Joe Buck swears by him. So does Howie Long. James Brown, too. When Michael Weisman, then executive producer of NBC Sports, hired Bob Costas in 1980 to be an NFL studio host, he asked Costas how NBC could best accommodate him. The reply? "I need Steve Horn."
Titularly, Horn, 50, is an editorial consultant, an off-camera guy who feeds information to the on-air stars. His title hardly begins to describe what he does for the Fox and NBC announcers named above. Horn is their Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, their annotated Baseball Encyclopedia and Pro Football Encyclopedia, their Professor Whoopie, their History Channel and their Google search. Horn is the ultimate phone-a-friend.
He chats up every general manager, scout and assistant coach. During a broadcast he will anticipate a relevant anecdote or statistic and feed it to the announcers. His method was in evidence when working with Buck and analyst Tim McCarver during a recent Fox telecast of a Cardinals-Mets game. Horn gave the on-air men the proper pronunciation of recent New York call-up Timoneil Perez's first name. ("It's Tim-o-NEEL.") Then, noticing Braves scout Bill Lajoie in the stands, Horn recalled a minor league brawl that occurred between Lajoie and McCarver in 1962; he suggested that McCarver recount it. In the bottom of the eighth, McCarver did just that.
Horn, a bachelor, never takes a vacation. Last month he spent Saturdays seated alongside Buck during Fox's Baseball Game of the Week and Sundays in Los Angeles on the set of NFL Sunday. Often he was on the phone to Sydney with NBC Olympics studio host Costas. This month he will work for Fox and Costas (the announcer, not NBC, employs Horn) during the baseball playoffs.
Raised in St. Louis, Horn graduated from Columbia in 1972 and returned to his hometown, where he was one of a few hundred devotees of the Spirits of St. Louis of the American Basketball Association. Costas was the Spirits' play-by-play man, and he and Horn became friends. "Listen," says Horn in his signature monotone, "this was like attending a high school basketball game. It wasn't as if Bob was unapproachable." Buck, who is also based in St. Louis, met Horn in '94. Before long Buck and Costas had fashioned a latter-day Missouri Compromise for Horn's services.
"What's funny is that Steve is literally inches from the spotlight," says Buck, "but he wants no part of it. In this business there's something to be said for that."