Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Thanks, Mike and Mike!

Back in the day, when Bill Clinton was at the end of his eight-year run as President, I had a relatively long commute.  39.5 miles each way, to be exact, most of it on a major highway, only 6 traffic lights, but before EZ Pass.  There were no cell phones, just car phones (which got cloned with some regularity at major interchanges), and there was no satellite radio.  The offerings in the morning were slim -- music with endless commercials or local sports talk. 

The problem with the latter was that it switched from being informative to very opinionated.  Some of the hosts were better than others.  Some were kind and funny, others were downright insulting to the listeners.  My major issue was that I wanted to relax on the way to work and to learn something.  By the end of my very long drive, I found that something -- it was Mike & Mike on ESPN Radio.

When the show started, it didn't enjoy the commercial success that it has today.  Neither Mike Greenberg nor Mike Golic were household names.  There were many fewer commercials, and while I enjoyed the opinions of both hosts -- who are bright but also considerate -- their opinions did not dominate the show.  The reason for that was, really, who cared at that moment in time what they thought.  After all, they had no natural audience the way a former sportswriter in a big city might have on the radio.  And it was a national audience, so people did not want opinions on the latest controversy in any of the major cities.  Or, at least at great length. 

Enter Mike & Mike.  They had an easy chemistry, understood the nuances of developing a national audience, where they could lose people if they focused on too much of one thing over another.  They had the right type of egos -- that they could do a good job on their stage, as opposed to the self-absorbed who believe and act like they are better than everyone else.  They had great guests, and they did a good job of interviewing them.  Knowledge was shared, as was wisdom, with frequent guests such as former NFL player and college coach Bill Curry and former NFL player and coach Herman Edwards, among many others.  They also did not take themselves too seriously; they had fun.

I remember after listening for a few weeks that I talked with my wife at the dinner table about this new show.  I offered that I liked the format, that the hosts were smart and funny and opined that they would become household names over time.  I am not sure that they thought they would be when they started, but it goes to show you that if you sit down and try to do a good job without acting high and mighty good things can happen.  And boy did they!  Mike & Mike took off to the point where they are well known across the U.S. 

And now it comes to an end this Friday.  I'll remember the Bob Picozzi "Did you Knows-ees?," the singing of the "Good Morning Song," the various bets that were made over games, such as the results of football match-ups between Notre Dame (Golic's alma mater) and Northwestern (Greenie's alma mater).  I'll remember the great conversations with Bill Curry, the strong interactions with, among others, Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, Jon Gruden, Mark Schlereth, and the easy rapport that they had with almost every guest who joined the show.  Listeners (and viewers on the simulcast) never knew what new thing they would learn on a given day or what good laugh they might get because of the stories that one of the guests would tell.  Mike & Mike got into high gear early and, even more impressively, sustained their excellence for 18 years.

Sadly, words of their breakup leaked and it strikes me that there was some friction between the two men as discussions of Mike Greenberg's future as an AM show host on ESPN TV became public.  Both men acted professionally with one another on air during the summer, and it was impossible to tell that there were any hard feelings.  It's sad, if true, that this uneasiness and the hard feelings had to take place.  Both men deserved better than that.  They should take some comfort that they are going out on top of their game after 18, yes 18 years!  Most people don't know when to call it a career and have to be told.  In this case, both men are going onto other attractive ventures. 

To give the 18 years some form of context, I was a younger father with a newborn at the time the show began to air.  Today that newborn is almost 6'2" tall, is a high school senior, and wants to go into the media, most likely sports journalism.  That's how long 18 years is.  Mike & Mike, in essence, accompanied me while my wife and I were raising a young sports fan.

I will listen to Golic & Wingo when it begins to air and profoundly hope that Wingo will continue to be Wingo and not try to be Greenie.  I don't know if I will have the chance to watch Mike Greenberg on TV right away, but for about ten years I was a bit surprised that no major network had recruited him to lead their "good morning" show or even ultimately become an anchor on the evening news.  He is a good study, quick with facts, and has a good way of getting along with people on the air. 

Mike Golic is a great combination of a former defensive tackle/battler on the field with a kind manner, light touch and very good sense of humor.  He offers a great perspective and, like Mike Greenberg, interacts well with everyone.  While I appreciated very much the interactions with Golic and Greenberg, their "shtick" as it were -- Golic as the macho man and Greenberg as the wimpy metrosexual -- could be suffocating at times.  Golic & Wingo won't be tagged with that act, and the show will be better off for it. 

But the focus now is on Mike & Mike for the next three mornings before they call it quits for good.  I hope that when the show ends, they can do the equivalent of what Tim Riggins did on Friday Night Lights after he played his last football game.  The enigmatic, brooding, good-looking fullback grabbed his cleats and carried them back into the stadium, where he placed them in the end zone.  Then he walked away and did not look back.

Mike & Mike's closeout, as it were, deserves something as pointed, meaningful and sentimental.  It was a great ride.  Thanks for letting us all be a part of it.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Gym Workouts

I go to this mega-gym.  I mean, it has everything.  All sorts of rooms and machines and programs, a few pools, literally, something for everyone.  The owner is an entrepreneur, and to his great credit he always is innovating.  What started out as a small place is in certain ways a tribute to fitness.

Except there is one problem.  I tend to think that many are working out the wrong way.  There are the muscleheads who lift and look swollen but who do zero cardio and zero flexibility work.  There are the cardioheads who do only cardio, and even then they do not do it right.  I think of a friend with a sizeable gut who goes onto an elliptical with all of the force of a saunter in the park on a nice spring day.  He goes at one slow pace for at least a half an hour, but what does that really do for him?  And then there are the minority of flexibility types, who do things like yoga but only yoga.  No cardio, no resistance training.

I am not an expert on fitness or diet, but my doctors tell me that my heart is in good shape and my numbers are good, that my bone density for someone in his mid-fifties is fine, etc.  So I must be doing something right.  I don't want to preach to you as to what to do, except consult one of the fitness experts at your health club and get on a program that combines all three aspects of fitness.  Do some cardio, but interval work designed to get your heart rate up and staying up for say 20-30 minutes.  Do some resistance training, but make sure to balance upper and lower body and the anterior and posteriors of your body (i.e., front and back, as many just focus on the front).  And do some dynamic stretching, so that you remain flexible (feeling stretched out also is a stress reducer).  And change it up every now and then so that you do not get bored.

You will feel and look better.  You must be patient -- the hardest thing is to start and stay with a routine until it starts to feel good.  But if you are going to work out, try to get some good advice and try to do it right.  I see too many people in the gym who are out of balance and, in the end, could be doing more harm in the long run or, better but still not good, not doing much that really helps them.  Some go for social time, some go to tell themselves that they are doing something, and others really work it.  That means pushing and pulling yourself hard, breaking a sweat, lifting heavy weights, pulling heavy weights, stretching and going hard on an elliptical, treadmill, arc trainer, what have you. 

Don't just show up.  While showing up, of course, is key, have at it.  Make the most of your time at the gym, just don't tell yourself that you are working out and simply feel good about the act of showing up and going through the motions.  Remember, at times the biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves.  The questions you should be asking are -- is this a good workout for me, is this covering the risk areas for someone my age, and am I pushing myself enough to get into good and better shape.  You might not like the answers initially, but keep challenging yourself so that you use your workouts to maximize your health.

You will be glad that you did.

Friday, November 03, 2017

What Really is Hurting the NFL's Ratings?

President Trump taunts the NFL about its ratings.

Pundits surmise many theories as to why ratings are down, from the quality of product to the time it takes to play games to the protests by kneeling, the protests against the kneeling, the lack of scarcity (i.e., the NFL is on TV three days per week), the availability of other entertainment alternatives, the abhorrence of what has happened to former players and an unwillingness to watch a game where its players could get maimed for life, the obsession with fantasy football at the expense of watching the games and the presence of the Red Zone, which enables fans to pick highlights over the games themselves. 

All are good theories.  I subscribe to each of them.  There are those who are protesting because Colin Kaepernick does not have a job.  There are those who are boycotting because they believe that the protests by kneeling are an assault on the flag and the military.  (The contrary view is that the protests are against police brutality or insensitivity and are not in opposition to the flag or the military).  There is a lot of entertainment from which to choose, and college games can be more compelling (if not in conflict) because if the big-time teams lose one game, well, they could be out of the playoff picture.  Put differently, there is a lot of football on television all the time.  The games also take a long time; lots of stoppages, and one recent game I watched took four hours to complete.  Some friends feel guilty because of the "after" stories of people like Kevin Turner, Rickey Dixon, John Mackey and many, many more.  Some seem to care more about winning fantasy points than watching the games.  I tend to watch the Red Zone when my home team is not playing; I don't want to endure the timeouts and stoppages, I just want the action.

There is no single reason.  I am sure that for some who no longer watch there are combinations of factors.  All of these reasons are problematic, plus the fact that the average age of an NFL fan is about 50 years old (baseball fans are even older).  I do not know what the solution is, but an 8% drop has hurt those who cover the games -- they just cannot generate the revenue through commercials that they could if the viewership went up.  Atop that, I am ignorant as to whether companies prefer internet advertising to television advertising.  ESPN's financial troubles are well-chronicled.  Hindsight suggests that they overpaid for TV rights, and since they cannot generate sufficient advertising revenue or subscription revenue they are letting staff go.  And that begs another question . . .

Is viewership down because cable subscriptions are down and, therefore, Millenials are watching through streaming video or pooling resources to watch games or going to bars to do so.  If there is one bill in the house homeowners hate, it is their cable bill.  If isn't that, it's the cell phone bill.  And if something has to give, are people preferring to get what they can through Netflix and Amazon Prime and not wanting to pay for television.  The decline in subscriptions to cable networks suggestions that there is something to this argument.

The NFL is popular, yes, but something strange and potentially transformative is going on.  In 20 years, it will be virtually a flag football league, played more like lacrosse in terms of hitting than what it used to be.  The statistics seem to suggest that, as you just cannot have increasingly bigger and faster players hit each other hard -- even if they only do so in games and not at practices -- and not have that hitting occur at a staggering cost to the participants' well being.  As it is, even putting that problem aside, the game has issues because stars get hurt and then their teams can turn into mush.  Green Bay has struggled without Aaron Rogers, Indianapolis is pathetic without Andrew Luck, and Houston will list and limp without Deshaun Watson. 

I have written before that pro football is on top but that it could drop significantly because of decisions it is and is not making and because of factors beyond its control.  If I were the NFL, I'd spend my money on an Evolution Committee before spending too much time and energy on other matters.  Many factors are trending down, and, if they combine, they could create a storm that, when it happens, the pundits will say the owners should have seen coming.