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Bare truth

Guerrero on her Playboy shoot, MNF and Anna Benson

Posted: Wednesday December 7, 2005 2:30PM; Updated: Thursday December 8, 2005 4:56PM
Lisa Guerrero lasted one season as a Monday Night Football sideline reporter.
Lisa Guerrero lasted one season as a Monday Night Football sideline reporter.
Elsa/Getty Images

What man is his right mind could resist Lisa Guerrero, a woman whose looks are as striking as her head for sports? A few come to mind. They all work for ABC and gave up on the model/actress/reporter after one season on Monday Night Football. This January, she sheds all layers for Playboy but to me, she bared her soul.

SI.com: This Playboy cover is great and all, but if we're to believe your book, Diary of a Naked Lady, you could've had this 20 years ago. Why the holdout?

Guerrero: On some level, of course it's flattering for Playboy to approach you in that way because they've always set the standard for female sex appeal and for what beauty is -- or at least the interpretation in the media. Ultimately, I was flattered but certainly it wouldn't have ever crossed my mind in a serious way to ever pose for them. I was 21 starting out as an actress and a model. I had done swimwear posters and certainly modeled before, but the thought of doing Playboy was just crossing the line. But every couple of years after that, I would come across somebody from Playboy asking me to pose.

SI.com: Speaking as someone who's still trying to come across somebody from Playboy, tell me, is it easy?

Guerrero: Well, when you're modeling, it is. In the modeling world, they have agents and scouts and photographers that work with Playboy. It's part of a small industry in print. I knew a lot of the women who had posed in Playboy before but, again, I just never felt like it was the right thing for me to do. I had a real strong desire to cover sports. And it seems like the more recognition I got in sports, the more Playboy kept coming back to me and said, "Hey, do you want to do the cover now?" Celebrities do the cover -- boy was that a big step up in the world, right? But, again, it wasn't right for me and I thought it would be something that I wouldn't feel good about.

SI.com: About five years ago, Playboy held an online poll to name the Sexiest Sportscaster in America. CBS' Jill Arrington led all candidates, taking 26 percent of the vote. You finished sixth (with 5 percent) -- behind Inga Hammond and ahead of Summer Sanders and Pam Oliver who, I should note in the interest of full disclosure, I voted for.

Guerrero: (laughs) I think I voted for Jill...

SI.com: Even more interesting is that FOX Sports employed five all of the poll's 10 candidates --you, Oliver, Hammond, Jillian Barberie and Angie Arlati -- at the time. Would it be an overstatement on my part to say that FOX Sports president Ed Goren the smartest man alive?

Guerrero: You could say that he gives the people what they want. There's nothing wrong in my opinion for having sex appeal. Every single male sportscaster I know who works in television goes to the makeup room before they go to set. And they all care about what they're wearing and what their tie looks like and how much hair they've got left and try to make it look puffy and bigger and better...

SI.com: How do you think Joe Buck is doing with that?

Guerrero: (laughs) He's got a great smile ... but ultimately, you know what you're getting into when you're on camera because -- for goodness sakes you're on camera! It's not radio -- and that's not to say that there aren't people that couldn't be attractive and work in the radio business or in print, but it certainly helps. It's a visual medium.

SI.com: Early in the voting for Playboy's online poll, when asked if we could ever expect to see you in an issue, you told The Daily News of Los Angeles this: "Chances are I wouldn't do it. It would absolutely hurt my credibility. It has nothing to do with money. I'm on eight shows and can make a lot of money fully clothed." Besides your clothes (or, in this case, lack thereof), what's changed in five years?

Guerrero: At every point in our lives, as we have experiences and get older and develop a sense of humor about things, we change our opinion. I certainly, for example, wouldn't have married the person I dated at 21 because I've become older and wiser and found, through my life experience, that different opinions that I have held -- pretty dearly -- have changed.

SI.com: Just how big is the jump from FHM and Maxim to Playboy?

Guerrero: Well first of all, there's 15 million readers worldwide for Playboy -- so just in terms of the scope of the magazine, there isn't a more popular men's magazine. For what it's worth, I'm really proud of it. I think it's really sophisticated and tastefully done. My beauty hero is Sophia Loren. I have a book called Sophia Style. It's a black and white book of a bunch of her photographs from the '60s and early '70s. What we did was develop the look of the shoot. I got to pick the photographer [Antoine Verglas] and pick the location of the shoot [Paris] and have photo approval in the pictures.

SI.com: In your book, you say that you write that when Playboy had initially approached you about posing nude that you were "absolutely terrified at the prospect of getting naked in front of a photographer." Did the FHM and Maxim shoots help in overcoming some of those fears, or was it just as nerve-wracking?

Guerrero: When I was 16 years old, I had my first swimsuit contract. So I've been doing swimwear for my than half my life. I'm 41 now -- so that's a lot of years that I've been doing swimwear and lingerie. And I grew up on the beach [in Huntington Beach, Calif.] so, to me, I was already used to being comfortable with my body and swimwear. It was just part of my lifestyle. When I was on Sunset Beach, I was wearing a towel and a swimsuit, it seems, for half the scenes. So no, as a model I had already done that. FHM and Maxim had nothing to do with it. There's just a big jump from that to doing anything topless. (laughs) It's just really different. For the celebrities that do Playboy, they kind of get to control their own destiny in terms of how much they're going to show and how they're going to be shot and how the pictures are going to be. Mine are extremely subtle. Nevertheless, it's still Playboy, and there's still that kind of fear at 41 that "I've got my stretch marks, I've got my cellulite, my bum isn't what it used to be ..." Anybody that's going to be in front of the camera like that is going to have some sense of insecurity. Tack on 20 years to the average woman who's in Playboy, and you get a whole 'nother set of anxieties, I'm sure. My mother-in-law was there. My best friend, my mother-in-law and my manager -- all women -- were all there. It was not anything that you would think. People have this idea that doing Playboy is going to be this sexy experience and we were like little girls giggling.

SI.com: So which is more fun -- posing nude or posing questions?

Guerrero: Posing questions in the nude! (laughs) I actually did at Playboy. "Can I have my robe back?" That would be me posing a question in the nude.

SI.com: Your career in television toes a curious line. On one side, there's Lisa Guerrero the actress, the model; on the other, Lisa Guerrero the sports journalist. Tradition says you've got to choose one or the other. Do you think that this might be why the critics are so tough on you, because you've been able to not only get work, but keep work in both fields?

Guerrero: I've worked steadily since I was 16 on camera. Whether that was as a commercial actress, a mainstream actress, a sports reporter or an entertainment anchor -- I've always worked. I've never stopped. I'm not saying that to be bragging, I'm saying it's a sickness, like, being a workaholic. I've never not worked. I've never stopped interviewing for jobs and looking toward what the next job is gonna be. I have always worked really hard at continuing to work -- if that makes sense. All I've ever want to do was: a) make a living because I'd always been single and paying for my own mortgage ever since I was a teenager, and; b) try to make a living at something I enjoyed, which is sports and entertainment. I know the critics have been tough on me, and maybe that's why. I guess it's strange to see someone on a soap opera Monday through Friday and covering a Laker game on Saturday night -- which is exactly what I did for a while. And I don't fit into a category. And that's the other problem; if you can't label somebody in our society, it frustrates people. Because we like to say, "OK, she's the sexy one, and this one's the smart one, and that one over there, she's the funny one, and this one right here, she's a great cook." But I intend to, in my life, be all of that. I want to try all these different experiences. I don't want to limit myself to one thing just because that's the way society has told me I should be. I just refuse to play by those rules and that infuriates a lot of people.

SI.com: And just for posterity sake, you went ahead and married a ballplayer [RHP Scott Erickson]...

Guerrero: Yeah! (laughs) That's a real nose-tweaker. They hate that. But let's set the record straight, he went after me.

SI.com: Duly noted. Still, your success in juggling multiple careers has inspired others to give it a go. One name that comes to mind is Thea Andrews. She'd catch her share of grief a few years back for her duel roles as a co-anchor on ESPN's Cold Pizza and actress in the ESPN series Playmakers, in which she portrayed a television reporter who flirts openly with the team's aging running back. Three questions here: 1) Did anyone approach you about the part? 2) Did you read for it? 3) Would you have taken it?

Guerrero: I was approached about the part, and I would have taken it in a heartbeat. This is a funny thing about critics: They really underestimate the ability of viewers to delineate between what is a TV show or scripted program and what's an actual sports broadcast. When they're watching MNF, I think they understand that it's a live game and not a movie.

SI.com: If you would've asked me six years ago what I wanted to be when I grew up, I probably would've said, sideline reporter, National Football League. But it seems like the tradeoff for a spot on the field is the worst access in the house. Just how unnerving is it down there?

Guerrero: In my experience, the one year that I tried it was MNF. A lot of people that are on national broadcasts started at the local or regional level doing sideline reporting. My experience is probably not typical; whereas other people probably learned as they went and got used to the PR people and the environment and got acclimated to the camera people and the producer in your ear -- mine change three times in one month -- there's a lot of crazy things happening on MNF that you really can't compare to other things.

SI.com: And, oh, by the way, you're live...

Guerrero: There's no redo button. And there are people who do a really good job at that. I just don't think my forte is giving 7-second injury updates. I think that I'm more personality driven and like to interview players. I like to get more in depth than the last drive. When I look at my ultimate, like if I could be anything in sports, I would say that I want to host my own sports show with hard-to-get athletes. Whoever the current bad boy is that's not talking to the media, that's who I'd want to get. Being on the sidelines for a game is frustrating because you're actually not the first person who gets the injury update.

SI.com: Really? ABC doesn't get first dibs?

Guerrero: They do, but they get it in the booth first. What happens is the team will give the information to the PR person. The PR person then tells their coaches and owners what happened to that player. So then that PR machine then gets that information to ABC in the truck, it's usually a PR assistant, over to the sideline reporter. The sideline reporter probably gets the information 10 to 30 seconds after the booth already has that information -- certainly, the truck's already got it.

SI.com: And here we were, at home, thinking the sideline reporter is chasing all these nuggets ...

Guerrero: And they are! They're chasing it. They're watching what's happening. "OK, they're taping up his right ankle, it looks swollen. He's got a cut over his eye ..." There are a lot of hands that the information gets passed through.

SI.com: When MNF let you go a year into your three-year contract, producer Fred Gaudelli said that the job "wasn't a match between what Lisa does well and what the role requires." Given what we now know about sideline reporting, just what exactly does the role require?

Guerrero: One of the issues was, when I was first hired, Fred said to me, "We want to go in a different direction with our sideline reporting personality. We want it to be personality-driven. The Xs and Os are going to be covered by two of the best ever [Al Michaels and John Madden]. What we want you to bring to the table is convey a sense of excitement about the game. Get information from the players' coaches, ex-coaches before the game, or talk to the wives, or talk to college teammates, get a sense from him during the week [Guerrero would arrive to host cities four days in advance of MNF telecasts] of opponents, the strategy they're going to use and more feature-driven, personality-driven perspective."

They also wanted me to interview the celebrities, if they're in the owner's box or singing the national anthem. In my opinion, that was a smart way to approach MNF because it's primetime on ABC, so there's a broader audience that aren't just hardcore sports fans but are also watching it for the event itself, for the tradition of what MNF is and for the entertainment aspect of the game. But as the days got closer to the first game, after all the controversy around FHM spread they basically said, "You know what? We just want you do sideline reporting. Stick to the Xs and Os and injury updates." Had I known that going in, I wouldn't have taken the job.

SI.com: According to a USA Today online poll, 40 percent of ABC viewers thought the network was in the wrong when they got rid of you. (Our president would kill for an approval rating like that right now.) Fair to say that you didn't get a chance to settle into the job?

Guerrero: I think that's fair to say. Anytime anybody something for the first time live, I think that you're still learning on the job, and I think you're going to misspeak and there are certain things you get more comfortable with as the season goes along. Certainly, if you looked at the tapes from the last half of the season compared with the first half of the season, there's no question [I got better]. The last few games were my strongest game. The very last game, Michaels said it was, by far, the most amazing game I had. I interviewed Brett Favre at the end of the game after his dad had passed away. He had been battling this thumb throughout the season [and went on to light up the Oakland Raiders for four touchdowns in the first half]. The Packers weren't going to give me the interview. Their PR guy said Favre doesn't do postgame interviews, and he's certainly not going to do one after his dad died. But I kept begging him and begging him during the game. With two minutes to go, I saw him on the sideline and said, "Could you please talk to me after the game?" And he said, "Well, OK." So probably with a minute to go in the game, he agreed to do the interview. So we rush to set up the interview, and he's got his wife next to him and, of course, there's a mob of people like I've never seen. Michaels sends it down to me, and I say something to the effect of, "It's one thing to play with a broken thumb, but it's another thing to play with a broken heart" and asked him about suffering the loss of his dad the day before. It was really emotional. Brett answers a couple questions, I send it back and, after the game, Al says to me, "The line that you started with, that broke my heart. I wish I would have thought of that line." Coming from Michaels, it was the biggest complement. And that was my last game. I wish I would've been given another year to develop my sideline skills.

SI.com: So they sack you for Michelle Tafoya, the overall message there being that looks don't matter. Then 10 weeks into the 2004 season, we get Terrell Owens in a lockerroom skit with a sopping wet Nicollette Sheridan. How'd that make ABC look?

Guerrero: I dunno. I think that it certainly served its purpose in terms of creating interest in the show and getting people to talk about it. It became the topic of conversation on sports radio for weeks.

SI.com: Leading up to the MNF gig, you were a media darling, the "hardest working person in sports." The LA Times wrote: "Guerrero is more than just a pretty face." The Daily News called you "brainy and beautiful." Then flub your first line in front of 20 million viewers and these same boosters are calling for your head. When ABC dumped you, it touched off a celebration in the media reminiscent of the party that followed Nixon's resignation in the wake of Watergate. Salon.com called it "a rare victory for solid sports reporting over eye candy." What do you make of the abrupt about-face?

Guerrero: I think everything swings back in forth in entertainment. One minute, you're hot, the next minute, you're not and then you make a comeback. It happens with anybody's career that lasts a long time.

SI.com: Speaks to your longevity.

Guerrero: Monday Night Football isn't the only line on my resume, and it wasn't the last.

SI.com: Was that the first time you'd ever been fired from a job?

Guerrero: I do believe it has. I got written off Sunset Beach because my character [Francesca Vargas] died, but I wasn't fired.

SI.com: Two of the last three women to abandon ABC on the MNF sideline -- Melissa Stark before you and Tafoya after you -- both had children not long after they left. Would it be fair to characterize childbirth as a legitimate side effect of being a sideline reporter on MNF?

Guerrero: (laughs) Not in my case. Not so far, anyway.

SI.com: You've got two TV series in the works. One's a scripted based on your life as a sports reporter turned baseball wife [Breaking Balls], the other is an reality series chronicling, well, the real thing. Give the readers a reason to watch over, say, Laguna Beach or Amazing Race.

Guerrero: I think ours would appeal to sports fans that might be interested in what happens behind the scenes with athletes and their wives and hangers-on. The things that I've learned in 13 years in sports could fill 10 books.

SI.com: Early this week, Anna Benson, pinup wife of Mets hurler Kris Benson, blasted the team for threatening to trade her husband if she poses in Playboy. Did your shoot have any bearing on your husband's free-agent negotiations?

Guerrero: (laughs) It would be ridiculous for me to assume that me posing in pictures would have any effect on his career. I think it'd be silly for people to assume he was a better or worse pitcher based on pictures of his wife.