ESPN, And The Dirty History Behind The Biggest Brand In Sports

As far as creation myths go, ESPN has always been shrouded in mystery. We know it began in Bristol, Connecticut, we know Chris Berman and Bob Ley were involved, we know the empire began with a small group of people working around the clock, and we know that, gradually, it ballooned into a success story the likes of which nobody had ever really imagined.

Beyond that? You'd have to ask the people who lived it. Which two writers did, helping to lay the foundation for the forthcoming book, Those Guys Have All the Fun, an oral history of ESPN.

What came of their legwork? It's too early to say for sure, but this excerpt sure looks promising. After the jump, some snippets of the exclusive first-look they've got over at GQ's website.

Some of the details you'll find elsewhere are a lot more scandalous. But there are more basic mysteries solved here. For instance, how did these commercials start?

With this:

Dan Patrick
I remember we did it for a while and the guys on the six o'clock—Bob Ley, Robin Roberts, and Charley Steiner—didn't like the fact that we called it "The Big Show," like we thought we were better.

Keith Olbermann
It was never personal with Charley. I think Bob resented it, and Robin couldn't have cared less. And management was saying, "We don't want you putting an individual stamp on your SportsCenter." I was thinking, Yeah, right, that boat sailed already, too.

John Walsh
Vice President
We had one huge editorial blowout. Huge, huge, huge. It was the July Fourth weekend, and they were going off the rail; it was crazy. So we had a meeting. One of the points of the meeting was, "You can have your nickname, but when you're going to break, it's SportsCenter." So Keith said, "What do you want us to say, just 'This is SportsCenter'?" I said, "Yeah, that'll be just fine." So they started to say, "This is SportsCenter." It was Keith sticking it to us, because he was going to promote it in the least promotable way: "This is SportsCenter."

We got a tongue-lashing, pounding on the desk, the whole thing. Walsh was pissed. I walked out of that meeting—at the time I had two children, maybe three—and I remember saying, "Oh, my God, I'm going to get fired." We're three steps out of the conference room, and I ask Keith, "What do you think?" and he says, "F--k them!" I said, "What?" And he looks at me and says, "F--k them." And I said, "All right."

Mike McQuade
Vice president of production
I think at some point someone in marketing must have heard that, and that's how it ended up becoming This is SportsCenter.

And it turned out to be the biggest ad campaign in the history of cable television.

Kind of awesome, right?

Between the egos, the wit, and general chaos underpinning all this, it seems like ESPN and SportsCenter was a lot more like Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night than their corporate headquarters ever let on publicly. And that certainly bodes well for the book.

Because let's face it, Sports Night was one of the most underrated shows of all time, and if Those Guys Have All The Fun turns out to be 700-pages of Sports Night in real life, than that's definitely something we'd all be interested in. As Dan Rydell says sarcastically at one point, "Sportscasters are self-absorbed, narrow-minded people of limited intelligence and limitless ego." Whether that's true or not, it could make for some awesomely entertaining characters in a book...

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