Michaels give chamber a peek behind the scenes

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

Members of the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Wisconsin sports scene at their annual meeting Wednesday.
It came from Bill Michaels, Wisconsin's Sports Talk Authority, at the annual dinner at The Osthoff resort in Elkhart Lake.
Also known as The Big Unit, Michaels shared his insights from more a dozen years covering Wisconsin sports, first at WTMJ radio in Milwaukee and now with his own syndicated statewide radio sports talk show.
A native of Ohio and Ohio State graduate who started his radio career in Cincinnati, Michaels says he learned early after coming here what makes the Badger state a unique sports market.
“Where I grew up in Cincinnati, nobody cared about the Browns, the Indians or the Cavaliers, or vice versa if you lived in Cleveland,” Michaels told the audience. “Wisconsin is just one general giant big red family that happens to wear green and gold on Sundays.” It's that devotion to local sports that has enabled Michaels to build a six-station network for his new talk show (including WHBL in Sheboygan) that covers 3 million people in just 90 days.
Michaels answered questions that ranged from former greats to current coaches and more.
He shared his take on Brett Favre's metamorphosis from hero to villain in the eyes of most Packer fans and traced it back to the death of Favre's father, Irv – who Michaels worked with for several years on Packer post-game shows.
“Irv was kind of the grounding force for Brett, but after Irv died the family changed,” Michaels related.
“After that, everybody around Brett was somebody because of Brett and I think he kid of got bad advice from a lot of people around him.
“When you start having people tell you you can't do anything wrong, it can warp your sense of reality a little bit. You kind of lose your moral compass,” Michaels said.
He contrasted that with one of Favre's predecessors, Bart Starr, who Michaels said still answers his own phone.
Michaels praised Marquette basketball coach Buzz Williams as another down-to-earth Wisconsin sports figure.
“He just genuinely cares,” he said of Williams. Michaels shared a story from a meeting with new Warrior recruits and their parents where Williams gave the parents his personal cell phone number and told them to call him if they ever had a problem with their kids.
“You can or cannot like him as a basketball coach, but you've got to like him as a man,” Michaels said of Williams.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy is another genuine person, Michaels continued.
“He would much rather walk around with a (Super Bowl) ring than a coach-of-the-year award,” Michaels said. “He knows what the history of this team means to the people of this state.” Michaels said he was immersed in that history his first day in the state in 1999.
He went to Green Bay, where it was two days before the start of training camp and met with then-coach Ray Rhodes, general manager Ron Wolf and CEO Bob Harlan at Lambeau Field.
“Harlan told me this place is hallowed ground and I hope you treat it like that,” Michaels recalled.
And he has, he continued. “It's just a different place. There's just such history there. You can't explain, you can't tell people about it, you have to experience it. This is the absolute church of football.” Michaels related the success of the state's sports teams over the past year to lessons for business people.
“There's one common thread through all this and that's that you had good management, good players and they all worked together as teams,” Michaels pointed out.
“You've got a lot of guys in Green Bay who believe in one another and if anything happened, they handled it in house. (Brewers manager) Ron Roenicke did wonders with a team that had an attitude problem when Ken Macha left. All the success was because you had good people who love what they do and work together.” Something he learned on his first job at WLW radio in Cincinnati has been his theme throughout his radio career, Michaels told his listeners.
“In the grand scheme of things, throughout the world there are a lot more important things than sports,” Michaels remembered being told. “This is not important, it's not life and death. It's all games, it's all entertainment. What we do is divert you away from everyday life, try to entertain you.” That lesson is reinforced for Michaels over and over, as he related the latest instance, at a career day at an elementary school.
“One kid said to me, 'Do you get in trouble for talking too much, because we do.' He then told me, 'My dad thinks you're the biggest idiot on earth' and I wanted to beat the heck out of his dad.”

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