Patriots Use PFW To Protest Non-Call At End Of Panthers Game

This week’s edition of Patriots Football Weekly (owned by the team).

pfw-nov-20

Nice.

It might be a stretch to say that the Patriots are “using” PFW to send a message, but as the paper is a house publication, they at least approve of the the suggestion here.

I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that this is the issue my monthly media column is in. It’s a look at the coverage of the Incognito/Martin incident in Miami, and the work done by the likes of Jay Glazer and Shannon Sharpe on this issue.

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An annoying theme that has seemingly become a running go-to subject to bring up every time the Patriots have a call go against them is to bring up the tuck rule. The Globe in particular is obsessed with the tuck rule. Whether it is Shaughnessy, Ryan or Chris Gasper today, the tuck rule is again referenced as evidence that the Patriots have been the recipient of fortunate calls on their own end.

The difference being, of course, that the tuck rule was an actual rule that was enforced correctly, as opposed to a flag being thrown for an obvious foul and then picked up without explanation.

I find the incongruity of this headline appearing in Globe highly amusing:

gasper

 I heard the “payback for the tuck rule” last year in the regular season Baltimore game, the one Bill Belichick referenced Monday night when he said he had been instructed that asking for an explanation from the officials was not the right thing to do. I heard “payback for the tuck rule” on the “push rule” call in the Jets game. (By the way – that call, which had never been made before and supposedly had been a point of emphasis that week – has it been called since? Or will that be the only time that call is ever made in the National Football League?)

My other bone to pick is the idea that a team “deserves to win.”

I love the “diehard Pats zealots” bit. To me, Ryan was just trolling Patriots fans with these tweets, and I said so on Twitter.

So, if on that final play Brady had managed to connect with Gronk, would Ryan be saying the Patriots deserved to win? Or that they had been outplayed by Carolina?

That was about as evenly a played game as we’ve seen in the NFL. But if I say that, I’m a “diehard Pats zealot” with “blinders” who can’t see the truth.

Maybe it’s expectations? The Panthers played better than many who hadn’t seen them before thought they could, so it means they outplayed the Patriots? The game came down to one or two plays. I have a hard time saying either team significantly outplayed the other. It was a great, evenly played game that the Panthers came out on top in. I’ve got no problem saying that.

Meanwhile, if you had a bad day yesterday, take solace, it could’ve been worse:

NFL Media’s Albert Breer has travel meltdown with U.S. Airways; informed viewers roll their eyes

From The PFW Archives – A Look at CBS’ 50th Anniversary of NFL Coverage

This column originally appeared in the October 27th, 2009 edition of Patriots Football Weekly. Some minor updates/additions are in this version.

CBS Also Golden This Season

By Bruce Allen

When a couple celebrates their 50th wedding anniversary there is often a natural tendency to look back at the “glory days” of the past. In the case of the New England Patriots and CBS sports, you can actually make the case that the glory days are right now. Both entities are celebrating 50 years this season – the Patriots 50 years in existence, while CBS is celebrating 50 years of broadcasting the NFL. Both have come a long way from their early roots.

CBS broadcast their first NFL game way back in 1946, (NBC had broadcast an NFL game as early as 1939 but only had two affiliates at the time.) but it wasn’t until 1956 that CBS did their first full season of games. With the exception of a five year period in the mid-1990′s when they were outbid by FOX for the broadcast rights, CBS has carried each NFL season since 1956. Back in the early days, only each team’s road games were broadcast back to the home market. Home games were all blacked out, every single one, to protect the ticket sales in the home stadium.

During this long run, they’ve introduced many of the aspects of NFL broadcasts that we take for granted now, but that were truly innovative at the time. Think about watching a black and white game with just one or two cameras, no on-screen graphics to show you the score,  no clock for time remaining, no down and distance graphic or how many yards the QB has thrown for in this game. If you went to the kitchen and missed a play, or even turned your head, you missed it for good. It wouldn’t be shown again. There was no yellow first-down line, no play-clock counting down, and no switching to see what was happening in other games around the league.

Can you even imagine a football telecast without highlights? How about instant replay? CBS was the first to use videotape highlights back in 1958, and they invented Instant Reply in 1964, using it for their Orange Bowl broadcast, and then used it for the first time in an NFL game in September, 1965. Two months later, on Thanksgiving day 1965, CBS had the first-ever color broadcast of an NFL game.

Monday Night Football is associated with ABC and ESPN, but CBS actually had the first TV telecast of an NFL game on a Monday night. In 1966, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle began an experiment where one game each season was played on Monday night and televised. On October 31st, 1966, the St Louis Cardinals and Chicago Bears played a Monday night game on CBS. The league continued this for the next three seasons, with CBS doing a game in 1967 and NBC in 1968 and 1969 before launching the full-season slate of games on ABC in 1970.

Having invented Instant Replay, they then refined it in 1966 by introducing slow-motion instant replay, allowing viewers to see exactly what happened on any given play. By 1969, CBS and XEROX had teamed up to bring up-to-the-minute team and player stats to graphics superimposed over the TV picture. The following year, the Telestrator made its debut, and though its use has somewhat slowed in recent years, its hard to imagine football broadcasts without it.

Have you ever sat and marveled at a perfectly thrown spiral as the camera follows it down the field? You didn’t see that prior to 1978, except on NFL Films. That year, CBS introduced the “Action Track System” which allowed multi-image display of paths of moving objects during the broadcasts. The Telestrator was taken a step forward in 1982 when the CBS Chalkboard, which was developed specifically for John Madden, was introduced. Using a view from a camera high above the 50-yard-line that showed all 22 players on the field, Madden could diagram plays directly into the view.

Since CBS had broadcast their first game in 1946, and also had the first-ever color broadcast of an NFL game in 1965, it only makes sense that they also had the first ever High Definition (HDTV) broadcast of an NFL game which took place in 1998. In 2004, CBS integrated “Gametrax” information with real time updates of scores and statistics from all games around the league into their broadcasts. “Stattrax” provides continuous in-game player stat updates after every play.

All of these innovations add to the NFL game viewing experience, to the benefit of the home viewer.

CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus is understandably proud of his network’s history with the NFL. “When you look at the names that have been involved with the coverage of THE NFL ON CBS…going back to Chris Schenkel and Ray Scott, Jack Buck, Lindsey Nelson, Frank Gifford, Curt Gowdy, Jack Whitaker, Al Michaels, Vin Scully and Verne Lundquist.” He continued “That doesn’t even include the lineup that we have today with such people as Dick Enberg, Dan Dierdorf, JB (James Brown), Greg Gumbel, etc.  I firmly believe, and I think it is really a given, that when they were doing the NFL together there has never been a better team than Pat Summerall and John Madden on NFL football.”

Summerall and Madden first worked together on a CBS NFL broadcast in 1979, and were paired permanently in 1981. They remained together on CBS until the network lost the broadcast rights in 1993. (FOX immediately hired the duo to be their top NFL broadcast team.) Summerall had been with CBS since 1962, and recalled a production seminar he attended during his first year on the job: “I think that everybody who was at that meeting that day in 1962 has passed away…The Cowboys had just come into the League so there were 13 (teams) then…As I remember each team had its own set of announcers.  It was unlike it is today.  Of all those announcers that were in that room that day, I think I might be the only one still alive.”

For his part, Madden, even though he moved on to broadcast for FOX, ABC and NBC, has always felt a tug of loyalty to CBS “I love tradition and I love history.  This is kind of what it’s all about – CBS, NFL – that just brings back so many great memories of the foundation of the game.  That was my first job in television and they gave me an opportunity.  The people that give you your first opportunity, your first chance in anything, you always have a certain loyalty to them.”

So as you watch the Patriots wearing their throwback uniforms, celebrating their golden anniversary as a franchise, and remembering how far they’ve come from those early days over at Nickerson Field and Fenway Park, think too about how far we’ve come in being able to enjoy the games at home, on television, in the comfort of our own living rooms.

I’m just glad CBS isn’t using throwback cameras to broadcast the games.

From The PFW Archives – An Interview With Jason La Canfora of NFL Network

This column originally appeared in the July 29, 2009 edition of Patriots Football Weekly. 

La Canfora Hits The Ground Running At NFL Network

By Bruce Allen

Since the NFL Network was launched in 2003, viewers have become accustomed to seeing and hearing from the well-connected and enthusiastic Adam Schefter, who seemed synonymous with the network. Schefter however, was unable to come to terms with the network on a new contract this offseason, and ended up joining ESPN.

His replacement at NFL Network is 35-year-old Jason La Canfora, who spent the last several years covering the tumultuous Redskins beat for the Washington Post. La Canfora started at the network in June of this year, and has had to hit the ground running, stepping into the role vacated by Schefter. Gracious enough to speak with Patriots Football Weekly recently, La Canfora says he was “humbled and thrilled” when he found out that the NFL Network was even considering him for the position, which he describes as a “life-changing opportunity.” With the newspaper industry facing very difficult times at the moment, the decision to jump to NFL Network was an easy one, though he notes that the move made so much sense for he and his family that he would’ve made the same choice “in any economic climate, regardless of the issues facing newspapers.”

When asked how the transition from the newspaper to world to the world of network television is going, La Canfora answers: “I’m getting a better feel for what my schedule is going to be like, what an average work day feels like, etc, but once camps open and then the regular season begins, well, everything will change. It’s just incredibly exciting to be doing something new, working on a schedule outside of what a typical newspaper NFL beat feels like, getting to exercise new muscles in terms of information delivery.” The reception he has gotten from his new co-workers has been so welcoming that he says that “it really feels like being part of a family.”

A native of Baltimore, La Canfora will continue to make that his home base, even as he jets around the country in his new job. Despite growing up in Baltimore, he is a rabid Boston Red Sox fan. How does a kid from Baltimore end up part of Red Sox nation? “It’s kind of lame, I agree, but I promise I am not a bandwagon, jumper.” He explains: “I was sitting out at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore in the mid-80s with my Roger Clemens jersey on. Sadly, The Rocket’s ascent was a big part of why I was drawn to Red Sox nation, and since he’s left I’ve never been able to stomach the man. But his 20 strikeout game was a big deal for me – I was 12 at the time – and the Sox obviously went on an amazing run that season and I shed many a tear during the ’86 ALCS – my dad ran upstairs, while I was crying into a pillow – to tell me about Hendu’s homer. And then Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, well, I still can’t watch highlights of Ray Knight and Mookie Wilson and Jesse Orosco throwing his glove in the air without feeling ill.”

His cheery, bespectacled exterior belies a competitive, sometimes combative nature. While covering the Redskins, La Canfora drew the ire of team owner Daniel Snyder and GM Vinny Cerrato for his candid reporting on how the Redskins franchise was being run. Cerrato blasted La Canfora on his radio show, and La Canfora shot back at the organization. According to DCProSportsReport.com, the incident “led some Redskins fans to regard LaCanfora as hostile to the team.” The site notes though, that La Canfora was, in reality, “only hostile to the incompetent and hyper-sensitive team management.” Ironically, now that he is with the NFL Network, 1/32 of his paycheck will be coming from the Redskins. La Canfora says he doesn’t view it that, way, but rather approaches this job as he would any other reporting job. He says “Eric Weinberger, the executive producer of the NFL Network – and someone I am very grateful to for giving me this opportunity – told me that he was interested in me because of the kind of journalism I have produced, and that the expectation would be that I continue to dig deep and look for the best information possible to serve our readers and viewers at NFL Network and NFL.com. He adds: “As with everything else, fairness and accuracy must carry the day, and my goal is always to provide all sides of an issue, inform as best I can, and fans will form their own opinions.”

Finally, asked for his thoughts on what to expect from the Patriots this season, he responded: “I think they are the team to beat. I have so much respect for that organization, the way they build a team, how shrewd they are, how they value draft picks, the overall sense that no individual is bigger than the collective – save for Bill Belichick, perhaps, as it should be.” Any potential weaknesses fans should be concerned about? “I don’t see much glaring in terms of what they lack. The running game will be under scrutiny as will some additions to the secondary, but I thought that Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs were two of the best values out there as veteran corners, and both ended up with the Pats. The passing attack could be as explosive as it was two years ago, and I love how the defense has transitioned, especially with Mayo now in the middle. To me they go into the season as favorites.”

From The PFW Archives – An Interview With Fran Charles, NFL Network

This column originally appeared in the December 22nd 2010 issue of Patriots Football Weekly.

Charles Admiring Pats From Afar

By Bruce Allen

On Sunday evenings, when you flip over to the NFL Network for a recap of the day’s games around the NFL, you’re greeted by a panel of former players Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin and former NFL coach Steve Mariucci, who weigh in on each game and on how things are developing in the standings.

Leading this trio through the program is Fran Charles, a veteran TV anchor with ties to Boston. Back from 1995 to 1998, Charles was the weekend sports anchor at WHDH-TV, and was also active on local sports radio programs as well.

After moving on from WHDH, Charles has covered boxing for HBO, Golf for USA Network and the NBA on NBC. However, when he arrived at the NFL Network in 2006, he knew he had found a home. “Football has always been my first love, so NFL Network is the perfect place for me” he says.

Part of what makes his job enjoyable is being immersed in football every day, and being able to learn from some who have accomplished so much in the game. “I thought I really knew football before I arrived at NFL Network, but quickly realized once I started showing up for work day in and day out, I still had plenty to learn.” Citing some of the former players he works with on a regular basis, Charles says: “To have the opportunity to be around players like Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson, Sterling Sharpe, Kurt Warner, Michael Irvin, Marshall Faulk, and Warren Sapp on a daily basis is invaluable.”

Working with former stars with the stature of those mentioned does present some challenges. Charles cites the need to sometimes push the analysts “to make sure all the great stuff I learn from them makes it on air so the fans can soak up that knowledge as well.”

Showing an awareness of something that viewers often complain about when it comes to sports recap shows featuring former players, Charles notes another challenge noting that sometimes he has to “push these players to do more than just laugh and joke on camera – but talk intelligently and educate viewers about the most popular game in the country.”

Working at the NFL Network has other fringe benefits. Because of his position, he is included in EA Sports Madden NFL 10/11 as himself. Charles originally thought his role would be animated, and was surprised to learn it was actually in HD quality video. He notes that his kids long ago got over their dad being on television, but being a part of Madden is “scoring me big points with 10-and-under crowd in the Charles household!”

Charles touches on why the NFL is so popular right now, noting “it’s a great time to be so close to the game because literally, teams can go from worst to first in back to back years, giving fans hope they won’t have to wait an eternity for a chance to compete for the Lombardi Trophy. If you just look at what the Cardinals, Saints and Bears have accomplished in recent years, these are all teams that have had recent struggles and still found a way to make Super Bowl appearances. It’s awesome to see.” He then tips his cap the local franchise here: “Not every organization can run as smoothly as New England and expect the kind of excellence the Patriots have achieved year in year out – which is a thing of beauty as well – especially in the salary cap era.”

As mentioned previously, Charles worked in Boston for three years during the 1990’s, including the year the Bill Parcells-led Patriots went to the Super Bowl to face Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Even then, Charles could see that the Kraft family was looking to build something that would endure over the long haul.

“It was more than obvious the Kraft family was building something special with the Patriots for all New England fans,” Charles says. “Of course we (at WHDH) covered the Patriots Super Bowl after the 1996 season extensively, and the dye was cast on the type of players and atmosphere that would set up the franchise for years to come.” He adds, however, that winning three Super Bowl Championships, and nearly posting an undefeated season in 2007 was something few could’ve predicted.

The subject turns to the current rendition of the Patriots, and Charles has been watching them closely. He warns against putting too much stock in preseason prognostications.

“Yes they’ve exceeded expectations – but expectations are just that – expectations. You never really know how a team will do until it hits the field.” He goes on to talk about the unit that some feel will hold the Patriots back in the postseason: “There’s plenty of talk about New England’s “young” secondary and no-name defense, but that unit continues to do just enough. Even though statistically the Pats D has given up a lot of yards – you have to look at WHEN those yards were accumulated and whether they were really relevant to the outcome.”

When it comes to the Patriots offense, Charles is effusive in praise. “The bottom line is this – Tom Brady is having an MVP type season that’s MORE impressive than the year he had in 2007 because the offense is not nearly as high powered as it was during that record breaking year and Brady’s finding a way to get everyone involved. Plus the Pats will rarely beat themselves by making foolish mistakes – they play such SMART football which is always crucial once the post season arrives.” He notes that it’s taken a little while for some of his colleagues at NFL Network to come around to the 2010 Patriots. “In the first half of the season few people here believed in the Patriots, but as the wins continue to pile up – the pendulum has swung.”

Hey, if the analysts at NFL Network are coming around on the Patriots, we might just have something here.

From The PFW Archives – Interview with Mike Freeman, CBS Sports.

This article originally appeared in the September 29th, 2010 issue of Patriots Football Weekly.

CBSSports.com’s Freeman Tweets It Like It Is

By Bruce Allen

Ask a Patriots fan who they like as a national sports columnist, and I don’t think Mike Freeman would be near the top of that list.

Come to think of it, I really don’t know who that honor would go to, but I do know it would not be Freeman, who has made a name for himself as a contrarian and pot-stirrer over the course of his career, most recently at his current employer, CBSSports.com.

In the past year, Freeman has written two columns highly critical of Patriots receiver Randy Moss, who has been a frequent target of Freeman’s criticism over the course of his career. Last season, Freeman claimed to have charted every Moss play during the game against the Atlanta Falcons, and claimed that on “a significant number of them” Moss didn’t put forth any effort. Freeman called Moss “one of the laziest” receivers in the NFL.

Following the opening game of this season, after Moss spoke about not having a new contract with the Patriots and wishing to remain in New England, Freeman weighed in again on Moss. He first acknowledged that the last time he wrote about Moss, the feedback from this region wasn’t positive. “It seemed the entire New England area wanted to Thelma-and-Louise me off a cliff.” he wrote, and added “Patriots fans sent me some of the nastier e-mails I’ve ever gotten. The New England organization was furious with me. When I covered a Patriots game the following week a close writer friend said he couldn’t talk to me in front of Patriots officials for fear of retribution to him. He was serious.”

His column then went on to talk about how far the Patriots go to protect and baby Moss, and that he repaid them by throwing them under the bus. He predicted that Moss will go into a shell at some point this season.

When I approached Freeman about being interviewed for this piece, he was a little wary of PFW’s association with the Patriots, but agreed to answer a few questions via Twitter direct message, joking “it’ll be your first Twitter interview.” And so it is. (If you’re so inclined, you can follow Freeman at @realfreemancbs.)

Prior to coming to CBS, Freeman had worked for some of the biggest names in the newspaper business, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe and Florida Times-Union.

After a couple of back and forths, (in one of which he stated that college fans were much more brutal to him overall than Patriots fans were.) Freeman knew what I wanted to talk about “You’re circling too much. Do this Muay Thai style, not MMA style. Come right at me. I know you want to ask about Moss.”

OK, So I did.

Just why does he have such a problem with Moss, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game? “Many longtime NFL writers outside of (New England) are huge admirers of his talents and not-so-huge admirers of his antics.” Freeman then added “I’ve covered the sport for 20 years and never seen a guy with so much ability simply waste it. He could have been better than Jerry Rice.”

Freeman noted that in both of Moss’ previous NFL stops, things got ugly at the end. Is there the potential for the same thing to happen here in New England, or can the presence of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady stop that from happening? “I’m not sure anyone can control Randy Moss but if anyone can, it’s Belichick.” Freeman says. He then adds “He’s underrated in how he motivates players.”

The rest of our conversation may come as a surprise to those of you who have a certain image of Freeman. He was very complimentary of Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft.

“Belichick is the best coach in the history of the NFL.” He declared. “I’ve written that and stick by it and I think the Spygate stuff was bull—-.”

Whoa. A national media member making that statement on the record? Amazing. So what exactly was, um, “bull” about it? “The reaction to it. Anyone who covers the NFL knows every team does what Belichick did. Every team.”

You’ve heard fellow coaches such a Jimmy Johnson make that statement, but a member of the media? You’re not going to find many, at least on a national level that are willing to say that.

Freeman also said “I admire Belichick’s intellect and how he appreciates and respects NFL history.” He then committed another act of treason to his fellow media members: “I don’t care that he can be crusty with the media.”

Are you warming up to this guy yet? What are his feelings on ownership?

“I also think Kraft is as good an owner as I’ve seen. What he’s done to transform that organization (and stadium) is amazing.”

Freeman has a unique perspective on the transformation here in New England. He was an intern at the Boston Globe, and covered the Patriots way back in the early 1990’s, prior to the Kraft family buying the franchise. He remembers what the team and stadium were like at that time.

“There are only a few organizations in sports history that have come from the depths like (the) Pats. It’s a testament to Kraft and Belichick.”

Coming back to the current edition of the Patriots, it is hard to find a consensus on what they are, and how good can they been. Freeman told me that the “National perception is playoff team” but that he had slightly higher expectations for this year.

“My title game prediction is Baltimore-NE. You have a healthy Brady, you have a chance.”

And that is even with Randy Moss.

From The PFW Archives – An Interview With Lesley Visser

This column originally appeared in the November 25th, 2009 issue of Patriots Football Weekly.

Visser no stranger to Pats success

By Bruce Allen

“Hi, I’m Lesley Visser, I know Will McDonough.”

With those eight words, Lesley Visser, the longtime CBS sportscaster voted this past summer as the No. 1 Female Sportscaster of All-Time, would approach players, coaches and officials during her first season on the Patriots beat. The year was 1976, and the 23-year-old Visser was working for The Boston Globe, yet was not allowed in the locker room, and her team-issued press credential flatly stated “No Women or Children allowed in the Press Box.” Oftentimes she would have to wait in the parking lot to interview players. There wasn’t even a ladies room available to her. Dropping McDonough’s name was the only “in” that she had until she could establish herself.

Despite her distinguished career, I sometimes feel that Visser isn’t always properly appreciated by the public for being the true pioneer that she is. In an age where more and more women are seeking careers in sports media, Visser set the standards by which they all measure themselves. Thus, having the chance to chat recently with the very gracious Visser was a great privilege.

Both her remarkable life and career began right here in Massachusetts. Born in Quincy MA, sports and football were in Visser’s blood from a young age. As a little girl, she dressed as Celtics guard Sam Jones for Halloween one year, and asked Santa for a pair of shoulder pads one Christmas.

In 1966, Visser attended her first professional football game, when the Patriots took on the Oakland Raiders at Fenway Park. The 13-year-old Visser managed to get down to the Raiders sideline where she saw future Hall of Fame center Jim Otto up close. “He was the biggest human being I’d ever seen,” she remembers, “and my eyes grew as big as his double 00′s.”

She had the goal of being a sportswriter when she grew up, and as an English major at Boston College, she obtained an internship at The Boston Globe through a Carnegie Foundation grant. Joining the paper full-time following graduation in 1975, she immediately started making her mark in a male-dominated field.

It started that bicentennial year of 1976, when Visser became the first woman assigned to an NFL beat when the Globe sent her out to cover Patriots on a daily basis.

“The first day of training camp, I think I brushed my teeth in the parking lot of Bryant college.” She recalls her biggest fear in those first days on the beat: “Working with people like Peter Gammons and Bob Ryan and Bud Collins, I was terrified I’d let the Boston Globe down with their historic decision.”

Dropping McDonough’s name became her “Magic Credential,” as she puts it. McDonough, the most respected football writer in the country, even spoke to Billy Sullivan on her behalf, telling the Patriots owner that she would work hard, and asking them to be forgiving of her mistakes.

Mistakes? She made a few, some of which pain her to this day. She recalls one incident early in her tenure when she was doing a story on Sam Cunningham, (Visser says that Sam was much more famous than younger brother Randall.) and included some notes at the end of the story. The Patriots were banged up along the offensive line, and she asked coach Chuck Fairbanks who would start at tackle, Tom Neville or Bob McKay.

In the Globe the next morning, Fairbanks was quoted as saying, “Neither one can play the position”. Visser relates: “I got a call at 6 am.  ‘Are you out of your mind?’” It was Fairbanks, shouting on the other end. “I said EITHER one can play the position!”  Visser still shakes her head at the recollection. “I wanted to move to Bimini. Instead, I flew down to Miami with the team – as all members of the media did back then. I heard about it the whole flight, and, OK, maybe the whole season. I think Dave Smith and Vince Doria, our legendary editors at the Globe, remind me of it to this day.”

All in all, she says that “The Patriots were great to me” and that first season in Foxborough was a memorable one, the team went 11-3 before losing a heartbreaking playoff game to the Raiders on the infamous Ben Dreith “roughing the passer” call on Sugar Bear Hamilton, the Patriots tackle who Visser says had watched game film with her that year, giving her an even deeper understanding of the game.

Though he was just a Patriots season ticket holder at the time, Robert Kraft had a big impact on Visser’s career even back in the 1970′s. Kraft owned the Boston Lobsters of World TeamTennis, and was the first person to let Visser into a locker room in any sport. She adds that Kraft “has been so supportive of women in this business, an advocate for more than 30 years. I’m happy to report that the struggles of Schaefer stadium are now the glories of Gillette. It’s no coincidence that the Patriots are the model, the envy of the NFL.”

With her history with the Patriots, it only makes sense that Visser’s favorite memory from her long career covering sports involves the franchise from Foxborough, MA.

“One of my most favorite memories in all of sports was Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans.” She proudly recalls “I was on the field when Adam Vinatieri drilled it through the uprights, and as the confetti came raining down, I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is the team I grew up with, the team that gave me my biggest opportunity, and now I’m here for their most shining moment.’”

Visser had moved on to television with CBS in the early 1980′s, and made history there too, working almost all major sporting events the network covered, including the NFL, where she became the first woman to host the postgame Super Bowl Championship trophy presentation. She stayed at CBS until 1994. She then moved on to ABC/ESPN, where she become the first woman on the announcing team of Monday Night Football, as sideline reporter. She returned to CBS in 2000, and has remained there ever since. She currently is a reporter for The NFL Today, and writes a column for CBSSports.com. In July of this year, Visser was voted the No. 1 female sportscaster of all time by the American Sportscasters Association.

Also this summer, Visser became the first woman to serve as a color commentator on an NFL TV telecast, during a Dolphins preseason game. Visser says of the experience “It was an enormous challenge, but I was careful to stay within my experience. I’ve never been in an NFL huddle, so I never said anything I couldn’t possibly know -  I think that philosophy has helped me for 35 years. I don’t assume, I ask.”

Visser’s distinguished career covering the NFL led to the ultimate honor. In 2006 she became the first (and only) woman to be honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as recipient of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. Among those congratulating Visser that day was Jim Otto, “Pretty good,” he said, “for a little girl shivering on the sideline.”

Visser says that “Being honored as the first woman in the Pro Football Hall of Fame made me glad I went through all the ups and downs. I have a genuine respect for sports, I’ve always said it’s the most meritorious business in America. It doesn’t matter where your father went to college or how much money your mother has, if you hit the jumper or sink the putt or kick the winning field goal, it’s because of your talent, your will and your skill.”

Fittingly, talent, will and skill are all qualities that Lesley Visser possesses in abundance.

From The PFW Archives – Greg and Gary from October 2007

Here is another blast from the past. This column originally appeared in Patriots Football Weekly back in October of 2007. Since the time this was published, the duo of Greg and Gary have sadly divorced, as Gary began a fling with Michael Felger that endures to this day.

Gil and Gino. Mike and Tommy. Dennis and Callahan. New England has a number of media duos that have become virtually inseparable in the minds of viewers and listeners. You can’t think of one without the other. Over at the new Comcast SportsNet, they have their own dynamic duo that has also become synonymous with each other – the tag team of Greg Dickerson and Gary Tanguay on Mohegan Sun Sports Tonight. Tanguay has been at the network since 2000, and Dickerson since 2002. The pair has a long history together, in addition to working together on Sports Tonight, the pair also did a radio show together on Sports Radio 1440 WWTM in Worcester in the late 1990′s, and also have teamed up on occasion as a fill-in duo on Sports Radio 850 WEEI.

Their act is a little different from the Gil and Gino’s of the world. They thrive on debate and conflict, while some of it might be contrived, it’s what viewers have come to expect from Dickerson and Tanguay. Greg is known as the player-friendly, yet opinionated, motormouth, while Gary is oftentimes the doom-and-gloom WHAT IF…guy. They often go head-to-head on issues, and aren’t shy about getting worked up over the topic at hand. Tanguay notes that once he is on set, Dickerson is so into giving his opinion that “the studio could blow up and he would continue to yell that the Yankees are dead.” In June.

While they may squabble on the air, the two have a close bond off of it. Tanguay had Dickerson in his wedding, and describes him as “a great guy and a good friend.” He adds though, that the on-air opinion and appearance of conflict is what fuels the show, adding that the conflict ends when the cameras are off: “Often people who work together don’t get along off the air. Most, if not all of our disagreements are on the air.”

While Tanguay and Dickerson might be a “media couple,” theirs is apparently an open relationship. This fall, each of them is hosting a competing Patriots pregame show. Tanguay is in his fourth season handling the pregame and postgame hosting duties on the WBCN Patriots Rock Radio Network, while Dickerson presides over the cleverly-named New England Pro Football Show on WEEI from 9:00 to 1:00 on Sundays. The WBCN pregame show begins three hours prior to kickoff. This means that on Sundays when the Patriots play at 1:00pm, the Sports Tonight anchors and friends are going head-to-head from 10:00am to 1:00pm.

While Dickerson had filled in on occasion for former host Dale Arnold on the WEEI program, this is his first season as the full time host. When it became known that Arnold wasn’t coming back to the show, (“There are no secrets in this market.” Tanguay says, “Too many loud mouths work in the business.”) Dickerson seemed the logical choice to take over the show.

So this must mean that there is a whole lot of trash-talking on the Sports Tonight set and competition over guests and promotion of the competing shows, right?

Tanguay throws a wet blanket on that idea: “We don’t talk about it a whole lot. It is kind of old hat for us. Both of us have been working in radio and television in this market for the last ten to fifteen years. It is not brain surgery. There is nothing really to talk about. There are no conflicts.”

Well, shoot. That’s no fun. C’mon Gary, throw us a bone here, there must be something you guys battle over? “Sorry, there are no street fights like they had in Anchorman.” 

Now there’s a visual for the sports fans of New England.

The shows may be competitors, but they’re quite different in style and substance. WBCN has the actual games, so their programming is an actual pre and post game production. They have Gil and Gino as part of their show, and quite often an opposing broadcaster as well. According to Tanguay though, that’s only a small part of the reason his show is better: “There is no question we have better catering! Tom’s Tavern of Wrentham feeds us like royalty.” He adds,  “As a matter of fact, I have caught Greg and Nelly (Steve Nelson) cutting our buffet line.”

Ah! So there it is, the dirty secret no one in the Boston sports media wants to admit! The WEEI crew (wait…don’t they have their own tailgating venture?) heads over to the WBCN area for food!

Back to the programming for a moment, WBCN’s show includes Sports Tonight regulars Andy Gresh and Scott Zolak, while WEEI’s entry includes Tom Curran and some guy named Paul Perillo, who also appear periodically on the Comcast SportsNet nightly offering. (PFW’s Tom Casale is another regular on the WBCN shows.) Everyone, it seems, works with each other on the Boston sports media front, which makes it hard to work up any real rivalry between all of them. While the WBCN show is a true pregame, New England Pro Football Sunday is more of a traditional sports talk offering, just themed to the Patriots.

Ironically, in some aspects, Dickerson and Tanguay switch roles when they go to their weekend gigs. More the straightman on Sports Tonight, Tanguay is an instigator on WBCN, bringing up contrarian viewpoints, and emphatically making his points. Dickerson, the loud, opinionated Sports Tonight personality, is more relaxed and less bombastic on his Sunday morning Patriots show.

While still one of the top media duos in the market, “Gary and Greg” prove that they’re not totally dependant on each other. It’s hard to imagine Gil Santos working with anyone but Gino Cappelletti, or Gerry Callahan and John Dennis hosting competing TV shows on the weekend. Dickerson and Tanguay though, have shown that be it together or going head to head, they can stir things up and keep the discussions going.

From The PFW Archives – Interview With Michael Silver

As some of you may or may not know, in addition to this site, I’ve written a monthly media column for Patriots Football Weekly since 2007. This gives me access to many of the top football media personalities around the country. Occasionally, I will reprint some old articles/interviews in this space. 

 This column originally appeared in the September 24, 2007 issue of Patriots Football Weekly. 

Silver carving a new niche at Yahoo!

By Bruce Allen

If you’ve read Sports Illustrated over the last 13 years, you’ve likely read a feature by Michael Silver, the Californian sports writer who this season has found himself a weekly guest on WBCN’s “Sylvania Patriots Pregame Show.” Silver, who in conversation seems to typify everything New Englanders think about Californians, (everyone is “Dude,” he’s passionate about surf and sushi) in fact actually provides a nice national voice to the program, which at times sorely needs the perspective.

Silver himself is embarking on a new period of his career, as this summer he left Sports Illustrated, where he had worked since 1994. He is now the lead NFL writer for a little web startup that you might’ve heard of — Yahoo! The web portal has made a serious commitment to its sports section, (sports.yahoo.com) luring in the recent past not only Silver, but also veteran print writers such as Jason Cole and Adrian Wojnarowski, with more high profile hires on the way.

The move from Sports Illustrated to Yahoo! this summer wasn’t an easy one for Silver, who observes: “It is definitely an adjustment, but a very cool one to make in 2007. I still go to games on Sundays and write all night, and I still write during the week, but it’s a different, more immediate, more opinion- and analysis-driven reality, and I like that.”

When asked further about the appeal of moving to the web-only format, Silver had an interesting take on it: “I had 13 great years at SI, but something hit me during this past Super Bowl,” he says, “I was up in the middle of the night writing the main story for the magazine and had some great stuff on Peyton Manning and the Colts that I couldn’t wait to get out there, and I was thinking to myself, ‘I can’t wait till this comes out … on Wednesday or Thursday, in people’s mailboxes.’ Suddenly, that didn’t seem right.”

Silver rates getting to watch his kids play soccer on Saturday mornings now as one of the biggest perks of the new job. He travels to NFL games each week, but the timing works much better now. Part of the new gig involves going up against old friend and colleague Peter King at the start of each week. While King is filing “Monday Morning Quarterback,” Silver is posting “Morning Rush” — a quickfire look around the weekend action, coupled with a ton of reader feedback, and thus far, no weekly Starbucks experiences.

Without knowing the situation, one might think that Silver left SI to perhaps get out from under the shadow of King, but he insists otherwise.

“Believe it or not, one of the coolest things about this is that I get to go head-up with Peter on Monday mornings, partly because he’s a good friend who has been so amazingly helpful in my career, and partly because he’s The King,” Silver said. “He not only has owned Monday mornings on the web for a long, long time, he created the template. It’s his fault — and part of this was our SI write-all-night ethos at work — that I’m writing eight zillion words instead of a tidy 1,500. Not only is he great at it, but give him a lot of credit for recognizing the importance of the Internet very early on and running with it.

“When I was deciding whether to stay or go, Peter understood what a great opportunity the Yahoo gig was, even though we both wanted to keep working together. He said, ‘A lot of people are going to tell you you’re crazy if you take this, but you know what? They’re completely missing the point.’ Then we got sad and said, ‘Who are we going to talk to all night on Sundays now?’ And then it hit us: We’ll still IM and talk in the middle of the night, because we’re the only idiots who’ll be awake.”

In one of his final assignments for Sports Illustrated this spring, Silver wrote about former Oklahoma University and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, portraying him in a much more favorable light than anything you had likely read before. Switzer also now finds himself in a new medium as part of the Fox “NFL Sunday Pregame Show,” teaming up to do a segment called “Grumpy Old Coaches” with someone who has been both a friend and a critic, his predecessor in Dallas, Jimmy Johnson. While critics might think that Switzer will have little to offer in the way of football commentary on the show, Silver has a different opinion, noting that he saw the first installment of the segment, and liked it, but thinks that it will get much better. He also inserts a Patriots connection into his observation: “Barry is a great, natural, unpretentious storyteller with more material than I could ever convey, and he and Jimmy go way, way back. They need to tell stories like the one where they were both in drag along with a bunch of Chuck Fairbanks’ other assistants — they hit the town thinking they were going to get fired, dressed as chicks, and got drunker and drunker, and comedy ensued.”

That might not be a mental image most of us wish to contemplate, but Silver cites the story as an example of Switzer’s strengths. He says Switzer “isn’t one of those coaches trying to hog the spotlight. He believes that great players and assistants are why games are won, for the most part, and he’ll tell you that without any hesitation. And he doesn’t take himself, or the game, so seriously, and that’ll translate well to TV.”

Silver is a guy who clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously either, and that also seems to be working out pretty well for him. Taking the chance to leap from a storied print magazine to one of those new-fangled Internet companies might seem like a risk to some, but for Silver it seems like a perfect fit.