SPORTS WATCH

Neil Best

Newsday columnist Neil Best Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned

bio | email | twitter

Warner Wolf woke up for work yesterday before you did -

twice.

At 1 a.m. Wolf, a lifelong restless sleeper, awoke and spent an hour

checking the Internet for news of the previous night, both the mundane (Pistons

beat Celtics) and the paranormal (Knicks win!).

At 4:30, he rose again, this time to meet a car at 5 that drove him the 40

blocks from his home to 2 Penn Plaza and the studios of ESPN 1050 and WABC. By

5:45, he was on the air for the first of 13 times in four hours. In his spare

time, he taped two more segments for use later in the day.

Wolf turned 70 last month, by the way.

So if you had Warner and retirement after 46 years in the business, you

lost!

"I could never picture being retired," he said between brisk walks down a

short corridor separating the studios. "To me, in life you have to have a

reason to get up."

Even at 4:30, apparently.

Such is the latest turn in a career that began on radio in 1961, at WLSI in

Pikeville, Ky., where he did the weather by checking the vane and rain bucket

in the back . . . and changed his first name to Ken at his boss' suggestion.

Between then and now, he was a pioneer in sports talk radio and the use of

video highlights on TV, a local news star in Washington, D.C., and New York, a

network play-by-play voice and the source of one of the most memorable live,

eyewitness accounts of the Sept. 11 attacks.

It appeared his days in the spotlight were through when Ch. 2 dumped him in

2004, but he resurfaced on the radio on WABC's morning show with Curtis Sliwa

and Ron Kuby.

When that show was erased by the return of Don Imus Dec. 3, ESPN 1050

quickly hired him for twice-hourly local commentaries during its morning

program.

Then, suddenly, this: Imus' producer, Bernard McGuirk, asked him to rejoin

Imus, with whom Wolf had worked dating to the mid-1990s.

When I first was tipped off last weekend that Wolf was coming back to WABC,

I posted it on my blog. But it seemed so implausible that on Sunday, I took it

down pending further reporting.

Sure enough, just after 6 o'clock Monday, there was Wolf, kibitzing with

Imus, like old times.

WABC and ESPN 1050 used to be owned by the same company. Now they're not.

So why would 1050 agree to this?

Largely for the promotional benefits, but also out of loyalty to Wolf, with

whom 1050 program director Aaron Spielberg once worked in Washington.

"To be on the Imus show is a great opportunity for him, and there's no

reason to keep him from that," Spielberg said.

When Imus' new show debuted, comedian Tony Powell handled updates, but he

did not seem fully at ease talking sports.

No one associated with the show would confirm that was the motivation for

pursuing Wolf, but Imus didn't take long to reach out.

Why? "Because he's a New York sports icon," McGuirk said. "He's lovable,

he's huggable and he's funny . . . Who wouldn't want Warner Wolf to do sports?"

Wolf talks to Imus, whose studio is across Seventh Avenue, about 12 minutes

after each hour, then has one or two minutes to walk the 20 or so feet to ESPN

1050's studio, regroup and start talking again.

There the d�cor changes from a "We Support Our Troops" banner at WABC to

shelves of sports books and pictures of Michael Kay.

Wolf's 1050 producer, Mike Gunzelman, 23, is young enough to be his

grandson.

"It's Warner Wolf, a living legend," he said. "He's spoken to Willie Mays,

Mickey Mantle, Ali, Frazier. He's done it all. You're learning from the best."

The greatest challenge for Wolf is not finding things to say. It is

minimizing repetition. He uses a legal pad to keep track of what he says where.

Yesterday one theme was Roger Clemens and reports of the doses of steroids

he allegedly received via injection. "Man, that's a sore tush!" he said.

Wolf is done by 10 a.m., which leaves time for movies, shows and "nice,

long romantic lunches" with his wife.

Still, doesn't the schedule get to a man his age? Next week he is working 5

a.m. to 6 a.m. in place of regular overnight host Gordon Damer.

"It's not difficult," he said. "But you do have to have proper rest. You

can't go out boozing the night before."

He usually is in bed by 9. In his TV glory days, he was on the air much

later than that.

Or are these his glory days?

"To me, it's amazing I get paid to do this," he said. "Not that I'd do it

for free, but it's very rewarding. You can come on the air on two powerful

stations and give your views.

"A lot of people have views, but they're not telling millions of listeners.

I don't see how you can beat this situation."

Strange but true: NFL, cable war dragging on

Sportswriters do root for certain teams, but not the way fans do. We root for

our own selfish interests. In that spirit:

Yo, Dolphins, win Sunday! Please. Make Bill Parcells the coach if it might

help.

Anything to save me from spending next week writing about the fracas

between Big Cable and the NFL Network, which will keep most of the nation from

seeing the Patriots-Giants game (but not people in New York and Boston. Whew.).

The NFL offered a preview of what is to come yesterday when commissioner

Roger Goodell sent a letter to Time Warner CEO Glenn Britt offering binding

arbitration for a carriage agreement.

Goodell also offered to put the NFL Net on Time Warner immediately, before

a deal is in place, as long as the cable giant agrees to arbitration.

(The same offer is good for Cablevision, but most of its customers will get

the big game on Ch. 9.)

TWC responded that it prefers privately negotiated solutions and suggested

that the NFL offer the game on a broadcast channel and . . . then my eyes

glazed over.

Any chance of another nor'easter blowing through Foxborough Sunday?

Stuart Scott is due back on ESPN tonight to host the network's NBA

doubleheader, nearly four weeks after an emergency appendectomy.

Why so long? Because the appendix turned out to be malignant, prompting a

second surgery to remove surrounding tissue.

The network said doctors are confident cancerous tissue was eliminated, but

he will have preventative chemotherapy this winter.

"Talk about a shocker," Scott said in a news release. "But I feel good, am

in great hands medically and the doctors are confident they got all the bad

stuff."

Earlier this week, ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale underwent

surgery to remove what was described as an ulcer on his left vocal cord and is

out at least until early February.