Sunday, June 8, 2008

The NYI knew Erin Andrews before she became a singular sensation

What’s a sports blog without an entry about Erin Andrews? Every self-disrespecting sports blog has one. Consider this my sad attempt to bring readers to a blog by linking to pictures and video of Erin.

For those of you without ESPN, Ms. Andrews is a sideline sports reporter who over the last four years has innocently developed a following of Taxi Driveresque proportions.

My Islanders career missed out on the Stanley Cup, but I was witness to plenty. I was there when Al Arbour came back for game 1,500. I walked by Dale Hunter in the locker room hallway after he mugged Pierre Turgeon. I saw Ferraro and Kaspar outplay Lemieux and Jagr in ‘93. I took newly-drafted Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe to the Empire State Building. I saw Dubie morph into Georges Vezina for a miraculous week.

And I was there for the early days of the Erin Andrews era at ABC/ESPN.

The scene is the first round of the 2004 playoffs, the Islanders against the heavily-favored Tampa Bay Lightning. The Islanders are in Tampa for the first two games. The usual Lightning media are at our practice the day before Game One, with one exception.

A pretty good-lookin’, exceptionally graceful young woman by the name of Erin is asking to speak with the Islanders PR person. Having been deliriously-happily married for more than a decade at this point, 'tis only a tawdry rumor that I paid Eric Cairns and Eric Godard to lock my PR associate in the men’s room.

The mysterious reporter introduces herself. Her name is Erin Andrews and she’s been assigned by ABC/ESPN to do some sideline hits during the Islanders-Lightning series. She explains that she had just done a few years with a regional sports network, but her contract was not renewed. Or she resigned. I don’t remember. I do recall she seemed a bit down in the dumps about it. I also remember thinking that whomever the doof is that let her go at that network, he or she should start thinking about what they want to do in their next career.

It is what it is, and Erin had/has it.

Before, during and after the Islanders practice, I shared with Erin a few storylines for her sideline reports. Before and after Islanders practice, I never had so many Islanders players seem concerned with how I was doing.

“Hey CB, everything OK? Need me for anything? If you do, you know I’m always there for ya”!

“Hey, do you or your friend want a cup of coffee from the locker room”? (Because, after all, veteran NHL defensemen are always offering to make coffee for their PR guys).

“Hey Botts, how are the twins? And YOUR WIFE, how’s SHE doin’”?

I always wondered what it was like to be really attractive and have people stop, stare and make fools of themselves in your presence. By standing close to Erin Andrews, I found out. It reminded me of the “Seinfeld” episode when Jerry is dating the gorgeous blonde and she gets him out of a speeding ticket. In Erin’s presence that day, I could have easily hit up the guys for 10 grand each for the Aidan Botta Scholarship Fund.

Early in my time with the Islanders, I devised with a colleague the “Plus-3” equation of pro sports. What this means is that if a female executive, staffer or reporter is a solid 7 in real life, in the sports industry she is a 10. In this still predominantly male business, there remain countless men – some are my best friends! - who tend to act like they’ve never seen a woman before.

The “Plus-3” is sexist, shameful and embarrassing for me to admit more than 15 years later. It would be even worse if my co-author wasn’t a close woman-friend and colleague in the business who experienced daily the awkwardness of having people stop, stare and make fools of themselves in her presence.

I guess this makes Erin Andrews a 12 or 13, depending on how high you set your bar at perfection.

Erin’s work for ESPN on the Islanders-Tampa Bay series was solid, so naturally she was outta hockey in no time and on to College Football Saturday Night, then college hoops and Major League Baseball. There are times during the football season when I flip between ESPN and ESPN2 and could swear she’s doing games in Gainesville and Knoxville at the same time.

When I met her in 2004, I had no idea Erin would become a phenomenon - “America’s Sexiest Sportscaster” according to the scholars at Playboy. But her success does not surprise me. As a reporter and as a person, Erin Andrews is the real deal.

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