Mike Greenberg Brings Sports Talk Show to Campus
Medill alumnus reflects on college, his career and Wildcats' athletic success
Northwestern alumnus and ESPN broadcaster Mike Greenberg (Medill ’89) returned to campus this weekend to serve as grand marshal of the Homecoming parade, and he brought along his ESPN Radio show “Mike & Mike in the Morning” for a live broadcast from Deering Meadow.
On the air, Greenberg is an unabashed Northwestern fan and has been working in sports media for more than 20 years. He talked to Northwestern News about his "disproportionate" love for Northwestern, winning the "Northwestern way" and the extraordinary buzz about "Mike & Mike" and ESPN's "College GameDay" being broadcast from the Evanston campus this weekend. But all else pales, he stressed, next to the Northwestern-Ohio State game Saturday in primetime on ABC, making this the "biggest week in Northwestern football since the 1996 Rose Bowl."
Read much more about what Greenberg had to say in an edited version of an interview by Northwestern News' Matthew Paolelli and Stephen Anzaldi.
What’s the secret to hosting a long-running radio talk show?
It was the first thing I learned when I started. An old boss said to me, “Your job is to reflect interest, not to create it.” And what I’ve taken from that is, if you’re not talking about things people are interested in, then they’re going to find someone who is. It’s not any more complicated than that. But if you forget it, you won’t have a show for very long.
You don’t hide on air your affection for your hometown New York Jets, so can you compare that with your love for the Wildcats?
They both matter to me on a level that is completely disproportionate to their actual importance. When I’m watching the Jets or Northwestern, the outcome is much too important. I don’t know why. I grew up in a family of Jets fans. And to this day I talk to my father about the Jets almost every day.
But with Northwestern it’s more about the communal experience I share with all the other members of the University family, present and past. I love both teams, and I care about them maybe more than I should.
What is your favorite sports memory from your time at Northwestern?
It would be the night we beat Indiana at home in January 1988, when Indiana was the defending national champion. I still remember guard Terry Buford dribbling the clock out at the end, and my friends and I racing onto the court as fast as we could and celebrating. That was one of the greatest wins as a sports fan that I’ve ever seen.
What are your thoughts on “winning the Northwestern way?”
We’re not alone, but we are one of the schools that illustrate exactly what college sports are supposed to be. I have talked to Coach Pat Fitzgerald about this on more than one occasion -- that it is not worth winning without the honor. I don’t think there’s any question that you can win that way, and I am proud that we have made that a priority and that we are doing it to the degree that we already are.
With ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcasting from the Evanston campus and the Homecoming game being broadcast in primetime on ABC, buzz is at an all-time high for a Northwestern football game. How big is this weekend for the Wildcats?
This is the biggest week in Northwestern football since the Rose Bowl. There’s no question of that. I think what needs to be remembered is that Mike and Mike coming to campus -- we’re going to come and go. College GameDay coming to campus -- they’re going to come and go. There’s a football game Saturday night, and it’s a big game. But if we manage to find a way to win that game, we have just as big a game the next week. Our goals cannot be just to have this one moment. The goal has to be sustained excellence, and I think Pat Fitzgerald and the players understand that. If we manage that, then “Mike & Mike” and “College GameDay” will come back. I’m hopeful this is just the beginning.
It’s no secret that you’re proud to be an alumnus of Northwestern. How has this helped you professionally?
I’ve published three books, and there are only three things that I put in my author’s bio: that I work at ESPN, my wife and my kids and the fact that I am a graduate of Medill at Northwestern University. In my life of accomplishments, I put that right near the very top, because I think it is special. If you went to Medill, people will take you more seriously and give you the benefit of the doubt. There is also just an enormous network of Medill alumni out there who are looking out for each other. We will take you seriously because it says Medill next to your name.
Are you hopeful that your own children will one day attend Northwestern?
I was the first person in my family to go to Northwestern, and my wife, Stacy, went to Northwestern, so that’s the beginning of a tradition. I would love for that tradition to continue either with one or both of my kids, but obviously when the time comes it will be up to them. My daughter wears a Northwestern sweatshirt all the time -- one of the five or six that she has. There’s no question that we are a Northwestern family. We are a purple family.
Your first novel, published this year, is the story of friendship between three women. How did it come about, and are there more to come?
My wife and I conceived the book, “All You Could Ask For,” and then I wrote it. It’s in honor of our friend Heidi who died of breast cancer four years ago. We’re donating 100 percent of the author’s proceeds to the V Foundation for Cancer Research. And I’m very excited because on Oct. 16 I’m going to announce our first donation.
And, yes I’m writing another novel now. It will be out in November 2014. It’s totally different from “All You Could Ask For.” But it’s another foray into fiction, which I really enjoy. It’s something I plan to do semi-regularly for the rest of my life.