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Dan McNeil Is Taking His Mask Off

“I can’t change those who want to look at me only as what I did to get fired. I can’t change that.:

Brian Noe

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Dan McNeil

Some hosts know how to create interesting radio. They can entertain and deliver compelling topics that catch your ear. Then there are rare talents that know how to create interesting radio, while also being interesting themselves. Dan McNeil is one of these hosts.

McNeil consistently showcased the chops that made him one of the titans of Chicago sports radio. He oozed both big personality and presence. He also spoke openly about his life. McNeil pointed out his warts, which made him more relatable and real. He connected with people easily.

Great stories rarely involve smooth rides. They typically include some turbulence and maybe a loss of cabin pressure along the way. McNeil’s journey has been bumpy at times. In our chat he opens up about addiction, depression and the tweet describing Maria Taylor’s wardrobe that got him fired. McNeil has a new opportunity though. He’s talking football and having a blast podcasting twice a week for BetRivers Network.

This could be a fluff piece, or it could be honest. My guess is that McNeil prefers the latter. The Northwest Indiana native is a striking mixture of triumph and tragedy. He’s won big, but should’ve won bigger. His career is like the Seattle Seahawks at the 1-yard line with a chance to win another Super Bowl, only to make the wrong choice. Danny Mac is both successful and complicated. Through it all, he’s unforgettable.

There’s a great line from an old Michael Jordan commercial: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why, I succeed.” McNeil’s struggles have helped and hurt his success. It’s been a game of tug of war, but it’s part of who he is. It’s part of what makes him, him. He’s flawed. He’s raw. He’s also magic behind a mic. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What did you learn the most during your early trial-by-fire days in radio?

Dan McNeil: Yeah, just try to get all of the suck out of your system as you possibly can. [Laughs] I had a real good program director at my first job at an FM rock station called the Loop. A guy named Greg Solk. He’s still in the business. We’re still friends. He encouraged me to interact with callers. A host named Chet Coppock didn’t do that very well and he didn’t like to do it.

Greg said to me, you’re more of an every man’s man, you’re more capable of having a conversation with Joe in Orland Park than Chet is. Why don’t you do that? Because you’re kind of more suited for it. That story you told about quitting a job at a restaurant on the spot to go see a concert; people dig that shit. Just be you.

That went a long way in, I think, separating myself from the rest of the pack because there’s millions of guys who know sports, but not all of them have the ability to engage an audience and get that audience to invest in them as personalities. I have to give Greg Solk a lot of credit for bringing that out of me.

BN: Are you surprised at all that a lot of hosts don’t have that ability? It seems like a very common trait, but there are a lot of hosts that don’t have it.

DM: That’s a challenging question, Brian, and I like it. I think the reason for it is many of them haven’t lived interesting lives maybe. Maybe some of them have been very sheltered. There’s a lot of nerds in sports broadcasting who haven’t been in a lot of places where some of us street kids have been, or they just aren’t willing to share it. Things as simple as admitting you smoke weed, which is legal in a ton of states now. I know some guys who that’s verboten; don’t ever mention that we smoked pot together. But I think those who have the courage to lay it all on the line — you’re gonna rub a lot of people really wrong, but that’s okay if a lot of people on the other side are really on board.

BN: Correct me if I’m wrong, but have you had to take a break or two along the way from radio?

DM: Oh yeah, I took a couple. It was February of 2012 when I hit the brakes to address addiction and depression because I hadn’t been treating those very debilitating mental health issues with any degree of reverence. I had gone off of a psych med without discussing it with my doctor. About six months prior to when I finally tapped out, I noticed a precipitous loss in appetite for the things that interested me when I went off the psych med. In addition to that, it’s been my history. I’m a pothead and drank a little bit more back then.

I was starting to get a little bit heavier involved in pain medication; I became addicted to it. When I had spinal fusion surgery in ‘07, I discovered Norco. I’d had pain medication before and I used it recreationally before without issues, but that Norco just did something different to me and it made me want it all the time. I had to stop and reassess and catch my breath and get healthy. Unfortunately, I stumbled again about 15, 18 months after that and went into residential treatment for the same reasons. 

I was sick. I don’t dispute that for a second, but there is a big part of me that always will wonder if I paused and went to the bench again, because I was simply f—kin’ sick of working. The culture of the Score at that time was incredibly negative, and foolishly, I let that get into my head. Most of the shows got along. I got along with everybody on the show; I loved doing radio with them, but all the individual shows were on an island. There was no sense of team.

That was a radical departure from the first run at the Score, it was considerably opposite of what I experienced at ESPN. And frankly, I didn’t handle it very well. I wanted to run away from that; and self-medication, and sadness, and clinical depression are not a good cocktail. I don’t regret it. They easily could’ve fired me, but I was trying to get right and hopefully it helped.

BN: How would you describe what those toughest days of radio were like for you, when you’re dealing with all that stuff at the same time?

DM: You have to put on a mask sometimes when your mind is occupied by family issues, or whatever, whether it’s personal issues, whether it’s irritability, lack of sleep, clinical, whatever. You put on the mask and you try to fake it. Sometimes it’s hard to even make speech when you’re wanting to shut down. It was particularly rough on me. I was in a position where I had to talk about things that didn’t interest me. I couldn’t give a f—k about NBA basketball. Baseball in the winter doesn’t pump my testosterone a bit. When you’re in there every day for four or five hours, you have got to grind out thoughts.

Matt Spiegel and I had a basketball guest on once. I remember having physical pain in my stomach, not being able to think of one f—king thing I wanted to ask that guy. And I think it was a big name; I think it was Kenny Smith from TNT. And I like his work, but at that time, I would have rather had a root canal procedure than talk publicly with Kenny Smith. It didn’t interest me. I was done with that part of my life and trying to get through that was real tough. It’s like trying to punch underwater is one way I’ve heard it described and that’s pretty accurate.

BN: I have to ask you about the Maria Taylor tweet. If the Score was with you through these stints where you had to pause due to some really heavy stuff in your life, and then you get fired for a tweet about Maria Taylor, was that a surprise to you?

DM: Well, it was a different management team and it was a different company. At the time it was Entercom now Audacy. It was a completely different group from CBS, even though my program director, Mitch Rosen, was the same. Was I surprised I got fired the next day? No. A couple close friends of mine asked me if I was trying to get fired. I think the answer is no.

I only had 18 months left to go. Even had that not happened, I wouldn’t be on the Score today. We had agreed to extend my deal 18 months to coincide with the conclusion of this past year’s Super Bowl. I wouldn’t be doing afternoons now anyway, even if that didn’t happen. And to a large degree that softened the blow for me that I only had 18, 19 months until the finish line.

I hated to see it end the way it did because I’m not a misogynist. I contend to this day, it wasn’t a sexist tweet. It was a wardrobe critique that was harsh. I’d have said the same f—king thing about Kyle Brandt if he showed up for Good Morning Football wearing shorts and a sleeveless tank top; I’d ask when he’s going to work for the Thunder Down Under in Vegas. But it was directed at Maria. If I really hurt her, I feel terrible.

I’m not a bully. I abhor social media bullying. When you look at teen suicide as a result of that, it’s startling. But she is not a high school cheerleader. She was on Monday Night goddamn Football. That’s a high profile position. I live in a world where wardrobe is part of the critique of visual media. That’s never going to change for me. But your question was, was I surprised? No, because that’s where we are in this era.

BN: If I was in your position, I’d feel like, ‘It was wrong, it was stupid. Fine, but can we not blow things out of proportion?’ But if you say that, it doesn’t land well; you know how it goes. How do you balance those two things together?

DM: Yeah, I hid basically for six months after it happened. It’s remarkable how I stayed off of reading stories; I checked my newsfeed of things that I usually read. You know how they always pop up on your phone. I’m seeing on SI.com, ‘Chicago yacker fired for misogynistic tweet’. Every paper in the country is using that as a tease to get people to look at their products. I’m like, I can’t f—king believe this.

I’m on Inside Edition with Deborah Norville who I’ve loved since the ‘80s when she used to be at Channel 5 in Chicago. But I didn’t open them. I think I read social media for maybe three hours after I tweeted and I said this is a battle I’m going to lose, and I’m probably going to lose it tomorrow. I don’t want to open a thing because I know myself and I’ll be tempted to reply and just dig a bigger f—king hole and I don’t want to do that.

BN: Spinning it forward, do you ever experience, ‘Oh, you’re the guy who sent that tweet?’ And you’ve done all this other work. How do you distance yourself from the tweet while owning it at the same time?

DM: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s like Mark Giangreco at Channel 7 who gets fired over a joke he made about Cheryl Burton. And all the Emmys that are on the shelf above his fireplace, all out the window. That’s how he’s going to be remembered. Yeah, that’s frustrating, but there’s nothing I can do to change perception. Early on in your career you’ve got to accept that because you’re going to be tagged as the guy who did this or did that regardless.

Thom Brennaman was a very versatile broadcaster, very good voice, both baseball and football. And everyone’s gonna remember him for when he thought he was off the air. That gets out and it’s like, that’s how he’s always going to be remembered. That’s the way it goes. My listeners, especially those who were on board early on, know who the f—k I am and what my values are. And like I said, I can’t change those who want to look at me only as what I did to get fired. I can’t change that.

BN: What is it about your relationship with BetRivers that excites you most?

DM: It’s football and it’s unsupervised. It’s just me, which I historically have not enjoyed. I always preferred having a partner. It’s more natural. It’s more fun when it’s interactive and two guys play ping-pong. It can be real magic as it was with most of my partners. I’m trying to get used to just standing on my feet for 35 minutes and flapping my gums about football. I’ve done four or five of them and remarkably I have found it to be incredibly exhilarating without the partner.

I love football and that’s going to be a super high percentage of my content. God, I don’t see it changing between now and the end of the Super Bowl. I’m talking football. I don’t have any pressure from business partnerships at radio stations, ‘Hey, calm this down,’ or, ‘Tone that down a little bit.’ Not that that happened often, but it’s present. I don’t have to weigh every thought like these poor slobs have to do on terrestrial today. I can just lay it all out there. I’m not gonna say f—k for effect, but if I want to talk about the Bears going one and f—king 13 on third down, that’s what I’ll say.

BN: [Laughs] Have you been into sports gambling for a long time?

DM: First Super Bowl I bet on was Super Bowl III. I was nine. [Laughs] I took the Colts laying 18.5 and the Jets won straight up. I should have known then. No, but I started wagering on sports more seriously, probably as I started to earn a little bit of money in the ‘90s. It’s taken a long time to learn how to get better at it, but I think the last five years I have figured out some things that have led to winning seasons finally. Not colossally huge seasons, but I’m winning more than I’m losing. 

The biggest reason is betting fewer games. And laying off parlays, not chasing, not looking at money earned as free money. That’s the biggest mistake guys make. You hit two games at noon, okay now it’s time for the afternoon tilts. I didn’t like Denver before, but I like them now. No, no, no, keep the money in the pocket, so that’s helped.

BN: BetRivers has signed some major talent: you, [Mike] Francesa, Mark Schlereth. Is there a sports radio host that’s really appealed to you over the years where you’re like, man, that person knows what they’re doing?

DM: The partner I would love to work with most and it just wouldn’t happen — that ship has sailed, I’ll never do terrestrial likely again other than this thing I’m doing now for WJOB, my hometown station in Hammond — but it’s Boomer Esiason. I would love to be in Gio’s shoes or Carton’s shoes before he went to the stripy hole for shit he got involved in.

That’s a great number two chair because football matters a ton to him and he loves the Rangers and he speaks hockey. When he’s talking baseball or basketball, he does it on a very cursory level, which for me is the only way to talk about it without going crazy. And he’s a regular dude. He was also born in 1961 and all the coolest people who walk the face of the earth were born in 1961. So Boomer would’ve been a great partner.

BN: Who would you say has either been your favorite partner, or the most talented partner you’ve worked with?

DM: Terry Boers at the Score between ’92 and ‘99 was a very good partner. I think where he was strong I was weak and vice versa. He also was very content to be the number two. That helps when you have a guy who’s the second or third option not trying to run everything.

Danny Parkins is a very, very talented guy and he’s very, very close to becoming a great host. That was kind of a fun way to wrap it all up doing what I called a father-and-son vibe. There were 25 years between us and I had not heard that attempted anywhere. It’s kind of remarkable nobody tried it over these years because what you do is lock in every goddamn demo there is. I got the old guys. I got some guys in the middle. He’s got guys in the middle and the young guys.

BN: What do you think would cause Danny to go from good to great as the host?

DM: I knew you’d pick up on that. The more life experiences he has, and he has had some really trying ones over the last three years. His first son was born I think nine weeks prematurely and was in NICU for a number of weeks. His brother has glioblastoma and has been fighting for his life for a couple years. His father isn’t in great shape.

Those life experiences and his willingness to talk about them when he has the courage to do that, stand in front of that microphone, it’s making him more relatable. It’s making him much more appealing to the everyday motherf—kers who might have just seen him as another silver spoon from the North Shore years ago. His life, until he started experiencing real life shit, was one of leisure. And I think Danny could take more of an interest in the history of sports before he started watching them. As he experiences more, hopefully he will, because many sports talk consumers enjoy reflecting on the ups and downs of their lives as fans.

BN: What would be ideal for you in terms of your future?

DM: Winning the Powerball.

BN: [Laughs] Yeah. If the Powerball doesn’t have your numbers, what do you want it to look like?

DM: You know what, Brian, you learn at some point not to obsess about the destination. It took me forever to get there. The podcasting thing is fun. If it grows into something really big, terrific. I really don’t want to commit any more than a few days a week doing it. Would I love Sirius XM to say hey, we love you, we want to hear you get wild, you want to do Sunday nights and do NFL? If the money is right, yeah, that would be a lot of fun too.

But just trying to enjoy it week by week. The little terrestrial thing I do on Fridays for my hometown station, I’m enjoying the shit out of it. It pays a little bit better than I expected it to and most would’ve expected it to. I have a great crew. That’s been fun. If that show were on every day in Chicago, until I got sick of it and didn’t show up, it would be one of the best shows in the market. [Laughs] But I’ve learned all things in moderation, including me.

BN: Is there one thing that you would like to do most going forward?

DM: I’ve got to finish the book I started a while back. I have been grinding away at this thing for several years and I had the perfect opportunity to do it when they fired me. But I needed some distance between that time and reliving so much of a career that was both very rewarding and satisfying, but also sometimes very upsetting.

I had my heart ripped out of my chest several times in this business by people who should’ve treated me better. When they broke up the original partnerships at the Score in ‘99, that sickened me because I should’ve been involved in those conversations and not just told what was happening. Then when ESPN fired me in ‘09, that kind of changed the way I looked at the industry for a long time. I’m sorry, I get a little [emotional].

I gotta finish that book. I’ve got a lot of stories to tell. Many of them I’ve told already, but there’s a lot of stuff I’ve left on the cutting room floor. This is kind of a no-holds-barred approach to my career, the people I’ve met in it, athletes, coaches and radio dorks, and also some of the challenges I’ve had in my life away from work.

BSM Writers

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.”

Demetri Ravanos

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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.

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BSM Writers

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.”

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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. 

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BSM Writers

The Pat McAfee Alternate Broadcast Presents Unique Challenges

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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.

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