Retired rushing leaders aside, those appearing on ESPN have always been a cut above the rest. But then again, with a catch phrase like "The Worldwide Leader In Sports," you better be able to deliver the goods.
Whether it's been on NHL 2Night, Baseball Tonight or SportsCenter, John Buccigross has been one of the personalities helping the world get a daily dose of sports information for more than a decade. We recently chatted with Buccigross about ESPN, professional hockey and why messy eaters should stay away from Bucci's dinner table.
Where are you originally from and where do you call home now?
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., and grew up in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern, Ohio. I now live in Connecticut, 30 minutes from ESPN.
How exactly did you get into sports broadcasting, and when did you decide this is what you wanted to do for a living?
When I was 12 and my parents gave me an old tape recorder I knew I wanted to be a broadcaster. I once recorded a full nine inning make-believe baseball game from the future between the Yankees and Red Sox. John Elway was the Yankees centerfielder. Watching Chris Berman on ESPN made me want to do what I do.
How tough was it to break into the business? Can you take us through each of the stops you made before finally landed a gig at ESPN in 1996 and was there ever a point where you thought you may have to do something else with your life?
I started at a very small cable station on Cape Cod. I was there for five years and then went to Providence for two before being hired by ESPN. Once I got in the door full time on Cape Cod, 15 months after I graduated from college, I, thankfully, haven't had any concerns about not having to do something else. I'm signed at ESPN through 2012, so I am safe at least until then! I would like to teach at a small college some day (TV and writing) and coach the golf team.
Landing a job at the "Worldwide Leader in Sports" is so prestigious that ESPN even had a reality show titled Dream Job. What is it like working at ESPN - is every day filled with Shaq rescuing mascots out of trees and Grant Hill playing the piano in the lobby or is it slightly different than what we see in the commercials?
It's a little different. Those days are exciting, but otherwise I wouldn't call this a terribly exciting job except when we are on the air. It's fun and easy compared to coal mining and construction workers, but not as important. It's fun when I get to travel. I covered the Walker Cup in Ireland in September and heading to Cabo San Lucas to broadcast another golf event. Now, that is fun. I had more fun hosting NHL 2Night than I do SportsCenter. It was more give and take and less structured. I'm not big on structure. That's why I enjoy my column on ESPN.com. I also wrote a book called Jonesy. Please go to Amazon.com and buy it. Now. Right now.
Which anchor has the best all-around sports skills and who, in your opinion, would be the person picked last in gym class?
Best all around athlete? Sadly, I would be near the top, which doesn't reflect well on our skills. Scott Van Pelt has a sweet jumper, John Anderson used to be a high jumper. We three are probably pretty even. It's all downhill from there.
How much has ESPN and the sports landscape in general changed since you first started 11 years ago?
It's gotten louder and noisier. And when I started ESPN.com was a small enterprise, there was no ESPN The Magazine
, we had no gym and no cafeteria. Amazingly, we still don't have any cable competition, which is startling.
For those who aren't familiar, how would you describe your on-air persona when anchoring SportsCenter? What advice would you have for anyone hoping to become the next John Buccigross?
My on-air persona is pretty straight forward. Since so many people yell on TV, I try not to. I'm a bit of a contrarian by nature. I try to keep it natural. A little humor, a lot of facts and perspective. I enjoy writing more than doing TV. My goal in TV has always been to inspire, inform and entertain and not to have one outweigh the other. Being yourself is key. Find your voice and be brave. Artists have to be brave.
How exactly did you become the official go-to guy when it comes to suggesting baby names of future hockey players and how often do people actually take you up on your recommendations?
The baby name thing happened out of nowhere. You wouldn't believe how many emails I receive asking me for baby name advice. But, I want my column to be 95 percent hockey and five percent anything else.
We first got to know you while watching a wonderful show called NHL 2Night on ESPN. Before we get into that, can you tell us what it's like to be up close and personal with Barry Melrose's mullet? And can you please tell us the story of chicken parm?
As I mentioned earlier, doing NHL 2Night will always be my favorite part of working here. Barry, his mullet, and all of the hockey guys have been great to work with. Ray Ferraro once spilled some chicken parm on his shirt while doing some TV playoff work for us and when he returned to the NHL the following year I would just scream it out when he scored as a lark. It stuck. And now wherever he goes he hears, "Hey chicken parm!!" Google my name and chicken parm and you'll find the column I wrote on it.
Anyone familiar with your work knows you care deeply about the NHL. What is it about the game of hockey that drew you in and is it true you build a hockey rink in your backyard? Just how much work is involved in pulling that off?
The backyard rink is great. I keep the boards up year round, so it's only a matter of putting the big liner in there and filling it up with water. It's a lot of work, but it sure is worth it when one is out there on a beautiful crisp winter day. Google my name and "values of hockey" and you'll get the idea of why I like hockey.
Which city or arena is your favorite place to watch a hockey game, and what would be your ideal game day experience consist of - what music should the teams come out to, are you for or against having ice girls involved, etc.?
I'm pro ice girl. I'm sure Montreal is the best scene to watch a hockey game. I haven't been there yet, but I will soon.
Who are your top three favorite players of all time?
Cam Neely, Wayne Gretzky and Ray Bourque.
If you could be the NHL commissioner for a day what three changes would you make and why?
Your book, Jonesy: Put Your Head Down And Skate: The Improbable NHL Career of Keith Jones was released in October. How did this project come about and how long did the entire process take? For those who don't know much about Keith Jones, how would you describe him on and off the ice and what is it about Jonesy that makes for such an interesting read?
- Bigger net.
- Four on four full time.
- Ten minutes of overtime before the shootout.
Please go to Amazon.com and buy the book. It took about eight months. I thought it would make a good book and always wanted to try to write one.
Do you see yourself writing more books down the line, and if so, who or what subject would you like to tackle next?
I think I will do one on Melrose next. Hopefully out by next October.
What goals do you have set? Where would you like to see your career go next?
I'd like to do more play by play. To travel and go to games.
What do you do to unwind when you are not working?
I golf when the weather is nice, go to the gym, read and take lots of naps. Naps rule.
What bands or artists are currently in your musical rotation and who is the best band we should be listening to but have probably never heard of?
VHS or Beta is a band I am listening to a lot. The Arcade Fire. Sufjan Stevens. I like Bruce Springsteen's new CD.
What would you do for a living if you never got into sports broadcasting?
Teacher or coach probably.
Tell us something most people don't know about you.
I've had two holes in one the past 14 months.
Interviewed by Brian Murphy, November 2007. To purchase a copy of Jonesy: Put Your Head Down And Skate: The Improbable NHL Career of Keith Jones, go here.