The following appeared in the November, 2006 issue of
by Nancy Thompson
What do you consider to be the most important events in Connecticut sports in the past two decades?
“Number One: the Whalers coming to Hartford. They revitalized downtown. It was vibrant, just the place to be. Number Two: The Whalers leaving Hartford. All of the above disappeared when they left. Third place is a tie between the Insurance City Open/Greater Hartford Open/Buick Championship and now Travelers St. Paul. I’ve worked every one since ’65, and it’s so much a part of the fabric of our sports community. Four people were instrumental in keeping it here, Henry Hughes of the PGA, Ted May, Roger Gelfenbein and Dan Kleinman, a West Hartford attorney. They and many, many others got together and saved something very important to this community. The other Number Three is the UConn stuff, football, basketball, and it goes without saying, Rentschler Field. What’s happened with UConn is a credit to the coaches. What Jim Calhoun did for the men’s basketball program is the stuff of which legends are made. He was the perfect coach at the perfect time. Geno Auriemma did and said all the right things and hired the right people, and he still does. Fourth would be the Patriots. I supported the move when it looked like it might happen, but the more I looked at it, the more I realized it wouldn’t be practical. The stadium would dominate the city for 12 games a year, and the traffic … I finally said, ‘You can’t just put it there.’ The NFL commissioner didn’t want to lose the Boston market, unlike the NHL commissioner when Peter Karmanos moved the Whalers.”
Tell me more about the Whalers. Do you think they’ll ever come back?
There’s one hope for bringing them back, and his name is Howard Baldwin. I’m mystified by what goes on in Hartford. They turn Baldwin away. He’s the one guy who has the clout. I do not understand it. The commissioner is too Napoleonic to admit that the Whalers leaving was a mistake. Everything Howard Baldwin touches turns to gold. Let’s give the guy some respect.
Looking back over your career, what was your most memorable sports interview?
“The most important figure in sports history, and a real gentleman, my all-time favorite interview was Jackie Robinson. I was in college, 19 or 20 years old, and he was the first Brooklyn Dodger I’d ever talked to. And then the next night, Jackie Robinson came over to me at a game and shook my hand. On the show, I’ve interviewed Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Carl Yastrzemski. My other favorite interviews are Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Jim Brown and Ernie Davis, a Syracuse University running back who was the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy.”
You’ve interviewed internationally known personalities as well. Which stand out?
Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Rockefeller and Pierre Salinger. I’m like the poor man’s Bob Costas. I like to know what’s going on in the world.”
And musical celebrities?
“My number one interview of all time was Artie Shaw, the clarinetist and band leader. I worked six months to get an interview with him. Others would be Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa – a wonderful guy – Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell, who sang with the Jimmy Dorsey Band, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Stan Kenton. The list goes on and on.”
What was your least memorable interview?
“Edgar Bergen. It was at the New York State Fair in Syracuse. I was in college and working at the TV station. Edgar Bergen comes in with Mortimer Snerd on his knee and sits down. It was the worst interview ever. I didn’t know that Edgar Bergen wasn’t funny. He was funny only with a written script. It was painful.”
Who was your craziest caller?
“We called him ‘The Vagina Man.’ We had a seven-second delay and he always tried to slip one by. He’d start saying ‘vagina, vagina, vagina…”
What do you consider the five most interesting sports to watch?
“There’s a tie for first place, baseball and hockey. Next would be the Indy 500. I’m not a racecar fan, but we went once and it was unbelievable, the noise, the vibration. The grandstand shakes. My next favorite would be the Super Bowl. Most NFL games are better at home, but the Super Bowl is better in person. And I love to watch high school sports, in person rather than on TV. I’ll stop and watch and high school game. I love to watch the high school athletes. High school is where college used to be, and college basketball is where the NBA used to be.
It seems trash-talking and showboating have replaced good sportsmanship. Tell me how you feel about it.
“A lot is due to ESPN, which really changed the face of sports. Now you have to get on Sports Center. It’s not the assist, but the dunk. They all have to be superstars. Take Terrell Owens, criticizing his teammates and owners. And it’s crept into the women’s game and kids’ sports as well. If I were a coach, my players would not trash-talk. Most coaches would disagree. They like their players to be chippy.”
Have you made any friends among sports personalities?
“Some of my best friends are with the Red Sox. I was at spring training for 10 days back in the late 70s. They all stayed at the Holiday Inn or Howard Johnson’s. Wade Boggs and the others would say hi, stop by at airtime. Now the players all have condos in gated communities. The only athletes who do that now are hockey players. I love hockey players. They’re the most accommodating. But my friends include Dwight Evans, Bob Stanley, now pitching coach for the Connecticut Defenders, Rico Petrocelli and Johnny Pesky.”
What was it like working with Bob Steele?
“It was a pleasure, really. How could you work with a legend like that and not enjoy it? He was tough; he was unrelenting about pronunciation. One time I was reporting on the Friday night races at Stafford Speedway and I talked about a racer who was known as Ruggerio. His name actually was Ruggiero, and Bob corrected me. I said, ‘I agree with you on paper, but who am I to tell the guy how to pronounce him name?’ Bob said, ‘When you pronounce that name on my show you’ll pronounce it right.’ I never used his name again.”
Who are your favorite sportscasters?
“Bob Costas is one of those who can do anything. He’s well versed, entertaining, humorous. I like Mike Tirico of ESPN and Monday Night Football. He makes everyone around him sound better. I also like Jim Nantz and Sean McDonough. And it’s only a coincidence that three of those four are Syracuse guys (my alma mater).”