Keith Olbermann already has earned a precious niche in broadcasting history as the self-proclaimed poobah of the sanctioning board recording outstanding "you know" efforts by sports figures in interviews.
By virtue of Olbermann's keen monitoring, the record is eight "you knows" in 13 seconds, a .615 average, by Geese Ausbie of the Harlem Globetrotters in an interview in San Antonio in February. "It stands as a moment in sports history," says Olbermann with a touch of reverence in his voice.
Olbermann first latched on to the "you know" phenomenon after hearing Oakland linebacker Charlie Phillips sprinkle the phrase liberally through a response. "I was thrilled," Olbermann said. He then named Mark Aguirre, the De Paul basketball player recently turned pro, as the first record holder, with a .500 mark, nine in 18 seconds. This was topped by the six in 10 seconds .600 effort of both Mike Allison, the Ranger hockey player, and basketball player Ronald Morgan of Cerro Coso Community College in California. (The word is out on Olbermann in broadcasting circles; sportscasters from around the country send him entries in the "you know sweepstakes.")
Some fans say it is unfair to ridicule athletes for shortcomings in an area that has no bearing on their performance.
Olbermann responds that what he does "is not a cheap shot. Sports exists for the fans. Sports is conveyed outside of the game itself through the media. To be involved as an athlete you sign away your right not to be subjected to interviews. If athletes refused these interviews, there would cease to be sports outside of the game, sports would cease to be a multi-million dollar industry and a lot of people would be out of jobs."
He says that this kind of irreverence toward athletes "helps humanize them. We make so much of the athletes, they seem to be different from the average person, almost living in a different realm. I think by pointing up their foibles, their use of cliches and verbal crutches, we show them as human."
The focus Olbermann put on the "you knows" may have had some effect. "I'm told," he said, "that since I publicized Mike Easler, he has cut down his 'you knows.' A friend in Pittsburgh said that in a recent interview Easler didn't use one 'you know.' I am pleased, but I do feel a sense of sadness about the loss of this great competitor in the great game of 'you knows.'"
Olbermann is 22, from Hastings-on-the-Hudson (N.Y.), a graduate of Cornell and its radio station. He is a weekend sportscaster for the RKO Radio Network. He can be heard doing five two-minute segments at a quarter to the hour starting in the late afternoon. "The clock stikes 45 minutes and I start talking like a Pavlovian dog on cue." Olberman does straight news and scores, but it is with his eye for the offbeat that he distinquishes himself from the run-of-the-mill sportscasters with pear-shaped tones and empty heads. He has, for example, tracked down and commented upon these developments:
Champ Summers of the Detroit Tigers pulled out of the 1981 Detroit preseason promotional tour because he didn't think there was enough footage of him in the club's 1980 highlights film.
Manager Chuck Tanner and some of the Pittsburgh Pirates take the subway out to Shea Stadium whenever they go out to the park early. Tanner told Olbermann, "It is a cheap way to travel and it is a nice ride."
The sports teams at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona are called "The Fighting Artichokes" and the cheerleaders dress up in artichoke costumes.
A Michigan lawyer formed an association to defend beleaguered Illinois quarterback Dave Wilson. The lawyer pored through 50 phone books to call all the people named Dave Wilson he could find and asked them to write letters in defense of their fellow Dave Wilson. The lawyer's name: Dave Wilson. Said athlete Dave Wilson, "It seems pretty bizarre to me."
Alabama's most famous fish, the eight-pound bass named Bad Leroy Brown, died in August 1980 and was frozen by his owner so he could be buried during the Alabama Ivitation Bass Tournament in March 1981. Someone stole Bad Leroy Brown during the tournament and Brown's owner issued an impassioned plea, posting a reward for his fish and demanding an FBI investigation of the crime.
Olbermann's ear for cliches and non sequiturs came up with the Rangers' Barry Beck saying, "Ninety percent of this game is all mental." He treasures Don Drysdale's gloriously incomplete assessment of sore-armed Pittsburgh pitcher Don Robinson: "You hate to see a young, fast-balling right-hander like that." He has unearthed a diamond in the rough in Mike Stock, football at Eastern Michigan, who says things like, "Corty has some skills that he can exhibit in the running game that I think can be advantageously taken advantage of for us."
Olbermann says he frequently explains that its difficult for an athlete to come up with a coherent on-the-spot answer to a question, and admits that he has been tongue-tied himself when put in an interview situation. "But I figure that people who make more money that I ever will see ought to be able to take some kidding."
Young, bright, brash Olbermann stands out in an industry where so many of the sportscasters seem to be pale, inadequate copies of pale, inadequate name announcers. It is of some comfort to know that there are such bright lights out there waiting for somebody to notice them.