Many sports radio shows are centered around a radio host and a former athlete. On 104.5 ESPN in Baton Rouge, however, Off The Bench features a pair of former LSU Tigers in the morning, with former offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert joining former running back Jacob Hester. And while Hebert was adamant he now loves his job, the medium wasn’t something he necessarily wanted to do after his playing career.
After being cut by the Rams on the final day of training camp in 2012, Hebert needed to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“All of the sudden I’m like ‘Oh my god, dude. I’m engaged. I have a life to live and I gotta figure out what I wanna do’,” Hebert said. “I kind of looked up and was like ‘I don’t know anything but football’. Which is kinda comes with the territory with the demands that are places on modern major power five athletes. Not for everybody, but for me, I committed to football. I got a general studies degree from LSU. I did not take advantage of the academic opportunity. So I’m just sitting there thinking ‘this is all I know. I’ve been pretty good at doing interviews and they send me to SEC Media Days. Maybe I should do that’.
“I didn’t think I wanted to. My dad did radio, and when I was on the playing side of it I’d get annoyed by the media. So I never wanted to do it. And like so many other athletes, I came to that point where that single activity you’ve engaged in your entire life is gone and you have to find a different way to engage with it.”
Hebert’s father, Bobby, was a Pro Bowl quarterback before eventually embarking on a media career of his own. And now the younger Hebert realizes that his father working in the medium played a role in his own radio career.
“It was integral to me getting into radio. Because I remember going with him — and nobody knows this — but before he was doing Saints radio for 870 (WWL-AM) in New Orleans, he was doing radio for the Falcons pregame and postgames in Atlanta when he got done playing there. I remember going to the shows or going into the studio and thinking they were fun. Then he goes to the Saints and I remember going up in the WWL studios. It was a lot of that.”
Bobby Hebert being a media member wasn’t the only reason T-Bob was drawn to radio. He pointed out Atlanta radio hosts like Steve McCoy, Fred Toucher, Jimmy Baron, Leslie Fram, and Doug and Ryan Stewart as influences on why he wanted to embark on a radio career. But being able to still work his creative muscles while also talking about sports is one of the biggest draws for Hebert.
“I love it. I love the creativity of reading and writing and basically offering commentary on things and just a kind of town crier aspect of it. Talking to people every morning through the radio or on YouTube or whatever. I really like it.”
His father currently hosts the afternoon show on WWL, and that influence led to T-Bob getting his first break in the industry.
“I’m a big beneficiary of nepotism,” Hebert admitted. “The first real job that I ever got in radio was hosting a show that I really didn’t deserve at all in New Orleans. And really the only reason I got the opportunity was because my dad had been on the radio at WWL forever and it was like one of their sister stations that was trying something new. So I tried to make the most of that opportunity, and I got a chance that I did not deserve that many people don’t get.”
If you’ve ever listened to Off The Bench — or watched on the station’s YouTube stream — you’ll immediately see Hebert is comfortable with who he is. He pointed to his football playing career as one of the biggest reasons for his comfort.
“This is gonna sound really dumb – I’ve always had very nerdy interests. Things that I’m just naturally attracted to and enjoy very much fall into the silo of nerdy. Lord of the Rings, anything fantasy/sci-fi, I love it. Oddly enough, the simple fact that I was just bigger than a lot of people, I never got picked on growing up about any of this stuff. I never got picked on in general, so I think it just kind of allowed me in a lot of ways to be myself and not have to worry about any of the repercussions of having to be myself.”
While admitting that he still sometimes deals with “Imposter Syndrome” and self-doubt, Hebert knows he’s working on mastering the craft.
“I think the reason why most the time I do feel confident and I do feel good is I’ve kinda been doing this for a long time. I’ve hosted a daily, three-hour radio show for just about 10 years now. Again, a lot of that is a direct result of me getting a job at an early age that I did not deserve. But it comes into the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours, right? You do something for 10,000 hours and you’re gonna get really good at it. I’ve done nothing more in my adult life than take information, filter it through my brain, and try to spew it back out in an entertaining way.”
In addition to his role at 104.5 ESPN in Baton Rouge, Hebert launched SNAPS, a college football podcast for The Volume, co-hosting alongside former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, which he says the only difference between his radio show and podcast is the amount of commercials.
“It’s got more of a relaxed vibe. I actually enjoy not having to go to commercials,” Hebert said with a chuckle. “That is something I always feel for my radio listeners. Our station is good with it. I’ve been at stations in the past where it’s like 28 minutes of content and 32 minutes of commercials and stuff per hour. It can be brutal as a listener and I feel for them, but that’s how the content gets out there for free. Then you go to a podcast and it’s just an hour straight and that’s a nice difference. It’s all just taking and talking, though. It’s all the same, really.”
Earlier this fall, SNAPS recorded a live episode at the popular Walk-Ons restaurant and bar in Baton Rouge. While noting the SEC Championship Game — which featured Murray and Hebert’s alma mater’s pitted against one another — would have been a great opportunity to do another live event, there was a good reason it didn’t come together. Bobby Joseph Hebert IV was born Friday, December 2nd.
“When this football season started, my wife was like ‘This baby is due the day before the SEC Championship Game’, and I was like ‘Babe, do not worry. If there is ever a year not to worry. There is no freaking way LSU is making the SEC Championship. We’re completely fine.’ And now, me and Aaron, both of our teams facing off. Year one of SNAPS. A little bit of irony there.”
As a 33-year-old, Hebert could be viewed as still a “young broadcaster” with aspirations for making it to “the big time”. However, he dismissed any notion that he’s driven by being anything other than a good dad.
“I don’t know that I have an ultimate goal beyond like – I enjoy this job. I have had one day in my professional career where I truly did not want to be there. One day where I just hated everything. Not that I don’t have bad days or things I don’t enjoy, but just one day where you’re looking at yourself and you’re like ‘What am I doing?’
“So if I’ve only had one of those days, then I really love my job. My ultimate goal is to be able to do a job that I can enjoy with enough return that I can provide for my kids and retire. That sounds crazy but that’s it. Whatever avenue that takes, national shows, local shows, podcasts, it doesn’t matter. I would do any of it if I could just hit those very basic goals.”
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio. Reach him at email@example.com.
NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs
Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?
Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.
Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.
The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.
Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.
Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.
So how did NBC get here?
Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.
Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.
Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.
But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.
As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.
Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.
NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.
Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.
But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?
Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)
The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.
Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice
“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”
I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.
Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.
On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.
All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.
It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.
Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.
How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.
On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night.
Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night.
To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.
Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.
Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore
“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”
One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.
The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.
Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.
But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.
I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.
Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.
How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.
Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.
This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.
Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.
On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.
At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.
Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.
Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?
I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.