For sports fans of a certain age, Dan Patrick, who began at CNN Sports in 1984 before joining ESPN in 1989, has been a presence on par with air and sunshine—and just as vital. In the days when you had to wait until 6 p.m. or (good god, no!) 11 p.m for sports news beyond your city, Patrick was Dan Rather with catchphrases and sarcasm to spare. He turned SportsCenter into an event—and pushed it into the mainstream with longtime tag team partner Keith Olbermann.
How we consume sports has been obliterated since Patrick left ESPN in 2007, but the man with the voice as soft as church music thrives. And the version that hosts The Dan Patrick Show, the popular daily radio show on iHeartRadio and NBC Sports, might be the best yet. The wit hasn’t faded. The breakdown of the day’s headlines—Patrick abstains from the hot take—is inquisitive and spirited without feeling hostile.
Here’s the difference. Patrick, 67, sounds at ease on the radio show, which is simulcast on Peacock. “I’m not trying to be anything other than the best representative of myself on this show,” he says. It’s glorious. Patrick has expanded the day’s topics to contain way more than just sports. He discusses his faux pas as a father of four, including the time he took the kids to Hooters. He admits to bawling at his son’s wedding.
Away from the radio show, the former host of Sports Jeopardy and Football Night in America, isn’t as busy as he once was, but he’s certainly not loafing. He’s written The Occasionally Accurate Annals of Football (BenBella Books, $29.95, Sept. 5), co-authored with comedy writer Joel H. Cohen. It came with a simple direction from the publishers: have fun.
Is Dan Patrick having fun now? In a phone interview in August, Patrick answered just that. He also explained how leaving ESPN saved more than his career, the secret to generating rapport with listeners, and why he’s not really retiring in four years. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
GQ: I came to know you on ESPN in the mid-90s. With the radio show, I feel like I’m knowing you as a person. Was it freeing to be away from calling the highlights, introducing the show, to having a forum where you’re more well-rounded, more personable?
Dan Patrick: I felt that I was sort of a hot air balloon, but a hot air balloon that was tethered. I had a great vantage point when I was at ESPN and everybody got to see me and SportsCenter, but I wasn’t moving anywhere. I was in the same kind of rarefied air in our business to be able to do it at that level for a long period of time with a lot of great people. But I wasn’t growing. It was like, “OK, I got this. Now what?” And not many people are willing to give up ESPN. I was one of the first people who left on my own accord, and it was really like a blast of cold water early in the morning where you’re like, “Oh my God, what did I do?” But I needed it and I had relied on those four letters for such a long period of time that it became my identity. “Oh, you’re the SportsCenter guy.” And it was never lost on me that I had that opportunity to be a part of people’s lives late at night, early in the morning, but I needed to do it in my own voice, not the voice I thought ESPN wanted me to use.
Was there a moment that you felt like, “I’m free to be me”?
We did the show for three years in my attic and all the Danettes would come over in the morning. My wife Susan would be there cooking breakfast with the kids and getting them off to school. It just hit me: I’m at home doing my show. The show sounds great in my attic. I’m around my family. I wasn’t attached to ESPN anymore. If I had an opinion, I wasn’t worried that I was going to upset somebody in management, because I was my own boss. And having sort of that, not total autonomy, but certainly a lot of autonomy to be able to have fun with this. Who do we want to have on today? We’re going to have this guest on. We don’t have to have somebody to promote Sunday Night Baseball. I was allowed to have my own interpretation of what I wanted the show to be, and that’s been so much fun.