Growing up, one of my favorite shows was ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The opening to that show was so dramatic: “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports. The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat! The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”
It was that human drama part that always resonated with me. Watching regular people that looked just like you and me accomplish great things was fascinating.
Years later I found myself in a position to interview many of those humans after those great events, and it became the best part of my job. Here then are some of my favorite interviews.
On May 1, 1991, after a day of covering the Byron Nelson Golf tournament, my wife and I were backing out of the driveway to go get a bite to eat. As we backed out I heard the late great Mark Holtz say, “through six innings Nolan Ryan has not allowed a hit.” I pulled forward, put the car in park and told my wife, “Sorry, honey, you are on your own for dinner, I’ve got to go to Arlington Stadium.”
I got there and went to the press box and watched as Nolan struck out 16 Toronto Blue Jays, including future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar Junior to end the game. With an NBC5 cameraman we ran onto the field to capture the moment and heard the roar of 33,000 Rangers fans on Arlington Appreciation Night.
After the celebration subsided, we went to the clubhouse and interviewed Nolan as he rode an exercise bike in the middle of the clubhouse. They did not have a dedicated room for cardio equipment in those days, and Nolan was multi-tasking. Riding the bike to break up lactic acid in his legs, drinking a beer and doing an interview. Among the things he told us that night, “It was the most rewarding no-hitter of them all because it came in front of my fans on Arlington Appreciation Night. My career is complete now. I got one for the fans in Arlington.”
It was his seventh no hitter! He was 44 years old! That is human drama like we had never seen before or since.
Another one of my favorites happened on July 28, 2017. That morning I had the opportunity to interview Pudge Rodriquez two days before he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. We were in Cooperstown, and after the 30-minute interview he asked if I could go play golf with him. I declined because I had work to do. Pudge was working with us at the time and went to the bosses and asked them to cut me loose for the day so that I could play golf.
Once they did, Pudge told his Hall of Fame liaison to go and get me some rental clubs and some golf balls and to put it all on his cart. The young man asked, “and who are you playing with?” Pudge answered, “Tim Raines and John Smoltz.”
Well, Smoltz was already in the Hall of Fame and is a well-known scratch golfer. Tim was going to be inducted into the Hall with Pudge. By the time we got to the first tee Smoltz had gotten impatient and gone out with another group. But there we were, two Hall of Fame inductees and me. I am thinking, “one of these things is not like the others.” I am wondering if I am going to be able to draw the club back. Fans lined the tee box on several holes to get a glimpse of all the Hall of Famers playing. I have never played with a gallery; I was nervous I would hit someone. I didn’t, and every time Pudge and Rock went to sign autographs, I pinched myself to make sure this wasn’t a dream.
The subject of this last interview has never been a candidate for Wide World of Sports. But it happened at Super Bowl XL. (That is 40 for those who don’t recall their Roman numerals.) The game featured the Seattle Seahawks against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was the 11th time I had covered the Super Bowl, and in the previous 10 trips I had never covered the press conference featuring the halftime entertainment. But this one was different.
I entered a huge banquet room at the media hotel in Detroit. It was full, possibly as many as 600 media members all anxious to have a chance to ask a question of these entertainers who were introduced like this: A voice came over the speakers saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen the greatest rock and roll band in the world, The Rolling Stones!”
There were strict rules for asking questions of Mick and the boys: State your name and your affiliation into the microphone and no follow-ups. We knew that not many would get the opportunity to even ask a question. I told my cameraman to be ready because I was going to ask one. He scoffed.
When the time came I raised my hand like a desperate fifth grader who knew the answer to a hard question and wanted to share his knowledge with the class. Low and behold, they handed me the mic. On the previous question Mick had difficulty finding the questioner in the sea of fans – I mean, media. So rather than starting with my name I started with my location in the room and then my affiliation, to wit: “Hello Mick, I am in the back of the room right in the middle, I am from Fox Sports Southwest.” When his eyes found me I said, “I’m John Rhadigan.”
To my utter amazement he said, “Oh, hi, John.”
My life complete, I proceeded: “Do you have a favorite American Football team?”
Mick crossed his legs, grabbed the microphone with purpose, pulled it to his mouth and said, “No!”
I panicked. Are you kidding me? I finally got the chance to interview Mick Jagger and I got a one-word answer? So the rule about follow-ups be damned, I grabbed the microphone again and I asked a follow up question. Which in my head sounded like this, “da, duh, um, whoosh, ugh.”
But I have seen and heard the tape. What I actually said was, “Have you ever had a favorite American football team? Do you like American football?”
He had an answer to that one, “Oh yes,” he says. Back in the ‘70s there was this team called the Pittsburgh Steelers and they had a player called Lynn Swan and he made a levitating leap and caught the football.”
Suddenly it hit me, I identified myself, he said hello. I asked a question, he said no. I asked a follow up and he gave an answer. That is a conversation! I have had a conversation with Mick Jagger!
Back when I was kid watching Wide World Of Sports, I realized I would like to be a sportscaster. But I never could have dreamed I would like it this much.