Mike & Mike: The Power of Sports Chemistry

Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic are morning staples for America's sports talk listeners.

Golic was there first.

In 1999, while Mike Golic and ESPN were seeking a replacement for co-host Tony Bruno on the year-old ESPN Radio morning show, they brought in another Mike from the TV side just to fill in. Golic’s wife Christine sensed the chemistry between Mike Greenberg and her husband right away.

“He opened up with a joke,” Golic recalled. “I was heavier then. We got on the air and he said, ‘When we stand next to one another, we look like the number 10,’ because he’s so thin and I’m so fat. I laughed, because I don’t care. We went on for 15 minutes and it went really well; and at [the] break, I called my wife, and her exact quote was, ‘He sounds kind of geeky, but he’s the one.’”

The hosts of ESPN Radio’s weekday morning show “Mike & Mike” — known to fans as Golic and Greeny — will be inducted into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame during the Radio Luncheon Tuesday, sponsored by ASCAP. Their show, which turned 16 last month, is available on ESPN Radio and on ESPN affiliates; it is simulcast on ESPN2 and distributed on other platforms.

Golic excelled in Notre Dame football, played nine years in the NFL and began his broadcast career in Philadelphia. He joined ESPN in 1995 as a studio analyst on “NFL 2Night” and later on “NFL Live,” and worked as color commentator for Arena Football League and ESPN/ABC college football games.

Greenberg attended the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, worked in Chicago sports journalism including a stint at WMAQ Radio, and joined ESPN in 1996 as an anchor for the launch of ESPNEWS. He anchored “SportsCenter” for years.

The two have conversed on-air with too many sports figures to count. Greenberg, 48, has danced with Anna Trebunskaya; Golic, 53, has parodied Kim Kardashian by posting a #GolicButtPhoto. They’ve acted in movies and joshed with David Letterman; they visited the White House to announce a tee-ball game and co-hosted a promotion in which 500 couples applied for a chance to be married on the show.

But their relationship makes the lasting impression. Greenberg has said that when his daughter was in nursery school and the teacher asked what her parents did for work, Nikki replied, “My mommy has conference calls and my daddy talks to Golic.”

The Mikes are self-deprecating and relatable. The show is built around the balance between Golic’s insights as a retired professional athlete and Greenberg’s skillful questions from the “man in the stands” perspective. Then add caricatures of Golic as a dumb D-lineman who loves the food and the Fighting Irish, while Greenberg is a brainy metrosexual who indulges in $400 haircuts and hand sanitizers.

“One thing my dad taught me at an early age is always be yourself,” Golic said. “That is me. I do love doughnuts. I love a plate of bacon. If I never have to put on another dress shirt in my life, I’ll be happy as all get-out.”

The NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame includes Vin Scully, Jack Buck and Mel Allen; but Greenberg will point to another inductee as a more relevant inspiration: Larry King, whom he idolizes. Greeny is emphatic in describing “Mike & Mike” as a talk show, and says he’s driven by curiosity. He considers Howard Stern “the master at hosting a talk show and keeping everything moving and remaining in the center of it, but letting other people shine,” and he learned show management by studying Regis Philbin.

LIVING THE JOB

Morning drive hours can be tough, even after 16-plus years. “People always ask if you get used to it, and the answer is no,” says Greenberg, who rises at 3:45 a.m. “You never get used to that alarm going off.”

Golic gets up at 4:15, looks at highlights, then watches more games in compressed format at work. After the show, tomorrow’s ideas are developed in an email chain involving 40-odd people. The guys watch more sports at night.

Social media is an important element of the show, which has 1.2 million Twitter followers; both hosts have popular feeds. On a recent broadcast, “Mike and Mike” riffed on news that Dos Equis would replace the actor who portrays “The Most Interesting Man the World.” The hosts asked listeners to suggest replacements from the world of sports. Sample reply: “Usain Bolt. He is so fast, light travels at the speed of him.”

Golic’s voice comes through clearly in his own tweets. (Watching “The Bachelor,” he tweeted, “I’m about to throw myself down the steps. My God, make the crying women stop.”) But he considers himself horrible at it. “If I was paying somebody to do my tweets, they’d be fired.”

He is struck by the intimacy the show fosters.

“I’m very happy that listeners and viewers have kind of embraced us, because we’re both very, very strong family people,” he said. “They’ve allowed our family to grow up on air with them. That’s been a lot of fun — bringing my kids on to sign their letters of intent [to attend Notre Dame], and Greeny’s first kid, Nicole, being born the first year of our show.” The Mikes have invited their wives Christine and Stacy to the program; both men have lost their fathers during the run of the show.

JUST GETTING STARTED

Neither expected it to have this run. “Greeny did this show thinking it would last a couple of years and that would be it. It would be some experience on the radio and he’d go back to doing ‘SportsCenter.’”

Golic will broadcast longer than he played football, but there’s no question how he wishes to be remembered. “On my tombstone I’d rather it be, ‘Was a ballplayer at Notre Dame and in the NFL for nine years.’ Absolutely. Maybe I just don’t want to be associated with Greeny on my tombstone.”

Greenberg feels like he’s just getting started in his career. And he is a believer in the power of radio, which he considers a vital and indispensable medium thanks to its immediacy.

“In fact, in some ways I think that radio, if the people who are in charge of the business play it right, has a chance to emerge even more important than ever. It’s one thing to listen to music on your phone; but it’s another thing entirely to try to hear good, insightful analysis of what’s going on in culture or anywhere, whether it be sports, or politics or entertainment or whatever it is you’re interested in.

“Radio remains the most efficient and immediate medium for delivery of that, and it’s portable. … From the standpoint of those of us whose job it is to create the content, I feel like we are as relevant as we’ve ever been.”

On their Hall of Fame induction, Greenberg said, “This is the greatest honor that I’ve ever received. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do; and for someone to say that you’ve done it that well is about the best compliment you could ever possibly pay me.”

Golic used the words “stunned” and “incredibly honored,” then added: “I don’t even know what to say. I almost want to drug-test the people that put us in.”