ESPN's Mike Greenberg will handle all the unscripted craziness of draft night on the set live from Las Vegas in just a few days. This is only the second time he's hosted one of the biggest NFL events, and he learned plenty in his first year. We’ll get into that in just a minute.
While preparing for the big night, Mike also has been taking care of his normal duties: hosting Get Up, NBA Countdown, and Bettor Days on ESPN Plus, and his daily radio show #Greeny. This man works tons.
Greeny is one of the most popular television personalities in the country. I get asked about him at airports, at malls, even at games by so many fans who have listened and watched him for decades. There's a familiarity to his voice that can be comforting and connects sports fans in a way not many people can do. I don't want to get any angry emails from my colleagues who are also super talented but the truth is, there are many unique hosts on television, but Mike Greenberg is the best I’ve ever been around. You'll see why below.
Dianna: I’ll start simple Greeny. Why the heck do you love sports so much?
Greeny: It's not a simple question. It's actually a very complicated question. The most direct answer I can give you is, I love sports because there's nothing in the world better than investing everything into something that means nothing. Which is to say, if you are someone like I am, and you are where you place a disproportionate level of significance on these events that don't really have anything to do with you, it removes you, it is the ultimate. It does the perfect job of doing what you want it to do in the first place, which is just the perfect job of removing you from all of the things that you don't want to be thinking about and dealing with. So, when they say that it is a distraction from the events of your daily life, troubles of your daily life and all the rest of that, it does that, for me, at least better than anything else does, better than a movie, better than a Broadway show, better than a book, better than anything. There's nothing I love more than losing myself into these events that once again, have really no consequence of any way in my own life. The second piece -- or the more direct answer to your question is -- I was raised in a household where sports was just the currency of every conversation, so nothing makes me feel more comfortable in my family. Both of my parents and my brother and I were sports-obsessed throughout my childhood. So not only are all of my favorite memories from my childhood about that one way or the other, like we weren't athletes, we were from a Jewish sports family. So, we had season tickets to the Jets and the Knicks. So, there is a level of comfort and familiarity that I have when I'm talking about sports, I recognize immediately in others whether they speak the language of sports or not. You know this from personal experience that in your life, people will walk up to you and ask you a sports question all the time in an airport or on the street. You can tell immediately whether this person actually knows anything about sports or not. There's nothing wrong with not knowing but talking with other people who speak that language is very comfortable for me, I think because I grew up around it, so that is sort of both the big-picture and little-picture answer to that question.
Dianna: I call it ESPG … ESPGreeny, because you host everything. I’m kidding, but you work so much. There's prep that comes with it, too, that fans don’t understand. Now with the NFL Draft coming up -- on top of the other big hosting jobs -- what’s the hardest part about getting ready for draft night with such a busy schedule?
Greeny: I'll tell you I love how busy people perceive me to be preparing for the draft, especially [since] the second time is so much easier than the first time. I did it last year for the first time. And as is the case with anything, you don't know what you don't know. So, I over-prepared dramatically. I knew things I absolutely did not need to know, and I figured that out about 10 minutes into the telecast. When I asked a question to Mel [Kiper] and then Louis [Riddick] and then Booger [McFarland] and I realized, “Why do I know this guy's 40 times? It doesn't make any difference what this guy's 40 time was.” My job is to offer a little bit of interesting insight, something that isn't obvious about each player as they're selected, and then more importantly, to offer the context of what has just happened. So, this team has this, they have this need, they have to just address this. This is the fourth year in a row, they've taken a receiver, whatever that might be. Those are the things I need to know, to be completely honest. And we are having this conversation sitting next to Hembo (ESPN sports trivia guru Paul Hembekides). I've got people feeding me that information live as it happens. So, what I realized last year, the draft is just a talk show with enormous breaking news every 10 minutes. And I know how to host a talk show because I do it every single day and I have for 30 years. And if I had breaking news, real major breaking news every 10 minutes on Get Up!, Get Up! would be the greatest talk show in the history of sports. So, I actually found that job a lot more fun than anything I've ever done and much easier than I expected it to be. You need to know the players. So, I started in January. I do two or three players a day. I break down each player. I get a couple of notes on each one of them. I look at a little bit of video on YouTube. There's YouTube video on literally every player. And I don't find the prep for the draft [difficult] so long as you give yourself the time that you need. I don't find it to be that difficult. I really don't.
Dianna: You never, ever get rattled. I don’t think you even get nervous! How do you keep your cool in moments that are tense, whether people recognize it or not?
Greeny: I have gotten nervous many times. I mean, usually it's the first time you do something. I was nervous for the draft last year, very nervous. I was very nervous the first time that Mike [former Mike & Mike co-host Mike Golic] and I went on the David Letterman show for example. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was as nervous as I've ever been and what I've learned about it, and I taught this to my kids, is the time to be nervous is when you don't know exactly what's expected of you. So, when we went on Letterman the first time, I thought to myself: “Does he want us to be funny; does he? I don't know what he wants.” And I quickly figured it out, and he had us back many, many times. So, it worked out well. He just wanted to talk about sports with us. And once I figured that out, I thought OK, I know how to do that. So, I was much less nervous. Same with the draft. I wasn't exactly sure what it was going to feel like, what exactly my place in it would be. … You know, I watched Chris Berman do it all those years and then Trey [Wingo] did it so well ... I wasn't 100 percent comfortable with how I was going to fit into it. And once we got started, I felt incredibly comfortable, and I stopped being nervous. … When we first launched Get Up! I was nervous because I didn't really know exactly what it was going to be. Now I've done it every day for four years. So, you stop being nervous. And the other thing I'd say when people talk about experience, there's nothing that can happen on the air that hasn't already happened. Like I've had the wrong tape roll so many times I've had the wrong highlight, event people not show up, I've had the microphones go out; there's nothing that can happen that hasn't happened and that's not because I'm so special. It's because I've just been sitting here for 30 years, that eventually everything happens. So, if I don't seem particularly flustered by something happening, it's because it's happened. At my first TV station I worked for CLTV in Chicago. It’s in Chicago, a little 24-hour local cable news channel.
We had a one-hour call-in television show. So literally, we had one producer and a director. Those are the only two people in the control room. The producer is screening phone calls. There is no one else working on the show. There is NO video, you're just sitting looking at a picture of my face on the screen and we're taking calls, and someone calls in. He starts asking a pretend question and then starts saying the words: “Howard Stern's penis. Howard Stern's penis. Howard Stern's penis. Howard Stern's penis.” The director and the producer, because they're obviously overwhelmed and busy or do not know this is happening, they're not hearing it. They're not hearing the show. And there's literally nothing I can do to stop it. And so, I sat there on television with that person's voice just saying that over and over again and my face looking at the camera. And at one point, I just looked up and I said, “Guys … are we going to hang up on this person?” It's not a radio show. I can't hang up the phone. I'd give anything to have a tape of this. Now, this felt like forever. It was probably like 20 seconds, but it felt like 20 minutes. And what I would say is, once that has happened to you, there's basically nothing that you can't manage on the air … like what worse could possibly happen? I didn't die after that. I probably won't die now. I think I always go back to that day -- if I could manage to get through that, I think I can get through anything.
Dianna: If you weren’t hosting a sports show, what is Mike Greenberg doing?
Greeny: Well, what I wanted to be was a Broadway song and dance man. Like that was my dream. But unfortunately, all kidding aside, I cannot sing, and I cannot dance. But that's what I wanted to be. I grew up on Broadway musicals, and I loved them, and I would have loved to have played Sky Masterson and Guys and Dolls like that. That's been my dream life. I'd be out there singing Luck Be a Lady Tonight on Broadway. But that was never going to be an option because I just wasn't good at it. I would have been a lawyer for sure. Everyone thought I would be a lawyer. My father was a lawyer. My parents were the children of immigrants. So, my four grandparents all fled here from Poland. And we're penniless. Both of my parents grew up penniless in the Bronx. And my father, both of my parents were the first members of their respective families to go to college. And my father wound up going to law school and completely changed the trajectory of our family, and all four of my grandparents. When I told my grandmother, Lee, that I wanted to be a sportscaster, she said to me, and I quote, “Why can't you be something good?” Everyone thought I would be a lawyer like my dad because I was smart. And if you were smart, you were either going to be a lawyer or a doctor. If you grow up as a second-generation Jewish-American kid, you were going to be a lawyer or a doctor. The idea that you're going to be a sports announcer was ridiculous. But to their endless credit, my parents never thought it was ridiculous. Both my parents thought it sounded like a great idea. So I think that’s what I would have done in my mind when I graduated from college; I thought I would give it a certain amount of time. I don't think I actually had a time on it, but that I would give it some time to try and make it in this line of work. And if it didn't work that I would go to law school and I would become a lawyer.
Dianna: Well Greeny, you have proved to be incredible at this, so law school can wait for now...