Tuesday October 3, 2023

ESPN’s Mike Greenberg Opens Up on Aaron Rodgers, Pat McAfee

  • New York sports will be dominated by the ‘Two Aarons.’
  • McAfee was an early guest on Greenberg’s ‘Get Up.’
Mike Greenberg of ESPN
Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)
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NEW YORK – Mike Greenberg of ESPN campaigned for the New York Jets to land Aaron Rodgers. Now that he’s a Jet, Greenberg believes the four-time MVP is already one of the two biggest stars in the Big Apple with Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees.

Greenberg is one of the busiest people in sports media. 

Besides hosting ESPN’s “Get Up,” he anchors “NBA Countdown” and “Greeny” on ESPN Radio.

Greenberg recently hosted ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage for the second year in a row. In time for Father’s Day, he’s written his latest book, “Got Your Number: The Greatest Sports Legends and the Numbers They Own.”

Greenberg recently went one-on-one with the “Front Office Sports Today” podcast. 

FOS: We won’t bury the lede: Your reaction to Jets landing Rodgers?

Greenberg: I don’t really have the adjectives for it. I mean, euphoria? Look, we’ve tried it the other way, right? The tried and true way of getting a quarterback is drafting one and developing one. If there’s one thing that I have learned, over the now more than 50 years that I’ve been rooting for this franchise, is that we can’t do that. We tried it so many times…So I understand that the price tag on Rogers was fairly hefty – and that it comes with some risk because he is clearly an offbeat person and you never know how it’s going to go. 

But the upside of this is overwhelming to me. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say the potential upside of this is the Jets become a Super Bowl-caliber team this year. I think I’ve been able to say that realistically in my life, maybe two or three times, again, out of 50 years. So to me, this was a no-brainer. I’m thrilled they did it.

FOS: How frustrating is it to be a fan of the Jets, the team with longest post-season drought in North America?

Greenberg: I’m speaking for literally millions of downtrodden, beaten-down fans. See people have the wrong idea about the Jets. People say, ‘Oh, you’re always bad.’ The truth is the Jets are not always bad…But what they specialize in doing is picking the most painful way to break your heart…They rip your heart out of your chest, and they throw it on the ground, and they set fire to it, and they run a truck over it. That’s the misery of the Jet fan. So this is our chance – and Rodgers is going to be the one who’s gonna drive that truck finally in a different direction.

FOS: Rodgers seems to be taking a bite out of the Apple, attending Jets OTA’s and hanging at Madison Square Garden. Thoughts?

Greenberg: I totally agree that he has jumped into this thing with both feet – which is exactly what I was hoping for. I was hoping that we were going to get an all-in Aaron Rodgers. See, the difference between Rodgers and [Brett] Favre is that Favre had no choice but to come to New York. He was either going to go to the Jets – or he was going to retire. Rodgers hand-picked us. Rodgers decided the Jets was where he wanted to be. And I think that makes all the difference in the world…He’s the biggest star in New York sports – immediately. It’s the Two Aarons. It’s Aaron Judge and Aaron Rodgers. He could own this town.

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FOS: How about McAfee moving his show to ESPN? 

Greenberg: I love it. I love McAfee. I had been hearing about him from people in the earliest days of ‘Get Up.’ I hadn’t seen much. Then I remember I was traveling back from the [2019] Draft in Nashville, and I saw him when he came out to announce (the Indianapolis Colts) pick. He turned legendary that day. I remember watching it and thinking, ‘This is different. Like there are a million loud-mouthed, foul-mouthed, smart-aleck talk show guys. There’s something very different about this one.’ There’s an obvious intelligence; almost genius. It was evident to me immediately, just watching that. And so I personally reached out to him that day. 

I said, ‘Hey, I would be interested in having you to New York if you’d be interested in coming.’ And that’s how it began. I think I was the first one to have him on ESPN. So I’ve always been a fan. 

FOS: Good point. The first time I remember seeing Pat on ESPN’s air was ‘Get Up.’

Greenberg: When we first started putting him on, I was warned by a lot of people, ‘Hey, Greeny, you got to be careful. You know, he sometimes goes over the line.’ And I thought, ‘Yes, but he strikes me as a person who’s smart enough to know where the line is. And he’ll go right to that line.’ He knows the line where he is, is very different from the line where I work and he’ll know not go over it. And he killed it on our show. Am I proud of it? Yes, I’m delighted. 

FOS: He does have excellent interviewing skills. See Rodgers breaking the Jets move on his show. 

Greenberg: McAfee has the number one skill that is required to be a good interviewer – which is natural curiosity. You can go to journalism school, as I did, and they can teach you a lot of things. But the one thing they can’t teach you is natural curiosity. So in the media today, the person who I think solicits the most interesting stuff out of their guests is Howard Stern. 

Howard Stern was known for most of our lifetimes as a shock jock, right? He’s just outlandish and crazy. But what he is, he’s a naturally curious person. And so is Pat. And so am I…

There’s a difference between a good interview and a good interviewer. A good interviewer gets attention for being an interviewer. A good interview takes place when you are getting the most out of the person that you’re interviewing. I think that’s what Howard Stern has done so well. I think that’s what McAfee has done very well with Rodgers – and will continue to do with other people too.

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FOS: ‘Get Up’ posted its most-watched April ever. Why is the show clicking?

Greenberg: I think we’ve matured. I’ve launched two big shows on ESPN over the years. One was ‘Mike and Mike’ and the other was this. The biggest difference is that ‘Mike and Mike’ did not launch as a big show. We launched – and we were literally the only people who knew we were on. And by the time anyone found us, we had matured. We had figured out what we were doing…

‘Get Up’ was just the opposite. We launched under an enormous microscope and an enormous amount of attention. And so the world watched, the sports media world watched us go through the growing pains that I think are necessary in trying to create anything. A daily show is not an easy undertaking…But we have an excellent group of people working on the show. The team on ‘Get Up’ is so good. 

FOS: ‘Get Up’ is an incubator of young talent. McAfee, Sports Emmy winner Ryan Clark, Marcus Spears, Dianna Russini, Dan Orlovsky, Monica McNutt, JJ Redick, Dan Graziano. Why?

Greenberg: I think it is a wonderful result of how hard, of how dedicated people are, to being the best version of themselves on our show. 

I’m a point guard on TV; I’m not a shooting guard. I’m not someone who’s up there trying to score 50 points in a game…What I’ve learned from working with Stephen A. [Smith] on the NBA show, and the reason I think that he and I have been so comfortable together, is because I think he knew I walked in the door the first day feeling like my goal is to make Stephen A. the best he can possibly be that day. That’s what I think I do well. 

You have to know what you do well in life, not just in this line of work, but in any line of work. I think I’m able to get the very best out of each person if they’re willing to bring it every day to what we do…Dan and Marcus are the first two that come to my mind, of guys I had never met before. They walked in the door of our studio in the seaport and said, ‘Here we are, Greeny. We have a ton of knowledge, we have a ton of energy, we have a ton of desire to be great. We really don’t know how to do it.’ I said, ‘Well, here’s the good news. I know how to do it. I can’t make you anything you’re not, but I can make you the best you that you can be.’ And so I think those kinds of people just have naturally gravitated to what we do…Monica is a superstar…She just shows up on our show and knocks it out of the park every single day…Laura Rutledge and Maria Taylor were with us in the early days. I’m thrilled. 

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FOS: ESPN is in the midst of its most-watched NBA post-season in 11 years. Do the ratings prove you’re still the right media partner for the NBA?  

Greenberg: I hope so…Those conversations take place in rooms that I’m not in. But I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to be with us. We cover the sport so much, so thoroughly. You know, we have this terrific show every single day with Malika Andrews. ‘NBA Today’ is awesome. It’s become the basketball water cooler spot…I know on [‘NBA Countdown], we have so much passion for it, between Stephen A. and Michael [Wilbon] and Jalen [Rose]. Our broadcast teams are exceptional – and our reach is exceptional. So, if I were in the room, I feel like I could sell the heck out of it. I’m not. But I certainly hope that it continues because I think it’s been great for all parties involved.

FOS: How did you come up with the idea for “Got Your Number?”

Greenberg: One day after ‘Get Up,’ the topic came up of how many Hall of Fame quarterbacks wore the jersey number 12, starting with Joe Namath, and then [Terry] Bradshaw, [Roger] Staubach, Jim Kelly, Ken Stabler, and on into [Tom] Brady and Rogers, who will both go into the Hall of Fame. 

And Pete McConville, the executive producer of Get Up, says, ‘Yes Greeny, they all wore number 12 – but who owns the number 12?’ And it was like a light bulb went off over my head…

Literally, in the car home, I called Henbo (co-author Paul Hembekides), who is the best researcher in the sports business by far. I said, ‘I’ve got an idea for a book. We’re going to decide who owns every number in sports from one to 100 throughout sports history. You’re going to do the research, I’m going to write it.’ 

FOS: Will we ever see a reunion with Mike Golic?

Greenberg: I have no idea. It has been a long time. The one thing I would say is that so many things have happened in my life, that I would not have guessed would happen, that I’ve learned never to say never to anything. It’s not something we’ve talked about. The only thing I can say with certainty is it’s not a conversation that has happened. Who knows what will happen in the future.

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