What had been rumored for months became reality Wednesday morning, as Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic -- co-hosts of ESPN’s benign sports-chat behemoth, Mike & Mike -- announced that, after 19 years of good-natured guffawing, they would be parting ways at the end of the year. To unpack this seismic rupture in the sports broadcasting time-continuum, we sat down with two of our resident ESPN addicts -- both of whom hold Mike & Mike in VERY different sections of their hearts -- to discuss what this means for not only them, but sports media as a whole. As you’ll see, in these tumultuous times, only thing one thing is certain: Mike & Mike are forever, for better or worse.
Coleman Bentley: So Mike & Mike are officially breaking up after 19 years. Is your soul aching? Do you still believe in love? Can you ever trust another person again?
Joel Beall: I know the Internet is taking to the streets like the Liberation of Paris, but unpopular opinion alert: I enjoyed the Mikes. (Or perhaps it’s not that unpopular; you don’t last 17 years on that platform without a sizable fan base. Maybe social media is just an awful place?) Yes, they were vanilla, talk radio’s equivalent to a CBS laugh-track sitcom. Yet, in this Stephen A. Smith Era where the best take isn’t the smartest but the loudest, I always felt safe with those two on the air, like having two agreeable uncles sitting in your backseat on the way to work.
Let me guess: Your icy heart is warmed with rapture. Away with the contrived “Odd Couple” set-up, in with...well, anything else?
CB: Well, in with stats, if the simultaneous announcement of ESPN’s new Pablo Torre- and Bomani Jones-helmed buddy-cop team-up is the indication it seems to be. With that said, ESPN hasn’t exactly thrived in a numeric sports world, and if I have to hear them invent another number just for the sake of having a number (“he’s only the 4th player in county history to ever score 13 points by the 9:32 mark in the first quarter of a high school basketball regional quarter-final”), I’m going cash it all in, hop a railcar headed west, and spend the rest of my years watching Fox Sports from behind a Reno slot machine.
My real beef with the Mikes is not that they are “vanilla”, however, but that they are neither experts nor jacks-of-all-trades. They are literally just there, breathing into hot mics for what feels like 100 hours a day. They don’t know hockey, they don’t know soccer, they don’t know motorsports, and they definitely don’t know movies -- despite debating the merits (or lack thereof) of Titanic for 45 FREAKIN’ MINUTES last week. Seriously, ESPN. Just prop up two cardboard cutouts -- one in a cardigan and another that looks like a husky version of the Notre Dame leprechaun -- roll in the sport-specific experts, and watch the ratings needle twitch for the first time since ’08.
Perhaps this is why there seems to be a little bit of drama behind the scenes, with Golic saying that the separation wasn’t “his decision” and that “it’s someone else’s story to tell” during their dad-is-going-to-live-in-a-motel-for-a-little-while breakup on Wednesday morning. What do you make of that, Joel? Is there trouble in Mike paradise or is this just a reflection of the current climate at the Worldwide Leader?
JB: And we’d be remiss if forgetting to mention Mike’s son Jake taking a flamethrower to Bristol leadership…
Admittedly, for a guy who never ruffled the status quo (and make no mistake, the Mikes' neutrality on hot-button topics drew its share of criticism), Golic’s passive-aggressive response was revealing. And it’s not like he’s getting shipped to Siberia, or worse, FOX Sports 1. Golic will be in the same time slot with his son, Mike Golic Jr., and Trey Wingo. (Side note: This trio's DNA is telling that, in spite of dwindling Monday Night Football viewership, NFL coverage remains the cornerstone of ESPN.) You’d think the prospect of working with family would be enticing, yet Wednesday morning's comments don’t convey that.
It could simply be a matter of pride or an aversion to change. Hell, maybe he’s just bummed about losing his buddy. (The Mikes make a point of mentioning how much they interact outside the office.)
But I’m interested in what’s next. While Golic mans the fort with Wingo and his son, Greenberg will be getting his own three-hour Good Morning America-esque show on ESPN. Personally, I think Greenberg is one of the more talented guys in the business, but can he carry his own program, especially with a format that’s failed in the past? (R.I.P. Cold Pizza.) And how much Golic is too much Golic?
CB: Oh boy, where to start? One Golic is too much Golic, and to pair him with his son feels like the sports broadcasting equivalent of a Baconator. Good luck and god speed, Wingo is all I have to say about that one. As far as Greenberg is concerned, that remains to be seen. Golic has, emotionally speaking, beat him up for his milk money 5 times a week for nearly 20 years, so it’s tough to tell if there’s still an actual sports journalist rattling around inside that hollowed-out husk of a Jets fan or not.
One thing is for sure though: If Greenberg is going to survive three hours of ESPN programming every morning, he’s going to have to be more assertive, both in his on-camera presence and his actual sports knowledge, which he routinely defers to ESPN’s rotating cast of ex-athletes for. This is a BIG assumption, but I’m guessing he was hired for more than the “Northwestern” watermark on his resume (more than a lot of current Bristol bots can say, to be honest), so perhaps now is finally his chance to prove it.
And with that -- even though this television-altering schism won’t take place until the New Year -- I think it’s time for our final goodbyes. You first, Joel…
JB: It’s easy to knock the monolith that ESPN has become, and Mike & Mike was never a must-listen attraction. But it wasn’t meant to be. It’s perfect background fodder, a friendly distraction from the ever-present chaos of life. And while the pairing was typecast (“An articulate wimp meets a big oaf, hilarity ensues”), the two developed a genuine rapport, something extremely hard to build -- and perhaps more importantly, maintain -- for such a long period. Mike & Mike were never celebrated, but there will be a massive void in the medium when these two part ways.
CB: Honestly, I more or less agree. I know I’ve been hard on the Mikes here, but I only have this much ammo stored up because I’ve watched them “oh shucks” their way through so many damn shows over the years. Do I feel like the dog just died? Nope. Am I actively rooting for their professional failure? Also nope. They seem like good guys and put on a perfectly Middle-American show, but let me say this: If this means neither Mike nor other Mike will ever explain the plot of Titanic on live TV again, then the world just became a better place.