Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 11, 2013
SALISBURY — It looks like Dan Patrick has stuck his dismount.
The NSSA Sportscaster of the Year, formerly of media giant ESPN, has pulled off a rarely successful mid-career move and landed squarely on his feet.
“It took a while,” Patrick said Monday night outside Goodman Gymnasium. “I think the key was I’m able to have some fun with this and do it for the right reasons. I didn’t feel like I was leaving something as much as I felt I was going to something else.”
It’s been six years since Patrick parted ways with ESPN — where he served as a high-profile SportsCenter anchorman for nearly two decades — and five-plus years since he found his calling, a still-growing radio/TV simulcast call the Dan Patrick Show. Now here’s the twist: the program, currently broadcast in 275 cities and televised into 80 million homes, was launched in his attic.
“No kidding,” the 57-year old Milford, Conn. resident said with a wry smile. “Out of the attic. It was two bedrooms up there that we renovated. And it just took off. We just recently moved the whole operation into town. It’s about a mile away from my house, above the bar we all go to. We built a studio there with cameras that are remote-controlled by Direct TV.”
Patrick and his team of “Danettes” — two executive producers, a director of operations and a blogger — offer three-hour morning presentations that can be intriguing as well as informative, at times complimentary and cutting edge. What started with a “Wayne’s World” dose of enthusiasm has unspooled into a significant, reality-fueled broadcast. But it’s not necessarily a sports show.
“It can be anything,” Patrick deadpanned. “We’ve had actors on, musicians on, whatever I’m passionate about.”
Yesterday’s program featured NBA-TV’s Greg Anthony dishing on the Heat-Spurs championship series and Hall of Famer Julius Erving seeking an explanation for the league’s refusal to include ABA stats in players’ career totals.
“The thing about Dan,” said Dan Shaughnessy, the Boston Globe sportswriter and frequent telephone guest on Patrick’s show, “is that he’s always prepared, he’s funny and he’s smart. It’s a perfect combination.”
Compliments like that make nice souvenirs, but if you look at only the bones of Patrick’s story, you miss the heart of it. There was far more behind his decision to escape the bright lights of ESPN for the small-town friendliness and well-manicured lawns of Milford.
“I won this same award 13 years ago while at ESPN,” he said. “My son was eight-years old. He’s 21 now. This time around it means so much more because I feel like we won it as a family, because I was home more. That’s more important than anything. When I left ESPN six years ago I wanted to come home, to be be with my family. And that was the key behind it.”
Patrick said the demands of his ESPN job — the late hours, the cross-country travel, the never-ending schedule — made him pause to reconsider.
“My wife would say things like, ‘The kids are gonna be gone by the time you finish your contract,’ ” he explained. “So it was just a matter of being smart and coming home. I think it’s made me a better sportscaster. I had my family and I had balance.”
Of course Patrick still dabbles in network sports. He co-hosts the NBC pre-game show Football Night in America each Sunday during the NFL season — sharing a desk with NSSA Hall of Fame inductee Bob Costas, analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison and reporters Peter King and Mike Florio.
“Two things about Dan,” said King, the National Sportswriter of the Year. “Incredibly self-effacing, while at the same time being as clever and as quick and as smart as anybody on TV. We sit in meetings at NBC and he’s not a real mouthy guy. He sits there and takes everything in, then comes up with these great facts and one-liners. He does a great job of being a traffic cop in the middle of rush hour.”
Now he’s the NSSA’s traffic cop, recognized for his integrity, straightforwardness and stealth-like sense of humor.
“I don’t take it for granted,” he said before being escorted off to the adoring public waiting inside. “It’s the best award I’ve ever won.”