NOTE: The following also appears today on our sister site, www.leblanguage.net
Depending upon where you’re reading this, you either already know or can assume that I’m an exceptionally passionate sports fan. The very fact that I write and operate two blogs, one specific to sports, should identify me as someone who lives vicariously through sports. Because of my employment history, and the friends I’ve made along the way, I’ve never been more than one or two degrees of separation from those who actually work in sports, who are truly getting to live the dream I have harbored.
I first discovered Mike Greenberg shortly after he joined ESPN Radio from local Chicago TV at the recommendation of his co-host’s brother. Bob Golic was a ferocious defensive tackle who, like many NFL stars of the 80s, found his way to Hollywood, moving from the unlikely role as an RA on the short-lived prime time spinoff of SAVED BY THE BELL to a co-star role on the signature Family Channel series HOME AND FAMILY. With similarly deep ties to Cleveland as the show’s co-host (and my boss’ wife) Cristina Ferrare, Bob was a true fish out of water as he valinatly tried to play along with the low-budget show’s desperate attempts to fill two live hours a day, eye-rolling his way through lame segments such as the cast jaw-droppingly dealing with this new-fangled invention called “E-mail”. I can still hear the segment’s silly theme, written by the executive producer’s daughter “It’s not a-mail…it’s not b-mail..it’s not c-mail…or d-mail or g-mail…But it’s OUR mail…so now it’s time…for….E-MAIL!!!”. You might not be surprised to learn that that segment wasn’t among the best-testing ones I researched.
But Bob was well-liked, and he would unabashedly plug his younger brother Mike’s new morning radio gig with Greenberg, which eventually found it way to ESPN TV in a cost-effective simulcast. MIKE AND MIKE IN THE MORNING was a staple of both morning TV and radio for over two decades, with Greenberg especially endearing himself to me as an extension of my passions: An inexplicable love of the ever-disappointing New York Jets, a deep connection with sports with his beloved father, and a peckishness with Golic that revealed that it was he, even more than his older brother, that was the bigger star of that family. When the pair was separated in 2017 after a round of staff cuts, I felt a true loss. Golic was paired with other colleagues on the morning show, but none matched the chemistry or the ratings he had with Greenberg,
Greenberg eventually found his sea legs with the network’s new morning show GET UP!, which is followed at a more reasonable West Coast hour by a simulcast radio show where he is now the elder statesman of a crew of passionate fans and talents led by a scarily brilliant researcher lovingly called “Hembo”. Chris Hembekides is perhaps the oldest and crotchiest 30-something to be found anywhere in media, but in a manner similar to Greenberg, he loves his favorite often disappointing team passionately (in his case, the Philadelphia Eagles), his family even more, and sports trivia right up there with both. He displays a personality much like Greenberg did when he first started in 1996, and plays off Greenberg in a different but equally endearing way as the Golic pairing was.
So when the two of them released a book that celebrates sports trivia last week, GOT YOUR NUMBER, it got my attention and what little spare cash I have. The premise, as Greenberg described in interviews promoting the book last week, was driven by the kinds of debates any sports fan will get into in a bar, barber shop, office or family dinner, back in the days where people weren’t petrified to gather. He noticed that numerous NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks all wore the number 12. 12, but the question was posed–who OWNS the number? Statistics ultimately were overwhelmingly in favor of Tom Brady, but Jet fans argued for Joe Namath, Packers fans for Aaron Rodgers, etc. So Greenberg recruited Hembo, Hembo spent countless hours researching arguments and rebuttals, and hence, this book.
And it’s an easy and fascinating read, no matter how much you love sports or sports history. Their selections are unapologetically personal and they clearly are inviting arguments–particularly when the idea of “owning a number” is extended beyond merely someone’s jersey. Many numbers are salutes to years or athletes in sports where numbered jerseys aren’t worn, such as the choices of #46 and #60. The number 100 is a salute to a memorable event. 31 is a salute to an accomplishment by a non-human.
I thought I knew a lot about sports, and I try to believe TheDoubleOvertime.com is exemplary of that. But it’s clear that I have much to learn from the likes of Greeny and Hembo, and this book was a highly enjoyable teacher. And apparently I’m not alone in my enthusiasm–per Amazon, the book is number one in sales in the “football biographies” and “sports history” categories, and is reportedly a Top 5 seller on the New York Times Best Seller List.
It’s a way better venture for Greenberg than his stint as a game show host. He hosted 12 very forgettable episodes of a big-money prime time quiz called DUEL, which he dismisses to this day with the summative line “they called it DUEL because only two people were watching”. Well, not quite that few, but not many more.
I’ve never met Greenberg, though I know we have plenty of colleagues and friends in common. And I know we’d have a lot to talk about if we did. Sports is the great equalizer of cultures and worlds. He grew up and lives a far greater lifestyle than I ever has, and his highly supportive and lovely wife Stacy and his now grown children are the kind I can only dream about. No matter. I can defend my choice for #32 (Sandy Koufax) as passionately and informatively as he and Hembo do theirs (Jim Brown). And I’d really love if that conversation were ever to happen.
We all have our preferences, and we all have our special numbers. I’m awfully glad in this case their number is 1. And most certainly not Number 2.