At 8 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday, Linda Cohn will mark a milestone at ESPN by anchoring her 5,000th SportsCenter. That’s the most of anyone in the network’s 36-year history.
While other ESPN personalities have moved on to host talk shows, political shows, podcasts and everything else you can think of in the great buffet of modern media offerings, Cohn is like the ballplayer who just keeps quietly hitting .290 with 25 homers and 90 RBIs, year after year. After a while, the stats really add up.
“It’s one of those milestones where when you think about” it, “I’ve covered athletes for so long, all my professional career … not that I’m comparing myself to a professional athlete, but someone that has reached a pinnacle in their profession – you don’t think about a number or the accomplishments until it all stops. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”
Cohn, a former goaltender on the women’s hockey team at SUNY Oswego, talked about her career longevity in a conference call this past week.
Her first SportsCenter appearance was July 11, 1992, the 2 a.m. show in which she was paired with Chris Myers. It was a week after Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi had won the singles championships at Wimbledon. Bill Clinton that week selected Al Gore to be his running mate for the White House. Kate Upton, Selena Gomez and Austin Rivers were born that summer.
Cohn has hosted ESPN programs covering every major sport, and some minor ones. She’s done play-by-play for WNBA games and LPGA golf. And her enthusiasm for the job doesn’t seem to waver.
“I am a sports fan first,” she said. “I’m someone that still follows my teams religiously, so I have a fresh feeling from that, and that’s sort of like a legal drug for me.”
She said it helps that there is no such thing as downtime in sports anymore.
“Take what’s going on – the life of Cam Newton following the Super Bowl loss. That hasn’t ended two weeks after the Super Bowl, or this whole Peyton Manning thing of 20 years ago, this story from 2003. … There’s always something new to talk about and give a fresh spin on.”
Cohn grew up on Long Island, attending Newfield High School in Selden. In 1981, she graduated from SUNY Oswego.
In her 2008 book, “Cohn-Head,” Cohn wrote that the winters in Oswego took some getting used to.
“When I came back from winter break in my freshman year, it snowed every day for 33 days,” she writes. “The snow banks along the side of the road grew to more than 7 feet tall, and the town was using flatbed freight-train cars to ship the snow south. Along with the snow came the wind off the lake, which could get so fierce that, every winter, the college put ropes up along the walking path closest to the water to stop students from being blown away.”
She credits one of her Oswego professors, Fritz Messere, with helping her learn to tone down her Long Island accent when she’s on the air.
“The two things he said to do … is you talk slower and you open your mouth wider when you speak. It really seemed to sink in for me and get instant results,” she said.
After graduating, Cohn worked at some radio and TV jobs in the New York area. Her next move was to Seattle and a job with KIRO-TV. She said her work there was “the lift-off point for ESPN hiring me.”
In addition to her enthusiasm for sports, Cohn says she made a decision at age 40 that has made a difference in her health and well-being. She stopped consuming gluten and dairy products and concentrated on adding alkaline-rich foods to her diet.
“Now everyone is talking about that alkaline, but back then people didn’t know what the heck I was talking about,” but the new diet helped her “stay vibrant emotionally, physically and mentally.
“It sounds cliché, but the problem with a lot of women and men … they just think they hit a certain age that they’re supposed to have a big tummy and the core is going to go and all this is supposed to happen. Well, guess what, it’s not supposed to happen. … I get a kick out of someone that says, wow, you’re 56, wow, that’s amazing, because all that hard work paying off, and I’m on television, and I’m still more than relevant, I’m better than ever on television.”
Gordon on Fox
NASCAR great Jeff Gordon has gone into broadcasting, joining Fox Sports. He’ll be part of the team broadcasting Sunday’s Daytona 500 at 1 p.m. Eastern.
Fox’s Darrell Waltrip talked last week about what Gordon brings to the booth:
“You know how Bill Elliott is helping Chase? Chase is an incredibly talented race-car driver, but his dad is right there to help him with things that maybe he’s not aware of. And that’s almost like how I feel about Jeff, we can learn off of each other, his enthusiasm is contagious.”