Imagine the best day, week, month or year of your life. Now put it on steroids, add in a pure dose of chance and a pinch of magic. The resulting experience now only comes chin level with Kirk Herbstreit’s daily routine.
He’s married to a princess, with whom he shares the joys of raising their three sons, two of which are twins. He lives in a cushy home is Upper Arlington, the backyard to The Ohio State University, where he forged an impressive run as quarterback, a run that came to full fruition his senior year when he was nominated co-captain of the team and was voted MVP after passing for 1,904 yards that season and boasting four 200+ yard games. During the college football season, he sits alongside Chris Fowler and Lee Corso on the set of College GameDay, an ESPN go-to program that makes Saturday road trips to various colleges around the United States to preview upcoming football games, discussing the day's college football scores and analyzing highlights and players. Herbstreit is also a contributor to the AM radio station 1460 The Fan. When not on assignment for ESPN, Herbstreit is a co-host of the afternoon show called The Big Show. Oh, yeah, there’s one more thing. This cat’s makin’ some serious cheddar.
An articulate, grounded and caring person, Herbstreit has rightfully earned the title of Columbus, Ohio’s Golden Boy. He’s approachable and humble, and he deserves every bit of fame and fortune that comes his way. For this, our “Back to Campus” issue, we sat down with Herbstreit to discuss all things sports and OSU. As with everything else he touches, our interview turned to gold. What began as an interview quickly became a rich conversation overflowing with golden thoughts, ideas and reflections on the greatest game on earth—the game of life.
What do you miss most about being on the field playing?
The best moment of my college career was when I ____?
I was elected captain my senior year, unanimously by my peers, probably the best moment.
The moment I wish I could forget was when I ____?
We tied Michigan my senior year, when we clearly should’ve won the game.
Who would win a bare-knuckle fight between…
McEnroe and Lendl?
I’d have to say McEnroe. He’s too tenacious.
Elway and Favre?
That’s tough, because Elway’s a pretty imposing guy when you see him in person. But again, with the same logic, with Brett Favre, you’d have to kill him before he’d stop.
Sugar Ray Robinson and Bruce Lee?
What are the most vital attributes of a successful coach?
Discipline, toughness, understanding and intelligence.
At what point does a game become a sport?
That’s a good question. I think a game becomes a sport when you’re competing at a level where people are interested in what you are doing and it takes athletic ability to try to compete to win.
If you could change any three rules in all of sports, what would they
Number one would be fans not voting on the All-Star game in Major League Baseball. Number two would be to eliminate so many rules to protect the quarterback—he might as well wear a yellow jersey anymore. And number three would be consideration on raising the rim in the NBA, not college. I think it’s getting to the point where it’s ridiculous.
Should Little League parents be muzzled if they cannot refrain from yelling at the kids, the umpires or the other parents?
They should not only be muzzled, but shot with a BB gun and asked to leave.
What is the difference between winning and losing?
The feeling of accomplishment.
What is the greatest victory in life?
Biggest victory in life? Legitimate answer for me? Relationship with Christ.
If you were a gladiator in ancient Rome, what would your name have been?
Oh my gosh. How bout Staminus Maximus?
Who has the dumbest fight song?
I would say, Miami of Florida, because I don’t even know if they have one.
Which school’s mascot most desperately needs his ass kicked?
Ha, ha. The tree at Stanford.
Which school has the least intimidating mascot?
I would say Brutus the Buckeye. I say that because his uniform is so outdated he looks like a nerd. I’ll take a lot of grief for that, but he just looks like he’s from the 80s.
What do you think of the drastic facelift south campus has undergone?
It’s about 15 years to late. It’s beautiful. I just wish it were there when I was in school.
What is the most exciting two minutes in sports?
I go every year to the Kentucky Derby, so I’d say the Kentucky Derby. It’s phenomenal and way underrated. If you’ve never been, you should go.
Does a gigantic athletic program, like Ohio State’s, help or hinder academic programs? And how?
I think they help, based on creating revenue for the university and creating awareness for the students. A lot of students want to go to a big school like Ohio State, because they want to be a student at that school and go to home football games and basketball games. In my opinion, that’s a big part about being a student.
Besides flipping and burning cars, what is the dumbest way to celebrate
Burning couches. I just don’t get that whole thing.
Why is Gridiron called Football, since we seldom use our feet while playing it?
I have no idea, but why is a football called a pigskin? I don’t know how those things work out. It’s funny how we hold onto traditions.
How did you get your break in the media?
I graduated June of 1993 and contacted some of the local radio stations. 1460 The Fan was actually going to an all-sports format and I contacted them and they said they wanted to capitalize on my celebrity of being a captain and just playing last year, so they brought me in. I don’t think they envisioned it going this long. I’ve been doing it since August of ‘93, the same night Dave Letterman started. I’ll never forget it. I started the same night Dave Letterman started on CBS, he went from NBC to CBS and I remember I started the same night on my radio show, so it’s been 13 years this summer. I never thought it’d last that long.
What’s it like making a living in sports without the physical conditioning requirements the players go through?
It is as good as it sounds. Let me go back just for a second to the last question of how I got my break, not just with the radio, but I think a lot of people think how’d I get my break at ESPN. I just sent an audition tape in after two years of local radio and they brought me in for an audition and they hired me five months later. So, from that point on, I’ve grown within the ESPN Corporation. As far as you’re conditioning question, it is for me and a lot of guys who follow sports, especially football, a dream come true. If they had 5000 jobs out there and I had to select which job is something I want to do, to get fulfillment of what I enjoy, I’d handpick the job I have.
Could you be doing anything else in the world and be having more fun than your current career?
No, this is it for me. Coaching would be close though, probably college. To this day I almost feel like I may coach. Two weeks ago, I met with Rich Rodriguez in his office. We spent five hours breaking down tape. He’s a genius when it comes to offense. Next week, I’m gonna go see Charlie Weiss and spend a day with him in his office. Then I’m gonna spend time with Coach Tressell. I do that just so I can stay on top of the latest trends, strategies, terminologies, and I do that every year, every week, every coordinator, every coach. I think I’ve just grown with the game so much it’s really interesting to get so many viewpoints. I’m probably the only person in the country who can sit down with Pete Carroll and he and I, by ourselves, can have an open and candid discussion about defensive strategy, and the very next week sit down with Charlie Weiss and have a very open and candid conversation about offensive strategy. I like to pick their brains to find out how they think. I’m like a sponge; I just take in what people say.
What’s your favorite campus outside Columbus?
University of Texas.
Why is college football better than the NFL?
What’s the biggest flaw with the BCS?
That we do not have two games that seed one playing the number one team playing the number four team and the number two team playing the number three team. Then, a week later, having a true championship.
Will Jim Tressel retire more beloved than Woody?
I don’t think you can ever be looked at or more beloved than Woody, but he will have his own… Let me say it this way. It depends on the age group. If you are 45 years or older, I will say Woody Hayes is in a level no one can reach. If you’re under 40, my guess is, you understand and respect Woody—all the stories and the highlights, but you’re living in the Jim Tressell era. So my guess is a lot of people will have the same, if not more, appreciation for Jim Tressell if he continues in this run. He’s finished in the top five, three of the last four years.
What’s the best pre-game activity in Columbus?
College GameDay, when it comes to town.
Think of a weekly thing that an average person does, like a ritual your friends do, like kegs and eggs?
I think tailgating at Ohio Stadium. I see every school in the country.
What’s with the beer?
I think it’s pathetic. I think the fact their spending energy with police, trying to control the drinking, I think the idea makes sense, but to go up to a guy or group of people, who’ve been there since 1978, with the same parking spot they have their camper there, leave them alone. Go bother the college kids, the kids setting couches on fire, but it’s ridiculous to police that, their still gonna drink. People are still gonna drink, let them have fun. But if people are being abusive, come down on them, but leave the people alone. I travel to every school of the country, and that’s the most pathetic rule that I’ve ever heard of in my life, when it comes to college athletics, and I’m not saying everybody drink and get crazy. I’m saying people entertain clients; they have their families. It’s six home games out of the year. People pay a lot of money for a certain parking spot, and a lot of times it’s handed down from generation to generation. And now we gotta worry about if you have your cup? When Karen Holbrook leaves, that’s the first rule they have to change. (pull quote followed by [the new tailgating protocal]
Will Troy Smith break your school record for longest TD run by a quarterback?
Without a doubt, he’s got a great chance.
What’s the best player you’ve ever watched or played with at Ohio State?
That’s two totally different things. Best player I’ve ever watched is Chris Carter. People talk about him as a Philadelphia Eagle and a Minnesota Viking, but for me, he’ll always, always be number two scarlet and gray. Best player I’ve ever played with? That’s a tough one, because I’ve played with a lot of good guys. I would say it’d probably be with Robert Smith or Eddie George. Those two guys were special. If I had to pick one over the other, it’d be Robert over Eddie and the other reason is, Eddie was a freshman when I played with him, and he played every game and he and Robert kinda split time.
Finally, what’s your favorite leisure activity?
Used to be playing video games, but now it’s hanging out with my family, my kids.
Check out www.1460thefan.com for Kirk Herbstreit’s schedule as co-host of The Big Show along with Bruce Hooley. ESPN's College GameDay returns this fall.