Broadcaster discusses new book on NFL

BY MIKE SHERWIN, ASSISTANT EDITOR

Author and sports television broadcaster Rich Eisen says he has a “dream job.” And many sports fans would agree: Eisen covers the ins-and-outs of professional football year-round for cable television’s NFL Network.

His story of navigating the world of journalism to land in the coveted seat of a TV sports broadcaster is the subject of his new book, Total Access: The Journey to the Center of the NFL Universe. The St. Louis Jewish Book Festival brought Eisen to the Jewish Community Center last week to discuss his book, and his life in sports.

Total Access provides a first-hand look at not only the games, but the business of football: scouting, the draft, owners’ meetings, and of course, the games themselves.

Eisen, who previously served for 7 years as an anchor of ESPN’s Sports Center program, now hosts the NFL television network’s flagship program Total Access, along with former NFL players Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk, and former NFL head coach Steve Mariucci.

Eisen was in town to broadcast the last home game of the St. Louis Rams, where the team retired the jersey number 28 of Marshall Faulk, the standout running back for the team between 1999 and 2005, and now a co-host with Eisen on Total Access.

Eisen told the audience at the JCC that his interest in sports journalism began early on.

“I’ve wanted to be a sportscaster since I could probably breathe,” he said, noting that his older brother got him interested in sports.

“If my older brother didn’t get me into sports, I’d probably have written a book about Judy Garland…that’s what my parents were into,” he said.

After graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Eisen covered the police beat for his hometown newspaper, the Staten Island Advance.

After finding himself trying to decipher calls over the police scanner and quite literally chasing ambulances to report on crime, Eisen said he realized, “I wasn’t cut out for reality-based journalism. I was more interested in what my professor would call ‘reporting on boys with toys.'”

Eisen went back to school, getting his master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern University.

Then, he set off for a job as sports anchor and reporter at KRCR-TV in Redding, California, where he worked from 1994 to 1996. “Redding was a big change from Staten Island,” he said. “For those of you who remember the TV show Northern Exposure, that’s pretty much how I felt: a Jew from the city out in a smaller town,” he said.

Shooting his own sports highlights, along with editing his tapes, and reporting, Eisen got his first taste of broadcasting. Eisen compiled his best clips for his resume tapes, and sent it to a headhunter.

“The next thing I knew I got a call from an agent with the William Morris Agency telling me that I’m the hottest young sportscaster,” he said.

“I thought, ‘What’s next? Will I get a call from ESPN?'” he said.

Sure enough, he did.

At 26, Eisen went to work at ESPN Sports Center, working alongside people whose careers he had admired as a viewer: Craig Kilborn, Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick.

By 2003, Eisen became a key broadcaster on the then-brand new, NFL Network, 24-hour, seven-day-a-week cable and satellite channel.

Eisen said being a sports broadcaster “just keeps getting better and better each day.”

“Here I am, getting ready to go hang out with Marshall Faulk tonight. How much better can it get than that?” he said.

During the question and answer period, the audience quickly asked for Eisen’s prediction about which team he foresees winning the Super Bowl?

“I just don’t see anybody beating the Patriots. I think the only team with a chance is Green Bay, and that would largely be fueled by the mojo around Brett Favre. That’s the fairy tale story that could make the whole country outside of New England rally around the team,” Eisen said.

Of course, since he was in St. Louis, the audience asked questions about the Rams’ season so far and about prospects for their next season.

“How do I fix the Rams?” Eisen said, wondering out loud. “I have no earthly idea….This year was obviously a wash with so many injuries. It was basically ‘look both ways before crossing the street’ for all of the offensive linemen.”

Eisen said that the biggest question right now for the Rams, is how quickly they can turn around after such a disastrous season.

“Remember, all it took was a former grocery clerk and NFL Europe player, and you had the dream season come true,” he said, referring to former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner.

“Could that happen to the Rams next season?” Eisen asked. “Possibly,” he said with a dubious laugh. “But that’s what we (broadcasters) are there for. We’re there to cover all of these possibilities.”

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