Neil Everett: Cool dude
The former "SportsCenter" anchor had a way of making his audience feel big.
Us sportswriters will tell you this job is tough these days.
The access is worse, the roles have changed and the number of going away parties for colleagues is increasing. Nothing like wading directionless through a minefield just for the sake of watching a few games along the way.
After a decade, I’ve occasionally fallen in the trap of walking into a stadium like Autzen or through the hallways of the Moda Center feeling like it’s a place of work.
It is, but it can be easy to forget despite the aforementioned, that this is exactly what I’ve ever really wanted to do. And I can try to tell you that it’s because the sophistication of the writing — oh, the stories! — but when it comes down to it, all of us at one point or another got into this because there’s a factor of getting to experience some cool shit.
Long way from Alaska.
Nothing in this job has ever made me feel cooler than Neil Everett, though. And I wanted to share a quick story following his departure this week from ESPN. After 23 years, Everett departed “SportsCenter” as the Disney-owned network began a wave of cost-saving measures.
The first time I met Everett was in 2010. I was one of five winners of the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation scholarship and was fortunate enough to be flown out to Los Angeles for an awards banquet. It was quite the weekend — our tour of the city included a spotting of Hugh Hefner up at the Hollywood sign — but the highlight was a trip to the new ESPN LA Live studios. The network had just started running a West Coast “SportsCenter” with Everett and Stan Verrett as the hosts, and Everett met the group of us at security.
This was wild to me. I grew up in a town of about 4,000 people seemingly a million miles away from professional sports. Reading Sports Illustrated and watching “SportsCenter” were my portals to that world. And having been born in 1989, I’d like to think I’m a part of the last generation that remembers when anchoring “SportsCenter” was, as the 2004 reality show deemed, the “Dream Job.”
So it’s not an overstatement to say that Everett was the most famous person I’d ever met. And he was wearing a suit top, shorts and flip flops about an hour before going on air.
A perk of being away from Bristol, he said.
He showed us around the studio, gave us a glimpse of the script he was still tinkering with and took pictures with us on set. Then we got to watch them do the show.
I’ve never felt electricity like that. I texted everyone.
About a year later I couldn’t have felt further away from that buzz had I been in Alaska. My first job out of college came at The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai, Hawaii. It’s a job that the soon-to-be-gone publisher described to me during our interview as “like working in a Third World country.”
He was a bit out of touch with reality, but there was a slow pace to the island. There were three high schools, a bit of surfing and some rad triathletes to cover. But in the summer, you bet my dream of working for a big city metro sports page felt a literal ocean away as I covered Little League baseball games.
There was one anchor, though. Once the NFL season came around, someone in our paper’s advertising department let me know that I was in charge of running the NFL pick-em — a weekly insert they sold ads around that included football picks from local “celebrities” like Ron Wiley (morning drive on KONG), David Simon (the guy who I replaced), Anahola Joel (local sports radio) and...ESPN’s Neil Everett.
The explanation I got was that Everett had been doing it for years. Some connection he had with one of the past sports editors. Everett had worked in Hawaii for 15 years, on a different island, before he got the call from Connecticut. Anyway, we weren’t paying him for it. And I definitely wasn’t expecting a reply when I found his email and introduced myself as yet another new sports editor from the paper and, Hey, would you mind getting these back to me by Thursday?
No problem, he wrote back. I think. I don’t actually remember much of our minimal correspondence during the 12 months I had that job. I just remember that every week through the Super Bowl, Everett’s picks came in before Ron Wiley’s, before David Simon’s and definitely before Anahola Joel’s.
I appreciated the timeliness, and the fact that someone at the absolute top of the totem pole would take even a few minutes out of their week to help someone near the bottom. You’ll get big-timed in this industry from people far smaller than Neil Everett. That’s stuck with me.
I think that’s why Oregon feels such a way about him. During his “SportsCenter” run he was always liberal with his Ducks shout-outs, and it was never a rarity to see him on the sideline for a big game. The guy loves sports. The guy remembers where he comes from. And whenever he was on my TV, I saw someone who made me feel a lot bigger than I really was.
Thanks for that.
— Tyson Alger, The I-5 Corridor
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