Andy O. Spins Classic Skins Stories
Like everyone else in this town, I've made my share of "D.C. is a lousy sports town!!1!1!" cracks, but the place does have its charms. One of the charms is that small group of longtime D.C. sports personalities which sometimes gathers to tell stories and drink wine and smoke cigars and pat each other on the shoulder and remember the good old days. Trust me, if you ever get invited to one of these events, you should go.
So here I am last week at the 80th birthday party for Comcast SportsNet exec Andy Ockershausen. If you fit in my target demographic, maybe you've never heard of him, but you should have. Len Shapiro dubbed him CSN's "Head Schmoozer and Beloved Semi-Elder Statesman," George Solomon said Andy O, "as GM of WMAL-AM, set a record for firing the same two people in one decade when he canned Andrew Beyer and me seven times from our radio show," and Thom Loverro called him "one of the legendary figures in sports and media in Washington," but because I'm young and stupid and relatively new to D.C., I didn't really know much about his career. (See site here.)
So I'm sitting there in the back row with two other newcomers--Tanner Cooley and Kedric Golston--as the video tributes begin. Let's see, Kornheiser and Wilbon, Charlie Gibson, Maury Povich, James Brown, Kevin James, Jenny McCarthy, Mike Green, Jason Campbell, Joe Gibbs, Willard Scott, Brooke Shields. That's more famous people than would talk at my birthday party. Then they have the panels, featuring Frank Sonny and Sam, Riggo Doc and Mark Moseley, Bobby Mitchell and Paul Berry, and others. George Starke and Dexter Manley and Andy Pollin were in the crowd. And it was an open bar. You really should have gone.
CSN is showing an hour-long broadcast of the event Sunday at 9, and to give you a little flavor, I sat down with Andy O. and asked him to spin a few D.C. sports tales. If you're a grizzled Skins fan, you probably know all of this. If you're like me, you might not.
The Start: "When I first started doing sports for WMAL, I worked for a guy named Jim Gibbons and the announcer was Harry Wismer. That name doesn't mean anything to you, but later he owned the New York Titans. His whole shtick was name-dropping, whether you were there or not. He even dropped my name on the broadcast--Andy Ockershausen, the great graduate of Notre Dame, which was [bullfeathers]. He made stuff up. But he liked my name."
The Color Guy: "So we got the broadcast back [in the '60s], and they were quite successful, put us on the map. We used a guy named Chuck Drazenovich, a linebacker, as the color man, and that got us started with the ex-players. Steve Gilmartin did the play-by-play. Chuck had been a player, he had retired and I think he was working for a liquor distributor. [The idea] was probably mine, because I loved the name, and I liked the guy. He was such a tough guy, and he scared people with the name, and with the stare, and he was good for clients. Washingtonians loved Chuck Drazenovich. I don't know if it was because the name or what."
Sonny and Sam: "I went to New York to visit Sam Huff when the trade was announced. He worked for the J.P. Stevens company, manufacturing clothing. I went to see their factory in New York and they put me in a room smaller than this, a sealed-up room, and said, 'Mr. Huff will be with you shortly.' I said god damn, look at the power this guy's got. We met, talked about him coming to Washington, and I said, 'We'd like you to do something with broadcasting.' Then Sonny moved to town and hired an agent. The first time I'd ever worked with an agent. Back then we'd give a guy a case of Coke and he'd be thankful; now, you've got to give a guy a limo. I told both of them, 'You ain't gonna get New York prices. You're not gonna get any more money using an agent, because we've only got so much.' They admitted later I was right. After that, they never used agents."
The Squire: "I recall a great Jack Kent Cooke story. Sorry, Mr. Cooke, he was always Mr. Cooke. Mr. Cooke called me and said, 'Dear darling Andrew, starting this week with the preseason games, we're gonna use Sam Huff on the television broadcasts.' He didn't ask. I said, 'Well, Mr. Cooke, you know we have a contract.' He said, 'Andrew, you're not listening. Starting this Sunday, or whenever it was, Sam Huff will be doing the preseason television broadcasts.' End of discussion. Is asked him who's doing the play-by-play. He said, 'It's really none of your business, but it's Chick Hearn.' I'm thinking he's the Lakers guy, but I said 'Mr. Cooke, you're the man.' There was no argument. You don't argue with Jack Kent Cooke."
The USFL: "You may remember the Washington Federals. So I made a deal with the franchise to do the broadcasts, and after about three or four weeks I got a call from John Cooke, who said my father would like to speak with you. I said, 'Oh [crud], what about?' He said the Washington Federals. Now, not being stupid, I never would have signed a deal if the organization didn't know about it, but as I found out later, daddy didn't know about it. So as daddy found out about it--daddycakes, we called him--I got called in to have some wine in a private place. He said, 'I want you to understand how important this is to me.' He said, 'You're either stupid--exact words--or [another executive] made you do it. He said, 'Take my advice, get out of it.' He thought it was competition to the Redskins."
Kornheiser: Kornheiser worked for us when I was at Channel 50, we did a show called Redskins After Hours, and we did it remote from Champions in Falls Church. Tony was great. He'll tell you his first radio gig was WMAL radio, and my wife was his producer. I knew he had enormous talent. I used to say to him, 'You're bigger than sports.' I always said Tony had more ability than to be a sports announcer, and I was right."
On the '70s Skins: "Glenn Brenner and Sonny hosted a show live on Monday night at the Dancing Crab, and all the guys would come in. This one guy [Karl Lorch], his claim to fame was he picked up a live crab in front of all his teammates at the Dancing Crab and ate it. Absolutely serious. Think he wasn't tough? I've never heard of such a thing, have you? He'd do it a couple of times, it wasn't one time only. It was incredible. They had a defensive end, Coy Bacon, he got so scared he got sick. He had to go in the bathroom and throw up. He didn't just do it as a lark, he would eat a live crab. It's a famous story in those years. I asked him if he ever ate a stone crab, he said no, they were too prickly."
On Joe Gibbs: "He invited us all to a cocktail party one time, and they served pineapple juice, orange juice and grape juice. True story. He didn't drink. None. Which was tough on broadcasters. He wouldn't let booze on the plane. No beer. So they'd all smuggle the beer on the plane."
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