Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
For the 60 million or so Americans watching it unfold on television, Richard Sherman's diatribe Sunday night was part amusing, part alarming and part astounding -- and part of what became a national debate on his character.
But for the person closest to it, there was nothing not to like about the episode, in which the Seahawks cornerback verbally attacked 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree after clinching the NFC championship by breaking up a pass to him in the end zone.
Fox reporter Erin Andrews said she wanted to speak publicly on Sherman's behalf Monday because of how much she enjoys working with him, and how much criticism she knew he would take.
"We expect these guys to play like absolute animals and beasts for 60 minutes and then probably 90 seconds to two minutes later, [we expect] you're going to be composed," she said by phone after returning to Southern California. "That's why this has blown up, because we don't see athletes really show pure emotions like that . . . This is why we grabbed him right away. What do you want most [as a sideline reporter]? You want a guy to break down and start crying and say, 'This is the happiest moment of my life.' "
Well, Sherman certainly was happy, but he wasn't crying. He was gloating, yelling: "I'm the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you're going to get! Don't you ever talk about me!"
As Sherman spoke, Andrews began anticipating her next move, knowing it had to be handled with care. She knows too well the perils of social media backlash.
She said the much-discussed face she made during Sherman's first answer mostly reflected being deep in thought about what to do.
"I was thinking, here we go, here's one other thing for the critics," she said. "My face when I was listening to him wasn't, 'I'm freaking out, or I'm scared, or I'm frightened.' It was, 'OK, I've got to ask a follow-up question, and it better be on point or I'm going to get crucified.'
"This is my moment to show people I know how to handle it."
Andrews did, as well as one could in such a heated moment. She briefly considered moving on to a question about the Super Bowl but instead asked him to clarify whom he was talking about, even though she knew it was Crabtree.
Said Sherman: "Crabtree. Don't you open your mouth about the best or I'm going to shut it for you real quick! L.O.B.!" ("Legion of Boom" is a nickname for the Seattle secondary.)
At that point, Andrews was planning to move on to a Super Bowl question, but veteran producer Richie Zyontz told her to throw it back to Joe Buck, which she did.
Fox spokesman Dan Bell said Zyontz was worried about where Sherman would head next.
"He was getting concerned inappropriate language could have been coming or could have been used and obviously he wanted to protect Erin from that situation, too," Bell said. "It was a judgment call to end the interview."
Clearly, Fox wasn't too upset with Sherman, because it interviewed him again during the trophy presentation and a third time on its postgame set.
Still, Andrews knew the first interview would cause a stir, and knew Sherman would come in for criticism. So he did, improbably rendering Peyton Manning a relative afterthought on the day after he qualified for Super Bowl XLVIII.
That is why she wanted to set the record straight. At one point Sunday night, the term "Poor Erin Andrews" was trending nationally on Twitter. She said she felt the opposite.
"I wasn't nervous; I wasn't scared," she said. "I have met with him three to four times. I actually really like him . . . He is smarter than probably all of us put together and he just went nuts -- in a good way."
Conference finals TV hits
Sunday's conference finals averaged 55.9 million viewers for the NFC on Fox and 51.3 million for the AFC on CBS, predictably impressive figures for what usually are the second- and third-biggest TV audiences of the year.
As the NFC game reached its climax, an estimated 60.3 million people were watching.