Brian Baldinger had a flip phone until three years ago.
“I wasn’t ready to really jump in,” he said. “I was just fine doing what I was doing.”
But he soon determined that would not be fine for long, not with his future at the NFL Network uncertain and everyone around him “glued to their phones.”
So Baldinger pitched the idea of translating some of his television analysis to mobile phones. “It’s a digital world; that’s just where we’re at,” he said. “It was a natural way, I think, to kind of stay relevant.”
So he has, more so than he could have hoped at the time.
The Massapequa High School alum turned 60 in January and continues to do TV and radio work for NFL Network, Fox, Compass Media, Entercom and Sky Sports. But he also has become an unlikely breakout star on Twitter.
"'Baldy's Breakdowns' are sort of my thing,” he said.
To be fair, #baldysbreakdowns have not quite achieved a Kardashian-level following on social media, but they have struck a chord. They combine his football knowledge with a pointed sense of humor that tends to get to the heart of matters.
When examining video of Monday night’s Browns-49ers game, he compared the San Francisco pass rush to an episode of “Shark Week,” and Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield to “chum.”
“I walk through this building and I feel really lucky,” he said from NFL Films headquarters in southern New Jersey early Wednesday morning. “It’s my own little bubble. It’s fun. I feel like I don’t even have a boss, like I can just go create every day.”
Baldinger recently gained even more creative freedom when he learned he had been “whitelisted” on Twitter, expanding his videos from a maximum of 2:20 to 10 minutes. First, he had to ask what “whitelisting” meant.
“I sort of rebranded myself, reinvented myself in a lot of ways doing this,” he said. “It connected right away, not just with fans, but it connected with the players.”
Television shows that focus on Xs and Os have been around for years, including ESPN’s “NFL Matchup” and NFL Network’s “Playbook,” featuring Baldinger, among many others.
“But we were so limited,” Baldinger said. “We’d feel really proud of what we did over two hours, but even in two hours you can only go so deep. You just couldn’t go deep enough; time wouldn’t allow it.
“So Twitter is just a great forum to be able to really teach the game 60 seconds or two minutes at a time and show what a play is . . . It’s just a great medium to do it. I can really slow it down. I can freeze it.”
Baldinger gets access to NFL video, and in turn the league uses some of his analyses on other platforms.
“I told those guys a long time ago and anybody that would listen there’s a need for hardcore Xs and Os,” he said. “I’m not saying the analysis out there on these talk shows is lazy. It’s just incomplete.
“There is a big gap between what really goes on in these games and what fans are getting. I’m kind of filling in the gap.”
Fox replaced Baldinger with John Lynch on its NFL game analyst roster 10 years ago, but he was determined not to depart on bad terms, as he had seen happen with others. “I never wanted to leave bitter,” he said.
Baldinger is one of six siblings, including two brothers who also played in the NFL, Rich and Gary. He moved to Massapequa for his junior year in high school and later attended Nassau Community College for three semesters.
“I love it,” he said. “Any excuse to get back to Long Island, I go as often as I can.” Gary still lives in Massapequa, and one of their sisters lives in Eastport.
Before 11 NFL seasons as an offensive lineman for the Cowboys, Colts and Eagles, Baldinger played at Duke, and thus shares an alma mater with a certain young Giants quarterback.
Baldinger saw Daniel Jones play in person for the first time when working last week’s Vikings-Giants game on radio, but he had been hearing about him for years.
“I have jokingly said when he was drafted all these experts that think it’s a horrible pick, I’m just telling them that nobody watches Duke football,” Baldinger said. “I went to Duke and I don’t watch Duke football. Nobody does. Kids at Duke don’t go to Duke football games.
“Don’t tell me that you know. It’s not like going to watch Tua [Tagovailoa] down at Alabama. Nobody’s watching this stuff.”
Everyone is watching now, and Baldinger likes what he has seen.
“New York knows this now, but if you could have cloned Eli Manning, except if you could re-clone Eli Manning but you made him faster and a better athlete, that’s what they did,” he said. “They literally cloned him somewhere up in the football gods and they dropped this kid down.
“He sounds like him, he looks him. I think he’s going to have a career. I can’t predict 15 years and two Super Bowls, but he has everything it takes to be really good.”