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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.


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