Fartleks & Giblets: A Melancholy Farewell to ESPN’s Mike & Mike

The spring of 2006 saw the beginning of one of the most difficult stretches of time in my life, a period that I refer to as My Unfortunate Incarceration. At the relatively young age of 33 an ulcer on my tailbone led to six months in a “skilled” nursing facility, a year completely homebound, surgery, another stay in a nursing facility, then some additional recovery time at home. All told, two years in the prime of my life passed by while I was unable to drive, work, or have any semblance of normalcy. During that time I watched ALOT of television. I watched TV shows that I may never have noticed otherwise. I recall watching just about every second of the 2006 NBA Playoffs. I developed an affinity for reruns of Ted Danson’s underrated sitcom Becker, which I had completely ignored during its run on CBS from 1998-2004. And at some point in this lonely, depressing, frustrating two year span I discovered a morning sports talk show called Mike & Mike in the Morning, which had premiered on the radio in January 2000 and began being simulcast on ESPN2 in 2004. I was a little late to the party but was almost instantly hooked.

 

Mike Golic had been a journeyman defensive lineman in the NFL during the late 1980’s & early 90’s. Mike Greenberg was amongst a plethora of virtually indistinguishable ESPN anchors. At best I was vaguely aware of the two. Like so many retired athletes Golic segued into sports media after his playing career was over and eventually landed at ESPN doing a morning radio show with a guy named Tony Bruno. Greenberg got his degree in journalism from Northwestern and spent a few years covering sports in Chicago during the latter half of Michael Jordan’s epic career before landing in Bristol. When Bruno abruptly left The Mothership Greeny was asked to fill in on the radio show, and the rest is history. The show grew into a powerhouse, with Greeny & Golic becoming household names (atleast to sports fans). They did commercials, wrote a book, appeared multiple times on Letterman, and dined with Presidents.

 

On a personal level Mike & Mike became a semi-regular part of my daily routine. Work schedules & sleep habits have changed a few times in the past decade, and I can’t honestly say that I have consistently been glued to my television every weekday for all four hours, but I made an effort to catch chunks of the show as often as life allowed. It has not been unusual for me to wake up or arrive home from work and immediately turn the television to ESPN2 to check out what Mike & Mike had to say about last night’s ballgame, the latest blockbuster trade or unfortunate injury, and whatever else might be happening in the world of sports. On top of that we were regularly treated to discussions/debates/arguments about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie (it is), the relative merits of Batman as a superhero (he is the BEST superhero), hilarious conversations about turkey giblets at Thanksgiving, & other pieces of The Mikes personalities that they willingly cast forth for public consumption. They integrated pop culture into their show without losing focus on sports and didn’t ignore big news stories yet never got bogged down with them. They made the annual NCAA March Madness basketball tournament even more enjoyable with their Sheets of Integrity Bracket Wager, which led to memorable moments like Greeny milking a cow and Golic getting his body waxed. From 2010 to 2013 they won the Sammy Award for Favorite TV Show during my annual fake awards year in review, something that may not mean anything to anybody else but which I assure you I take as seriously as almost anything I post here at The Manofesto.

 

Like so many great duos they were opposites. Greeny is the neurotic, germophobic fussbudget that one is as likely to find at a wine tasting or poetry reading as you would a sporting event, while Golic is the laid back, straight talking, pudgy tough guy that you’d hang out with in a mancave drinking beer & watching the ballgame. That kind of “opposites attract” formula has worked forever, from Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello to Sherlock Holmes & Dr. Watson or Felix & Oscar in The Odd Couple.

 

A few years ago I read somewhere that the show was going to be relocating from Bristol, CT to New York City, which seemed odd. One important aspect of Mike & Mike had always been its plethora of guests, from various ESPN insiders to former players & coaches to guys like comedian Frank Caliendo. They had also made various members of their staff semi-famous by utilizing them in on-air segments, an idea popularized by David Letterman. Also, if I have had one criticism of Greeny & Golic over the years it is that they seemed to take copious amounts of time off, with one or the other or sometimes both missing days here & there. However that was never a huge issue because there was always a deep pool of talent on the ESPN campus to use as substitute hosts. How was all of that going to work if they transplanted the entire production to The Big Apple?? The story was never addressed by The Mikes on the program or anywhere else that I am aware of, and so the idea just kind of faded into the ether. I didn’t know if it had been a false rumor all along or if someone…possibly Greeny, Golic, or both…killed the plan. I’m a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” kind of guy, so not moving the show was just fine by me. But then…..

 

About a year ago the rumors began swirling again, only this time it was being said that ESPN was ending the show altogether!! And it wasn’t one of those things that I had to question whether I had actually read it or not or if maybe I was losing my mind…the story was everywhere. At one point it was being said that the two had turned against each other and were no longer speaking, that their continued on-air interaction was just an excellent performance. That made me profoundly sad. Eventually The Mikes did address the situation on-air, announcing that Greeny was getting his own show in 2018 (emanating from NY City), and that Golic would continue on with a revamped version of the current show co-hosted by ESPN mainstay Trey Wingo. The situation was clearly uncomfortable for the two men, especially Golic. However, I came away with the impression that the two are legitimately on good terms and that these decisions were not made by them or motivated by any dislike, anger, or negativity.

 

I am still not clear on why the powers-that-be decided to make these moves. Perhaps it is kind of like splitting pairs in blackjack. Someone decided that these two guys are at the top of the ESPN food chain so why not have two shows instead of one. That makes sense to a degree, although as a fan I still hate it. Maybe I am wrong and Greeny did desire to move on. While Golic seems perfectly content to be doing just what he is doing and probably understands that as an ex-athlete co-hosting ESPN’s flagship show is a better outcome than he ever could have dreamed of, Greeny is a “journalist” who has a track record of side projects like writing a couple of novels and hosting game shows on ABC. Did he feel like his career had stagnated?? Did he feel the need to flex his professional muscles and do something different?? Or was this just another head-scratching decision by corporate types who seem hell bent on ruining the remarkable legacy of ESPN?? I don’t know the answers and no one is offering any further explanation. There will probably be a tell-all book in the future, but for now we’ll just have to wonder.

 

Mike & Mike has been business as usual the past few months, even with the end looming in the distance. They have informed & entertained as they always had. They continued to make us laugh and make us think. They dressed up for Halloween as in previous years (Mike & Mike always did Halloween right). The show has been early morning comfort food just as it always has been. I made more of an effort to tune in than I had been making for the past year or two because sometimes you don’t fully appreciate something until it’s gone, but fortunately in this case we all got to say a long goodbye.

 

And now it’s over. I’m an 80’s kid, and because of my physical limitations I have always leaned toward more sedentary pursuits like reading books & watching television. I believe there are two types of people in the world…TV People and Non-TV People. My friend & brother from another mother The Owl doesn’t even own a television and hasn’t cared about any show for decades. Conversely, I watch way too much television and have always had a special place in my heart for series finales, probably because I’m sentimental & hate change, so endings always kind of make me verklempt. I have seen a lot of fantastic TV shows come & go. The Cosby Show. Cheers. Dallas. Friends. Seinfeld. Mike & Mike joins an impressive lineup in the television graveyard.

 

Golic & Wingo will fill the old show’s 6-10am time slot on ESPN2 starting the week after Thanksgiving and then move to ESPNNews next year. I like Trey Wingo well enough, and I’m sure that program will be entertaining…but it won’t be the same. Citizens of The Manoverse know of my fondness for The Andy Griffith Show and may recall that it ran for eight seasons in the 1960s. However, after Season 5 Don Knotts (aka Deputy Barney Fife) departed, and his exit happened to coincide with the show transitioning from black & white to color. It’s not that the final three seasons of TAGS aren’t good…but sans Knotts and produced in color they just aren’t as…enchanting…as the black & white episodes. It’s all about chemistry & balance, and I’m just not feeling the Golic & Wingo vibe quite yet. It’ll be an uphill climb to equal the impact of Mike & Mike. We’ll see.

 

Greeny’s new 7-10am show called Get Up will premiere on ESPN in April and apparently be co-hosted by Michelle Beadle & Jalen Rose. I don’t find that combination appealing at all. I suppose I’ll check it out, but my initial reaction is that it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. I could be wrong.

 

So here we are looking into the void once more. Life moves forward. The sun will rise, birds will chirp, & the teeming masses will get on with our lives. In the grand scheme of life the fate of a silly little television show doesn’t amount to all that much. We certainly face more significant concerns. But for those of us who invested so many morning hours in Mike & Mike and looked forward to being entertained, informed, & briefly distracted from life’s bigger problems there is some degree of mourning. We don’t know why these changes have been made and would have preferred things remained the same. That’s not how it went down though. There is a maxim that says “don’t be sad because it’s over…be happy that it happened in the first place”, and I suppose that’ll have to suffice. Kudos to Greeny & Golic for almost two decades of excellence and best wishes for the new shows. Thank you, and goodbye.

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