There are people in sports media that reach a certain level of success and simply mail it in. Mike Florio is not one of them. He’s a true grinder that has remained hungry to work in spite of achieving noticeable success in print, radio, and TV. With an extensive law background, Mike is a bright guy that knows the meaning of the word complacency but rages against the concept.
Jason Witten announced his retirement from the NFL last Thursday. Some of his words stood out. “Other players might have been more talented, but I can assure you, no one was going to outwork me. Whenever young kids come up to me and ask me how do you grow up and play for the Dallas Cowboys, have that type of career, my answer is always the same, ‘The secret is in the dirt.’ I learned early on in my life through many challenges that I could change my circumstances with hard work, but I would have to be willing to go out and earn it. I yearned for the daily grind, and I couldn’t get enough of it.”
I don’t know if Witten read a few posts on Pro Football Talk from Florio before giving that speech, but a lot of those same qualities can be found in Mike. Good luck outworking that guy. He has changed his circumstances through hard work and also yearns for the daily grind. “The moment you let yourself get complacent is the moment that it all turns around.” That quote is actually from Mike below, not Witten.
Mike’s journey throughout the world of sports media is an interesting one. There are epic stories about how he became a fill-in host for the Dan Patrick Show and his introduction to the radio hard out. In between a few laughs, you will get a sense that the key to Mike’s success is the time that he devotes to his craft. Like Witten said, “The secret is in the dirt.” A keyboard and microphone aren’t literally “the dirt,” but the idea of being committed to hard work still figuratively applies. Mike. 5’7. 167. Ding.
Brian Noe: Do you have an offseason personally?
Mike Florio: Not really. I’m on the same schedule that the NFL is on. Things slow down from the middle of June until the end of July when training camps open, but there is still always something happening. I get a little bit more free time because we take time off the radio and the TV show, but I still work on the website everyday. It really isn’t all that hard to open a computer and type. If we have a family vacation I’ll take it with me and I’ll work. If I’m just hanging out here I’ll make sure that I work during that time that we’re off on radio and TV.
It does slow down after the draft. The workload begins to diminish some, but by the middle of June it’s the lowest point. Even then I keep putting news out there for people to read or they’re going to go somewhere else. You can’t shut it down or you’ll lose your audience. We keep it going, but it’s coming — middle of June, end of July, that’s a nice four-to-six-week period where it’s not the usual grind. Then the grind starts at the end of July and it ends the following draft.
Noe: Do you have any funny stories from when news has broken during a vacation and you had to work on a story?
Mike: No, because it’s rare that there’s anything huge that comes out when we’ve been out somewhere. I can remember being on a family vacation back when they didn’t sign draft picks until not long before the start of camp and having to step out from family dinners and stuff. The one thing this year when Josh McDaniels pulled the plug on going to the Colts, I had just gotten back from the Super Bowl and I was out to dinner with a bunch of family members. I had to get up and run out the door and drive home to work on that. Usually I can deal with whatever I’m dealing with without having to just flat-out vanish and disappear.
Noe: What is your busiest time of year?
Mike: Free agency is the busiest time because it has that build-up a couple of days in advance. Then once it starts who knows what’s going to happen or who’s going where? It’s more of a concentrated off-we-go kind of a thing for free agency. The draft is more sustained and never quite as hectic as it is on the first day of free agency. That’s typically our busiest day, our highest traffic day, and then the draft would be a close second. Obviously during the season there are different times where things get hectic, but during the offseason — free agency is number one and the draft is number two.
Noe: With the interest for the draft being so high, how noticeable is the drop-off once it’s over?
Mike: After the draft people are still reacting to what happened. They want to get everyone’s perspective. They are curious about what’s said by coaches and general managers. If anything the traffic gradually levels off during the period of time after the draft. I mean our traffic has still been pretty good since the draft but around Memorial Day weekend I’ll notice it start to dip. Then it gets into June and starts to recover in July.
Unless something crazy happens — probably the biggest offseason story was that Aaron Hernandez case. It’s now five years ago. That happened in late June. That drove everything through the roof for a couple of weeks because no one saw that story coming. I just happened to be home and not away at the time. I remember that one vividly. Without something crazy like that it’s a gradual, slow decline that then bottoms out around the 4th of July and starts to pick up not long after that.
Noe: How did you get involved in this business, working in print, radio, and TV?
Mike: The internet is the great equalizer where you can be anywhere in the world and have a voice. I was attracted to that immediately because I live in West Virginia and it gave me an avenue to have a platform and to be able to say things that people would be interested in. I first tripped over a website that was called NFLtalk.com in April of 2000. Back in those days I very rarely left the stuff that became available to you when you pop in the old AOL DVD or CD, whatever it was. They had content and I remember reading Sporting News content on there.
I found NFLtalk.com in a USA Today article and I started going there on a regular basis. One thing led to another. They were looking for writers and I thought, “Well, this would be kind of fun.” I threw something together and they hired me. Of course by hired, it means I did a bunch of work and didn’t get paid, but I didn’t care because it was a hobby. It was fun. I just always had this vague sense that if I do this, and I keep doing it, and work at it, maybe it’ll lead somewhere. Who knows where it’s going to lead, but either way it’s just kind of fun.
I remember having that conversation with my wife because I’d write two, three things a week. Then they’d have me do a little bit more and never paid me. I didn’t care. I was just like this is fun. I enjoy it and she says wait a minute. Why? I’d say I could go golf and I’d spend 50 bucks and be gone for four hours and be pissed off when I get home. So I just view it as a hobby. I’m here at the house and yeah we’re not making any money off of it, but I just have this weird feeling if I keep doing it, it leads somewhere good. That’s how I got into it.
Radio opportunities came from there because people we’re looking for NFLtalk.com writers to come on different shows. The first show I ever did was WGR 550 in Buffalo. I realized how potent sports talk radio was just from the standpoint of getting reps, getting better at it, understanding the medium, understanding how to make your point quickly, which I’m not doing today. One thing led to another and here we are 18 years later.
Noe: When you initially broke into radio, how long were you doing hits and sporadic shows before you got a full-time opportunity?
Mike: What happened was I was doing 10-to-15 minutes spots all over the country. I got to a point around 2006, 2007 where I started trying to get paid for them. I understood at one level it was valuable marketing for the website because people didn’t realize it was even an ad. It’s part of the regular content. They’re hearing the name of the website and hopefully they’re coming to it. I thought that part of it was great but I was doing so many. I thought I was decent at it and hoped that maybe I could start getting paid to do it.
I started by encouraging some of the different stations, “Look find a sponsor for the segment and basically let’s split the money.” I t was becoming a little bit of a profit center. It wasn’t until July of 2010, I used to do spots at Dan Patrick and I still do whenever he calls me, but I was doing them after he left ESPN and started his own show in 2007, 2008 time frame whenever that was.
I remember one time as his show started to take off on its own — they had the TV simulcast, 200+ stations and it’s doing very well — somebody called me middle of July in 2010 and said, “Hey, Dan’s out next week and they want to know if you can do the show.” I was like, “Yeah, have the fill-in host call me and just let me know what time, 9 to 12, whenever just let me know and we’ll work it out.” They were like, “No, no, no you’re the fill-in host.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s funny. That’s a good one, but just have the actual host call me.” They’re like, “No, Dan thinks you speak in sound bites and you understand how it works and he wants you to be the guest host.”
I’m like wait a minute. I don’t know how to do this. I have no training in this. All I do is answer questions when people call me up from the radio shows. I have no clue what to do. I remember being so stressed out about it. I remember having a full binder full of notes. I had every segment of a 12 segment, three-hour show planned out like there was no extemporaneous thought. It was all, “I’ll say this, this, this, and this in the first segment, and the second segment I’ll say this, this, and this.” It’s stupid but I didn’t know what to do.
After doing it one time — and it went fairly well — they called me the next time he was going to be off. They had me go to the studio in Milford, Connecticut with his guys. I remember being a nervous wreck about that. I remember having a stack of notes for that. It was idiotic but I didn’t know what else to do because I wasn’t thinking of it as this medium where you have an idea of what you’re going to say, but it’s very freeform and flowing and you just go.
After doing it enough times it just gets to the point where I told my wife the other day, you could just give me a microphone right now and say, “Oh, we’re doing a three-hour radio show, start right now,” because I understand how it works. Any given moment you start talking about whatever the top story is and then you go for seven or eight minutes and you have five or six minutes to regroup and figure out what you’re going to say next.
That’s where it started. I sat in for Dan somewhere between 30 and 40 times, maybe more than that I lost track. When an opportunity came up to have a show on NBC Sports Radio, by that point it was natural. It was obvious and I was ready to do it. It wasn’t a question of can I do it. It’s like well this is just the next logical progression.
Noe: What do you remember most about those first couple of shows when you were so nervous?
Mike: It’s like anything else, the more you do it the easier it gets. I remember the first time I did it, we had a hard break and I had no idea what a hard break was. I had no idea that not only was it mandatory you be done by then, you had to take it all the way to then. I thought you could just stop whenever. Well, if you stop a minute before a hard break, there’s going to be a minute of dead air before the news update takes over.
So I’m getting ready to throw it to break a minute before the hard break thing and hey, I saved some time. Good for me. Look I didn’t take the full time. I heard the engineer say, “Ahh, you have to keep going.” So I just completely froze. I was like, “Ahhhh, ooooo-kaaaay?” I got through it, but that was the most important aspect of on-the-job training. I had no idea that the hard break meant you talk up until the moment where the music stops and they go to the news update or whatever comes after the hard break. So, hard break 101 — don’t just stop talking when you feel like stopping.
Noe: (laughs) Yeah, that’s important. What did you learn either on your own or from someone else that you find the most valuable?
Mike: Well, nobody really taught me anything. It’s all self-taught because you watch and you listen and you learn. That’s how I became a decent writer — by reading and understanding how people communicate effectively in the written word. Picking up just the way of saying things. How to phrase a word in the active voice versus the passive voice. How to be concise and when not to be concise.
The same thing with radio, it’s just listening. I think I learned a lot from listening to Dan Patrick on how to aspire to be a good interviewer and how to try to have that conversational tone and get to a point where it just feels like two people shootin’ the breeze, not an interview per se. It’s just reps and reps and reps. The more you do it, the easier it gets. That’s always the key.
After so many shows, after so many interviews, and after so many times doing it, you feel like you get to a point where you understand it pretty well. Even after that I think you always strive to find ways to improve and ways to get better and not get complacent. I think the moment you let yourself get complacent is the moment that it all turns around.
Noe: What’s the most enjoyable part about all of the jobs that you have?
Mike: I think the most enjoyable part of it is, none of it’s really work. Right? I’m getting paid to do stuff that I would do for free. I always add the caveat don’t tell anybody I said that cuz they’ll try to stop paying me. I like that what I do now has very little stress. There are moments of stress when you’re on TV on Football Night in America, but it’s nothing compared to practicing law, which I did for 18 years before I got out of it for good in July of 2009, really into early 2010. I kept a couple of cases once we joined NBC just a wrap them all up properly.
When you’re handling someone else’s interests and they have one chance at justice and you’re the one who’s trying to get it for them, and if you make a tactical error or say the wrong thing at the wrong time or whatever the case may be, there are consequences for them. Consequences for you too, you look like an idiot, but beyond that there are consequences for them. That’s so different than this. If I screw up something now, I’m the only one who looks like an idiot. I’m not making anyone else look bad.
It’s just a much more enjoyable way to exist because there’s so much less stress in what I do. Even the worst day. Even the day that feels like the biggest grind is still so much better than so many of the “normal days” I used to have when I was running around trying to handle 25, 30, 40, 50 cases at once and try to juggle everything and not screw everything up for anyone and everyone I represented.
Noe: Is there anything from your law background that you bring into print, radio, or TV in terms of the way you think or present things?
Mike: Yeah, I remember feeling horribly inadequate when I first started in the website business because you’re trying to be a “journalist” with absolutely no training or experience. A lot of it I picked up on the fly. I realized based upon all of the various legal issues that have come up in professional football — whether it’s players in trouble, whether it’s labor issues, whether it’s employee rights as they develop in this anthem controversy — I would feel ridiculously inadequate trying to do the job if I didn’t have a legal background.
Again plenty of journalists are doing the job without a legal background, but I assume that a lot of them have lawyers they talk to all the time in order to understand what this all means. A lot of the things that happen, I know right away what it means. I can explain here’s what it means and here’s where it goes from here. I can’t imagine being efficient if I had to contact somebody every time that there was a different case, a proceeding, whatever and trying to find out exactly what it all means.
Noe: Do you see that with the media? If you hear a sports talk host or you read something online — with the legal background you have, are there common mistakes made by other media members?
Mike: Yeah, it’s obvious when the person has absolutely no idea how it works. I think most of them just stay away from it. What’s the old adage, it’s better to remain quiet and be perceived a fool than open your mouth and confirm it. Where there are gaps — the person who’s writing it, the person who’s talking about it just doesn’t understand how it all works and what’s next. How do you expect them to if they haven’t lived that life, if they haven’t done it, if they haven’t handled cases like that or understand the system enough to say this is what it all means and this is where it goes from here.
It’s not that there are people who have no idea what happens next so they say something that’s wrong. It’s just you get to a point where there’s a gap and you feel like I need to know more here. I feel like I’m in a position where, especially in those situations, I can add more about where it goes next.
That’s what we try to do when we aggregate. We try to take what someone else has reported and analyze it and say here’s where it goes next. There are so many of those opportunities to apply that, here’s what it means in the NFL from a legal perspective whether it’s a legal proceeding, whether it’s a labor issue, whether it’s analyzing a contract. Again I don’t know how I would have done this job and I don’t know how people do the job without having the ability to take that stuff and interpret it and analyze it.
Noe: How much of your radio show is tied to the metrics of your website? You’re obviously going to lead with what’s hot, but if there is something that you think is interesting, but you just don’t see the reaction you anticipated online, do you say, “Well I’m not going to talk about it. It’s not hot.”
Mike: I’ve always been guided by what I’m interested in. I think if I’m interested in something then I hope that the audience is going to be interested in it. I don’t know how accurate that is, but it’s worked. I think part of it is, if you care about something and you have genuine interest in it then it spills through into how you handle it — how you write about it, how you talk about it. You talk about something you just don’t give a crap about, I think the audience senses that and they think, “Well if this guy doesn’t give a crap about it why should I?” That’s always been the guiding principle for me.
People talk about clickbait. It’s funny, to me clickbait is when you misrepresent to someone what a story is about so you will bait them to click on to it when they otherwise wouldn’t have. I think that a lot of what we do, we entice people to come read about the things that we have written. It is bait, but it’s real. It’s not phony. It’s not bait and switch. It’s, “Hey, come find out more about this.”
If you do a tease at the end of a segment to carry people over to the next segment and what you talk about isn’t really meshed with the tease, the people have a right to be pissed off. I think the same thing if you have a tweet or a headline. If what’s there doesn’t mesh, then they have the right to say that’s just clickbait.
You want people to keep listening to your show. You want people to read your work. I think the key is, frame it in an interesting way and choose things that are interesting and people remain engaged. That’s what we do. We provide the context and the framework for talking about the things that are interesting when it comes to sports and specifically for me when it comes to football.
Noe: Over the next 10 years, do you still want to keep doing exactly what you’re doing or would you like to move to another realm?
Mike: I don’t know what else is out there. I mean I like doing what I do. Things evolve, opportunities arise. In any field, in any industry, there’s value in promoting your own agenda. Having a list of, “This is what I want to do next, and then I want to do this, and I aspire to this, that, and the other thing.” For me that has never really worked. You aspire to climb a mountain and the next thing you know you’ve climbed a mountain that you didn’t even know was there.
I just do what I do. I’m guided by my sense of what I’m interested in. If opportunities arise as a result of that, then so be it. I don’t have any grand plan other than keep doing the things I like to do, pivot and change as necessary to meet the changing landscape of however it may change, but to keep doing what I do. Keep doing things I’m interested in and hope there are people out there who will be interested in it as well — whatever format it happens to be in — and keep trying to get better at everything that I do and everything else takes care of itself.
There’s a certain point where your track record gets you where you are. That’s the best reason and the best argument for continuing to do that because here I am 18 years later and it’s worked. So the next 10 years, the next 20 years, however many years I’m able to walk upright and think straight and articulate my thoughts, I’ll just keep doing what I do.
I remember one time my wife said, “You ever think about when you’ll retire?” It’s like retire from what? If I have enough money to take care of myself, my kid, and his kids for their entire lives and you just shut it down and do nothing, what would I do? I would do what I’m doing now. So there’s the answer. You just keep doing it and you just see where it all goes.
What Tom Brady Needs To Know Before His First Fox Broadcast
“Our panel includes a fellow player-turned-analyst, a legendary play-by-play man, and a broadcasting coach.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Tom Brady announced he is retiring from the NFL today. It happened literally a year to the day since the last time he retired.
The last retirement lasted just 40 days. Before the end of March of last year, Tom Brady had decided he was done pretending to be happy about embracing life off of the field and announced he was returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a third season.
I guess we cannot rule out that that will happen again. The difference this time around, at least for Tom Brady’s professional life, is that he has a plan for his future. Now that his playing days are over, it is time for him to start his ten-year deal with FOX to be the analyst in the network’s top NFL booth.
Audiences do not know what to expect. No one can deny that Brady brings star power. He is the GOAT after all, but we cannot say for sure if he will be any good.
The pressure is tremendous too. Not only is Tom Brady embarking on a new career, but football fans seem to have taken a liking to the guy he is about to unseat. Whether Greg Olsen gets kicked back down to the number two booth or he is forced to share the spotlight in a three-man booth, plenty of people will look at Brady as the reason we hear less from the guy regarded by many as the best analyst on TV right now.
Brady does not have much room for error here. Since that is the case, I thought I would get some perspectives from people that can help him out. I asked three people to give me their best advice for Tom Brady.
Our panel includes a fellow player-turned-analyst, a legendary play-by-play man, and a broadcasting coach.
THE PLAYER TURNED ANALYST: ANTHONY BECHT
In 2000, the New York Jets used the 27th pick of the NFL Draft to select Anthony Becht. He played for five different teams during his twelve NFL seasons.
His broadcasting career began in 2013. Becht worked on ESPN for eight years as an analyst on the network’s college football games. He has since abandoned the booth to return to the sidelines. He will be the head coach of the St. Louis Battlehawks when the XFL starts its third first season this month.
I texted and asked him to look back on his broadcasting career. What does he wish he knew before he started? Here are the three pieces of advice that he had for Tom Brady.
1. Less is more. Folks want to watch the game and just know the “why”. Providing tangible information in a five or six second window is key.
2. Fans want to know about your personal experiences as a player – information and stories they can’t get or wouldn’t even know about because they never did it at the level we did. Share those when the time comes in a game.
3. Have a strong opinion about what you agree or disagree with, but be able to voice it without being demeaning towards players and coaches. It’s an art form and takes time to articulate that in a way that’s done right. I never bash any player or coach because a lot of work goes into be a professional athlete and coach. That needs to be respected but critiqued appropriately.Anthony Becht via text message
THE PLAY-BY-PLAY LEGEND: TIM BRANDO
Tim Brando has worked with a lot of people. That happens when you have been calling football and basketball action on TV for as long as he has. When I called him on Wednesday to discuss what is ahead for Tom Brady, he drew on his experience with another Brady.
Brando was working with Jole Klatt in his early days at FOX, but he and Klatt were not going to be an exclusive team. He remembers Brady Quinn coming in to their booth shortly after his NFL career had eneded. Quinn was about to make his debut for FOX. Before they were ready to turn him loose, the network wanted the former quarterback to get a feel for the pace and atmosphere of a broadcast booth.
I do think it’s important that you have a new talent understand what that workplace is like in the booth – the choreography that takes place, because there is choreography. If the ball is deflected, your spotter’s hands are coming together like a bad clap. If there’s a hit, who caused the hit? Who stripped it? So there’s a hand signal for stripping the ball and then recovering the ball with the arms closing together. So who got the recovery? Who caused the fumble? Those things are always helpful.
There are things that are going on frantically in the booth, but you as a broadcaster have to remain calm, understand it, and sound succinct and confident. That just takes time and it takes reps.
That’s one of the great things I think that Greg (Olsen) probably had an advantage in, as do a lot of analysts that get better over time. They do games of lesser importance that maybe the whole world is not watching.Tim Brando via Telephone
Tom Brady won’t have the luxury of time or of reps under the radar. He may get to do a few practice games, but the first time he will be calling a game on live television, it will be one of the biggest of the week.
Brando says in that case, it is really important that Brady use his instincts to his advantage in the booth the way he did on the field.
I don’t know Tom well, but I know him well enough to know that he prides himself on preparation. I don’t doubt for one minute that he will be prepared. He’s obviously an incredible competitor. You know, this is a this is a business of competition too.
If you’re a great player, just like a coach, you love the ecstasy of victory. You don’t want to admit it, but you love the agony of the defeat as well. That feeling of defeat is something we feed on to motivate you for your next performance. In television and sports television, you don’t get that in terms of winning and losing, but you do get it if you look at it as a great performance,
I believe that all great broadcasters are performers at heart. It takes a certain level of of a theater. It’s live. It’s not scripted.
I think some players that get in the booth that are looking to have that same, you know, euphoria that they have after playing and winning a game. Some of them get that and understand that in broadcasting and get out of that the same thing and others don’t.Tim Brando via Telephone
THE BROADCASTING COACH: GUS RAMSEY
Plenty of broadcasters turn to Gus Ramsey for critiques and advice. The Program Director for the Dan Patrick School of Sportscasting at Full Sail University is also a broadcasting coach working with clients at all levels of the business. They trust his opinion because of his professional experience.
In a prior life, Ramsey was the producer of SportsCenter on ESPN. He has worked with a number of incredibly talented people and been tasked with taking newbies to new heights, so I asked him what he would be thinking if it were his job to get Tom Brady ready for his first FOX broadcast.
Sometimes great athletes forget that most humans don’t know what the athletes know. Things that are basic or simple or even mundane to the athlete are incredible pieces of wisdom or insight to the average fan.
When I was at ESPN we had Tony Gwynn in for an episode of Baseball Tonight. In our show meeting, Tony was explaining why a hitter was slumping because we was cupping his wrist. He went on explaining it for 30 seconds or so. The room was in total silence, eating up every word. The greatest hitter of our generation was doing a deep-dive on hitting. It was amazing.
Tony suddenly got a little self-conscious, stopped explaining and apologized for “going on too long” and we were all like “No!! Keep going!” Tony thought is was boring. It was just the opposite.
Athletes can think things they’ve learned and repeated their whole lives are common knowledge so sometimes they don’t share that info because they think “everyone knows this.”
I want to walk away from a broadcast feeling like I learned something. Sometimes the ex-athlete doesn’t realize how much educating they can do in a broadcast.
The other thing I always encourage former athletes or coaches to do is to take the viewer where they’ve never been; on the field, in the locker room, in a contract negotiation, etc. If you can get that viewer to fully appreciate the feelings and emotions of what goes on in those places, you enhance the experience for us.
Terrell Davis was an analyst on NFL Network for a bit after his career. He once described Champ Bailey running back an interception 100 yards by saying as Bailey got to the 50 yard line “right here it feels like someone put sandbags on your ankles.” I’ve never run 100 yards in a football uniform in Denver’s altitude, but Terrell’s line helped me better understand what it feels like.Gus ramsey via text message
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.
Mark Packer Loves Reading Your Memories & Tributes to Billy Packer
“I’ve heard from all kinds of coaches. I’ve been blown away. It’s just another reminder of the impact Billy had on so many different people, not just the world of sports.”
It still stands today as one of the most iconic moments in the storied history of Arizona basketball. Three simple words said it all as the Wildcats celebrated an overtime win over Duke to win the 1997 national championship. “Simon says championship.” Those were the words of legendary broadcaster Billy Packer as Miles Simon fell to the floor with the ball in his hands. It’s one of many lines his son, Mark Packer, has been reminded of recently.
It was the perfect three words after the country just watched Simon carry Arizona to college basketball glory. Packer captured the moment perfectly, just like he did during every Final Four for 34 years.
Packer passed away last Thursday at the age of 82 but his legacy and impact in sports broadcasting will never perish. He was heard during every NCAA Tournament from 1975 to 2008 and was on the call for some of college basketball’s most iconic moments, including Michael Jordan’s shot to win the 1982 National Championship, Bird vs Magic in 1979, and even Kansas completing an improbable comeback to win the 2008 championship in his last broadcast. And the best part of it all was that Packer did it his own way, with his own unique style.
“It has really been remarkable,” said Mark Packer. “When Billy passed Thursday night we put it out on Twitter and it took off but I didn’t really know what to expect on Friday and Saturday as far as reaction. But the tributes have been fantastic and our family has loved it.
“I have heard from just about everybody and their brother. Folks I never thought I’d hear from, I’ve heard from them, such as commissioners, whether it be the NBA, whether it be other Power 5 leagues, I’ve heard from all kinds of coaches. I’ve been blown away. It’s just another reminder of the impact Billy had on so many different people, not just the world of sports. To me, that’s been comforting to all of us. It just reinforced all the stuff we knew he was about and brings back special memories.”
Packer’s style of broadcasting has been well-documented over the years. He was honest about what he saw and always spoke his mind. Granted, that didn’t always sit well with college basketball fans, but Packer wasn’t concerned about that. He was honest because he cared.
“He wanted the game of college basketball to be the best it possibly could be,” said Mark. “When he saw things he did not like, the one thing he always did was speak his mind. He ruffled feathers and he didn’t care. His intent was to make the game the No. 1 priority. You realize now he didn’t have it out for your team, he was just speaking his mind.”
That style meant fans would often yell at games, ‘You hate Duke! You hate North Carolina!’ Packer’s honesty was often taken by fans as he hated their favorite team. He used to laugh at that, just as Mark does know when he thinks about those moments. That’s because Mark can remember feeling the same way as other fanbases as a kid growing up rooting for NC State.
“When he was calling an NC State game I thought he was always out to get my team,” laughed Mark. “He’d be doing a game in Raleigh — we grew up in Winston-Salem — and the next morning after the game I would be eating breakfast before school and I would say ‘Man, Billy, you really got on so-and-so last night, what’s your problem with NC State?’
“He used to just laugh, because I thought he had an agenda against my team. Of course the funny thing is, we’d go on trips with him to other games and you’d hear fans say, ‘Billy Packer hates my team!’ It almost became a laughing joke, even amongst the family members, that Billy Packer was out to ruin your team’s day when he does a ballgame.”
Mark has always referred to his dad the same his television partners did. That goes for his two other siblings, as well. “Dad” was rarely, if ever, said in the Packer household. Instead, the legendary broadcaster was called by his first name.
“The fact they called him Billy on television, we never called him dad,” said Mark. “We just called him Billy.”
As you can imagine, ‘Billy’ had a lot of stories. That’s normally the case when you’re around the game’s greatest players and broadcast the legendary games we still talk about today. Packer was always quick to share those stories with his family, which made for an entertaining childhood.
Out of the hundreds of messages Mark has received since his dad’s passing, he says he hasn’t heard any stories he’s never heard before. But that doesn’t mean people haven’t been telling him stories about his father.
“We’ve heard them all, quite frankly,” laughed Mark. “Maybe the thing that was so funny about it was that it reinforced some that we thought were total BS when we heard them the first time.”
Packer will always be synonymous with college basketball and the NCAA Tournament. He was the voice of the sport during its golden era and helped bring the magic to TV sets across the world. If Mark had to guess what his dad is most proud of regarding his broadcasting career, he says it would be just that.
“From a broadcasting standpoint, probably the Final Fours,” said Mark. “When you, I think the number was 34 I heard, and he did so many of them, for us, we kind of took it for granted. It was just something he did. It was March and Billy is about to go do March Madness. It was just fabric for not only him personally, but also the family. He just loved the sport and wanted it to be good.”
Mark has carved out an incredible broadcasting career of his own. He’s hosted both radio and TV shows with outlets such as the ACC Network, WFNZ in Charlotte, and ESPNU. Having a front row seat to one of the most iconic careers in broadcasting, undoubtedly helped shape his career. Mark is very forthcoming as to what lesson he took from his dad the most.
“Oh, that’s easy,” Mark said. “That’s prep. He always studied. He was always coming up with notes and angles and facts. I have always done that with the radio and TV shows, that you constantly prep, you constantly read and make notes. You may not use but 10 percent of whatever you’ve been studying, but somewhere down the road you’ll use it again.
“When we were cleaning out his closet I ran into an entire box of old notes that he had from games from yesteryear. I kept every one of them and I can’t wait to look at them and relive those games and see his prep work and point of detail for all those games.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Anatomy of an Analyst: Doris Burke
“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.”
Basketball and Doris Burke have been synonymous for many years. At the age of 7, she started to play the game that would eventually get her to the top of her profession. Along the way she’s recorded many firsts for women in this field which I’ll detail later. Burke has also become an inspiration to other women already in broadcasting and those thinking about a career in media. Pretty impressive.
Burke was raised in Manasquan, New Jersey. She was the youngest of eight children, and started playing basketball in the second grade. She starred at Providence, where she was the team’s point guard all four of her years there and made an impact immediately.
During her freshman year, Doris Burke led the Big East in assists. She was a second-team All-Big East player once and twice made the all-tourney team of the Big East Women’s basketball tournament. Burke held seven records upon graduation, including finishing her career as the school and conference’s all-time assists leader, a record that has since been broken. She served as an assistant coach for her alma mater for two years from 1988-90.
From there it was time to embark on a Hall of Fame career.
ROAD TO ESPN/ABC
Burke began her broadcasting career in 1990 as an analyst for women’s games for Providence on radio. That same year, she began working in the same role on Big East Women’s games on television, and in 1996 she began working Big East men’s games.
Doris Burke has been working for ESPN covering basketball in different roles since 1991. It has also allowed her to do other things along the way that were unchartered for women in the business. In 2000, Burke became the first woman to be a commentator for a New York Knicks game on radio and on television; she is also the first woman to be a commentator for a Big East men’s game, and the first woman to be the primary commentator on a men’s college basketball conference package. In 2017, Burke became a regular NBA game analyst for ESPN, becoming the first woman at the national level to be assigned a full regular-season role.
If that wasn’t enough, from 2009 to 2019 she served as the sideline reporter for the NBA Finals on ABC. I mentioned it was a Hall of Fame career and it was officially deemed as such in 2018. Burke was selected to enter the Basketball Hall of Fame as the Curt Gowdy Media Award winner.
AS AN ANALYST
“Doris Burke has an ease about her. A quiet confidence if you will.” Relying on her past experiences in the game as a player and coach, the information she brings her audience is relatable. Some analysts struggle to bring home a point in a way that a casual fan will understand. Burke has no trouble with this. Her ability to spell it out, concisely and conversationally sets her apart from most analysts, male or female.
Burke attacks her job, knowing that some will question her authority when it comes to commentary on the NBA. She doesn’t mind steering into the skid.
“I am mindful of the fact that I have not played or coached in the NBA,” Burke said to Sportscasting.com last year. “It doesn’t mean that I can’t do a very competent job. I think I try to do that every single night, and I’m never afraid to ask questions.”
It’s all about the information to Burke, and has nothing to do with the fact she’s a woman covering the NBA.
“If you enhance a viewer’s experience, it doesn’t matter what your gender is,” she said. “As long as you are competent and put in the work … you’re going to be accepted.”
Doris Burke learned the ropes so to speak from several women that came before her. In an NBA.com piece from January of last year, she outlined how much she enjoyed watching former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Gayle Gardner. Early on in her career at ESPN, Burke got to work with Robin Roberts on WNBA and women’s college basketball broadcasts along with Ann Meyers Drysdale and Nancy Lieberman. Roberts was Burke’s inspiration as she started her career path. She admired the professionalism that each displayed.
“Working alongside Robin Roberts … the one thing I would tell you is the most powerful means to change or impact somebody is by your actions,” Burke said. “She was the epitome of professionalism and competency and garnered the respect of the people around her because of the work habits she had. Watching Robin early on let me know that the basis for everything is the work you put into something.”
While Roberts may have been influential to Burke, Burke has been a beacon for other woman that are getting opportunities in broadcasting. When asked about their role model, YES Network analyst Sarah Kustok, 76ers play-by-play broadcaster Kate Scott and former WNBA player and current Miami Heat studio analyst Ruth Riley Hunter all mentioned Burke by name.
“Burke is the best example for anyone — male or female,” Hunter told NBA.com. “I love the way she describes the game. She adds so much to every broadcast, and when I was playing in the WNBA I was always really inspired by her work.”
Burke is popular amongst her colleagues at ESPN/ABC, thanks to a tireless work ethic an ability to adapt to whichever sport she may be calling that day. Count Jeff Van Gundy among her biggest fans.
“She’s the best, most-versatile analyst and commentator at ESPN,” Van Gundy said of Doris Burke in 2017 via Deadspin. “She does it all—great interviewer, commentator, studio analyst—everything. And she is an expert at it all—women’s and men’s college basketball, the NBA and the WNBA. She’s the LeBron James of sportscasters. There’s no better broadcaster out there right now.”
Burke is equally a big fan of Van Gundy and the top broadcast crew for ESPN/ABC’s NBA coverage. That includes Mike Breen and Mark Jackson as well.
“We are talking about three of the best to ever do it. Mark, Jeff and Mike have held down the NBA Finals for over a decade with commentary that is the best of the best. Hubie Brown is a living legend. All of those men have been nothing but gracious and supportive of me,” Burke told the Athletic.
Doris Burke is considered one of the best NBA analysts around. Her bosses at ESPN made sure to re-sign her to a multi-year deal and promised she will be involved in “high profile” NBA games in both the regular season and playoffs. Burke will also call finals games on ESPN Radio and appear on the NBA Sunday Showcase program on ABC.
Good for her and good for fans of the NBA on ESPN/ABC.
DID YOU KNOW?
In 2010, she was featured as the new sideline reporter for 2K Sports ‘NBA 2K11’ video game. She has appeared in every version since, including the latest ‘NBA 2K23’.
As a senior at Providence in 1987 she was the school’s Co-Female Athlete of the Year.
Her basketball idols growing up were Kyle Macy, Kelly Tripucka and Tom Heinsohn.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.