To say Dan Patrick was the voice of a sports generation wouldn’t be hyperbole. As an OG SportsCenter anchor, Patrick is partially responsible for crafting the network’s iconic style of delivering sports highlights: running through stats, scores, and news with plenty of wit, catchphrases, and random cultural references sprinkled in (like this shoutout to “It Was A Good Day”). If you were a sports fan born before the late '90s, you either fell asleep or woke up to the image of Dan Patrick blaring through your TV.
Patrick left Bristol in 2007 and took his talents to Stamford, where NBC Sports is headquartered. He currently hosts the popular self-titled radio show The Dan Patrick Show, is a senior writer for SI, and co-hosts NBC’s Football Night in America. Perhaps most impressively, Patrick possesses an extensive IMDB page rivaling that of Nick Cage. Okay, that’s hyperbole.
We meet up with Patrick in Madison Square Park, where he just finished commentating a sandwich-making race to raise awareness about hunger in America, alongside Subway and Feeding America. We chopped it up about the initiative, as well as his legacy at ESPN, “beefing” with Ice Cube, the state of the NFL, and more. The conversation was en fuego.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
In preparation for today, I tried growing some semblance of a mustache because on the big screen, you have the most epic mustaches. Clearly I was unsuccessful...
[Laughs.] Yeah you were. But I love the attempt. Now, if you wouldn’t have mentioned it, I would’ve have known that you had a mustache.
So that’s particularly pathetic on my end.
But so in the movies you’re in, like The Longest Yard and [I Now Pronounce You] Chuck and Larry, are those mustaches natural?
No, they’re not. Sandler always wanted to go with the ugliest, most embarrassing mustache, and he did a good job for me.
Well it makes me feel a little bit better that they weren’t real.
Yeah, he always thought it was so funny. Anytime I was in a movie, he wanted to put a mustache on me. And then, to trump it all, he had me play Abe Lincoln, where I got to wear a beard. So I graduated to a beard with Abe Lincoln.
Right! Something else I noticed about your roles in movies: It seems like you are either playing yourself or you’re playing a cop. Where does that character come from?
I said to Sandler, “If you ever need somebody in your movies, I’d be more happy to do it,” and he said, “I’m gonna put you in my next movie. You’re gonna be a cop, and you’re name is Danny McEffin' Patrick.” I said “Okay,” and then he called me, and I played a cop in The Longest Yard… That’s how it started… Now, he won’t stop with the mustache.
What would you say is the best acting tip Sandler has ever given you?
That he hasn’t given me any acting tips! That’s the best acting tip he ever gave me.
He just says go in there, do your thing, and get the lines right?
He said before that I could do this for a living if I wanted to, and I appreciate the compliment. I couldn’t do it for a living, but I think what he’s saying is just go in and you know what your role is. Just play that. Now, he has come in before, when I did Chuck and Larry, and wanted to know if I could do a Brooklyn accent [for a Brooklyn cop] as we start the scene. I said it doesn’t work that way! Like, nobody’s asking Daniel Day Lewis to do something like that…
Can you talk to me a little about this campaign that you’re doing with Subway and Feeding America?
We wanted to get involved with Subway because our studio is right above a Subway in Milford, Connecticut. My son worked there as a sandwich artist, and I just liked what they did. The people we got involved with said if we could ever do something down the road, we’re all in. We had a contest winner with Subway who came in from Kansas; we had thousands of entries to be a Danette for a day, and so it was very rewarding. It was a chance to have some fun, and what they’re doing in 60 countries is pretty cool. Very lucky to be involved with that.
I was watching some old clips of you and Keith Olbermann from back in the day on SportsCenter, and one of the lines that jumped out to me is you said was that “Tonight, Dikembe [Mutombo] messed around and got a triple double.” That had to be improvised, no?
About 80% of what we did on the 11 o’clock SportsCenter was unscripted. Ad lib. There are parameters of what you’re supposed to do hosting SportsCenter, but they gave us great latitude, sometimes to their chagrin. But they gave us great latitude in having fun giving you the highlights because it’s sports. It’s supposed to be fun, and they gave us the opportunity to have fun. We’re very very lucky to be able to have that kind of freedom.
Speaking of the song reference, are you a fan of “It Was a Good Day?” Or was that just some random thing you pulled out of the air?
Well, I’ve always had a problem with Ice Cube because—and I’ve said this to his face—nobody keeps their stats in a pickup game. I said, “The fact that you kept your stats means you’re kind of a me-first guy and a selfish guy.” All I wanna know is did we win? It’s not about stats. And so, I had to call him out for it. Now, I love NWA, but I have a problem with somebody “messing around” and getting a triple-double. I don’t think he “messed around” and got a triple-double. I think he set out to get a triple double. He’s not kidding me. He was Russell Westbrook before Russell Westbrook.
You were involved in a lot of the “This is SportsCenter” commercials. How much creative input did the anchors have in that versus how much was it written for you guys?
None. Widen and Kennedy deserve all the credit in the world. But how that campaign came up is by complete accident. Keith [Olbermann] and I were told not to call it “The Big Show” anymore. We were told to remind people that this is SportsCenter. “That’s what you need to say at every commercial break: This is SportCenter.” So that night, we overemphasized “This is SportsCenter” to an embarrassing degree, and that was by design. And then they started a campaign called ‘This is SportsCenter’ based off of that, and that’s how it started.
Okay, I want play a little game here. I’ll say the name of a person, and can you tell me one question that you’d like to ask him or her if you had the opportunity?
Why haven’t you been on my show in over five years?
How hard would it be for you to not say anything about your son for a month?
Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.
Do you believe in love?
John Skipper (president of ESPN).
I think any questions I have for John have been answered by John...I would ask him what my legacy was at ESPN. “What impact and imprint did I leave at ESPN?” I’d be curious. I’ve been gone 10 years. But in his mind, in his eyes, running ESPN, did I leave an imprint? And what kind.
I feel like each year, people say more and more that the NFL is in trouble, or that it might die at some point soon. Do you think that’s fair?
No. It’s in trouble only by comparison to the NFL. You don’t compare it to anything else. The NFL is compared to the NFL. Are the numbers as high? They’re making $15 billion a year. Do I think that we’ll see attrition with people playing football in 10 years? Yes. Will that impact the quality of play that we’ll see? Yes. But I still think, with fantasy and gambling—and I do think we’re gonna get to the point where you’re gonna be able to gamble legally—those are only gonna create more revenue streams and more people getting involved in it because they can go to a game and maybe gamble while they’re at the game.
It feels like, in theory, ESPN is trying to put out edgier content. Yet they suspend Jemele Hill when she comes out and speaks out against Donald Trump and comments on player protests during the national anthem. What do you make of that whole situation?
What Jemele said about the president is wrong from the standpoint of her representing ESPN. If you’re on your own, you can tweet, text, get an airplane and fly a banner...But when you’re inside of ESPN, you’re representing ESPN. As much as I love Jemele and the fact that she has a voice and uses the voice, you also have to understand there can be repercussions and ramifications with using that voice if it’s not used in the context that your employer wants you to use it. I think that’s what happened. She’s lucky and fortunate that she kept her job.
We should all have a voice, but freedom of speech doesn’t mean that there’s freedom of somebody firing you. And that’s where I think she learned a valuable lesson. All of us do with twitter. It’s dangerous It really is. When you hit send, who knows who’s getting it, how they consume it, and what the reaction is going to be?
And because back in the day, if she hadn’t said this on TV, nobody would’ve heard it at all.
Yes. But, she also wanted it out there because look, she got to a point where she was angry. That angry with the president to say what she said. People don’t think on Twitter. And there should be some kind of copy editor who’s there to say, ‘Let me read that back to you. Are you sure you want to send it?” I’m sure you’d probably have 50 percent less tweets if that were the case.
So then would you say that sports and politics are two entities that need to be kept separate? Or are we past that point? Have we merged them to the point that we can’t differentiate with the two?
Well, they’re there together. The president has made sure that they’re together. He called out the NFL, called out the players, called out the owners, the anthems. So it’s there. But down through the years, I mean, look at George Bush Sr. He played baseball at Yale; John Kennedy loved backyard football; President Ford was an offensive lineman at Michigan; Richard Nixon was calling a play for the Texas Longhorns. He gave them the national championship. There’s so much that goes on with politicians, politics, and sports. And even more so now. The confluence is here, and we’re not getting further from it. We’re getting closer to it.
You’ve been hosting Football Night in America now for almost 10 years. I heard in 2013, you guys filmed in studio 8H? Where Saturday Night Live shoots. Did you come across any interesting SNL relics or even people you ran into?
No, but I looked for contraband. I had the dressing room of the host of that weekend, so I’d be in there on Sunday, I would look to see if there were any leftovers from Saturday. They were always lame. And all these great stories with SNL that it used to be crazy, people hiding drugs up in the ceiling...There were nothing like that. It was kind of boring.
You’ve accomplished so many things as a radio show host and as a sportscaster. Are there any more goals you want to check off of your list?
Nah. I wanted to be a host for the Olympics, I wanted to host the Super Bowl and hand out the Super Bowl trophy. Those were important things, and I did them. I think it’s trying to maintain what I’ve established that’s important to me. I’ve opened up a sportscasting school at Full Sail University as a way of moving on towards the next chapter where I may not be on the air and be able to offer up some advice—give people a head start. That’s what we’re trying to do.