HERE'S A QUESTION I GET FREQUENTLY: WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE ATHLETES AND/OR COACHES TO INTERVIEW? I've done my best to whittle a long list of candidates down to a top ten. I'll limit my choices to guys I deal with here in St. Louis rather than nationally. Because of that, a guy like Terry Bradshaw isn't on this list but would make it otherwise. Few people make me laugh louder or harder than Bradshaw during an interview. Conrad Dobler is another guy that would otherwise be included. Here is my top ten list of all time great sound bites (that's fancy t-v talk) as well as some deserving honorable mention cadidates.
10. KELLY CHASE. Strap yourself in and prepare for a wild ride when you interview Chaser. You don't know what's coming, with one exception. You do know that he's going to take a shot at you and someone he played with. But you can't help but laugh even when you're the object of his ridicule. More opinionated than anyone on this list and entertaining because of it.
9. ERNIE CONWELL. If you've watched Sports Sunday since its inception back in 1995, this name won't surprise you. We, like all the t-v stations in town, are guilty of going to the well one too many times with Ernie. He is one of the nicest human beings on the planet. He did a lot of interviews as a member of the Rams and I never saw him spar with any reporter. He was even polite when he disagreed with a question or comment. His answers weren't always scintillating but they were always articulate and thoughtful. As approachable as anyone on this list.
8. TONY LARUSSA. This one may surprise some but the skipper makes the list for two reasons. First, he takes his responsibility to the media very seriously. He's wound really tight after a game and may take exception to your question but the slate is always wiped clean the next day. He rarely turns down an interview and he talks every day for six straight months. Secondly, he makes you raise your game. He won't hesitate to let you know that you've just asked a stupid question. Embarrassment is a great motivator. Tony respects guys who pay attention and come to the stadium prepared. And, he'll compliment you if he thinks you're asking informed questions.
7. DAN DIERDORF. Some people possess a natural eloquence. Dan, like Bob Costas and Joe Buck, is one of the lucky ones. In my opinion, he's one of the all time great television game analysts and he's the second best emcee/toastmaster I've ever heard. (Jack Buck gets the nod as the all time best). Dan's answers are always succinct and the perfect length--not too long and not too short. He understands what you're looking for and accomodates, often by injecting humor into his answer. A very entertaining interview.
6. JIM HANIFAN. Long before he became my Rams Radio broadcast partner, Hanny was one of the great assistant coaches in NFL history. And some of his press conference performances as head coach of the Big Red are legendary. I only wish I could have covered Hanny as a head coach like Dennis Dillon and John Sonderegger did back in the 80's. But he was great as a Rams assistant as well. No one worked harder to make you understand what he was explaining. And, he's one of the great storytellers of all time. One other reason why Hanny makes the list: to this day, he and my mother are the ONLY people in the world who call me Stephen. I've always preferred Steve to Stephen but when Hanny says it it's okay. He called me Stephen the very first time I interviewed him back in 1997 and hasn't stopped since.
5. (tie) MIKE MATHENY/AL MACINNIS. Two stand up guys who often stood up and answered questions after a tough loss and took the pressure off their teammates. Both were their team's best leaders in their respective locker rooms. In this business, it's difficult to extract a meaningful sound bite in a losing locker room. Both these guys made our jobs a lot easier.
4. KURT WARNER. He is very possibly the most gracious "superstar" athlete of all time. His generosity with fans and the media is legendary and everything you've heard is true. The demands on his time were incredible from 1999 through 2001 and he bent over backwards to accomodate everyone he could. He made my jobs as a sports reporter and the play by play guy easier. You can't know what a big deal it was to know that Kurt was available and willing just about every time he was approached.
3. (tie) Dick Vermeil/Joe Vitt. The more entertaining you are, the higher you rank in this survery. Vermeil was that one in a million head coach who was a reporters dream. He was overly accomodating, if that's possible. We have his 14 years working for ABC Sports to thank for that. Having been one of us(sort of), he came back to coaching with an appreciation for the job we do. His range of emotions in any one single sound bite is unchallenged. He could go from tears to laughter in a matter of seconds. Vitt was quite simply the most sarcastic, caustic coach I've ever encountered. And, the funniest hands down. He would spare no one, including himself, when going off on one of his many rants. He truly hated dealing with the media so I thought doing the coach's radio show with him in the final 9 weeks of 2005 would be a chore. Quite the opposite, it was a blast. Vitt is one of those rare guys who is charming when he's grumpy. My only regret is that Joe was only here for two seasons. Very few people can make me laugh like he can. Most guys who answer questions the way he did would come off as rude. He got away with it. Just because he was Joe. And if you understood how big a part the four letter word played in his vocabulary, then you appreciate how hard he worked to curtail his salty language in interviews.
2. BRETT HULL. No one ever cared less about offending people with his opinion than Hull. (another reason why he and Kelly Chase are such good friends) He was the guy you'd wait on for an hour after the game to make sure you didn't miss one of his rants. His favorite topics: the sloppy condition of the ice ("the ice sucks")and the deterioration of the NHL game into a clutch and grab fest.("the game sucks today"). The most candid sound bite ever. And, he's just as candid now on NBC's coverage of the NHL. I was delighted to see him take Gary Bettman to task for the direction of the league on his watch. He's anything but tactful, but he does care about the game.
1. D'MARCO FARR. The undisputed, unquestioned king of the sound bite. The perfect combination of approachability, eloquence and humor. THE go-to guy in the Rams locker room for years. For good reason. He never disappointed you. The sound bites were the perfect length and always laced with humor. Not attempts at humor. Actual humor. One of the funniest people I've encountered. And rarely without a smile. He appreciated every moment he spent in the NFL and it showed in the way he conducted himself every day. We're lucky to have added him to our Rams Radio broadcast team.
Honorable mentions:(any of these guys could have made the list) Jack Snow(no one busted my chops like my late partner), Adam Timmerman(super classy and accomodating win or lose), Torry Holt(always in an upbeat mood), David Eckstein(uncommonly down to earth), Scott Rolen(his sarcasm is entertaining), Marc Bulger(a very likeable guy who rarely says no)Tyoka Jackson(absolutely media friendly), Bill Kollar (his cursing was strangely entertaining), Mike Martz(more playful than given credit for), and Hall of Famers like Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendeinst, Lou Brock, Jackie Smith and Bernie Federko who remain humble despite their success.
ONE BLUES NOTE TO PASS ALONG. John Hadley of the Blues' flagship station, KTRS, says that both Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk have been told they will be traded and that there's no guarantee they'll be brought back in free agency. Hadley filed that Wednesday afternoon(2/21).