Everyone has a favorite moment they have seen in person or witnessed on any media platform. But what about those moments through the eyes of those who were covering, or calling those great points of immortality? In I Was There!, compiled by industry insider Eric Mirlis, sixty-five of the biggest names in sports broadcasting and journalism share their personal experiences at the Top 5 sports moments they each saw in person.
From the Super Bowl, World Series, and Olympics to less-well-known sports and games, the people who brought you these moments on television and radio or wrote the stories you read in the newspaper or online give you a first-hand look at what made these events so special. Legens of the business like Marv Albert, Joe Buck, Bob Costas, Jim Nantz, Bob Ryan, and Dick Stockton all tell their stories with Mirlis’ guiding hand.
We caught up with Eric to get the stories behind the stories.
What was the impetus for doing the book?
It is actually a sequel to a book I wrote in 2007, where I asked the same question of 100 broadcasters and writers. So many things, both in the journalism business and in my life, have changed since then that it felt like the right time to do it again. Well, that, and the fact that Kenny Albert was bugging me for years to write a sequel.
What was the biggest surprise you found when writing it?
I’ve been very lucky in my career to work with so many great talents, both front-facing and behind the scenes, and I hit all of them up for favors along the way while putting the book together. Even though I have these relationships with everyone, though, the biggest surprise will always be how helpful everyone I asked for assistance with an introduction was. It is a very easy question to say no to, but those were few and far between, and at the end of the day, it enabled me to put the names Marv Albert, Joe Buck, Bob Costas and Jim Nantz on the cover of a book that I put together. I guess the biggest surprise morphed into the biggest thrill!
Who were some of the biggest influencers you found in putting it together?
I mentioned Kenny Albert earlier, and he was, by far, the biggest influence. Kenny and I have been friends from college, and I’m not shy about saying that I’ve ridden his coattails for the majority of the time since then. He pushed me for a long time to do this. When I decided to do it, he opened his rolodex of contacts up to me. And when it came out, he helped lead the PR charge to spread the word about it. Aside from Kenny, there were a number of people at FOX Sports and ESPN, just to name two places in particular, that went out of their way to help connect me with many of the participants in the book.
Have there been responses or anecdotes form people who have read it that you were not expecting?
There are two stories that I love telling (even though they aren’t mine), because they both came out of nowhere for me, and exemplify exactly what I was trying to capture in the book. First is Jeremy Schaap’s story about sitting in Bucky Dent’s seats at Fenway Park for the Bucky Dent Game. The other is Terry Gannon growing up with Rudy Ruettiger and being in attendance at the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech game depicted in the movie “Rudy”. I know everyone that knows Jeremy or Terry already knew these stories, but both of them knocked me out of my chair when I heard them, and as soon as I hung of the phone with both of them, I knew I had just heard a story that typified was this book was all about…not just going to big events, but the part of the story that others didn’t know and that made it unique.
As a longtime member of the media, how valuable has storytelling become? Has it changed over the years?
Storytelling always has been and always will be an art. It doesn’t matter whether it is on TV or radio, or in print. The mediums may have changed, and will continue to as technology dictates, but someone like Bob Costas, who I believe is the pre-eminent storyteller in the country, regardless of subject, will always be able to tell that story in a meaningful and entertaining way.
Who are some of the best storytellers and why?
I started talking about Bob Costas already, because he simply has a way with words that can’t be matched. My tastes skew to those who are given a forum that allows their words to develop and draw you in…from this book, Frank DeFord, Jerry Izenberg and Bob Ryan jump out at me because of the way they can all spin a phrase and induce emotion into what they are writing. On the spoken media side, I’ll always be partial to Marv Albert (what native New Yorker isn’t?) and Verne Lundquist, who was in the 2007 version of the book.
What do you want people to take away from the book?
There are a few things…First and foremost, this book is a great reminder that even the most hardened member of the media started as a sports fan first, and reading some of their stories is a wonderful way of reinforcing that. Reading Frank DeFord’s passage about being at the first Baltimore Colt home game, Dick Stockton talking about being at the Willie Mays catch in the 1954 World Series or Joe Buck sitting in the broadcast booth for Game 7 of the 1982 World Series while his dad was calling the game, gives the reader a unique look at why these legends do what they do.
I also want people to reminisce about where they were when these moments took place, and relive their own amazing stories and memories. Just because someone wasn’t lucky enough to be in the building for an unforgettable moment doesn’t mean that it can’t be as special as actually having been in the building.
Finally, I think this is the coolest thing is seeing how some obscure events are just as meaningful to people in the media as Super Bowls or the Olympics. Rob Stone talks about a Pro Bowlers Association event. Michelle Beadle shares a story from her days interning for a team from the Western Professional Hockey League. There are plenty of stories from games or events that may seem run of the mill to you and me, but were an important part of someone else’s career arc or personal life. I think that is pretty neat.
As someone looking for what’s next, how has the book helped you on that journey? Putting aside the opportunity to reconnect with some friends and co-workers from my past, as well as the new relationships it has helped me develop, I think there are some skills that this book taught (or re-taught) me. First off, there was the PR tour and booking myself for interviews around the country. Aside from a handful of interviews set up by my publisher, everything else was done by me. I did around 80 interviews on radio stations all around the country, from cities like Boston and San Francisco to Fargo, North Dakota and Dothan, Alabama. Of course, I was calling in favors at some of these stations (and a special shout out to Steve Cohen and all of the channels at SIRIUS…I think I did a spot on almost every sports channel there), but also sent out emails and press releases and was pretty persistent about following up. I also made the trip to Houston and took a shot at Radio Row during Super Bowl week. That was an experience I’ll never forget…of course, when Drew Brees, Le’Veon Bell and basically the entire Football Hall of Fame are also walking around the room being interviewed, it can be pretty humbling.
I do like to think the book has put me in a great position for whatever may be next for me. As someone who started in the PR world, this was a wonderful way to see how that business has changed since I left it, and taught me what I needed to learn to go back into it. Obviously, now that I’ve had two books published (and without an agent this time around), I now have the ability to create and sell content, which is becoming more and more important in today’s media landscape. Ultimately, I would love to roll my PR, editorial and content generation skills into something. What that might be, of course, remains to be seen (hopefully it will happen soon, of course!).
Ultimately, the most important thing I learned is that persistence does pay off, but there is a level of saturation that can be reached. Hopefully I didn’t cross THAT line too often, though. And as I try to find that next great opportunity, I hope I can approach that line appropriately without crossing it.