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Block 'M' Blog: Catching up with Daily alum Rich Eisen

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By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 14, 2012

It’s Wednesday.

That means it’s time for our weekly Alumni Q&A, where I use magical tools like the Internet and telephones to track down former Michigan athletes and personalities. They could be close, they could be far, but I will find them.

This week’s Q&A is with Rich Eisen, the former Managing Sports Editor of the Michigan Daily and current television journalist for the NFL Network.

After leaving ESPN’s SportsCenter in 2003, Eisen became a jack-of-all-trades for the NFL Network. He hosts the Thursday Night Football pregame, halftime and postgame shows, multiple weekly studio shows and also runs a weekly podcast.

To the questions:

The Michigan Daily: You wrote at the Daily at Michigan and then at newspapers out of college, but you’ve been in the TV and the podcast game for a while. Do you miss print journalism at all?

Rich Eisen: Oh, of course. Nothing is more satisfying than the written word, and nothing is more crucial to attempting to master, let’s put it that way. Writing is the base of everything in the broadcasting business. Everything is written. I’ve always taken pride in writing everything that I say on TV. I spent three years as a beat reporter for my hometown newspaper in Staten Island, and all of that training was crucial. Writing is a crucial base in order to do what I’ve been fortunate to do for a living.

TMD: When you first accepted the job at the NFL Network in 2003, you were switching from an established network in ESPN to a network that was making its debut. Did you feel the risk there, or was the opportunity to headline a network just too much to pass up?

RE: Sure, it was fraught with concern to go from a place that I called home for seven years and a place I felt was a part of my identity in many ways because of how long I spent there and how they took me from my small-market TV job to a national stage, and it was really part of my DNA in many ways. But then SportsCenter just changed as the type of show from when I first started in 1996 to when I left in 2003. It was a completely different show. It wasn’t the same program anymore.

When I started in 1996 it was a writing-intensive show and the reason for that was that SportsCenter was in many ways how people found out what happened in the sports world, let alone got to see it for the first time. By the time I left in 2003 there were handheld devices and Internet websites and an explosion of sports-talk radio and other ways for people to know what happened and see how it happened. The show went from a writing-intensive, highlight-intensive show to being less writing-intensive, because few highlights needed a build-up or a set-up because people knew what was happening already. The highlights didn’t tell as much of a narrative, other than to set up an analyst to talk about what happened in the game. My role as a host changed from ‘96-’03, so that sort of made it an easier decision to not try and be a part of SportsCenter 200 times a year anymore. I wanted to do something else, and when that didn’t happen the opportunity for the NFL Network was too great to pass up.

I don’t want to make it seem like I took it for granted — I mean, SportsCenter was a great platform and it was an honor to be a part of it, certainly at a time when folks like Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann and Craig Kilborn and Robin Roberts and Mike Tirico. They were all doing it, and I was stoked to do it at the time. It was just in ’03, I went with the NFL Network and I couldn’t be happier about it, even as I’m getting on a plane to connect in Buffalo in the middle of November.

TMD: You mentioned working with all these people at ESPN, but on these Thursday Night Football pregame shows, it seems like you guys are having a ton of fun out there. It just seems fun to be a part of. What’s it like to work with guys like Steve Mariucci, Warren Sapp and Deion Sanders?

RE: It’s a privilege. It’s an incredible privilege, and I’m a lucky man. We genuinely really like each other. We hang out together on the road and know about each other’s families. It’s also my job to make that camaraderie we have off the air come together on the air — and I take that job seriously — while not taking ourselves too seriously. To me, the key to making a broadcast watchable is to take the subject matter we view seriously, but not ourselves too seriously.