40: I Did Not Know That

40: I Did Not Know That

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

I Did Not Know That

Bristol, Connecticut. 1991. The dead of winter. The dead of night. Inside ESPN headquarters, only a skeleton staff remained: the 2:30 A.M. SportsCenter producer Tim Kiley, coordinating producer Barry Sacks, and a handful of production assistants helping with the wire copy, highlights and scripts for the program. Monitors that earlier blared out programs in progress all around the country were now silent. My partner for the 2:30 A.M. broadcast, Mike Tirico, was tossing out facts about the games and information we were about to deliver to the audience. It wasn’t enough. We reviewed the video, scanned the box scores and gathered the research—we always want to know more.

At the end of the broadcast that night, we had time to fill. Mike Tirico came up with a gem of a fact, the kind of pertinent, resonant piece of information that totally satisfied the hunger for more. My delighted on-air response? “I did not know that.” That is how one of my heroes outside the sports world, former king of late-night television Johnny Carson, used to respond to a great anecdote from a guest.

As soon as we went off the air, we huddled in the conference room, knowing we were onto something. Let’s face it, sports fans are as competitive as the athletes they admire. Even if you’re just talking about sports, you want the edge. You want to know more than the other guy.

Barry Sacks said we should throw out a great nugget every night on the 2:30 A.M. show. Production Assistant Edwin Van Duesen said we should make up a special graphic. Someone else suggested naming the segment “I Did Not Know That.” Rather than using Carson’s exact phrase, I proposed “Did You Know?” And a little piece of SportsCenter history was made.

The response was overwhelming. Whatever the top sports story that day, we’d compete to offer the best bonus piece of information. It wasn’t that we were trying to outsmart the viewer. We were the viewer: ready to be surprised, eager to be informed, generous with what we knew. Viewers would send mail or call to give us their own items for “Did You Know?”—one of the first tangible links between the people who work at ESPN and our audience. Where else but SportsCenter could you learn that the only major-league pitcher to match his age in strikeouts in a single game was Bob Feller, who at age seventeen struck out seventeen batters in 1936? Or that the NFL record for fewest rushing touchdowns in one season was set by the Brooklyn Dodgers—the football Dodgers—in 1934?

I finally met Johnny Carson a few years ago, at a celebrity tennis tournament at UCLA. When there was a break in Andre Agassi’s match, I approached the Hollywood legend and told him about his role in the creation of one of America’s most beloved sports slogans. Without missing a beat, he smiled and said, “I did not know that.”

~Chris Myers
Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan’s Soul

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