The End Of ESPN’s Mike & Mike
The time was April, 1985.
The sports world was still reeling from Villanova’s stunning upset over mighty Georgetown in the NCAA men’s basketball national championship game.
The Orioles were just a full season removed from their last World Series win, but roughly a month away from firing manager Joe Altobelli, the guy who guided them to the 1983 world championship.
And, in the business world, Coca-Cola was on the verge of unveiling the first change in the formula for its centerpiece drink in decades.
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The product – trotted out to great fanfare — was dubbed “New Coke.” It was met with immediate universal ridicule. Even that noted consumer expert Fidel Castro, the late Cuban dictator, reportedly heaped scorn in “New Coke.”
Within weeks, the chastened company sheepishly brought back the original drink under the name “Coca-Cola Classic,” eventually dragging cans of “New Coke” to the vaults, never to be seen again.
You’d think the folks at ESPN, who have already had an admittedly rough year, would have learned some lessons from Coke about messing with a formula that works well and is popular with the public.
Apparently not, or at least not from the news of the week that it will be splitting up its “Mike and Mike” radio pairing near the end of the year.
At its presentation to advertisers Tuesday, ESPN officials announced that Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic will go their separate ways after 17 years together, when Greenberg gets a television-only morning show in January.
Golic, a former NFL defensive lineman, will stay with the radio show, and be joined by “NFL Live” host Trey Wingo and his son, Mike, Jr. The radio show will continue to be simulcast on television, but will move from ESPN2 to ESPNU.
The announcement wasn’t exactly surprising. News of the potential change had been in the winds for months and picked up velocity when Greenberg, who was one of the original anchors on ESPNEWS, got a new contract with a big raise, an automatic sign that he was ticketed for greater visibility.
Still, the fact that you can see a train wreck coming doesn’t lessen the impact when the collision actually takes place.
And make no mistake, splitting up Golic and Greenberg has the potential to be a 21st century blunder on the order of breaking out “New Coke.”
In case you hadn’t noticed, ESPN has taken a fair amount of heat recently. The subscriber base has dropped dramatically in just the past couple of years, thanks to advancing technology and rising costs to viewers.
And with the de-emphasizing of such long time favorites as Chris Berman and Dick Vitale added with recent purges of its reporter and personality ranks and persistent criticism from the political right that ESPN has brandished a left-wing agenda, you’d think folks in Bristol would want to hold on to what works.
And “Mike and Mike” works. Each morning, the pair does a sports version of “The Odd Couple” that, to this listener, has worn well. Golic’s easy going manner blends nicely with Greenberg’s fastidiousness.
As Greenberg, the traffic cop, steers the vehicle in and out of segments, Golic, who has worked hard to make himself knowledgeable of sports other than football, provides the entertainment. As a duo, they’ve outlasted other tandems at the World Wide Leader and challengers outside ESPN because their pairing seems honest and unforced.
With all due respect, it’s hard to imagine Greenberg being able to pull off a show on his own, not because he’s devoid of talent or even of personality. It’s just that, as one of their ad campaigns noted, what makes “Mike and Mike” different is what makes them great.
Meanwhile, Wingo, who has filled in on occasion for Greenberg, always seems like he’s hopped up on a six-pack of energy drinks. He has little chemistry with Golic and seems more interested in talking over the genial former lineman than bonding with him.
The move drew a mild on-air rebuke from Golic, who muttered that the story of the break-up was “someone else’s story to tell.”
That was nothing compared to the Trump-like Tweet storm from Golic’s son, Jake, who blasted the decision including with a meme of two dogs looking at a computer screen framed by the words “We have no idea what we’re doing.”
Luckily for the Golic family, Mike, Jr., whose star is clearly rising, is more sanguine about the deal, but he ought to listen to his kid brother and urge the powers that be to reverse this before he, his dad and Wingo become ESPN’s answer to “New Coke.”