Rosen Recounts The Highlights of His Career

Although he’s never played a down of competitive football in his life, you wouldn’t know it by the way Mark Rosen is revered on the Vikings sidelines.

“Rosieeee!” screams a voice from the TCF Bank Stadium stands, 35 minutes before kickoff on a recent Sunday. “How you doin’?”

Hall of Famer Jim Marshall teases him about the early ’70s, when the once full-haired sportscaster had to lug around his own camera. Comedian Nick Swardson wraps him in a hug. A woman in San Diego Chargers colors asks for a photo while pledging her allegiance, if not to the purple, then at least to the Twin Cities’ most enduring TV personality.

Upstairs in the press box, he’s approached by former Vikings coach Jerry Burns. “Mark,” says the legendary grouch, flashing a rare grin. “I want to be like you someday.”

For young sportscasters clawing their way up the ranks, making that dream a reality has become increasingly hard. With as-it-happens coverage available on your smartphone, local TV sports anchors seem as antiquated as the town crier.

“There was a time the sports guy was bigger than life. That’s no longer the case,” said Don Shafer, news director at San Diego’s XETV, which eliminated its sports department six years ago. Nationwide, most stations have whittled the time for sports updates in half.

And yet, Rosen remains.

Only a slight hobble in his left leg — the result of a recent knee surgery — and his encyclopedic knowledge of Minnesota sports give away the fact that, at 63, he’s been a member of the WCCO family for 46 years, making him the longest-tenured TV sports personality in any U.S. market.

“I’ve been in the right place at the right time,” said Rosen in his unthreatening baritone, which sounds like a game-show host who can’t wait to tell you what’s behind Door No. 1.

While his stiffest competition has retired or moved on, Rosen is still embedded in the wild world of sports, whether deflecting jabs from the jocular morning crew at KFAN Radio (1130 AM) or breaking down the Wild’s playoff chances on “Rosen’s Sports Sunday,” a late-night staple since 1981.

He’s Gary Cooper in “High Noon,” standing up alone to the gunslinger who insists his kind should catch the next stagecoach out of town — a lonely image, yet one that plays perfectly to Rosen’s lesser known persona: the movie buff.

The great escape

The young Mark Rosen may have awakened every morning to a Harmon Killebrew poster and Hank Aaron bobblehead, but his nights belonged to Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster — tough guys who shot first and did multiplication tables later.

Rosen’s father, Joe, worked as a distributor for Paramount Pictures. While Mark’s classmates in St. Louis Park were engrossed in “101 Dalmatians,” he was front and center for “The Longest Day” and “Spartacus.”

Fans he encounters on a coffee run are more likely to get a DVD recommendation than a prediction on the next Gophers game.

Mom also helped plant the seed. Doris Rosen was a natural ham — she wound up winning a regional Emmy for her sidesplitting ’CCO commentaries with anchorman Frank Vascellaro’s mother, Rosalie. Rosen may have followed through on Mom’s dream of an acting career if a different kind of tough guy hadn’t moved in across the street.

Phil Jones is best known for covering the Gerald Ford administration for CBS News, but in the ’60s he was at WCCO, Channel 4.

“I was fascinated by watching Phil be this reporter on TV and then come home and cut his lawn,” Rosen said.

Rosen bugged his neighbor for the chance to meet WCCO sports anchor Hal Scott, maybe pick up some odd jobs at the station.

Jones finally relented. The 17-year-old had his foot in the door.

Broadcast News:

By 1972, Rosen was all-in at WCCO and had dropped out of the University of Minnesota.

From the get-go, his signature style was on display. Folksy, but never overbearing. Confident, not cocky. A firm handshake, not a slap on the back. The Minnesota way.

“His knowledge exceeded anyone he ever competed with, but he never flaunted it,” said former Vikings coach Bud Grant. “He likes scoops, but he never betrayed a confidence.”

Former WCCO anchor Don Shelby remembers how the two of them loosened up the newsroom, sweating through their white shirts while tossing footballs over news directors’ heads.

“Part of it was boyish fun,” Shelby said. “Part of it was building camaraderie.”

Rosen’s desk, which pedestrians can peek at through WCCO’s windows on Nicollet Mall, still looks like it was taken over by a kid. It’s littered with a Wheaties box from the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team; coasters promoting his 2012 autobiography, “Best Seat in the House,” and three remote controls so he can keep up with a myriad of games.

One of his favorite punching bags, Shelby, is no longer around, but he makes do with political whiz Pat Kessler, who’s gotten used to Rosen’s gentle ribbing.

Rosen’s soft sarcasm served him well when he got the biggest — and most unexpected — break of his career.

Radio Days:

Rosen was supposed to provide sports updates when Tom Barnard launched a show in the mid-’80s on then-low-flying KQRS (92.5 FM). Barnard had just come from New York and loved bad-mouthing our local teams.

“No one around here had heard anything like that, but instead of recoiling in horror, Mark went along with it,” he said.

The show leapfrogged to the top of the ratings in 1986, and an ad-libbed joke about the lack of enthusiasm over that year’s gubernatorial candidates led to a write-in campaign for “Little Marky.” In a matter of weeks, lawn signs supporting Rosen popped up and listeners sent in jingles.

Rosen got 8,000 votes.

His popularity didn’t go unnoticed by the brass at CBS, which owned WCCO Radio (830 AM) and TV. They wanted Rosen playing for both of their teams, an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I had them over a barrel, PR-wise, but was I willing to jeopardize my TV career for KQ? Ultimately, no,” said Rosen, who called the decision the most painful of his career. He burst into tears after his final signoff with Barnard.

To continue reading this article, visit the Minneapolis Star-Tribune where it was originally published

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