Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
Dan Dierdorf could have made the announcement before the season, but that would have invited the awkwardness of a long farewell tour.
He could have waited until after the season, but that would have precluded saying proper goodbyes to people he has encountered over 30 years in broadcasting.
So the CBS analyst settled on this week to reveal something he long since had decided: That this is his final season as a full-time television analyst, a second act that worked out pretty well after a Hall of Fame playing career.
First up on his last lap since the news became public: Sunday’s Jets-Ravens game, before which he hopes to catch up with assorted figures in his professional life, including Jets coach Rex Ryan, to say, “Thanks for all these years.”
“Maybe it’s a little selfish on my part, but I didn’t want to keep it a secret anymore,” Dierdorf said.
The impetus had nothing to do with tiring of the game or the job, but rather of what it took to get there. “If this were ‘Star Trek’ and I could be beamed into the booth, I would keep right on going,” Dierdorf said.
“Nothing has changed about my love of the game, how much fun it is to be in a stadium two minutes before kickoff when the electricity and energy in the building become almost a physical force. The hair on the back of my neck stands up as much as it did 40 years ago.”
The back of his neck is not the problem. It is his artificial knees, artificial hips, bad back and nerve damage that has rendered one of his legs “uncontrollable.”
“I feel great; I feel like I’m 25 years old,” he said. “I don’t live in constant pain. But walking more than 50 feet at a time has become a challenge for me.”
That has made traveling from his home near St. Louis a burden he prefers no longer to endure at age 64. Dierdorf does not blame his physical problems on his 13 seasons as an offensive lineman for the Cardinals. Not on the games, anyway.
“I spent every day of my professional career practicing on AstroTurf,” he said, recalling an era when artificial turf was far less forgiving than today, “nothing but blacktop with a piece of indoor/outdoor carpet on top of it. We might as well have been practicing on a shopping center parking lot.”
Practices in the ’70s also were longer and more physically demanding. “I wore full pads every practice of my entire career,'” Dierdorf said, a notion 21st century players would find foreign.
Dierdorf said his most memorable games as a broadcaster were a “Monday Night Football” classic in 1994 in which Joe Montana led a late Chiefs victory over John Elway and the Broncos, and the Ravens’ double-overtime win over the Broncos in last season’s playoffs.
It’s heady stuff for a guy who as a player used to look up at the CBS announcers during games and think, “All I want to do is be up in that booth someday.”
Not that it’s over quite yet. Trying to analyze the analysis-defying Jets will keep him busy.
“When I look at some of the statistics for this team, you have to look at 5-5 and go, wow, that’s not bad considering the inconsistent play they’ve gotten at quarterback,” he said.
“I think Rex has done a good job. There is reason for optimism if you’re a Jets fan — if, if, and I am capitalizing ‘if,’ if Geno Smith becomes the quarterback the Jets think he can become. And that’s certainly a question mark.”
Dierdorf said this is the sort of late-autumn, high-stakes showdown he loves. “It’s almost Thanksgiving, and there is everything to play for for the Jets — as hard as it is to believe,” he said.
Soon, after working a playoff game in January, it will be over, although Dierdorf plans to remain around the game in some capacity.
“I can still travel; I just don’t want to do it every weekend,” he said. “I’m not an old man. I don’t feel old. I just look old.”