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Jon 'Stugotz' Weiner, sports talk radio's lovable underdog

Jon "Stugotz" Weiner during the Le Batard and

Jon "Stugotz" Weiner during the Le Batard and Friends Live podcast at Gramercy Theatre in New York on May 18, 2019. Credit: ESPN Images/Steve Fenn

Yes, Jon "Stugotz" Weiner will remain with Dan Le Batard when he relaunches his radio show on a platform-to-be-named-later, probably this spring, Newsday has learned.

Key word: "With." Not "and."

"We have been saying for years he wants a promotion from ‘with Stugotz’ to ‘and Stugotz,’ " Le Batard said. "But [executive producer] Mike Ryan, he’s going to die on that hill.

"He said that he cannot have the ‘and,’ because if we give him the ‘and,’ it ruins the construct of making him the lovable underdog."

The fact this was an actual negotiation between the star and producer of "The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz" illustrates the quirky sensibility of the program, and Weiner’s role on it.

(We will now stop using his last name to identify him, since no one calls him that.)

"I think he’s the greatest co-host in the history of sports radio co-hosts, because he’s got the combination of lack of ego, understanding of role, combined with he really knows radio and he’s a very good producer who happens to also be hosting the show," Le Batard said.

"He plays the show pinata, but he’s helping at every turn to get the show to where the show needs to go, even if it’s at his expense . . . This business is wrought with ego and insecurity — unearned ego and earned insecurity. And look, man, that’s not an easy job, 20 years of being the punching bag, the foil, the alleged guy in the shadow."

But enough from Le Batard, the former, colorful ESPN personality. Let’s bring Stugotz out of that shadow and let him speak for himself, something he certainly is not shy about doing as a chatty, colorful Long Islander in his own right.

Even though he long has lived and worked in South Florida, Stugotz, 48, wears his Port Washington roots on his sleeve. That begins with his sports allegiances, a classic Long Island collection of Mets, Islanders, Jets and Knicks.

"Unfortunately for me, at that time, the Jets played at Shea Stadium and [coach] Joe Walton had done just enough to suck this 10-year-old kid into being a Jets fan," he said.

He said he spends "most of my days wishing I chose the Giants instead of the Jets," but there have been some bright spots, including that 10-0 third-quarter lead over the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game 22 years ago.

"My friend made the terrible mistake of calling up a ticket broker and ordering Super Bowl tickets at halftime," Stugotz said. "Cost us a chance to go to the Super Bowl. He jinxed it completely." The Jets lost, 23-10.

But the biggest sports impact Long Island had on him was his lifelong love of lacrosse, a sport he starred in at Clark University.

He announced a women’s NCAA Final Four for ESPN and has coached an elite girls team in Florida, including two lacrosse-playing daughters. One of his twin 16-year-olds, Rachel, already has committed to Northwestern.

"You grow up on Long Island, that’s like a rite of passage," Stugotz said. "No one really tells you, ‘Play lacrosse.’ You just know it’s just something you’re supposed to do when you arrive at a certain age. Literally every kid in my town was walking around with a lacrosse stick."

In career terms, by far the biggest influence being from Long Island had on him was as an early fan of two other Long Islanders, Mike Francesa and Chris Russo, on WFAN.

"I know they hate hearing this, but I got into this business for one reason and one reason only, and it’s ‘Mike and the Mad Dog,’ " he said. "What I loved about them was they talked about sports the way I talked about sports, the way me and my friends talked about sports, the way me and my dad or my brother talked about sports.

"It wasn’t two athletes. It was two guys like me and you giving their opinions on something in New York people are super-passionate about, and that’s their local sports teams."

Stugotz recalled his father driving him home from lacrosse practice the first time he heard Francesa and Russo and asking whether they were getting paid for doing that job. His father told him they were, and well.

"Right then and there I said to him in that car . . . ‘I want to do what they do for a living,’ " Stugotz said. "My dad said, ‘Go for it,’ and from that day on I kind of pursued it relentlessly, and always wanted to be the next Chris Russo and then finally realizing with maturity and age that there is no next Chris Russo, just go be yourself."

Stugotz left a high-paying job in sales at Madison Square Garden to follow his dream, which took him to South Florida and a career-defining gig as Hank Goldberg’s sports talk radio producer.

Early on, he accidentally misinformed Goldberg about an upcoming guest, mixing up former University of Miami receivers Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne and forcing Goldberg to adjust on the fly on the air. Afterward, Goldberg told him his nickname henceforth would be patterned after that of Tony Soprano’s boat, "The Stugots," on HBO’s "The Sopranos." It was Goldberg’s amusing way of telling his producer he had been a dunce and messed up.

At first, Stugotz was not a fan of the nickname. Now he very much is.

"My real last name is Weiner, so Stugotz is an upgrade from that," he said. "I saw Hank recently and told him it has served me well. It stands out. When Dan and I started doing our show together we actually flirted with the idea of changing it and our audience rejected it in a way that they’ve never rejected anything."

He added, "Who’s going to take a guy named Stugotz seriously? I don’t want to be taken that seriously."

That has been his approach during his decade-and-a-half with Le Batard, first locally then starting in 2013 with ESPN before a complicated breakup that culminated in the show leaving that network last month.

Now the program is in what Stugotz called its "rogue, pirate phase," still going three days a week in podcast form without any significant revenue, just to keep fans engaged until it finds a regular new home.

Former ESPN president John Skipper is working on that, having partnered with Le Batard to form a new content company called Meadowlark Media.

Technically, Stugotz is a free agent because he has not yet signed a contract, but he will eventually.

In the meantime, he is planning to visit some favorite shows, including Russo’s on SiriusXM Satellite Radio and WFAN’s morning show. He was scheduled to guest co-host on the FAN on Jan. 27 but had to cancel because his mother was ill. She died later that week.

"Being from Long Island, WFAN is my favorite station, a station I grew up on, and I love Gregg [Giannotti]," he said. "[Boomer Esiason] was out, so I was going to do it and will do it at some point, if for no other reason than to make Le Batard insanely jealous.

"I’m going to flirt with whoever the hell I feel like flirting with until I get the ink on the contract."

He added, "I’m not sitting here saying I’m going to replace Boomer, but you never know, maybe there’s a spot for me at WFAN. Dan better hurry up."

Stugotz was kidding in 2021, but there were times in the past he seriously sought a role at WFAN. Now Florida is home, but New York and Long Island never are far from his thoughts, or from his show.

"Part of the tension with me is I’m the Miamian who doesn’t have a whole lot of use for New York," Le Batard said. "So we hit that balance a lot when we were doing a Miami radio show, and Miami versus New York is fun enough that it plays nationally."

Stugotz said many of his best friends still live on Long Island, some in Port Washington.

"There’s not a trip I take to New York where I don’t go to Port Washington to see the old house, check out the lacrosse field, see the school, see my friends, grab some slices at Carlo’s Pizza, maybe [go to] Harbor Deli. It’s just a big part of my life."

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