(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access Rich Podolsky’s interview, click on the following attachment: Ep 74: Author Rich Podolsky Joins In On “The NFL Today” | Streamer)
When CBS Sports first broadcast “The NFL Today” in 1975, the pre-game program was revolutionary. It was the very first NFL studio show to air and featured a former player, Irv cross … A woman and former “Miss America”, Phyllis George… and a professional sports player, Jimmy The Greek.
Basically, a casting like no other for a sports network broadcast.
Together, with then relatively unknown Brent Musburger, they produced a program so new, popular and entertaining that it won 13 Emmy Awards in its first year and won its time slot for 18 consecutive years (1975-93) until ‘at CBS lost his NFL package to FOX.
But it did more than generate interest and win awards. According to Rich Podolsky, author of the book “You Are Looking Live!” which documents the genesis of “The NFL Today”, it was central to the growth of professional football in the United States’ favorite sport and the NFL as a favorite league.
How? ‘Or’ What?
“You have to go back to ’75,” Podolsky said on a recent “Eye Test for Two” podcast. “There were only three stations: CBS, ABC and NBC. There was no cable. There was no CNN. There was no ESPN. ESPN was still six years away. There was no internet. Unless you had an AP TTY in your living room, there was no way to get football news.
“The NFL was getting more and more popular and fans were running out of information. And here is this show with these three personalities and many other novelties. They open up showing you a tour of the stadiums and Brent says, “You’re watching live.” Well, that was for the players because they wanted to know what the weather was like. So the players started listening.
“There was so much more to this show. People would rush home from the church and rearrange their church schedules so they wouldn’t miss the show. The first year, the show won 13 Emmy Awards. Unbelievable. So this audience has really grown. And as the league got more popular, the show got more popular. It’s really almost taken for granted that it has helped the league attract more fans and a wider audience, and that it has overtaken baseball as America’s No.1 sport.
An established writer and journalist since the 1970s and author of David Halberstam’s “Sports Broadcast Journal”, Podolsky worked on the set of “The NFL Today” as a writer, starting in 1977. So he knew the people involved and the stories behind them. He also knew how they interacted and evolved as the program grew in popularity – and he recounts their relationships as they fought against each other and compete.
“The more popular the show,” he said, “the more the four fought for air time. It was only a 30-minute show at the time, and only 22 minutes. actual news was allocated to it, the rest was advertisements and promotions.
“So 22 minutes were divided among the four people. And when they were all on the air, Brent was in control. And when he had an extra 20 or 30 seconds, he either sent it to Irv, or for further analysis, or Phyllis for comment, or The Greek for what he thought the odds would be.
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No problem there… except for one particular incident in 1980 that Podolsky was only too happy to remember.
“The Greek always thought he was getting the small end of the stick,” he said, “and he complained all the time that he didn’t have enough airtime. He had a segment of the show called “The Greek’s Grapevine” where he was supposed to bring insider news, and most of the time the producers and Brent felt he was only bringing advice from his friend, Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland. Raiders. So they were a little fed up.
“(But) one Sunday in October 1980 the Greek got some legitimate news, and it was that Our Lady was going to fire their trainer, Dan Devine, and bring in a high school trainer named Jerry Faust from Akron, Ohio. They said it again, but when they got on the air, instead of Brent saying, ‘What do you got for us, Greek?’ Brent broke the news The Greek had been silent and pissed off the rest of the day.
“When they met that night at ‘Peartrees (a Manhattan bar / restaurant)” one thing led to another, the Greek said some really nasty things, then Brent said – according to producer Ted Shaker – “You know, Greek, I can make you disappear whenever I want. ‘ And at that point, the Greek punched Brent Square in the face. He did the Washington Post the next day. It was the front page of the New York newspapers. And a week later, we had the highest rating ever on “The NFL Today”. “
Rich Podolsky’s “You Are Looking Live: How The NFL Today Revolutionized Sports Broadcasting” was released earlier this month.