Miles away from the Super Bowl media and fan frenzy at Mall of America, a safe distance from the throngs of fans on Nicollet Mall, sports television hosts Dan Patrick and Rich Eisen appear to have the best seats in the house — and maybe the state, at least until Sunday.
They have taken over the eighth floor community room of a Minneapolis condo building for the week, and the dueling sets for their programs on the AT&T Audience Network have most of the trappings of their traditional studios while also overlooking U.S. Bank Stadium.
The arrangement is perhaps a fitting metaphor for the career arcs of both men, who rose to prominence during what Eisen terms the “heyday” of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” in the mid-1990s but have long since moved on. If the typical Super Bowl media experience represents the hustle and grind of their early days, they’ve both certainly risen above the fray.
Eisen, just before going live Tuesday in the quiet, calm space, seemed to enjoy himself.
“What a blast. This is the greatest,” he said. “I get to have a playpen like this three hours a day for five days this week. The convenience of being on radio row [at Mall of America] where everyone is just right there and you can pick guests off, this creates a challenge of bringing guests here. But it’s great.”
Eisen was the first to leave ESPN, bolting for the then-fledgling NFL Network in 2003.
“I got there in 1996, and [“SportsCenter”] was all about the written word, a well-written lead-in to a highlight. And a storytelling aspect of it that allowed for comedic interludes on occasion. Winks and nods used to be the currency of SportsCenter, and then it changed,” Eisen said. “Everybody in management figured everybody watching it had already seen what had happened and were tuning in now to figure out why it happened. The communication of why something happened frequently took the form of two analysts taking completely different viewpoints and arguing about it. That’s not just the type of show I was doing or signed up for.”
Patrick has similar recollections of the earlier days, saying: “It’s a lifetime ago, but I have great memories on what we were able to do and get away with.”
Patrick surprised his ESPN colleagues in 2007 by essentially becoming a free agent. He had an eventual soft landing on both satellite radio and with NBC Sports, but his moves were considered bold a decade ago.
“I think I kind of had to have sand kicked in my face after leaving ESPN because you build up this false sense of security that you’re impenetrable, and working at ESPN is usually the final landing spot for people,” Patrick said. “I wanted to do more, and to be able to get on my own.”
Two one-time parallel career paths that took divergent turns are now both aligned on the same track again. What Patrick and Eisen were a part of 20 years ago was groundbreaking, but 2018 isn’t so bad, either.
“Usually the media at these events complain about the weather, traffic, how are you put out. The fan doesn’t care,” Patrick said. “My job during the week and on Super Bowl Sunday is that I’m having fun. I have to remind myself: Don’t be afraid to have fun.”