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Sportscaster Lindsay Czarniak's career trajectory is only headed up
Czarniak has none of Michael's brashness, his slap-on-the-back locker-room boisterousness. She's enthusiastic, all right, but it mostly comes across as breezy. Unlike many of her TV sports brethren, she rarely criticizes or offers sharp opinions, preferring to stay upbeat ("It's a mini one!") even when a team is plainly terrible. She's the friendly girl next door, if the girl next door could talk about NFL draft picks and looked like Britney Spears's more dignified older sister.
Owing to her diminished but still powerful perch on Channel 4 and her dogged efforts to build relationships with players and coaches, Czarniak has become a solid source of scoops, too. In January, for example, she broke the story of Jim Zorn's firing as Redskins coach, tweeting the news at 4:45 a.m. (for the record, Czarniak has worked as a sideline reporter on Redskins-produced preseason games, which means, in effect, that she has been a temporary employee of the team she was covering).
A dream job
It was Michael's son-in-law who first spotted Czarniak in 2004 on a NASCAR broadcast on cable (she was a part-time pit-crew reporter). She was 26 at the time, four years out of James Madison University and eight years removed from Centreville High School in Fairfax County. Her full-time gig was as a junior sports anchor with the NBC affiliate in Miami. By then, she'd been on TV for all of three years.
" 'We want to get you here,' " she said he told her. " 'We want to make you a star.' "
Michael offered her a spot on his "team" of anchors, producers and reporters, then numbering 20, now fewer than half that. It was a dream job: Czarniak would be on the No. 1 station in a big market. As a bonus, she'd be back in her home town, enabling her parents, Chet and Terri, and younger brother Andrew to see her on TV every night.
She promptly turned him down.
"I guess I was nervous about making the jump," she admits in retrospect. "Miami was great. [Michael's offer] was a bit of a shock to me."
Michael, not one to beg, wished her well and wrote her off. But Chet Czarniak, a longtime sportswriter and editor at USA Today in McLean, knew his daughter was making a mistake. He suggested, gently, that she reconsider.
A month later, Czarniak called to ask Michael if the job was still open. He would later call her "the best hire I've ever made."
Michael's tutoring is evident not just in Czarniak's cheerful style but in other elements of her on-air presentation. Michael's signature phrase -- "Let me take you out to [name of city or venue] . . . " -- creeps into Czarniak's and Hellie's scripts. Chet Czarniak says he can see Michael's influence even in his daughter's body language. "She'll get excited about telling a story and she'll lean on the desk with her elbows out and she'll be pointing," he says. "And I'll think, that's exactly like George."
Despite her father's professional background, Czarniak says she didn't grow up cramming batting averages and points-per-game stats into her head. Sports certainly interested her -- she played youth soccer, lacrosse and field hockey in high school -- but so did other activities, such as acting. "Watching my dad and hearing his stories was part of growing up," Czarniak says. Sports "always interested me, but I never had a die-hard drive to do that."
At Centreville High, she was class president and homecoming queen. "She always had that leadership thing from the time she was very young," says Terri Czarniak, an elementary school principal in Fairfax. "She was always comfortable in those roles."