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A year and a half ago when the ratings at WEEI began to falter, Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti offered something refreshing. It was an alternative to what had become the Big Show’s stale rhetoric on WEEI. Also, by starting out as an FM station and adding the Bruins broadcast rights, 98.5 immediately gained street credibility with the hockey fan. Timing could not have been more perfect for The Sports Hub as the Bruins immediately established themselves as a daily sports radio topic. First, they did this by historically blowing a 3-0 series lead in May 2010. Then, the next season, they achieved their historic redemption to win their first Stanley Cup in 40 years.
Felger, a longtime hockey fan, can be credited for making hockey talk a constant in the Boston sports scene. He has always seemed to be in his element on the Sports Hub, but the same cannot be said for Massarotti. From day 1, Mazz has been more Ed McMahon than Chris Russo. It could be the pairing itself because Massarotti and Felger either share the same outlook on sports or are trying to play the role of the “sensationalistic sportscasters.” I don’t think it’s translated well to the radio, but given their recent dominance in their time slot I don’t expect any changes in the near future.
Overexposure, by its nature, can be a dangerous thing for a sports media personality and when you pair that with a overinflated ego, the result often is a show that isn’t about sports discussion but about the narratives and agendas of the hosts themselves. The ratings are there, but over the last year, the agendas and personal attacks are on the rise with very little facts to back up the diatribes. Here are some of Felger and Mazz’s takes on the four major teams in the last year. The educated sports fan has to start questioning if these guys are the best, then who are the worst? As Bob Ryan said, “What are we trying to accomplish here?”
Expectations for the Celtics this season weren’t high. The Big Three’s run seemed to come to an end last year in Miami and now was just on borrowed time. After the lockout ended, the consensus was that aging Celtics would struggle in a 66-game condensed season. The Celtics started the season 16-17 and the call from many was for Danny Ainge to “blow it up” at the trade deadline. A recent report showed that Ainge did indeed try to do so, but you can argue now that it would have been a mistake at least in the short-term.
Now Felger has been a basketball hater since he came to town. Often, people are usually basketball guys or hockey guys, and he’s a hockey guy. That being said, he has been unable to hide his contempt for the NBA game or his friends in the media’s coverage of the team. It’s a perplexing situation not because of his opinion, but for the mere fact he works on the same network that broadcasts the Celtics television rights.
A few of Felger & Mazz’s takes on the Celtics and the NBA:
Felger has been calling Garnett a “fake tough guy for years.” “Tough guy” is one of Felger’s favorite phrases or maybe just one of the few he knows. He often refers to Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett as the “Texas tough guy.” Felger attacked Garnett early in the season while the Celtics struggled, calling him an aged version of a once great player.
Once Garnett starting hitting his stride and playing great basketball, Felger downshifted and began to bring up that it was a Garnett “contract year.” This is a familiar flip-flop by Felger when one of his arguments fails. Garnett was all done, and now he’s playing for a contract. Felger just can’t admit that maybe Garnett still is a great player and like many great players, turns it on when the season hits its most crucial points. Also, he was one of many veterans affected by the lockout.
Rondo has been a target of Felger and Mazz from the get go. Felger has said the Celtics should get rid of him if for no other reason than “he’s kind of an a-hole.” Massarotti said after one of Rondo’s recent triple doubles that this was further proof “he wasn’t a great player.” Are these facts? No, they’re extreme conjecture. The fact is Rondo, despite ongoing trade rumors for two seasons, remains a top 5 point guard and one of the great, unique players in the league. Is he going to win Ms. Congeniality? No he’s not, but neither did Manny Ramirez, who Felger slobbered over for years. The fact is, Felger and Mazz really aren’t informed enough to make these assertions. So they instead have attacked Rondo’s character.
You will often hear Felger refer to the NBA as “that league or that sport.” That commentary is perfectly acceptable; all broadcasters do not need to love the local teams to be credible. Where Felger loses credibility is when he extols the virtues of the NHL while condemning the NBA. I like both sports, but I shake my head at the barbarism going on in the first round of this year’s NHL playoffs. From one player pouncing on another and punching him while he’s on the ground to the constant head shots in a league where concussions are rampant. It’s a sport I wouldn’t let my daughter watch now, and it needs to start doing something about the viciousness when brain injuries are finally being focused on in sports.
The New England Patriots are always a divisive discussion in New England, whether it’s with the media, the fans or the bloggers. They are very much a victim of their own success and their “Patriot Way” is taken by some as an arrogant and hypocritical mantra. Regardless, they have been the most consistent winner we have seen in this town since the 1960’s Celtics.
Felger and Mazz started attacking the Patriots beginning with the 2009 season. Felger mid-way started on how perhaps the “Patriot Way” was dying and maybe Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum’s new approach to the NFL might be not just another way of doing things but the better way. Felger has backtracked many times on this point. Sometimes, he’s said it’s better and sometimes he’s said it was merely another approach. Massarotti has parroted Felger’s every point in regards to the Patriots and thrown out his catchphrase “this defense sucks!” numerous times. Felger has admitted he uses the Jets as an instrument to aggravate Patriot fans, which shows a flaw in his character. He also has hinted that the Patriots were cheap and, at times, incompetent.
Felger backed down this season, often using a wait and see approach on this team. He predicted a Super Bowl victory when many thought the Giants had too much firepower. However, when the Jets imploded he did a double take. First he compared this year’s Jets to the 2009 Patriots. There was very little comparison other than the fact that Patriots had some locker room issues. He also, said the Jets implosion validated what he had said for years, and it took the Patriots four years to go farther than the Jets. This whole argument was of course disingenuous. The 2009 Jets should not even have been in the playoffs if not for a cowardly Colts tank job. Also, Felger likes to say the Jets “kicked the Patriots ass” in the 2010 playoff game when in fact it was a seven-point game. Felger just couldn’t say he was wrong about the Jets.
Massarotti railed on the Patriots all season, only really letting up during the Super Bowl weeks. Then after what was a productive but not spectacular free agent period by the Patriots he stated, “I don’t know if they got any better.” Brandon Lloyd being added to this offense alone made the offseason a success but Massarotti didn’t agree, because it just didn’t fit his agenda.
I expect a critique of the Patriot draft philosophy is sure to work its way into the broadcasts in the waning days of April. This will happen even though Felger and Massarotti admit they don’t follow college football and really don’t know anything about the players coming out of the draft. They seem to wear that claim like a badge of honor. I consider it a little embarrassing, but that’s just me. I tend to like my hosts to know a lot about sports, and not just the sports they like. I mean come on, how much prep does it really take? Your job is to watch and read about freaking sports!!!
Felger and Mazz have spent most of the season in praise of this year’s Bruins, with a few exceptions. There was Felger’s political attacks after Thomas’s own political attacks. Felger stated he was somehow bipartisan despite saying daily, “those people that watch Fox news” as if “those people” didn’t have a political connotation to them. Massarotti completely went off the rails on Thomas, saying he should move to Finland because he disagreed with the President. It was Massarotti’s lowest point on the radio and it should have received more criticism.
Let’s not forget as recent as Game 2 of last year’s Eastern Conference finals against Tampa, Felger was hinting that Julien should not be coaching because he had not handled Tyler Seguin’s rookie season correctly. In the end, every point the “hockey expert” made last season was wrong. Tim Thomas did win a Stanley Cup playing an unorthodox style of goaltending. Zdeno Chara could win a seventh game and Claude Julien’s approach could win you a Stanley Cup. Shawn Thornton summed it up well by saying “suck it Felger” after their Game 7 win over Vancouver. Felger did admit he was wrong but he often puts disclaimers on the Bruins win, citing the Penguins were without Crosby and Malkin and Philadelphia had goaltending problems. Those little points, are his benign way of saying, “I wasn’t completely wrong.”
The Boston Red Sox have been criticized from everywhere since the debacle of last fall. All the criticism has been more than deserved. With their unremarkable offseason, a 4-8 start, and early club house problems, much more criticism is to follow.
The narrative you will hear from Felger and Mazz is going involve a lot of character assassination from Josh Beckett to Dustin Pedroia to the Red Sox front office. Their overreaction to the Opening Day loss was a clue of what was to follow. That reaction wasn’t about one loss – it was about a vindication of the narrative that because the Red Sox were “cheap” in the offseason, they will stink this season. Most of the problems are all about personnel and lack of young talent, which has been a result of SPENDING not FRUGALITY, but Tony feels so good about his portfolio commentary you are sure to hear it throughout the season.
There will also be constant discussion about the clubhouse, when in reality, the team on the field is not very good. Their Opening Day starter (Jon Lester) is not an ace. Their 2nd and 3rd starters are constantly battling through injuries and inconsistency and the back end of the rotation have never started before. The dynamic duo spent last year stating how fragile the psyche of Daniel Bard was. Then, they spent the first week screaming for him to be made the Sox closer. The Red Sox are going to be easy bones to pick at throughout the season. In the end, they don’t have the talent on the field.
We like to call Boston a knowledgeable fan base. However, we seem to be trending toward anger. Is that a direct result of the influence of the Sports Hub? Sports ratings in this town took off on WEEI with the success of the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics from 2001 through 2008. WEEI then got fat and happy and digressed to political talk, Patriot and Red Sox homerism and indifference to NHL Hockey. The Sports Hub gave the town a shot in the arm, but they left the needle there.
Now, the “Primetime” show is repeating the mistakes that WEEI made. False narratives, opinions not backed up by facts, and a disdain for callers. I am hoping, but not optimistic, that the listening audience can start to see through some of this minutia. Maybe then we can get away from “Entertainment” and on to some real sports discussion.
My general view is that we as sports fan are fueled by winning not by controversy. The next month features the NBA and NHL playoffs, the Red Sox and the NFL Draft; it will be interesting to see what sells.