December 09, 2004

Your Olympic Hero

I had the great honor tonight of meeting Bob Costas, who has been among my very favorite American media figures probably since I started watching organized sports when I was 7 years old. Announcer of baseball and basketball, studio host for the NFL, the Olympics, NBC's "Later" and HBO's "On the Record" and "Inside the NFL," Costas' voice was essentially the soundtrack of my early sports fandom.

The occasion was a discussion between Costas and New York Times business writer Richard Sandomir that was presented by the Center for Communication, as Sandomir took Costas through his entire career, as the announcer told numerous hilarious stories from throughout his long broadcasting career, before taking questions and holding forth on topics from the steroid mess to the direction of his HBO interview show. Some highlights:

- Hired directly out of Syracuse to call games on the radio for the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis, Costas found his way to national baseball broadcasting without ever calling minor league or local games. Quite an accomplishment, especially since (unlike just about every other play-by-play guy currently working) he’s not the son of a broadcasting legend.

- When hired for baseball at the age of 26, Costas was told by then NBC sports boss Don Ohlmeyer that he looked like he was 14; even at 52 today, he could still pass for 30.

- Costas was asked which movie cameo he regrets more, “BASEketball” or “Pootie Tang.” The answer should be obvious (the former is an embarrassment, while the latter is an absurdist masterpiece), yet Bob compared the choice to Jimmy Stewart having to pick between “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Vertigo.”

- As lead Olympic host, Costas said he has inadvertently set off at least two international incidents during the opening ceremonies of different Games. In 1992, NBC cut to commercial as the Turkish Olympic team was entering the arena; the next day 50 Turkish nationals showed up at 30 Rock to protest the actions of the Greek-named Costas in cutting off the dramatic entrance of their countrymen. Bob, luckily, was in Barcelona at the time.

- Costas began the Q&A by answering about five questions in the row about the steroid thing, sharing that the use is a huge deal for the game, and that he sort of suspected that Bonds was juicing, especially since there's no possible exercise that can change the size and shape of a man's head at the age of 40 the way Bonds' has.

- Asked if he had ever refused to participate in any NBC sports programming, Costas offered three letters: X.F.L. Good move. Then again, maybe that’s why McMahon threatened him that time.

- Bob acknowledged that his HBO interview show, “On the Record,” got off-track last year, often ignoring sports altogether- though he promised it will return to its old format in the new season.

- Asked by an audience member if the Ron Artest fight incident had been “blown out of proportion,” Costas responded that “yes, but everything is blown out of proportion. If the world exploded, the survivors the next day would blow it out of proportion.”

- And finally, I gave Costas a business card with the URL for this blog- so Bob, if you’re reading this, thanks for coming, and feel free to leave a comment.

Posted by Stephen Silver at December 9, 2004 12:52 AM

Even before the movies, etc., I always viewed Costas as an entertainment figure as well as sportscaster. His persona really crosses over from sports into entertainment, he has been involved in so much non-sports related activity over the years.

There still are few better sportscasters than Costas for basketball, and to a certain extent baseball, when he doesn't get overly sugary on the baseball reflections.

Posted by: John B. at December 9, 2004 08:33 AM

Yes, Costas tends to get a little sugary in his stories, but that doesn't detract from his abilities as a writer an sportscaster. Sure he tells stories about Babe Ruth's home runs as if he witnessed them first hand, but you can forgive him that little indiscretion because his love for the sports he covers is so obvious.
The thing that most people overlook was his pioneering work on "Later" in which he hardly ever talked sports (unless of course Billy Crystal was his guest). The show had a freedom about it that allowed him to carry guests over for more than one night if the interview went long. If a guest was so funny as to crack him up, they didn't edit that out, but kept it as a part of the show so that the audience could enjoy it too.
I miss that show, and I hope that his HBO show can live up to that even in part.

Posted by: Dan at December 9, 2004 09:45 AM

Listen, you little nerd. If you ever come near me again, it's your ass. I haven't been fawned over like that since Paris Hilton jumped me at Howard Stern's Birthday Bash. I'm not kidding. My people know where you live.

Posted by: Bob Costas at December 9, 2004 11:42 AM

Is Costas really only three apples high?

In all seriousness, I liked his recollections on the Spirit of St. Louis in that ABA documentary, but I don't like the 4-minute Olympic special report on the speed skater from Finland whose dog has heartworms.

Posted by: norbizness at December 9, 2004 02:29 PM

"Listen, you little nerd. If you ever come near me again, it's your ass. I haven't been fawned over like that since Paris Hilton jumped me at Howard Stern's Birthday Bash. I'm not kidding. My people know where you live"

Geez Bob seems like a real jerk on the internet. :) It must be great getting to meet someone you can try to base you career off of, Steve.

As much as I like the guy, I don't like him on the Olympics. It's not him, it's just the coverage, and he is NBCs face on the olympics. Maybe he'll replace Brokaw? That'd be novel for a few weeks.

Posted by: Jeff S at December 9, 2004 08:23 PM

I'll always have great sympathy for Costas's having had to co-host the 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremonies alongside the asinine idiotic babblings of Katie Couric.

Posted by: Dave J at December 11, 2004 06:06 PM

That was a great account of the Costas thing. Very entertaining...JUst say no to BLOGS BOB!!!!

Posted by: A at December 14, 2004 12:16 PM

i enjoyed da blog... I must say that Costas is definitely one of the greats and has encyclopedic knowledge of baseball... one of my fave Costas memories is in the daze before google he hosted a trivia show on KMOX that would blow your mind...people would wait all week to call in some inane question about arcane baseball facts and it didn't matter if it was 1941 or 1977, while a jeopardy-esque clock ticked away he could remember every factoid of player, every record, every time, rarely was he stumped...he's right up there in the voices of the game hall of fame with Scully, Buck, Rizzuto, hell.. John Facenda! , if ya can't tell i'm likely biased as he is an old family friend, even if he is a little big for his post modern britches, dad was the GM who hired him outta a box of demos, fresh from syracuse to do St. Louis Spirits games, later came the rest...our family moved on as the team folded, Bob hit NBC.... the rest is as they say ...history

Posted by: Lil Mike Martzke at March 2, 2005 05:29 AM
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