NSSA: Tirico is just a regular guy

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 16, 2011

By Mike London
SALISBURY — WSTP sports director Howard Platt offered a preview of what to expect from Mike Tirico.
The local broadcasting icon had been pleasantly surprised by his nationally known counterpart.
“Tirico’s genuine,” Platt said. “He told me to call him anytime, and he sounded like he meant it.”
Tirico reached the crest of his profession when he was honored by the NSSA on Monday night at Catawba as National Sportscaster of the Year.
“Recognition by your peers is always rewarding, and this means so much so much to me,” Tirico said. “It means your peers believe you’re saying the right things and doing things the right way.”
Tirico, 44, isn’t bombastic or obnoxious or overtly controversial, once requirements for scrambling to the top of the food chain in the world of sports commentary.
“Professional” and “prepared” are the adjectives that appear most frequently when people are asked to comment on Tirico. He has quietly become the steady, trustworthy voice of this generation.
Fans have been comfortable with his Sinatra-smooth delivery since 1991, when he got his first break at ESPN. Two decades later, his face is instantly recognizable to even the most casual sports fan.
Appearance-wise, Tirico is unassuming. He’s not tall. He wears glasses. But like a deceptive point guard, he does all the little things right.
Tirico’s versatility is a huge asset for his employers ABC and ESPN. Studio host, commentary, play-by-play — he can do it all.
Or maybe you need a traffic cop to make sure two macho color analysts don’t strangle each other in the booth. Well, he can handle that too.
If it seems like Tirico is everywhere, it’s because he basically is. Besides Monday Night Football, still the glamour gig, he handles marquee college basketball and football, NBA, golf and tennis events.
“Everyone asks which is my favorite sport, and I’ve always got to answer that sports are like my kids —I can’t have a favorite,” Tirico said. “I can’t say the British Open is the best thing there is. That’s not going to go over well when I do the Masters. I can’t say there’s nothing like Monday Night Football if I’ll also be working the NBA finals.”
When FIFA World Cup soccer ventured to South Africa last summer, Tirico branched out again. Soccer isn’t one of the sports in which he owns a deep background, but he smoothly handled studio duties.
“Just an amazing event in a part of the world where I’d never been,” Tirico said. “World Cup was a treat.”
It should surprise no one that sports were Tirico’s first love. He was raised by his mother in New York, and he got to absorb Jets football games and Mets baseball games in person because his grandfather was a Shea Stadium security guard.
“I knew what I wanted as a kid, and that was sports,” Tirico said.
By high school, the sport he was best at was golf. He’d invested perspiration in baseball, football and basketball, but he realized his future was limited.
“I was a defensive replacement and pinch-runner on the baseball team,” he said. “The dream didn’t die, but it was time to change the dream.”
The dream evolved into sports journalism. He went to college at Syracuse, mostly because that’s where broadcasters he idolized — Marv Albert and Bob Costas — had learned their craft.
He worked for the school newspaper, The Daily Orange, and got involved with campus radio shows. He interned at the local television station.
“One thing I learned right away is I preferred broadcasting to writing,” Tirico said. “I preferred reporting an event while it was happening to reporting after it happened.”
He got a tryout as the sportscaster for the Syracuse TV station. Watchers liked his style. Bosses liked his preparedness.
Four years later, he became a SportsCenter anchor for ESPN. That springboarded into major play-by-play duties.
Tirico is humble, so he was shocked when he was offered the Monday Night Football assignment.
But he’s handled that under-the-microscope duty — every mistake is YouTube-bound — with grace.
Tirico has visited North Carolina often — basketball in Charlotte and the Triangle, plus U.S. Open golf in Pinehurst.
His impressions of Rowan County have been positive, and he had a nice round of golf at the Country Club of Salisbury, playing with his father-in-law and his uncles.
“Every year I feel like this is the year I’m going to find my golf game,” Tirico said with a smile. “But with two kids and so much time on the road, I’m playing less than ever. But it was a good day. We had more laughs than we could count.”
Tirico’s mother and extended family got to see him honored last night. John Walsh, the man who created ESPN, made an unexpected appearance which surprised and thrilled Tirico.
“There are so many more important people than me,” he said, shaking his head. “Giving scores — my job is a lot less important than most.”
As Platt advised, Tirico was a nice surprise. A major radio station was eager to get him on the air and dignitaries waited to snap pictures, but he stopped to speak to a local newspaper for 10 minutes — without once looking at his watch.
“Thanks for taking the time to talk to me,” he said.
That’s Mike Tirico.