April 20, 2017
Just the other day, Kevin Negandhi was sitting in his Connecticut home with his three-year-old son, the middle of his three children, playing with some toys. Not blocks. Or action figures. And certainly not the latest must-have kids' trend you didn't even know existed.
They were playing with mini NFL helmets – yes, those same little ones you used to beg your parents for after they drug you around the supermarket for an hour and a half – and doing so in a way that would make any sports-crazed parent proud.
The Temple alum (and Phoenixville native) and his son, who wasn't even born until after the Andy Reid Era ended, were arranging the helmets ... by division. And when the Dallas Cowboys helmet comes out, there's "drama," as Negandhi so appropriately put it in a recent interview with PhillyVoice.
But I guess that's to be expected when you're the son of a SportsCenter anchor – and a diehard Philly sports fan.
You've almost certainly seen him on ESPN. In addition to being the first Indian-American SportsCenter anchor, Negandhi, 42, has been all over the network since he first signed on over a decade ago: "Baseball Tonight," "NFL Live," "College Football Live," "Outside the Lines," "Cold Pizza" (now "First Take"), and as the host of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, among others.
And his love of all things Philly sports is no exaggeration. For example, despite numerous opportunities to take his kids to a Yankees, Red Sox or Mets game – because, you know, he lives in Connecticut – Negandhi opted to wait until he could take them to a game at Citizens Bank Park instead. They also made a trip to The Philadelphia Zoo [s/o @zoowithroy], because that's just what you do growing up in Philly.
It extends beyond the scope of sports as well.
Just ask Negandhi's wife, Monica, a Florida native who went from never having heard of Wawa to having late-night cravings for it during one of her pregnancies.
In addition to being a husband and father, he's also currently the co-anchor of "SportsCenter: AM," which debuted in February of 2016. Next week, he'll be in Philly as part of ESPN's NFL Draft coverage broadcasting from just outside the Art Museum.
Ahead of his return home, PhillyVoice caught up with Negandhi for a wide-ranging edition of The Q&A.
PHILLY VOICE: So you kind of had an obsession with sports – and SportsCenter – when you were growing up. How bad was it?
NEGANDHI: I loved it. My love for sports, it’s been, probably next to my mother and my brother, probably the most consistent thing in my life. I’ve said this many times, I always made the connection where you can literally do anything you want when it comes to sports. … I’d come home from school and if it’s football season, I’m out in the yard playing football with all my buddies for four hours. To a point where – I’ll never forget this – being Eagles fans, one day it was snowing outside and we built a snowman and put a Tony Dorsett jersey on the snowman so we could hit him. In the middle of the yard. And I’m not even 10 years old, but I was fully aware [of the rivalry].
It was part of my DNA, part of my fiber.
It was just the 30th anniversary of Schmidty [Mike Schmidt] hitting his 500th, and you think of [Harry] Kalas on the call. All I remember in the summertime is me and my buddies, my cousins are over, and we’re watching Phillies games in the afternoon, listening to Harry. And then, literally, I’m out in the yard playing wiffleball for eight to 10 hours doing the little Schmidt-shimmy with my butt… all that stuff.
Or I’d be in the basement in my house and I’d set up this basketball net and I would have tournaments, league set-up, and I’d be playing myself. And I’d have play-by-play, and change the standings and change the stats. I was always Dr. J and the Sixers; it was always Kevin Negandhi getting the pass from Dr. J.
It’s been there from the beginning. Part of my DNA. And growing up as a kid, I grew up on SportsCenter. Especially in the summer. The coolest thing about the summer was you could get up and watch SportsCenter. And then it’s like, ‘Oh, shoot. I can watch the next hour too. And event though I know what’s going to happen next, I’m going to watch the third hour!’ You’re anticipating things, but it never got old for me. It’s like watching Seinfeld re-runs. I know what’s happening next, but they never get old. And that’s kind of how I viewed SportsCenter on the re-airs in the morning.
So to be that kid who watches it, who loves it, who has this crazy dream at 14 to be the first Indian-American on SportsCenter, and then to experience that 17 years later, it’s still surreal. I’ve been here at ESPN for 11 years and every now and then I’m reminded, ‘Holy cow. How awesome is this?' And I still get a great thrill with it.
What was that like, your first time on the ESPN campus in Bristol?
There were a couple of situations. When I first came up for the interview, my whole philosophy was … I’m going to do the best job I can. And if they don’t like me, at least I have a free trip to Bristol [to see ESPN]. Like, let’s just check that off the bucket list. I want this gig, but I get a free trip. So you do the tryout – you’ve got two hours to write a 10-minute show with the producer they assign you that morning. I’m there at eight in the morning, on the set at 10. I do my tryout and after that you’re meeting executives. … I’ll never forget, I’m [sitting in the offie of Stephanie Druley, now ESPN’s Senior VP of Event and Studio Production] and walking by is Chris Berman, who stops the interview and walks in and says, ‘Hey! Nice tie!’ I’ll never [forget it]. I still have that orange tie. And in that moment, you’re like, ‘Holy crap, this is actually happening.’
Boomer relaxed me. He has a certain way of walking in the room and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, that’s Chris Berman.’ It’s funny, years later, Boomer and I see each other every week during the football season on Mondays, and the first thing he brings up is the Eagles and he asks me how I feel [about them]. And to see that, it’s kind of like a full-circle thing. It’s pretty cool.
Obviously, you got the job. What was your first time hosting SportsCenter like?
My first night I debuted, I had literally a day’s notice – scheduling change happened. I had been here for about 18 months doing a variety of stuff from ‘Outside the Lines’ to 'ESPN News' to ‘College Football Live’ to ‘NFL Live’ to ‘Baseball Tonight’ to doing stuff on, I think it was called ‘Cold Pizza’ at the time, ‘First Take.’ So I got the call that I was doing a close-show on SportsCenter, before L.A. came about with Stan and Neil, which was the re-air overnight and in the morning because we didn’t have the morning show at the time. Something happened where [Scott] Van Pelt had to change his schedule and I was doing the show with Robert Flores. Robert and I knew each other well because we had worked together for a year and a half, and he just looked at me and goes, ‘Just like we do it. Like we’ve done every other show.’ And I’ll never forget, I’m like, exactly, that’s what I’m going to do.
I knew I had to hit a home run on that show. And the only way you find out if you’ve hit a home run on a show like that is if they ask you to come back soon. After that show aired, I was asked to come back twice the following week. Then you notice you’re doing a couple more. And then you’re in a rotation where now you’re in the mix. It was great. And it got to a point where I was consistently doing the 11 p.m. show – at the time, it was the late great Stuart Scott, [Steve] Levy, [John] Anderson, [Steve] Buccigross, Neil [Everett], and then, you know, me. So I would maybe twice a week be doing that show, or I’d be doing the morning show at 9 a.m. or the show at noon. So when you’re in that rotation, you don’t ask questions. It’s just, ‘Yeah, let’s go. I’ll do it.’ So those were the cool moments [early on].
And then you became the regular host of the morning SportsCenter. That had to be dream-come-true type stuff.
Six years ago I got the job with Hannah [Storm] when Josh [Elliot] left. There have been several instances where people I’ve looked up to, like a Mike Schmidt, like a Dr. J, like a Bo Jackson, who was my idol. All three of them really. And I’ve encountered situations with those guys where they’ve said, ‘Hey, Kevin. How are ya?’ And I’m like, what just happened; they just knew my name.
There are times when you run into someone like Magic Johnson. I’ll never forget several years ago, it’s Christmas Day and we’re in the greenroom – Magic, [Mike] Wilbon, a couple other guys, and me. And I’m doing ‘NFL Live’ that day and Magic turns to me and just starts asking me questions about the NFL and college football. I’m like, ‘Magic, you want my opinion?!’ I’m saying that to myself, of course, but those are the moments where you’re like, ‘Yeah, man. This is really cool.’
So it’s my turn to meet the President and the First Lady, and I put my hand out and say, ‘Hi, Mr. President. My name is–‘ and he goes, ‘Kevin. You don’t need to introduce yourself...'
Is that the most starstruck you’ve ever been?
I mean, that was amazing. Magic, to me, is one of the coolest things. But the starstruck moment will always be this: I’m at the White House; I was invited for an event for the Special Olympics in 2014. It was 200 people attending this Special Olympics event, hosted by the President, Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama, the First Lady. And you’re in a room – Stevie Wonder was there; Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] was there; Katy Perry was there – and a ton of celebrities are there.
Not to mention … Barack.
And the President was there and he was emceeing this event. And there were Special Olympic athletes there with their families. It was a celebration of, ‘Hey, we are making sure you guys are included.’ To me, it was such a cool experience.
Did you get to meet POTUS?
Before the dinner, Secret Service says no pictures, just greet the President and move along – we’ll take the pictures. So it’s my turn to meet the President and the First Lady, and I put my hand out and say, ‘Hi, Mr. President. My name is–‘ and he goes, ‘Kevin. You don’t need to introduce yourself; I watch you every morning.’
And he looks at Michelle and goes, ‘Michelle, don’t we watch Kevin every day?’
Michelle goes, ‘Yes. You know how much he loves his sports.’
At that point, I’m not sure what you say back. I proceeded to say thank you, and you’re just blown away. The leader of the free world actually knows my name and sees what I do for a living… So to be in that situation was amazing.
Then, later on that night, after the dinner, we go into the East Room, and Katy Perry is putting on a private concert for all the people in attendance. I somehow found a way to the front row – because I was tipped off on how to get to the front row – and I wasn’t doing it purpose, but the next thing you know, there are three seats next to me and two of them are filled by the First Lady and the President, and I’m sitting next to them. So the concert, Katy does two or three songs, which are stunning and amazing, and I’m just sitting there like, ‘What world am I in right now?’
The President, again, is emceeing it, so he goes back on stage, tells everyone to have a good night, and then steps down and people shake his hand. I just said, ‘Mr. President, you know we always have a spot for you, whenever you’re done this thing.’
And he looks at me and goes, ’Spot? Kevin, when I’m done this thing in 2017, I’m going to come and take your job. What are you talking about?’
We had a laugh, but you just sit there and can’t believe that just happened.
On the other side of the spectrum, was there ever an embarrassing moment?
I’m sure there are hundreds of embarrassing moments, but I had to learn early on – when I say early, that was after years of doing it day in and day out, and when I say this I mean it because it was one of the things that helped me out early on as a broadcaster. Like a baseball player, like a basketball player, like a football player – like a quarterback who just threw a pick, he’s got to remember how he did it and why he did it, but he’s got to forget about it on his next throw. A guy misses his shot [in basketball], but with the best shooters in the world, you tell them to just keep on shooting. You go 0-for-4 in baseball, but you’re in a situation [later that game] where you have a chance to hit a walk-off home run, you’ve got to do it. You’re in that situation where you’ve just got to forget about what happened in the first inning or the seventh inning. I actually had to tell myself those stories, and they went a long way, to the point where there are many embarrassing moments, but collectively, when I look at it as a whole, they’re things I had to go through in order to learn.
This isn’t necessarily an embarrassing moment, but gosh it was a learning experience. My first day in Kirksville, Missouri – the first time I’m doing live TV in my life, 23-years old – they do this whole big intro for me, ‘Hey, Kevin! He’s from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and now he’s here in studio with us.’ It was the NBA Finals, Bulls playing the Jazz in 1998, and I’ve got a three and a half minute sportscast. I turn to the camera right after this big introduction and the way they had the prompter, they had a small button on the righthand side and a foot pedal. You had to run the prompter [yourself]. I had never done that before in my life. But it’s tricky; you run it like a gas pedal [in a car]. So I turn to the camera, and unfortunately when you hit that button before you hit the pedal, everything goes backwards. So I turned to the camera, and I accidentally hit the small button and the pedal, and my entire sportscast went backwards.
As a result, I ad-libbed all three and a half minutes of my first live experience. And to me, you get off the set and say, ‘At least I got a story.’ It was a ‘Broadcast News’ moment because I was sweating like William Hurt while coming off set like, ‘Oh my God. What just happened?’ But I survived, and you just move on.
One more quick ESPN question before we start talking some Philly sports: Who is the person that makes you smile the most when you walk past them in the halls at Bristol?
He’s no longer here, but it’s relatable to Philadelphia. Every time I saw Brian Dawkins [I smile], every time I see the old Eagles guys. I saw Jaws [Ron Jaworski] earlier this week, and we can chop it up and talk about anything and everything. Same with B-Dawk; same with Eric Allen.
One of the coolest things, and I always tell people this, the coolest part of my job – doing stuff on TV is great, but – the behind the scenes discussions are incredible. The other day I was in a conversation with – and I’m friends with all these guys – Darren Woodson and Jerome Bettis and they’re sharing stories with me about everything. And you can hear Jerome learning something from Darren just talking about their experiences.
And every day is something different. Jeff Saturday, a couple weeks ago, was sharing a story about the Colts and their Super Bowl run with Peyton [Manning]. Or I’m running into Joe Banner – every time I see Joe, I ask him about something during his tenure in Philly. Like, ‘OK, Joe. What really happened here?’
Or I’ll never forget I had a thing in Philly with B-Dawk a few years ago, and we had like three hours to kill in the airport and – God bless him, because I love him to death; he’s been at my house and had food with my family and stuff and he’s the greatest person in the world. But, literally, three hours and I’m asking Brian Dawkins everything about the 2004 season. ‘Alright, tell me what happened here.’ ‘How did we get to this point?’
The first thing we start talking about is cheesesteaks. And in that moment, Kobe was ready to talk because he was completely relaxed...
And those guys love it, because I’m not doing it [as a reporter]. I’m doing it like somebody who is passionate and lived through it with them. And I’m getting the context I need to know to say, ‘OK, how did it really go down?’ Like, ‘What exactly happened in the Hugh Douglas-Terrell Owens conversation?’ That’s the stuff I want to know. To me, those are the things that I love to talk about.
You know, I have a running joke with Darren [Woodson], who is a diehard Cowboys fan, of course. Legendary Cowboy player. And I’ve joked with him several times through the years where I’m like, ‘Why do you have to be so nice? I’m not supposed to like you.’ And he does the same thing back. He gives it back to me and we always have jokes for each other. But deep down, I have the utmost respect for what he did and how he did it. And at the same time, he respects me and where I’m coming from because he understands the passion. And there’s something about a rivalry. … I’ll always bring up 4th & 1 with Darren, like, ‘I still can’t believe [Barry] Switzer went for it again on the same play.’ And Darren will say, ‘Three Lombardis.’
And it doesn’t stop. That’s how we are every time we talk. There’s fun in that.
When you come home, what’s the first thing you crave?
It’s funny, it’s a combination. Regardless, when I’m in the vicinity of South Jersey, it’s finding a Wawa. And that’s before I even get to Phoenixville. It’s finding a Wawa and making sure I get a classic turkey and cheese, making sure I get a Wawa Iced Tea, making sure I get a Tastykake –
So I shouldn’t tell you that I have some Krimpets sitting in front of me right now?
[Laughs] Make sure it’s butterscotch, not the jelly ones. That’s not how we roll.
Butterscotch is the only kind.
It’s funny, when my wife started dating me in 2005, she was like, ‘What is this Wawa? I don’t understand.’ She’s a Floridian and this is before they had Wawa’s in Florida. She just didn’t get it. And now, she wants it more than me. During one of the pregnancies, she was like, ‘Uh, Kevin, we need to find a way to get some Wawa.’ I said, ‘What?! We’re nowhere near a Wawa! I’m in Connecticut!’ So she understands my obsession.
And then the other thing, when I’m in my hometown of Phoenixville, there are always a couple stops to get chicken cheesesteaks. And then when I’m in the city, it’s finding Delassandros. It’s making sure I’m going to Tony Luke’s. It’s finding the places I know are true Philly places. There’s a place called Larry’s, across from St. Joe’s on City Line [Avenue]. I know it’s Kobe’s favorite place, and it’s one of my all-time favorite places.
I bring that up to you because when we had Kobe on in L.A. in 2010, I was doing something out there [for ESPN] and his family was out there, who I knew. And I knew he was an Eagles fans. The first thing we start talking about is cheesesteaks. And in that moment, Kobe was ready to talk because he was completely relaxed, completely into talking about what it’s like going back home.
Speaking of home, let’s talk about the four major pro teams in Philly. I’ll give you a team, and you give me the one word that describes each. We’ll start with the Flyers.
Goaltender. And that’s a word you could’ve used for the last 20-plus years.
2019. That’s all I can keep thinking about. Just ride this thing out for the next two years into 2019, because I think the farm system is developing after going through some lean years. The topical answer, at least this week, would be bullpen. And fighters. There are a lot of fighters on this team, and I appreciate that, but the bullpen’s been letting them down.
I feel like a school kid getting ready for the final day of school and you bust out that door and throw down your books. I feel like that, because I think that sometimes Philly is misrepresented by people around the country.
Joel. The future of the team depends on him. Listen, Ben Simmons is going to be a great player; Embiid is the franchise. The future of this team depends on the health of Joel Embiid – I know, we’ve been saying that for three years and we’ll say it again. But you saw the difference with him on the court. Even when he wasn’t, you saw the attitude in the other players. They freaking played hard. I think Joel keeps them responsible. So, it’s The Process.
And the Eagles?
Oh my gosh. [sigh] You know [pause] … Oh, man.
I know it’s two words, but that’s actually a pretty good answer. Just an audible sigh followed by, “Oh, man…”
[Laugh] Honestly, I think the right word is ‘rising.’ Because we finally have a quarterback – I believe that Carson [Wentz] is the guy. I feel like we’re rising. And this could be a 2018 one, because we’re surrounding [Wentz] with the right playmakers, and then we’ll get to see what he does.
Speaking of the Eagles, what kind of atmosphere are you expecting for Philly’s first NFL Draft?
Crazy. I can’t wait. I really can’t wait. I feel like a school kid getting ready for the final day of school and you bust out that door and throw down your books. I feel like that, because I think that sometimes Philly is misrepresented by people around the country. And we love, just love, football. And the idea that we get to be the center of the NFL universe for at least one weekend, and have the Draft experience where they’re going to have it. I can’t wait.
I’m really glad that the Eagles pushed this idea to make sure the NFL brought the Draft to Philly. I know we’ll never get a Super Bowl, but to have the Draft here, that’s a big deal. And the city and the Eagles deserve it.
How loud do you think the boos will be for [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell?
[Laugh] I don’t know. I don’t know how Philadelphia feels about him. I think [the booing] is kind of cliche, because we’re not doing it in Boston. I think you’re going to hear it, but I don’t think it’s going to be like, ‘Oh, they booed Goodell!’ I mean, he heard it in Chicago too.
When booing is common in every city, it’s hard to measure what it’s going to be like in Philly. Because when we boo, we genuinely boo. If it’s going to be just a couple different people, then alright. ... But when we passionately boo somebody – a guy like Bryce Harper or when Kobe used to come back to town, or how we treat the Cowboys and Romo when he came to town – those are the boos that are just like, ‘Yes. Alright. That’s us!’