Note: ESPN’s daily sports talk and debate show, Around the Horn, will mark 10 years on the air with a special Friday show (5 p.m. ET, ESPN) featuring an expanded group of panelists and other special guests. On the eve of this milestone, host Tony Reali offers his thoughts on the show’s successful run and what the opportunity has meant for him personally. (Front Row also thanks him, Chris Gavin and Mars Lewis for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band-inspired artwork.)
Pele wore it on his back.
Phil Jackson once wore it on his head.
Pearl Jam debuted with it.
Dudley Moore thought Bo Derek was it.
Ten. X. 10.
And now, it’s our number.
2,217 shows and I can remember every single one. Or, at least the 2,000-plus I have done. I remember the day Woody (Paige) almost choked on confetti celebrating his 300th win. The day Michael Smith broke out an impromptu (Barack) Obama impression for 64 points. I remember having Lil Wayne on as a guest panelist and thinking “This guy could take all our jobs.” I remember when Kevin Blackistone dressed as Ron Washington for Halloween. I remember Jay Mariotti working 265 straight shows. 265 straight!
I remember February 1, 2004. I got the call to host the show the next day while watching the Patriots-Panthers Super Bowl. Max Kellerman was in contract talks. Could I sit in? I had been a panelist previously and hosted a couple of times but never a day after the Super Bowl. At first I said ‘no’. I was scared stiff. I couldn’t comprehend this was how ESPN hired its hosts. (Spoiler alert: It’s not.) I was 25 and my entire broadcasting career consisted of 10 seconds a day as “Stat Boy” and saying inappropriate things on radio at Fordham.
When I finally said ‘yes,’ I realized I had no clothes. I wore my only suit to work the next day — sweated through it — and put together a hosting stint that has to go down in history as the worst of all-time. But I did get through it, and I’m much better for it. I wore the same suit to work the next day, and by Wednesday I needed a new tie. It was 18 months later when I signed my first contract to host the show.
Aaron Solomon is the producer and he is a rock. He’s steered this show to where it is now, along with (associate producer) Josh Bard, (executive producer) Erik Rydholm and (ESPN senior coordinating producer) David Brofsky. But, first and foremost, this show is about the panelists and our crew — currently Bob Ryan, Woody Paige, Tim Cowlishaw, Bill Plaschke, JA Adande, Kevin Blackistone, Jackie MacMullan, Michael Smith, Jemele Hill, Bomani Jones, Israel Gutierrez — and all of the panelists we’ve had through the years have carried us. If you want to say anything about this show, call it a survivor. I can’t think of a higher compliment.
The thing I love most about hosting this show is that it mirrors my personality: sports, games, jokes, pop culture — and none of it taken too seriously. I mean, we have a mute button and a scoring system NO ONE UNDERSTANDS. I like that. And it’s only possible because we don’t take anything as life or death. And, I think, that was something the original reviewers of the show never got. Maybe the show didn’t always view itself like that.
For me, the strength of this show is in the friendship and chemistry and relationship between the panelists and the discussion that comes from that. As host, my job every day is to try to tap into that. And that’s why we’ve started posting “Behind the Horn” scenes every day on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter — to show that these guys are real and none of what we do is fake.
Our panelists amaze me. I owe a debt to them. And to Max, Bill Wolff and Jim Cohen (the original producers and creators). So, how do I show my appreciation? By putting their faces — and the faces of 90 other people who we couldn’t do this show without — in a Sgt. Pepper knockoff.