But while the
fans can be merciless, they are often not good at direct confrontation, even
when they can hide behind the anonymity of the phone lines.
Mahorn first came [to the Philadelphia 76ers]," Eskin says, "the calls
were really rough. Every night, they were just tearing him apart. So one night,
I get Rick in to take some calls. We didn't get many, and all the questions
were real soft. He sits there and answers them, and finally we break for news.
I thank him and he leaves. The next call is from someone who says Mahorn is an
overrated hot dog. I said, 'Hey, hold on, where were you five minutes ago, when
we had the guy right here? Why didn't you call and say this to him?'
" 'Oh, well,
you know, I was busy—I just got home.' He just couldn't say those things to
Mahorn, so he said them to me. That's my job."
every market, there is a hot-button topic that is guaranteed to generate
calls—the sports world's equivalent of abortion or gun control. For Eskin, that
topic is Philadelphia Eagle coach Buddy Ryan.
"I can light
up the board just by mentioning his name," says Eskin. "I say he's an
average coach—which I think he is—and guys start calling in and saying,
'Whaddya mean? Buddy's a great coach. We're going to the Super Bowl.'
" 'Super Bowl?' I say. 'Why don't you wait until he wins a playoff game before you start
talking about the Super Bowl?' And then we're off to the races. I've got calls
for the rest of the night."
Jay Mariotti, a
Detroit columnist for The National, did a call-in show on KBXG in Denver before
the station changed its name to KNUS and adopted an all-business format in
March. Not only is Denver mad for sports—at least, for the Broncos—it's also
the city where Alan Berg, who did a high-temperature political call-in show,
was murdered by anti-Semitic white supremacists in 1984.
something you associate with sports," Mariotti says, "but sometimes
things get very wild. Last October, we had a week when the only thing anyone in
the state of Colorado wanted to talk about was John Elway and whether he was
being suffocated by the media. Everyone had an opinion, and it split just about
50-50 for and against Elway.
"One day, we
were doing the show from a local sports bar. I had been hitting Elway pretty
hard, saying that he didn't know what pressure and scrutiny were until he'd
played in New York or Chicago or Philadelphia. That he had it easy in Denver.
We were going along, taking calls, when four uniformed cops walked in and
surrounded me. One of them said, 'We are advising you to leave right now. We
just got two death threats called in against you.' " With 15 minutes
remaining in the show, Mariotti left.
One way an
athlete can avoid the fans' wrath is to avoid the talk shows. Don't listen,
and, above all, don't talk—do a Steve Carlton. The alternative is to face the
abuse before it reaches critical mass. Norm Hitzges of KLIF in Dallas has Bobby
Valentine, manager of the Rangers, on his show every Friday morning to drink a
cup of public woe. "He doesn't have to do it, of course," Hitzges says,
"and I'm sure there are times when he would rather do anything else. The
Rangers played awful baseball earlier this season, and a lot of fans were
screaming for his head. But he did it. He came in here one morning after a
horrible road trip, when the team had gotten home about three hours before the
show. He was in pretty good form, too. I think that's helped him survive, so
far. He isn't ducking, and the fans respect that."