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Last year at this time, I was laying stone on a chimney 60 feet in the air.
One year later, I’m asking questions to Patrick Mahomes.
Life comes at you fast. It comes even faster at you in Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps. And it lived up to that moniker for the CHGO Bears crew the past week.
This is the story of the week.
I traveled to Las Vegas with a few goals. But the most important one was being relentless with the opportunity CHGO gave me. Unlike training camp, which I’ve been going to for 20+ years, this was my first time attending Radio Row for the Super Bowl. The unknown is as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. You don’t know what to expect. So all I could do heading in was to keep my eyes open to the opportunities.
When I first walked into the convention center as the doors swung open, I was awestruck at all the different setups and set designs for every show I’ve been watching for years on ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS, and more. Funny thing, I always envisioned growing up that Radio Row was lined up in an actual row but instead it’s a lot like the NFL Combine, but on steroids. You have the “upper echelon” outlets with grandiose set designs around the perimeter of the room and then the rest of the media outlets within the middle of the circle. ALLCITY Network was in the middle but the goal is to be around the perimeter. It’s good to have long-term goals. We certainly made our presence felt with almost 30 members from 4 different cities represented in that room. All with the same goal: to put out the best content and coverage we absolutely could.
Be ready for the most important offseason in Bears history!
Getting to work at Super Bowl 58
Once I realized this would be similar to the NFL Combine, I quickly understood what my job would be each day. To network. Get your face in front of as many people as possible and make an impression. From media members to athletes, current and former, to potential sponsors, agents, handlers, producers, and everything in between. You’ll talk as much as you’ll walk in a week like this. In total, we walked over 70,000 steps over the six-day span and probably talked to a similar total — or at least it felt like it!
In an environment like that my adrenaline carries me throughout the day. Feeding off the energy of the room. I love talking with people, that’s how I’ve always been. That doesn’t change just because I’m around people I’ve spent years watching on TV. The goal for every outlet on Super Bowl Radio Row is to get guests to come on your show. This is one of the rare opportunities you have where everyone is in the same room for 8-10 hours a day all week. Everyone is asking anyone to join their show. You have to schmooze the handlers, agents and producers to fit you in their schedule.
If you are the autograph-seeking type at training camp, it’s a lot like that. You’re trying to position yourself in the right spots to find the right person and when the time is right, you make your ask in the right way to get the outcome you desire. It’s not the easiest thing to do, constantly asking people for interviews. You have to get used to the runaround and being rejected. You’ll have handlers say yes to you just so you go away with no intention for them to ever live up to the agreement they just made. You’ll come in at 9 a.m. for a player interview only for their handler to tell you, never mind, they bumped you for someone bigger. You can’t take it personally, it’s just part of the business. You keep it moving and you adjust.
Monday is always the hardest because not everyone is in town immediately and certainly not in the morning. But I looked at it as an opportunity to ask some people for a quick moment of their time when they haven’t already been asked that one thousand times in the week. Albert Breer and Matthew Berry were very courteous and gracious with their time and off we went for a week of nonstop content.
Every day after that, the energy doubles. You feel it. More people, more buzz, more everything. But you also are competing with more outlets asking for the same requests as you. So you have to be creative. You have to look for the angles. You have to show up earlier than everyone else, stay later than everyone else, skip lunch, don’t take breaks, stand in a certain spot for an hour even if it means nothing comes of it. You have to be committed. I enjoy the hustle.
The scene at Super Bowl Media Night
After the first media day on Monday came Media Night at Allegiant Stadium. We had the opportunity to talk to the two teams represented in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs were first, and the 49ers were second. You have podiums dedicated to a select number of players and coaches and the rest of each team basically just hangs out in the area where the media members are running around. You have national outlets looking for the bigger picture stories and the local markets looking for their own angles while random celebrities run around and make a spectacle of the whole thing. Being that it’s the Chiefs and the 49ers in the Super Bowl, yet again, the local Chicago media is looking for former players and coaches connected to the Bears. Such as former head coach Matt Nagy and special teams coach Dave Toub. You also have former players like defensive lineman Mike Pennel and safety Tashaun Gipson who took time to answer questions from a Chicago perspective. They were happy to do it.
My plan was to do something different than the rest of the Chicago media. Instead of going for the guys hanging in the media pit, I went for the big fish at the podium. None bigger than the two-time MVP and reigning Super Bowl Champion, Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes has direct connections to the biggest story of the 2024 offseason, what will the Bears do with the No. 1 pick? Caleb Williams has long been considered the front-runner to be the No. 1 pick dating back to last year when he won the Heisman for USC. Mahomes and Caleb Williams also come from the same coaching tree. Both were coached by Kliff Kingsbury.
I first asked Mahomes what makes the coaching tree of Lincoln Riley and Kliff Kingsbury so successful for quarterbacks coming out of college? A coaching tree that has brought QBs the likes of Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes to the NFL.
“The biggest thing they do is they tailor their offense to what the quarterback will be best in, they keep promoting you to be great with your strengths and work on your weaknesses.” Mahomes talked about how Kliff Kingsbury was integral in his development coming out of college citing how raw he was.
Kliff Kingsbury also worked on the USC coaching staff this year to aid the development of Caleb Williams. Caleb’s style of play has often been compared to Patrick Mahomes, fair or not. Kliff Kingsbury himself told Albert Breer “it’s eerie how similar they are” when talking about the Mahomes/Caleb comparisons, a story Albert Breer shared on ESPN 1000 with Kap and Hoody. Certainly something to take note of. So once again, I asked Patrick Mahomes about the comparisons Caleb Williams gets to him and would Caleb’s game translate to the NFL?
“I mean, if you’re able to have the success he’s had in college on the level he’s had it, it’s gonna translate,” Mahomes said. “It’s just about getting in the right system.”
For most in the media, that would’ve been enough. But for me, I’m not afraid to ask the most intriguing question. Would the Bears make a mistake if they passed on Caleb Williams?
You might ask, why in the world would you ask Patrick Mahomes that? Well, maybe you’ve blocked it from your memory because of the emotional scars. But the Chicago Bears once upon a time passed on Patrick Mahomes, a guy who comes from the same coaching system and a guy who gets direct comparisons from the coaches that coached both of them. If the Portland Trailblazers passing on Michael Jordan was the greatest moment of good fortune in Chicago sports history, the Bears passing on Patrick Mahomes for Mitchell Trubisky was the worst moment in Chicago sports history. And Mahomes hasn’t let the Bears off the hook for it.
While scoring a touchdown at Solider Field, Mahomes once counted on his fingers how many picks until the Chiefs selected him in the NFL draft. So I wasn’t going to let Mahomes off the hook either. I wanted to hear if he had an opinion on the unique decision the Bears have to draft a revered prospect who also has direct ties to Mahomes himself. I asked if the Bears would make a mistake if they passed on Caleb Williams.
“I’m glad I don’t get paid to make those decisions.” Mahomes said, so I cut in and said “They once passed on you.”
To which Mahomes replied, “Yea I know but Justin Fields plays great football as well so I’m glad I don’t get paid to make those decisions but either way I think they are in a great position for the future and it’s just about which way they want to make that decision.”
Fair enough. It was cool to interview a guy who could end up being the greatest player in NFL history. I won’t pretend like I didn’t sleep a wink that night from the emotional high of doing that. It was a big moment in my career and I’m looking forward to more moments like that.
“I grew up a Bears fan, man, relax”
I also had a chance to talk with another big fish in 49ers tight end George Kittle, who is a lifelong Chicago Bears fan. He even once walked off a podium in San Francisco yelling “Da Bears!” and when I joked with him about that moment he said he didn’t realize his mic was hot.
Before I could even get my questions in to Kittle a media member who admitted to being a Packers fan from overseas came up to the podium and started pleading with Kittle to never play for the Bears.
Kittle smiled and said “Hey, whatever happens happens, I grew up a Bears fan, man, relax.”
This is the kind of environment that is Super Bowl media week. It set me up perfectly for the line of questions I had prepared. After he announced that he is a lifelong Bears fan, I figured it would be fun to ask him some Bears questions. So I first asked him about Cole Kmet as they are both part of the tight end fraternity in the NFL.
“I think what Cole has done a great job of when he gets opportunities, he makes them,” Kittle said. “I see one-handed catches, he has multiple touchdown games, when he gets targets, he does a great job, and he tries really hard in the run game.”
So then comes the proverbial what should the Bears do with the No. 1 pick question if he was just another Bears fan in the stands with an opinion.
“I’m getting as many picks as I possibly can, that’s what I would do,” Kittle said.
I cut in and asked the Bears should build like the 49ers.
“Why not man?” Kittle shot back. “Draft a bunch of defensive lineman like we do every year, works for us!”
The entire time Kittle talked about the Bears his eyes lit up. You could definitely see the blue and orange still holds a big place in his heart.
I’ve had some fellow media members push back on my reporting at the Super Bowl while they were back at home on their couch. Including Jon Greenberg of the Athletic, who wrote an article citing my coverage at the Super Bowl and taking exception to my “bothering stars like Kittle and Mahomes with the Bears problems at the peak of their sporting life on media night.” His words. But apparently it’s all good to ask Matt Nagy Bears questions two years in a row, who is the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs now. I guess Nagy isn’t at the peak of his sporting life in back-to-back Super Bowls. I’m still learning what’s acceptable in this industry. No need to clutch your pearls for Kittle and Mahomes, they were fine with the questions. Kittle actually enjoyed talking Bears a ton. Eventually, someone will have to send me the Big J journalist handbook. Until then, I stand on my reporting.
It wouldn’t be Chicago media with a little beef. All good. I love the competition. It’s healthy. But I’m gonna do it my own way, with all due respect. It was cool to see my guys from ESPN 1000 show love to my reporting on media night throughout the week on their airwaves. I wouldn’t be here without their support for all these years.
All news is local — but everyone was talking about Caleb Williams and Justin Fields
Yes, it was Super Bowl week. But for 30 other teams it’s the offseason. And at Radio Row, the No. 1 topic of conversation, by all outlets, local and national, on or off the air, was what the Bears would do with the No. 1 pick. People actively would come up to us to discuss it because for them they haven’t beaten the conversation to death like we already have for months now here in Chicago. And rumors were swirling. From Caleb Williams to Drake Maye to Justin Fields. It wasn’t just a “small slice” from the local media interested in this conversation. It was everyone. It was cool to feel that the Bears were the center of the spotlight this offseason and we get to be the ones to cover it. While we are all fatigued by it, it was a reminder that we are fortunate to talk about a team and storylines that interest everyone. If you were lucky enough to be in Las Vegas this weekend, you’d know that the game was secondary for most people there.
There were so many times I had pinch-me moments this week. Seeing so many stars and celebrities walking right by me. Not even to mention the Hall of Fame legends like Joe Namath, Deion Sanders and many others current and former from the NFL. I ran into Jon Taffer of Bar Rescue and saw Jerry Ferrara aka “Turtle” of Entourage fame, a show I probably still watch once a year. Flava Flav was walking around as well.
The biggest celebrity was probably comedy megastar Bert Kreischer who was walking around Radio Row early in the week. I approached his team and gave my pitch to have Bert on our show. I promised them we would be short and sweet with his time and that we would definitely have fun with him. They made no promises but said to check back with them on Friday. I didn’t really expect anything to come of it.
But on Friday, there was Bert once again hanging out, walking on to a live show of Up and Adams with Kay Adams and making a drink from their makeshift bar on set. So on brand. I asked his handlers if they had any availability and they seemed open to letting that happen. Well, we got 3 minutes and in that 3 minutes, we had as much fun as possible. Bert, who is most known for always having his shirt off was doing the interview fully clothed, so I asked him, “Why do you have your shirt on?!” He replied, “Well, the NFL is kind of prickly.” In that moment I just reacted and ripped my shirt off for the rest of the interview. I think he appreciated the humor and boldness of that decision. It was a fun way to end the hectic week.
There are so many stories to share. I could probably make a novel from it all. Especially a dinner to remember at Barry’s in Circa Sportsbook and Casino that I’ll just keep to myself but believe me when i tell you, it’s a helluva story. From front to back there wasn’t a dull moment on or off the camera. We worked tirelessly day to night. We had as many as 10 people locked in to the content for CHGO from Vegas and another five people back home in Chicago working throughout the night to get to the endless amount of content we needed to get to our viewers. We still have interviews we haven’t even shared because of the abundance of content we had to get through this week. Tune in next week for the rest!
Grateful to be a part of CHGO Bears
When the dust settled and the five of us from CHGO Bears had dinner before boarding our flight, I think we all acknowledged for a moment that we’re doing something special. It’s a grind. It has its ups and downs. Sometimes we don’t get along perfectly and other times we have perfect symmetry. That’s what being a team is all about. We all bring a little something different to the table and at times on or off the air it can feel like organized chaos. But that’s also what makes us special. I think Friday’s show is a perfect example of that. We were all dog tired and fed up with each other but we powered through and put together, what I thought, was our best show of the week. Bobbing and weaving from bellies out for Bert Kreischer to interviewing Devin Hester, TJ Edwards, Khalil Herbert to Tyler Scott to harassing people for pizza and getting to joke with Jordan Love for the pain and suffering he’s causing us. We slam-dunked the final day. I’m proud to be a part of this team. It’s only going to get better because we’re passionate for this team and to give the best to our viewers. We want to be great.
It’s been a crazy journey for me, giving up being a full-time bricklayer and officially starting my sports media career in the last eight months. I do miss bricklaying. It’s a very rewarding job to do day to day. It was the only thing for a long time that I was ever good at. But I found my purpose and that’s to share my passion and my story with all of you. And I will be relentless while I have this opportunity, whether it’s for the next 10 days or the next 10 years. And I’m going to do it my way. I like bobbing and weaving from meatball to beat reporter. And yes, that means I’m gonna have some critics. Some fans will think I’ve sold out and other media members will think I’m not professional enough. Oh well, I’m carving my own path and I’m having fun doing it.
The only other moment I want to share with you was when a company called GALvanize, led by Laura Okmin, approached me of all people to do an interview with them to tell my story. They’ve talked with some of the biggest stars on Radio Row this week but wanted to hear from me. Definitely another pinch me moment. GALvanize is a company that wants to promote and empower women in the sports industry but also to hear people’s personal stories from all walks of life. So I sat down with Meghan Caffrey to talk about my journey from bricklaying to sports meatball reporter personality.
My story doesn’t happen without my mother. I grew up in a single-parent household where my mom, who was a full-time teacher, raised two kids by herself while she was easily the most involved human being on earth for anything outside of her job. You asked, she did it. She taught me that relentless approach I live with now. She taught me about passion and following your dreams. She encouraged my love for sports. My mom and I had some tough battles in our first 25 years together and she never wavered. She was always there for me. A spoiled immature kid who many would’ve gave up on but she didn’t. She waited patiently for me to grow up. And luckily for all of us, I did. Well, kind of!
She also passed the burden of putting up with me onto my now wife of 10 years, Jenny. Who I’ve been with for 20 years. Over half of our lives now. We too have been through the same ups and downs that many go through in a relationship. And just like my mom, she patiently waited for me to grow up. And luckily for us, I did. Well, kind of!
Then came the birth of my now five-year-old daughter Addison. She gave me the gift of having a true purpose. She is the biggest reason I finally grew up. And I’m proud of the husband, father and son I’ve become. It wasn’t easy for any of us, especially them, but it was a long journey to get here and now it finally feels like it’s paying off.
So that’s the story I told to Meghan and GALvanize. I told them my story from the bricks to the Bears but with the foundation of three women who helped me get here. And now all I want to do is do right by them. Live up to the gifts they’ve given me. When you talk about empowering and promoting women in sports, the ALLCITY Network has some strong women in it who are the backbone of this company and absolute superstars at what they do. Maybe one day Addy can join that group of women and carve her own path. That means more to me than anything I do myself.
I got emotional talking about my family with Meghan and I’m getting emotional writing this now. It’s important to me that this story is told. I don’t like taking all the credit. There are so many people from my family to my friends to the people I work with that are behind the scenes and don’t get the love or credit they deserve for helping make any of this happen.
So there it is. Another sob story brought to you by the blowhard bricklaying bantering Braggs. It all just kind of pours out of me. At times on the air you might think, “this guy doesn’t even know what he’s saying.” And you’d be right. I just go. I don’t think, I just speak. I speak from my heart. I speak with passion. I don’t read. I react. For better or worse.
Last year at this time, I was gearing up for my first NFL Combine coverage with the same unknowns as I had walking into this years Super Bowl. Now this year, I’ll be rolling over into my second year of Combine coverage with a complete understanding of what my job is when I get there.
Last year, all the buzz was that the Bears were trading the No. 1 pick for a haul and once we got to the Combine in Indianapolis, you could feel that was moments away from happening. So far this year between the Shrine Bowl, the Senior Bowl, and now the Super Bowl, all the buzz is that the Bears are likely to take a quarterback at #1 and it’s very likely it could be Caleb Williams barring a historic trade offer that is hard to define as to what constitutes the definition of historic at this point. None of this buzz sets it in stone but it’s noticeable the difference in buzz between this year and last year.
It will be interesting if you can feel the same energy at the NFL Combine this year of an imminent move to come from Ryan Poles. For the health of our media and fanbase talking about the Bears, the sooner the better for whatever decision Poles will make. One thing I do know, if you thought the Bears being the topic of conversation at the Super Bowl was over the top, you might want to take a vacation the week of the Combine.
I’ll be there, though. CHGO will be there. Working our asses off to give you the best possible coverage we can.
Brick X Brick
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