Liam McHugh did not mind covering Roslyn High School girls badminton. He recalls that and other assignments fondly from his days as a Newsday sports part-timer in the very early 2000s. Plus, it helped get him where he is today.
But where he is today does bring with it a wee bit more stability, and visibility.
“It is kind of crazy; it’s a lot to take in,” he said from Minneapolis, where he is to co-host the Super Bowl pregame show on Sunday, as well as NHL coverage Tuesday and Wednesday, and from where he will leave first thing Monday for Pyeongchang, where he will host prime-time and late-night coverage on NBCSN.
“It’s thrilling, nothing short of that. But at the same point, it’s not necessarily overwhelming.”
That is because McHugh, 40, has seen his roles build gradually and with a plan in mind, such as hosting “Thursday Night Football” alongside analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison.
When fellow Long Islander Bob Costas and NBC mutually agreed he would not work the Super Bowl, Costas cited McHugh as a more appropriate and deserving choice.
“I’m fully aware of how big the Super Bowl is and how many people watch it, but I think there was a plan put in place and I’ve benefited from it,” McHugh said. “Doing ‘Thursday Night Football’ this year, I think it enabled me to slide into that role without having to adjust, chemistry-wise, to analysts.
“It’s two people I’ve worked with and am very comfortable with, and now I just take that experience and I move it over to the Super Bowl. I think because of the way everything was mapped out and planned, it’s made it rather smooth so far. At least I hope it comes off that way.”
The only downside to his fab Feb is leaving his wife, Maggie, who is expecting their third child in May, and two children under age 5 back home on Long Island. He left for Minneapolis on Monday and will not return home until Feb. 26.
“As much as I’m excited about it, there is that feeling that I’m going to be gone for a long, long time, and I’m going to be far away, and that part’s hard,” he said.
NBC relieved him of his usual duties at the NHL All-Star Game last weekend in Tampa. “They decided that they like my wife, they don’t want her to divorce me, so they let me stay home another couple of days,” he said.
It helps to have family nearby. His brother lives near McHugh, an alumnus of Herricks High School, and his parents still live in his childhood home. (His father, Frank, was a longtime track coach at Elmont.)
McHugh said his children are too young to appreciate his work. (“I’m a middle-aged suburbanite with kids who if my wife puts me on TV immediately ask her to change the channel,” he said.) But NBC seems to.
McHugh course-corrected from print journalism to television after leaving ESPN The Magazine in 2003 and getting a master’s degree at Syracuse. He worked in Terre Haute, Indiana, Oklahoma and later for Versus, which became NBCSN.
Might he someday consider crossing over from studio hosting to play-by-play work?
“I’ve never called a game in my life, ever, at any level,” he said. “I think it might be a little late to jump in and start that.”
McHugh said NBC’s hockey play-by-play man, Doc Emrick, once was on set and said, “Wow, how do you do this? This is kind of difficult . . . Don’t you get nervous? It’s harder.”
“I remember him saying that to me and I thought he was messing with me,” McHugh said with a laugh. “What he does to me is so much harder, and because of that, I want no part of it. And what’s so infuriating is how he makes it look very easy while he’s doing it. It just shows what a brilliant broadcaster he is.”
McHugh said he enjoys “getting out of my comfort zone” hosting sports such as curling and speed skating. But he said there is added pressure because the names are not as familiar as in, say, the NHL.
“When a person has their name said on national TV for the first time, they really want you to pronounce it right,” he said. “I find that’s the case. So there’s a bit of pressure. But we have tremendous producers and our researchers are phenomenal . . . If it’s the one moment that someone’s been building toward their entire life, you try to get it right.”
It is similar to making sure you spell a high school athlete’s name right as a reporter. “That’s right,” McHugh said. “There are a lot of different ways to spell Kaitlyn.”
McHugh also hosts Notre Dame coverage in the fall. But come the end of the Stanley Cup Final, he might finally put his “Best Feb Ever” in perspective.
“Maybe over the summer when hockey ends, I’ll be able to sit back and look at it all and say, ‘Wow, that was a lot in a short amount of time,’ ” he said. “But I think right now I’m busy enough and have enough to do each and every day that it’s probably best I don’t think about the big picture.”