Mike Carlson Exclusive

26 04 2012

If Mike Carlson was in this year’s NFL Draft, he would have a battle on his hands to even be selected, never mind worrying about where he would land.

This is by no means an attack on an internationally coveted football broadcaster and journalist, but merely the thoughts of the great man himself.

Mike Carlson

“Hahaha I don’t think there would be much call for a 195 pound tightend who can’t run fast or block well”, in reference to his playing days at Wesleyan College.

These days you’ll see Mike Carlson hosting Channel 4’s ‘Sunday Night Football’ show, similar to his role on Channel Five’s coverage of the sport.

“The Channel 4 job followed on from my previous role at Channel 5, it’s the same production company that makes the shows and they hired me when they first started NFL.

It was good for me because Sky had just let me go, without telling me, but the Sunday/Monday games went to Five and I moved from the host to the analyst role, which made more sense”

Mike has earned himself a cult following after using some peculiar phrases during his analyses. Lines such as; ‘The Bush you can support’ in reference to Reggie Bush and former President George W. Bush and the New Jersey Giants (New York Giants’ home stadium is in nearby New Jersey, not New York) have gone down well with the viewers when commentating on football.

“It all started from doing those minute and a bit highlights of Sunday’s games for our Monday night shows on Channel 5. I needed to do something other than just recite who was scoring or what, so I started improvising and thankfully the producers loved and encouraged it.

When asked what he enjoys most about presenting live on television; “It’s the challenge of saying something meaningful and entertaining ad-lib, with a producer talking in your ear, and the host looking at you like you’re crazy”.

We know that Mike is on the television now but where did it all begin for him, who ignited his passion for football? Predictably, it was his father, like so many before and after him, a father’s influence is greater than a small boy’s desire.

“I grew up with football, my dad played that and ice hockey in high school. He played against Levi Jackson in the Hillhouse versus West Haven thanksgiving game in front of 25,000 fans in the Yale Bowl.

He also played a year at University of Connecticut, where he came up against NFL Hall of Fame Andy Robustelli at Arnold College, (that was his claim to fame). He took me to the Yale versus Connecticut game when I was five, my grandad used to work there, and we saw almost every Yale home game from the time I was six until I started playing in high school”.

Mike Carlson

If anybody ‘follows’ Mike Carlson on social networking site Twitter, they will know that he is quite opinionated and seems undeterred by outside influences, something he displayed when turning down a scholarship at the renowned University of Pennsylvania.

“I went to Wesleyan University, a division three college that has since produced Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini, whilst turning down a scholarship from the University of Pennsylvania, mostly because I wanted to play lacrosse again and Penn wanted me to lift weights and get up to 225 pounds and play defensive end or linebacker. I wound up playing defensive end in a 4-4 defence and a split end on offense, (which was my dream) on Wesleyan’s freshman team which had 18 guys on it. I played tight end on the varsity for three years, the first of which we went unbeaten and won the Lambert Cup”.

After realising he wasn’t going to make it as a professional player, Mike took up a career in journalism.

“I was always writing, I did some on the papers in high school and college and a few freelance things while I lived in Montreal, getting an masters at McGill University, (I turned down the chance to try out for the Redmen, but played a lot of very competitive basketball in the gym with their team).

When I came to London I tried to get a journalism job and the editor of UPI liked me, but couldn’t give me a job thankfully he recommended me to UPITN, a television news agency they ran with ITN. The rest was history…I became their sports editor, went to ABC Sports, and then to Major League Baseball Intl”.

As any journalist will know, the small interviews are fine and pleasant but we are all in the business to capture that exclusive or big name. Mike is no exception and he has interviewed NFL royalty.

“In the NFL my best interview was with Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys owner), who didn’t like that I contradicted him and then there was Al Davis (former Oakland Raiders owner), who appreciated that I didn’t contradict him.

In the NFL Europe days, I loved the way coaches and players were so approachable and open. Jack Bicknell, Jim Criner and Ray Wollsey taught me so much about the game, I really miss those days. I loved the feeling when we set up to interview Aaron Stecker in New Orleans and he came in and looked at me and said, ‘you still doing this shit?’ and I replied, ‘you too? mines a lot easier”.

Moving on to football in the United Kingdom, Mike is of the view that football participation will only remain amongst the diehards.

“I believe football over here is reasonably big as an attraction; we’ve got a great product both live and on television, but as a participant sport it’s always going to be a long shot, partly because of entrenched sports as competition but more because the sport is so time, money, and technology intensive…you can’t just give them a ball and play in the street and then play virtually the same game as the pros”.

He is however more upbeat about the NFL International Series which will return in October of this year.

“I love it, and I think it’s a forward-looking idea. You wouldn’t see the English Premier League do something like that. It has its limits but I’d like to see one neutral site game for each team, every year, played overseas”.

Mike Carlson

Mike was brave enough to give FightForTheYard some predictions ahead of the 2012 NFL Draft and upcoming season;

Q) Moving on to the upcoming NFL Draft, who do you think will make the biggest reach?

You mean like the Atlanta and Julio Jones scenario? We’ve already seen the winners in that contest: Washington!

Q) Who do you like the look of more, Luck or RG3?

“I liked Luck in 2010, when I did Notre Dame versus Stanford, as much as any quarterback I’ve seen in years as an NFL prospect. What’s interesting to me is that he would have been a perfect fit for the Manning system at Indy, but who knows what their new attack will be like. RG3, I’ve seen only in the bowl game, but he’s got talent, and seems like a great fit for Shanahan, though his track record with developing quarterbacks isn’t that great”.

Q) If you were the St Louis Rams GM, what would you have done with the 2nd overall pick in the draft?

“Exactly what they did, I’d love to see them land Kalil, but they won’t, and I would serious consider trading down again if they got a good offer for the 6th pick”.

Q) Give me an early prediction for the next Superbowl, who do you fancy?

Who knows? Before the draft? Hmm, Randy Moss doesn’t make the 49ers favourites although I still think San Francisco and Baltimore were the best teams last season, in the sense of balance, with the Giants right behind them, but then again the Giants had a big play quarterback”.

And finally,
Q) What is next for Mike Carlson?

I’ve written a few books and I have been trying for a while to do an American football book. I would really love a radio show, a music one, a talk show, or a combo; I’d call it, ‘Old & in the Way’, just like me”.

FightForTheYard would like to thank Mike for his time and commitment to this interview.





Neil Reynolds Exclusive

13 02 2012
“They don’t even know we play, they’d actually be quite shocked! That’s their problem.”

That is the surprise admission from NFL journalist and Sky Sports analyst Neil Reynolds, 39, who believes the British game is on the right track, even if the Americans are oblivious to the fact we even play the sport at all.

Neil Reynolds with Joe Montana

Mr Reynolds was kind enough to speak to FightForTheYard and give his views on everything football.

“I got into the sport the way most people my age did, staying up late with my dad in the eighties, watching all the best teams on Channel 4. After about a year I decided I liked the San Francisco 49ers”.

Miami Dolphins Quarterback 1983-99 Dan Marino

While the 49ers led by Hall Of Fame star Joe Montana were appealing at first, they held no real place in Neil’s heart, that spot belongs to the Miami Dolphins. When asked why he chose the Dolphins Neil could only laugh, “I like a good quarterback”. As most of you will know, Miami was home to one of the best quarterbacks of all time, Dan Marino but in more recent times players such as Matt Moore and Chad Henne have held that position and on the whole, failed.

“Obviously we’re not doing very well at the moment but Marino stood out for me and has to be my favourite player of all time. I believe the quarterback position to be the hardest in the NFL, so respect to those guys that do it”.

Having admiration for the position, Reynolds can only admire the great work that newly crowned league MVP Aaron Rodgers has done in Green Bay, “I love to watch great quarterbacks play football and this guy is special. Green Bay have a lot of weapons and are brilliant to watch at the minute”.

Watching the game is all very well and good but to fully appreciate and understand what a player is thinking, you have to have experienced the hard hitting and ferocious nature of play which Neil has.

Starting out with the Medway Mustangs in 1991, Neil played as wide receiver before moving on a year later to the Invicta Eagles where he spent four years as a tight end and kicker, a position he would hold at every team he played for.

After leaving the Eagles at the end of the 1996 season, Reynolds moved to the Kent Exiles where he would finish his playing career before being offered a job at NFL Europe.

“Again I played tight end and kicker but I also had a go at defensive end which I was awful at, I couldn’t tackle at all but loved trying to get at the quarterback. I liked to be tackled for some strange reason so that is why I was mainly on offence. My favourite tight end was Mark Bavaro of the Giants in the 80’s, the picture of him running twenty yards with three men on his back is still etched into my memory”.

Only last year Neil was offered the chance to return to the Exiles for their 21st year Anniversary, an invitation he was pleased to accept, “I went back for the anniversary and was inducted to the All Star Team ring of honour as a tight end which was great”.

One thing Neil doesn’t miss about his playing days are the aches and pains from playing a hard game, “When I was younger I would ache for a day or two afterwards but as I got older I would ache until the following Friday, that wasn’t fun”.

“I do miss being part of a team though, that was probably the most enjoyable part of the whole experience, being in the locker room before the game, getting psyched up and then the elation or despair afterwards. To enjoy it you really have to love the game”.

So the question is how did the kicker for the Invicta Eagles come to write for NFL UK and co-present on Sky Sports?

“I always had a fascination with journalism at school and at age 14 I decided that’s what I want to do, so I did”

As most aspiring journalists will know, getting a gig for a company like the NFL requires a lot of hard work, “I did a week’s work experience at First Down magazine in 1991 which was brilliant and I continued to work with them by freelancing and covering the London Monarchs game’s in the 1991/92 season”.

“From there I worked for the Kent Messenger and literally started off as the tea boy, it wasn’t pretty but it was necessary, I’d cut out the stories I had written and stick them in a scrapbook and by 1996 I was fully qualified journalist, visiting flower shows to write about the goings on in the flower world”.

Neil’s tea making days were firmly behind him when he got his first big break, “I became a reporter for First Down magazine and I did that for three years, I loved it, writing about football was what I had always wanted to do. One day I received a call offering me the position of PR Manager at NFLEurope.com I was so pleased to be headhunted for the position”.

“I was there from 2000/02, I enjoyed it a lot. I also helped to launch NFL UK, so overall it was a fun job”.

Neil Reynolds with co-presenter Kevin Cadle

Currently Neil writes for NFL UK and is also a permanent fixture on the Sky Sports NFL shows. “I love the job that I am doing at the moment, maybe one day I’ll take Rich Eisen’s place on the NFL Network, I have the hair for it anyway”, he says jokingly.

“When doing this job you can’t please everybody and I’m aware of some criticism but at the end of the day I’m being paid to watch football and talk about it on television so I’m not too bothered”.

Taking a trip across the pond is another perk to the job, “I get to visit America for around two weeks of the year as part of my role, which isn’t as much as I’d like obviously, but it’s still more than most. I go for a week during training camp and then I go again for Superbowl week which is manic”.

International Series 2010

Since 2007 the NFL International Series has been played at Wembley Stadium giving hope to the idea of having a London based NFL franchise, something which Neil is backing, “I think it is definitely a possibility especially with Roger Goodell as commissioner of the league, he really wants it to happen”.

“Part of the business plan is to have a team play multiple games in the UK and see how they connect with the fans. It could take ten years or so to develop but it would be fantastic”.

With the recent news that the St Louis Rams will take on the New England Patriots next year and then return for another two years it seems the Rams are that team.

Continuing with the British game, Neil spoke favourably about the work being done in this country to raise the profile and standard of the game.

“The game over here is growing and growing and that is a great thing. It is probably helped by the Wembley game being such a big event which in turn has increased participation at both university and senior league level”.

He continued; “I’d love to see more of our players make it over to the States and receive scholarships at colleges but the reality of it is playing in BUAFL is the best it is ever going to get for many but that shouldn’t detract how valuable an experience it is. To the players padding up with friends means everything to them and they give it their all which I think is brilliant”.

San Francisco 49ers Quarterback 1979-92 Joe Montana

Being a journalist, Neil has interviewed plenty of famous faces but his most treasured moment came a couple of years ago when by chance he came face to face with NFL Royalty, Joe Montana.

“I was in California and had a spare day to myself; I knew Joe Montana lived close by so I thought I’d ring his agent asking for an interview. He said he’d ask Joe so I thought nothing of it thinking that would be that. Not long after I received permission to go to Joe’s house and speak with him. I nervously made my way over to his house and he gave me a guided tour while telling me stories. I spent an hour there and got the interview, it has to go down as one of the greatest and most surreal moments of my life, I had to pinch myself afterwards”.

When asked who he would like to interview most out of the current crop of football stars the answer was instant.

“Ray Lewis, it has to be Ray. He is so intense and fascinating; he can get a little carried away but what a character”.

If Neil could be in Roger Goodell’s hot seat for just one day he would change only two things, “Coaching time outs drive me crazy, if you’re losing by more than two touchdowns in the 4th quarter then what’s the point? It slows the game down and puts new fans off”.

Another rule change that would be implemented is the victory celebration;”Why is it okay for the Packers to jump into the crowd and perform the ‘Lambeau Leap’ but Chad Ochocinco gets pulled up for a silly dance? I agree pulling mobile phones out of goal posts is too far but let them enjoy the moment”.

Chad Ochocinco

All this talk of celebrations reminded Neil of a time when he scored a touchdown and went a little bit too far, “When I used to play, one of my coaches used to make us run up this steep hill in training as a punishment, so one time I scored a touchdown and the hill was positioned by the end zone so I ran to the top, put my hands on my hips like Superman or something and had the whole offensive line running up after me, it was hilarious”.

FightForTheYard would like to thank Neil Reynolds for offering his time and commitment to this interview.