where there’s a ton of Notre Dame alumni and he’s standing on the sidelines at South Bend as part of Fighting Irish telecasts.
“Another special entity,” said Simms. “I used to get chills being out on the field every Saturday there. It gave me great experience in a different way with the halftime show and the pre-game show. One of the years I was kind of the third man in the booth but I was on the sideline. It gave me some reps on in-game stuff as well. I think most importantly what that did for me more than anything is that it opened up more eyes at NBC about me.”
And now Simms’ work has him in the discussion for a new potential opportunity down the road.
NBC, alongside FOX and CBS, has secured a seven-year media rights deal with the Big Ten Conference that will commence next season. NBC will air Big Ten Saturday Night, the first time that Big Ten Football will have a dedicated primetime broadcast on a national broadcast network. Peacock will stream an additional eight Big Ten games each season and NBC/Peacock will air the 2026 Big Ten Championship Game.
There have been rumblings that Simms could be involved in the coverage. Is he interested?
“I’m intrigued by it,” admitted Simms. “I’m very all NFL right now but broadcasting game is fun. It’s definitely something on my radar for sure. I do have some producers here in the building that are like ‘I’m going to tell the boss I want you to do some of the Big 10 games this year and what do you think about announcing?’ I’ve already had some people in my ear talking about it. It’s awesome for the company regardless. It just expands our football world. As far as me being involved, we’ll see.”
In a relatively short amount of time, Chris Simms has built up quite the broadcasting portfolio. From FOX to Bleacher Report and CBS to his current expanded role with NBC, Simms has established himself as one of the premier NFL analysts in the business and his podcast has given him the freedom to do something that he loves to do. Including putting his money where his mouth is.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
The Pat McAfee Alternate Broadcast Presents Unique Challenges
Alternate broadcasts are all the rage these days, and ESPN, in conjunction with Omaha Productions, debuted a new one this weekend as The Pat McAfee Show aired an alternate broadcast of the Clemson and North Carolina State game Saturday evening.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that Manningcast copy-cats were destined for failure. And while I don’t believe McAfee’s debut was a failure by any stretch of the imagination, I couldn’t help but notice it brings its own set of challenges.
First and foremost, College Football Primetime with The Pat McAfee Show — the world’s most convoluted way to say “The McAfeecast” — doesn’t really resemble the Manningcast. And rightfully so. I’m not sure there are two more polar opposite sports media brands than the Mannings and McAfee. The Mannings are funny, but not too funny and never “blue”, while often concerned about how finely quaffed their hair looks and whether the button-down shirt color matches with the Nordstrom quarter-zip they’ve donned. Meanwhile, McAfee wears his black tank-top, like usual, and put his best Pittsburgh-ese foot forward.
Even though the Mannings and McAfee are opposites doesn’t mean they can’t work together, however. The alternate broadcast was a win for Manning, a win for McAfee, a win for ESPN, and a win for viewers.
People love Pat McAfee. Plain and simple. For a multitude of reasons that we can get into in a later story, but let’s focus on that for a moment. It was a big portion of my column a few weeks ago. The Manningcast works because people like Peyton and Eli. The KayRodcast doesn’t work because people hate Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez. It’s honestly, truly, that simple.
I think it benefitted the McAfeecast to debut with a smaller game, which seems counterintuitive because it was a matchup of top ten teams in primetime. But let’s be realistic, a number five versus number ten ACC game doesn’t hold the same weight as a number five versus number ten Big Ten or SEC game. And it helped McAfee and crew, because there are obvious kinks to work out.
Firstly, there are entirely too many people on the screen. I’m going to have nice words to say about BostonConnr than the eight-and-a-half-year-old that went viral earlier this summer, but god love ya, your time to shine likely isn’t on primetime on ESPN. In my opinion, for the McAfeecast to really work in the future, a similar setup to the Manningcast with McAfee and A.J. Hawk being the prominent figures on screen is the best solution to the problem. I know McAfee believes in his boys. It’s one of his more endearing qualities, and is frankly part of the reason his show is so successful. But you’re reaching a different audience on ESPN2 on Saturday nights, and the reason the either tuned in or will stay is because of McAfee’s presence.
I didn’t get a great feel for McAfee’s thoughts or reactions on the game simply because you didn’t get a closeup of his face. The best moments of the Manningcast, outside of Eli flipping the double birds or Peyton saying “I can’t hear shit”, have been when the pair have been absolutely disgusted by a decision made by a coach or player and their face shows it without any words following up their reactions. And McAfee definitely holds that ability, and I wish I would have gotten a better sense of his facial reactions on-screen.
Also, and I know this is something McAfee can’t actually control, he had to be a bit more reserved on cable television. Part of the allure of The Pat McAfee Show is the — let’s call it extreme candor — with which he speaks. I believe that’s the scholarly way to write “he says f*** frequently”. And believe me, I subscribe to the theory that the FCC should allow hosts the ability to say obscenities 15 times per week, so I’m down for McAfee’s swearing. But you’re just simply never going to get that on ESPN2. You’re likely never going to get that if the broadcast aired on ESPN+, either. For a “family friendly” company Disney, those cards are just flat out never going to be on the table for McAfee.
One of the things McAfee is known for is his boundless energy, which felt lacking at times on Saturday, but it’s understandable. The man was on College GameDay earlier in the day, flew back to the studio to do the alternate broadcast after travelling the day before to get to Clemson to be on GameDay. I’m sure that takes a toll. On top of that, you’re doing something new for the first time, while trying to, essentially, heard cats on the screen, and you can be a little wiped out by the end of the night.
However, the goodwill McAfee has bought with fans over his extreme generosity was on display as the alternate broadcast donated more than $100,000 to Dabo Swinney’s charity, The Jimmy V Foundation, and the American Red Cross. It was a brilliant move for a debut broadcast, because it acts as a slight shield for criticism. How can you complain about something that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity?
The alternate broadcast, for the most part, avoided the biggest problem I have with the Manningcast. The interviews. I’ve never been watching Monday Night Football, or the Manningcast for that matter, and thought “Man, I wish they were talking to Tracy Morgan right now!” McAfee brought on Peyton Manning, for obvious reasons, and former NC State quarterback Phillip Rivers. That’s it. They didn’t rely on guests to carry them through down periods. The eight folks on screen did most of the heavy lifting, and for that, I thank them.
The McAfeecast was certainly different than any other alternate broadcast I’ve consumed. The crew shooting hoops for extra donations to charity during stoppages of play definitely kept things light and interesting. I couldn’t help but be invested in whether or not someone would bury three out of five threes during an injury timeout for more money for charity.
Speaking of injury timeouts, McAfee planned a giveaway and told fans to use a certain hashtag and when to screenshot or take a picture of their TV. Immediately following him saying “now!”, an injured player appeared on the screen, and he instantly shouted “No! Not now! No! We don’t want that, and we hope he’s ok”. It was a light-hearted, nearly hilarious moment that brought levity to the situation.
The highlight of the cast, however, was — in true McAfee style — picking up on things other broadcasters wouldn’t, like an angry fan. The entire crew shouting at the same time in this specific moment was spectacular television.
Overall, I thought the McAfeecast got off on the right foot. There is undeniably a market for an alternate broadcast based around the former NFL punter’s personality, and I look forward to seeing where the show goes from here.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.