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Each Sunday night from 7 until 11 the radio waves around Boston are whipped up by Sports Huddle, a sports talk show that, depending upon one's taste, is either the best example of that overworked genre ever produced, or the awfulest. Sports Huddle has been sneered at as preposterous and warmly supported as fearlessly iconoclastic. For every listener who thinks the show is hilarious, there probably is an ex-listener who got tired of the merry, or perhaps the not-so-merry, pranks that are an important element of the show's seemingly haphazard makeup. Practically no one who has ever heard Sports Huddle has been neutral about it, and that, more than anything else, is a measure of the show's considerable success.
At the center of the Huddle are Mark Witkin, Jim McCarthy and Eddie Andelman. They have been huddling weekly for more than three years now, and no subject has been spared their darts and thrusts, delivered usually with the imperious confidence of a barking quarterback. Boston, the White House, Buckingham Palace and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have all been sent reeling upfield, but no institution takes such a battering as the Sports Establishment, an amorphous enemy that includes management and athletes, sportswriters and sportscasters. The Establishment, in the view of the Huddlers, is at bottom anti-fan. Sports Huddle is for him, and if its three-man backfield becomes at times unbearably righteous in its indignation, its time-tested defense is The Plight of the Fan. Sports Huddle champions nothing if it does not champion The Plight of the Fan.
Two of the Huddlers' favorite targets arc the Boston Bruins and their home rink, Boston Garden. The Bruins lack class, say the Huddlers. The charge lacks precision, not to mention an original turn of phrase, but apparently it makes sense to a lot of people who feel that they are being soaked by the Bruin management for the dubious pleasure of occupying a seat in the Garden where the rats run free and the service, if any, is insulting. In their plight, the fans turn to the Huddle. They know that the program will be heard over the clicking of turnstiles, even if they are not.
And the Huddle is heard. "Every building in Boston has rats," complains Weston Adams Jr., president of the Bruins. "Why does Sports Huddle have to pick on ours?"
No reason, says Andelman, except that "the Garden also has no escalators and no air conditioning, and it does have rude ushers, winos and stalactites."
Like his co-Huddlers, each of whom makes his living outside of sport, Andelman feels free to make such remarks. He is a real-estate developer, McCarthy is an insurance executive and Witkin a lawyer. They are not, they are pleased to point out, beholden to any organization or personality in sport as, they insist, announcers and writers and publicity men all are in varying degrees. To maintain their independence, the three refuse all press privileges, buy $2,500 worth of sports tickets and transportation each year and vow never to shill for any person, player or team.
When snow blanketed Harvard Stadium two years ago and the Patriots refused to clean the stands so their rooters could sit in relative comfort, the Huddlers dramatized the shabby treatment by sitting in the snow with the frozen fans. They have also sat through a driving rainstorm at the Patriots' new home in Foxboro, Mass., have had mustard and beer slopped on them at Boston Garden and have pitted their jaws—and stomachs—against Fenway Park's hamburgers.
"Not only do we represent the fans," says Witkin, "we are the fans."
Much of the show's vitality is supplied by the 34-year-old Andelman, 245 pounds of nonstop exposition whose jowls sag to his breastbone because, as he puts it, "The Andelmans have no necks." The Andelmans do have a penchant for the fast quip, and some critics have praised Andelman's coverage of the 1971 Super Bowl as the most innovative reporting of all time. "One thing I did was to interview the real people before the game," Andelman says. "I talked to hookers, people at X-rated movies, guys in the street. Then I announced that on the basis of those interviews the Colts would win 17-13. They won 16-13."
Until recently, Andelman regarded Howard Cosell as a sportscaster without peer and referred to him as The Oasis of Truth. "But now he cops out, has conflicts of interest that hamper his work and is not the tell-it-like-it-is guy he claims to be," Andelman insists. "He intimidates people he interviews and always talks about how educated he is. I'm educated, too [Andelman has a degree in business from Boston University and an M.B.A. from Northeastern], and I'd like to take on The Oasis of Truth face to face."