From Green Bay to ESPN, Anderson reminisces
By Greg Bates
GREEN BAY – John Anderson could seemingly spend hours telling real-life stories about his love for his hometown of Green Bay and his exciting job.
Anderson always brags about how great of a city Green Bay is – even now that he’s a household name for those who watch ESPN’s flagship program, “SportsCenter.”
He remembers anchoring with Dan Patrick for ESPN’s coverage of Super Bowl XXXVII after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Oakland Raiders, 48-21.
Former Packers great Sterling Sharpe was an analyst for the station, and he provided insight into his experiences while being in Green Bay.
“At one point during the show, Sterling said, ‘Listen, you forget, man, I was in Green Bay. I was a star. I could walk on water in Green Bay.’ We get into a break and I look at Dan and I’m like, ‘I’m from Green Bay. Six months out of the year, I can walk on water the place is so damn cold.’”
Coming back from commercial, Sharpe and Patrick were talking about the Super Bowl.
Patrick chimed in, “‘By the way, if I go to Wisconsin, I can walk on water,’” Anderson recalls. “‘You stole my line.’ That’s why I’m not on Twitter – I can’t be giving stuff away for free at 3 o’clock that I might need at 11 p.m.”
Anderson also recollects another Green Bay-related scenario that played out at ESPN Headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.
In 2008, ESPN put on a contest to decide which city would be crowned TitleTown USA.
Of all places, Valdosta, Georgia, was given the crown.
“Are you kidding me?” Anderson said. “They gave them a big, giant trophy – this thing’s obnoxious. And then they make a second one for ESPN and it sits in the guy’s office who brainstormed we’re going to have TitleTown USA – a guy named Glenn Jacobs. Today, it sits and can’t be seen because there’s a green and gold Titletown USA T-shirt that I hung over it.”
Anderson had story after story and joke after joke as he entertained the crowd at the Swan Club in De Pere Aug. 7.
The 54-year-old was in town to accept the Distinguished Service Award at the annual Lee Remmel Sports Awards Banquet.
“It’s very nice to be acknowledged,” said Anderson, who is involved with a number of local charities with his wife. “It’s nice I always feel connected to Green Bay all the time, whether it’s my family or what I do. I feel Green Bay feels a little connected to me, and that’s really neat.”
Anderson grew up in Titletown and graduated from Green Bay Southwest High School in 1983.
While there, he participated in tennis and track and field before going off to the University of Missouri for journalism school.
Out of college, Anderson’s first stop was a television station in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before moving to a station in Phoenix.
In 1999, he looked at coming home to work in Green Bay.
He’s always dreamed of a great stint back here before moving onto a bigger station in Chicago or Minneapolis.
Anderson interviewed at WBAY for the sports director position but didn’t get it – that went to Chris Roth.
Not long after, Anderson got a call from ESPN.
It was a dream gig on a national stage and one he couldn’t say no to.
Anderson is now in his 20th year at ESPN, where he primarily anchors SportsCenter at 10 p.m. Central or shows later in the evening.
What was the key to Anderson’s dramatic rise in the television industry?
“One of my instructors at Missouri said, ‘If you can write it well, you can work anywhere,’” Anderson said. “I’ve also tried to think of the guys I liked to read growing up: Rick Reilly or Dan Jenkins, who was one of my all-time favorites, or Jim Murray. They always seemed to look at it a little different.”
Anderson has a lot of freedom when he’s on SportsCenter and loves to give his highlights a little hometown spice.
When it’s time to give Packers, Brewers and Bucks clips, Anderson ups his game.
“I’m really lucky because you can show a hint of – I don’t want to say favoritism — letting people know you identify with a team,” Anderson said. “It’s hard to do if my colleagues are Yankees and Red Sox fans because they win all the time and they’re sick of Tom Brady and sick of the Yankees – you root for the underdog. With the Packers, there’s something charming about them. I think you can get away with it some because I don’t see any danger.”
In his two decades at ESPN, Anderson has been on over 3,500 shows.
He’s appeared in commercials with the Mannings (Archie, Peyton and Eli), Albert Pujols, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Usain Bolt, to name a few.
“I’ve walked the fairways at St. Andrews with Tiger Woods,” Anderson said. “I’m currently in a little fight with Mike Krzyzewski – but it doesn’t bother me, he’s wrong. I sat at the NBA Finals one time with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and I introduced us to America as ‘The Big Three.’ And they both looked at me like, who is this clown that we’re sitting with? I’ve gotten to cover Super Bowls, Final Fours, college football national championship games, NASCAR races and rodeos.”
As he reflects on his time at ESPN, Anderson calls it an unbelievable place to work.
“I was sitting with [fellow ESPN anchor] Linda Cohn one time and we’re watching on ESPN Classic the World Series between the Dodgers and the A’s – it’s the Kirk Gibson home run game,” he said. “We’re watching and it’s getting to be that spot and a guy comes from behind and he goes, ‘I was at this game. It was awesome.’ And I turned around and it’s Orel Hershiser, who started the game for the Dodgers. These things happen at ESPN. One day your analyst and friend Aaron Boone’s in your phone and it says, ‘Aaron Boone.’ The next day, the guy’s the manager of the Yankees.”
With such a hectic work schedule, Anderson isn’t able to get back to Green Bay too often.
In fact, he was supposed to be honored at the Lee Remmel Sports Awards Banquet in 2108, but it didn’t work with his schedule.
“I miss home a lot because I’m a Green Bay kid,” Anderson said. “People ask me all the time, ‘Where do you live?’ I say, ‘I live in Connecticut, but I’m from Wisconsin, Titletown, USA.”
Anderson has been a Packers’ season ticket holder since he was about 10 or 11.
He noted over 40 years ago that the Packers started a kids’ section and he and his sister were able to get season tickets before their mom was granted them in the early 1990s.
Anderson hasn’t been to a Packers game since Thanksgiving in 2015 when Bart Starr and Brett Favre made their way onto the field for a special halftime show.
This year, Anderson won’t be able to make a game.
However, he’s excited to see how coach Matt LaFleur fares in his first season.
“Last year I thought, they’ll be fine, they’ll win the division,” Anderson said. “I didn’t see the Bears being that good. I figured the Lions are going to stink as always. I don’t trust Kirk Cousins as far as I can throw him, and I still don’t.”
Anderson has high hopes for the Packers in 2019.
“I think they can be a wild-card team,” he said. “I think the Bears are good there, but I’m not sure where Trubisky and Nagy are. That’s good for one year, but we’ve had a lot of teams that have been good for a year. I’m as curious as anyone to see how it turns out.”
Even though he lives over 1,000 miles from Green Bay, Anderson’s hometown is always at the forefront of his mind.