Continuing our self-congratulatory series, “Mr. Irrelevant at 5” (It’s our birthmonth, y’all!), here’s a post that was originally published December 22, 2006 and titled “Remembering Sports Bloggers Live 1.0”. Like Gilbert’s 25th birthday party, the original was lost when AOL killed off its blog platform, so here it is, as it was, warts and all …
A harsh reality is that the things we create and come to know and love don’t always have a storybook ending. Such is the case with Sports Bloggers Live, which recorded its last episode — at least in its current form — yesterday afternoon. Like almost all of the nearly 200 shows that we did over the past two years, I hosted the program and the co-hosts were my brother Chris Mottram and my friend Kevin Nemeth. Fortunately, it was our Best of 2006 special, which afforded us the opportunity to look back on the past with the great pride and sentiment it deserves.
From open to close, it was a bittersweet hour. Our studio producer Brian Marcouiller played a three-minute open with dozens of SBL guests saying, “Hi, this is [so and so],” one after the other. Gilbert Arenas. Cal Ripken. Bill Walton. Tony Parker. Adam Morrison. Alex Ovechkin. Ron Artest. Ben Roethlisberger. Chris Paul. J.J. Redick. John Elway. John Rocker. Bon Jovi. And on and on until I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’ve done a bit of both. This was emotional for us, or at least it was for me. It may not sound like that on-air, or maybe it does. I don’t know. We really loved doing this show, and it was a big part of our lives.
This particular special is broken up into six parts and I implore you to give it an hour of your time:
- Random Awesomeness (Wade Boggs on big-game hunting, Reggie Jackson going crazy, etc.)
- Celebrities Rapping (Ron Artest and Wayne Brady with Anthony Mackie beatboxing)
- Botched Promotional Liners (Tony Dorsett, Jonathan Papelbon, etc.)
- Respected Journalists Gone Wild (Peter King and Bob Costas)
- Schrages (Schrages being Schrages)
- Under the Influence (Chris Webber, etc.)
— Hear SBL’s Best of 2006 Show (Ed. note: Thankfully we still have this online, but many other links from the original post are lost in time.)
Before explaining why this is our last show, indulge me as I walk down memory lane …
The show began in January of ’05 as Pigskin Bloggers Live, an outgrowth of the Pigskin Bloggers community. Those first few shows, and especially our first show, were brutal. As a host with no prior experience, I sounded like “Schweaty Balls”. The other co-hosts — Craig “CT” Thomas, Erin “The Eagles Bird” McCue and Chris “The Intern” Mottram — weren’t much better. All of our guests were Pigskin Bloggers folks who had never been on the radio before. Our only saving grace was that we had a studio producer in Brian Marcoullier who knew what the hell he was doing. Well, that and the fact that everyone involved was having so much fun and sounded like it.
The plan at the time was to do one show per week during the NFL Playoffs and stop after the Super Bowl, but people kept listening and we kept improving. So AOL decided to let us continue, and we did just that under the handle Sports Bloggers Live, AOL’s first podcast.
That’s when the transition began. Over those first few months we started having non-Pigskin Bloggers guests on the program. Guys like David Pinto from Baseball Musings. Guys like Jim Armstrong from the Denver Post and Around the Horn. We got our big break in June of ’05 when our producer Shawn Schrager booked Roger Clemens. We were nervous as hell but somehow pulled it off, and the interview ended up being mentioned in USA Today. For the first time we were being heard by many, and SBL was suddenly a real show. We couldn’t believe it.
As the show and audience expanded it became more and more of a full-time production. Sponsors were interested. We started doubling our output. And Schrages and I began taking field trips. The first was to Howard University for a Mike Tyson press conference. I’ll never forget the media frenzy around Iron Mike. A hundred journos surrounded the fallen champ on a veranda in 95-degree heat. I was just another guy. Thankfully, I also had Schrages, who pushed through the crowd and got me face-to-face with Tyson for a one-minute interview. Again, I was nervous as hell, but it was exhilarating and I’ll always be thankful to Schrages for his tenacity and that moment.
The second field trip that summer was to New York for the Madden ’06 release party at ESPN Zone in Time Square. This was a much more conducive setting for interviews, and interview we did: Chad Johnson (twice, because the recorder didn’t work the first time), Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Strahan, Trent Green, Tony Gonzalez and Roy Williams. I still can’t believe that really happened. I celebrated with a Bud, and Schrages celebrated with a White Russian that ended up all over his shirt.
I got married shortly thereafter and took two or three weeks away from the podcast. The show went on, of course, with CT and Chris ably handling hosting duties. And I guess now is a good chance to say thank you to CT (and Kevin and Erin and Brad “Inside the” Parker) for volunteering their time over the past couple of years to head into studio at all hours. All of them have full-time jobs that they had to tear away from for little to no reward. I’d also like to say how proud I am of Chris for what he did on the show. I was the Mottram who hogged the mike as the host/traffic cop, but Chris is the Mottram with real talent. Anyone familiar with SBL will tell you that, and I’m so grateful to have been able to work with him on this.
Towards the end of that first summer, SBL took a turn for the weird. A young caller/guest of ours who had gotten a good response was Alex the 12-Year-Old Blog Phenom. We sent the kid to Fenway Park where he interviewed Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar (thanks to Schrages), and he ended up on the Today Show and even the Tonight Show. I’m still not sure how that happened, but I’m glad it did because I got a moment of face time on Today as well, which seriously impressed the women in my life. Alex even has his own podcast now over on My Sports Radio.
To be honest, I can’t really recall much from the end of that year. I know I began appearing on Cold Pizza and that we talked to a bunch of big-deal guests, media guys and bloggers alike and made it through our first NFL season. I also remember that the first video iPods hit shelves. Luckily for us, our Emmy award-winning media mentor George Schellenger wanted to shoot an SBL video, so I put together an Office-inspired script and Schrages, Chris, Kevin, Erin and myself “starred” in it. Our director — and my beloved boss — Bob Wooldridge also had a scene-stealing cameo. It’s silly and we never followed up with a sequel, but I still love this video.
As ’05 turned into ’06 we geared up for Super Bowl XL, when SBL was actually sponsored by Bud Light; a marriage made in heaven. And because we had a death wish, we went all out and did a two-hour SB XL special co-hosted by, of all people, Tom Arnold. We were at our studio in Dulles, VA, and Arnold and CT (God bless him) were at the NFL Experience in Detroit. It was a total a high-wire act, and, against all odds, we pulled it off. I don’t think any show made us grow as broadcasters as much as that one did. We felt like if we could do that, we could do anything. We also did a SB XL postgame show that Sunday night, live and promoted on the AOL Welcome Screen. Hundreds of IMs and phone calls poured in and they were all about the horrible officiating. Well, that and Bud Light commercials. We were shameless, and it was a blast.
That February represented a high point for the show. Our traffic was through the roof, our sponsors were happy and we had all hands on board. And that’s when things went bad. First, George left the company. Our media mentor was gone. Then, Bob left the company, and tragically died shortly thereafter, which is something that I still haven’t really recovered from. Bob was a terrific person and I miss him dearly. (Ed. note: Still do.)
Between Bob’s departure from the company and his passing was SBL’s remote broadcast from Jay-Z’s 40-40 Club for the NBA Draft party show. Bob called it “our proudest moment,” and I won’t lie, it was just about the sweetest damn thing I’ve ever done. Schrages, CT, Chris and I were in the Cognac Room as Lizzie Grubman’s PR girls ushered Chris Webber, Chris Paul and others through the door just so we could talk to them amidst framed jerseys and chilled cigars with Black Star performing in the background. It was totally surreal, just like most things we were afforded the opportunity to do because of this show.
It got slippery from there though. I began working more and more on FanHouse (which is another thing that fills me with pride) and AOL Sports became a bit understaffed, meaning we all had less time to devote to the show. Chris also had to go back to school in the fall, limiting his hours. And it was around September that rumors began swirling about SBL moving to AOL’s studios in New York, 75 Rock. As flattering as those rumors were, we did our best to keep the show down in Dulles, where it all began. We made some changes to the format, kept booking killer guests (thanks again, Schrages) and secured a large sponsorship from We Are Marshall.
But it wasn’t enough. The move to NYC just made too much sense to the folks in charge, so earlier this month the news came down: Schrages is leaving the company and the show is moving to the Big Apple. We did what we could to pull the last few shows together, including what would be our swan song, the Best of 2006. Hopefully we did enough to pay fitting tribute to a deserving program. Now the show goes dark and relaunches with a new format and probably new personalities in February, hopefully in time for the Super Bowl. (Ed. note: The show never ended up relaunching.)
So maybe this transition from VA to NY is less of a conclusion and more of a continuation and maybe even an evolution. On one hand, I’m grateful the company thinks enough of what we’ve created to put some money behind it and take it to primetime. On the other hand, I wish that the same crew that created SBL could continue to be a part of it. So, yeah, the whole thing is bittersweet and writing all of this has been cathartic. Hearing those old clips, looking at those old pics, remembering … I realize just how much we accomplished, and how much we have to be proud of.
I’m thankful to everyone who took the time to listen, everyone who took the time to be a guest and everyone who took the time to contribute to SBL. Because of you we were able to create something special. And, for better or for worse, the show goes on. It won’t be the same, but it was fun while it lasted. We tried to get better every time, and I’ll never forget it.