Stop me if you’ve heard this before — the New England Patriots are heading back to the Super Bowl. I know — insert horror screams here. Patriots radio color commentator Scott Zolak described the AFC Championship Game triumph perfectly by saying, “America’s worst nightmare is back.” Tom Brady, who some may describe as a nightmare, provided another stellar performance in New England’s 37-31 overtime win over the Chiefs on Sunday.
The Energizer Bunny looks sluggish compared to the Patriots at this point. The latest achievement for the team that “keeps going and going” hardly qualifies as shocking. It’s the Patriots’ ninth Super Bowl berth in the Tom Brady / Bill Belichick era. This is how they roll. However, it didn’t stop a few sports radio hosts from making bold predictions against New England before the game.
FOX Sports Radio’s Rob Parker was unsurprisingly convinced that the Patriots would lose. He called his shot while appearing on Colin Cowherd’s show. “This is about Independence Day for NFL America. The reign of terror will finally be over.” Rob also appeared on my weekday show in Portland last Friday to claim that the public would be emancipated from the Patriots’ dominance. We locked in our latest $25 chicken wing bet as well. Thank you, Pats. Those sweet BBQ wings will be especially tasty this time.
Rob’s debt is small potatoes compared to another host that I know well. I work under the same roof at NBC Sports Northwest with my guy, Chad Doing. We’ve gone back and forth about the Patriots on Rip City Radio 620 throughout the entire season. Chad dug in way back in September stating that it would be “impossible” for the Patriots to reach the Super Bowl this season. Of course that was a concoction of blasphemy, poppycock, and utter ridiculousness. We’ve had a lot of fun with it though.
Before the AFC Championship Game, Chad agreed to an assortment of items he would have to execute as “penance” should the Pats win, thus making him historically wrong. Thankfully graphics were built detailing the laundry list of things he’ll have to knock out. My hands might cramp up if I had to type out all of this stuff. The best items include sporting an Andy Reid mustache for two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl and using the hashtag “TB12ForLife” in every tweet. Now that’s penance.
Here’s the interesting twist — Rob and Chad both come out on the winning end in the long run. We always talk about things like standing out and cutting through in sports radio. Well, this is it. There isn’t a requirement to always get bold predictions right. There isn’t a program director around that would say, “Your ratings are up, but your predictions are down. You’re fired.” Punishments don’t follow bold claims that turn out to be wrong. Instead it’s often attention, ratings, and success.
Former Raiders’ owner Al Davis had a famous saying, “Just win, baby.” The funny thing about sports radio is that the ingredients of winning also involve losing. If a bold opinion or prediction turns out to be completely wrong, it isn’t automatically a lost cause.
Being wildly wrong generates a lot of attention, which is actually a good thing. In the long run, many listeners will enjoy Chad’s penance so much that they won’t dwell on what the penance is even for in the first place. Rosie Perez was completely right in White Men Can’t Jump. “Sometimes when you lose, you really win.”
The takeaway isn’t to strive to be wrong. The message is to be bold and unafraid of being wrong. There is a segment on Cowherd’s show, “Where Colin was right, where Colin was wrong.” There isn’t a segment called, “Let’s review my readings of box scores because I didn’t make any predictions in fear of being incorrect.” Bold gets noticed whether the opinions turn out to be correct or not. If being bold matters more than being right, then it makes no sense to worry about the possibility of being wrong.
Alex Smith is a good NFL quarterback, but he is routinely criticized for being conservative to a fault. If hosts blame Smith for being too careful, they shouldn’t turn around and do the same thing themselves by playing it safe on the air. Most hosts don’t enjoy being called morons. That’s why there is a tendency for some to shy away from leaving themselves open to major criticism. If you aren’t putting yourself in a position to potentially be called an idiot based on your bold views, you aren’t doing your job.
It’s human nature to want to be right and look good. That’s partially why many people love to bet on teams that are favored to win games — they don’t want to look foolish for taking an underdog that’s in last place. Guess what? Worrying about how you’ll look is the first step toward being conservative to a fault. Forget about how you’ll look. Do what you think is right. Say what you think is right and gladly leave yourself vulnerable to criticism if you’re wrong.
Matt Damon delivered a great line in the movie Rounders — “If you’re too careful, your whole life can become a f—ing grind.” That sure is the truth in sports radio. Playing it safe doesn’t work. There are too many stations and too many alternatives to compete with for the timid approach to thrive. Safe is boring. Safe doesn’t stand out or get noticed. Valuing safe over bold is like valuing drugs over food. You’re opting for something that hurts you instead of something that helps.
I remember the late Cubs’ broadcaster Harry Caray say many times, “He had a cut.” Caray used the phrase to describe a hitter that took a gigantic swing at a pitch. That’s exactly what sports radio hosts should do with their opinions and predictions — they should swing for the fences. While it might not make sense in baseball to try to hit the ball 600 feet based on certain situations, there is no situation in sports radio where swinging for the fences doesn’t make sense.
Rob and Chad took mighty swings, missed the ball, yet still hit home runs based on the attention they received. If that’s how this business works, why not keep swinging?