Game Time: Jim Rome Smack-Off 2010, A Five-Time Champ Weighs In

Categories: Game Time, Sports
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The Rome show may have mellowed, but the Smack-Off still delivers
If you're a sports fan in the Year 2010, you probably know who Jim Rome is. If you read my blog posts each day, you almost definitely know who Jim Rome is.

For those who don't, I'll be brief with the history lesson -- Rome is a syndicated radio host who has owned the mid-day timeslot for sports talk radio in Houston (and hundreds of other cities) for the better part of the last fifteen years. Having taken a local night time show on XTRA Sports 690 in San Diego in the mid-`90's and built it into a small radio-syndication empire (which has since also branched into the popular Jim Rome is Burning television show on ESPN), Rome is a broadcasting success story by any measure and a graduate-degree thesis waiting-to-happen on building a brand.

Rome's brand is, in two words, The Jungle. It's the literal name of his show dating back to the pre-syndication days, and it appropriately captures the essence of what used to be the foundation of the radio show -- a unique, edgy vibe that I would affectionately call "violent sports radio." When the show first came on the air in Houston it was still in its explosive growth phase, and the foundation was caller-on caller, affiliate-on-affiliate, city-on-city radio violence. There's no other way to put it.  

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The failure is strong in some callers
Sure, there were interviews sprinkled in (Rome has always been one of the best interviewers in the business), but what made The Jungle must listen radio in, say, 1999 were the callers -- good callers pounding away on other "Clones" (Rome-speak for diehard listeners), pounding away on their teams, on idiots disguised as athletes.

Even better sometimes were the bad callers, who would get run off the show and as their punishment would receive a two-minute lambasting from the host. Callers hated each other, Rome hated the callers, new affiliates got hazed for weeks about their city's deficiencies. It was a big cesspool of radio vitriol, biting humor, and unbridled animosity.  

It was a glorious time.  

The show built up such a cult following that Rome filled arenas around the country for weekend Tour Stops and his listeners created forums on the internet (the most famous being stucknut.com, run by a Houston listener named Steve Lyons) where they could communicate about the show, sports, and life in general. Ask diehard Rome fans from the Tour Stop Era and many will have stories from the events where friendships were made, beers consumed, and in some cases (no joke) arrests records augmented.

Since then, in the last few years, the show has evolved into a more mainstream-sounding show, a likely function of "getting bigger meaning getting more corporate" along with Rome just maturing and getting older. The show day-to-day is now more built around interviews and Rome's take on whatever is making the sports world tick. It's way more vanilla, not nearly as edgy, and not nearly as caller-centric. It bears mentioning that it's also a cash cow, for Rome at least.  

People still listen, the ratings bear that out, but for the diehard old-schoolers like me, it's just not the same. Sopranos fans will remember an episode where Tony Soprano sold the building that housed the neighborhood chicken-and-egg store to Jamba Juice, a sign of the "old neighborhood" being permeated by the homogenization of corporate America. In some ways, Jungle listeners can relate to Patsy Parisi's finding out about that news -- "What the hell is happening to our neighborhood?"

For those of us that used to call the show back in the day, the gradual near-extinction of the caller in lieu of more interviews has been depressing. It's like someone took our own personal radio "Fight Club," told 400 cities about it, and then converted it into a Dave & Buster's.  

However, much like Pretzel Day to Stanley Hudson on The Office, once a year we still have the Smack-Off, the annual event where Rome invites the best callers to line up and bludgeon each other, four minutes at a time. Rome and his staff (the "xr4ti Crew") decide via a scoring system that can best be described as "extreme subjectivity" who had the best call that day, and the winner is declared "King of Smack" for the next year (or until the next Pretzel Day, whichever comes first).  

The Smack-Off is Rome's signature show, and a "must listen" even if you're no longer an avid Rome fan. Former champions of the Smack-Off get lifetime exemptions and don't need to "play their way into the field" throughout the year anymore, which is tough to do what with Jim taking about four calls a month.  

However, it should also be mentioned that former champions lose their lifetime exemption if they manage to hoodwink someone into giving them an afternoon show on a station that competes with Rome. That's where I come in.

My five Smack-Off titles (1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2007), charming boyish looks, and the fruit basket that I send to Rome and his wife every year are apparently not enough to overcome my employment at 1560 The Game. Thus, Rome has banned me from future Smack-Offs, and erased me from the Smack-Off "Past Winners" list on his website. Yep, despite never taking money from an agent and despite taking my own SAT's, I got Calipari'd from Rome's website.  

I get asked all the time if I'm angry about being banned from the Smack-Off, and the short answer is "No, not at all," but my thoughts on the event go beyond that. The best way to summarize them is to probably just do a running memoir of this year's event, which took place last Friday, April 23.

(NOTE: If you missed the 2010 Smack-Off, you can listen to the podcast by (a) paying a monthly fee to become a Jungle Insider, (b) borrowing the password of someone who already is a Jungle Insider, or (c) go to Andrew Moorehill's incredible Smack-Off history website where you can hear about 98 percent of the calls that have ever been made to the Smack-Off.)

All right, with that all said, let's get it started!

SEGMENT 1
1:00 into the segment-- Rome plays a Smack-Off promo with music underneath and soundbites from all of the heavyweights in the event. It's a pretty cool little mix. For a guy who spent most of the late `90's making fun of hosts that used gimmicky little noises and sounds, Rome now uses...well, a lot of gimmicky little noises and sounds.  

2:34 into the segment -- Time to announce the sponsor of the Smack-Off which is WEC 48, Uriah Faber vs Jose Aldo. Longtime Rome fans chuckle at this because there was a time where MMA was deemed "human cockfighting" by Rome. Needless to say, now he's a fan. The only thing more surreal would be Rome owning race horses....wait, WHAT?!? Let's move on....

3:02 -- Rome gives the background on the Smack-Off. For 15 years, the event has been credited as the brainchild of Rome's former producer, Travis Rodgers, who has since left the show. No mention of Travis, so apparently his creation of the Smack-Off is next to my five titles on the same figurative shelf. (Shaking my head...)

4:00 --
Often when people find out I won the Smack-Off (information which usually has to get pried out of me with the Jaws of Life), I get asked "So what did you win?" My answer had always been an embarrassed "Um, nothing." Well, times they are a-changin'! Rome starts channeling his inner Pat Sajak and tells us the winner will get:

-- Video recognition on JRIB TV show
-- One indoor Masterbuilt electric smoker
-- Package of Allen Bros ribeye steaks
-- One-year supply of 5 Hour Energy drink
-- A Bombay Sapphire cocktail party

Hearing this list makes me feel like a baseball player in the 1940's when they actually had off season jobs to make ends meet, and now "these kids today" getting their Bombay Sapphire cocktail parties. This will be the first of roughly a hundred times I'll feel old in the next three hours.

5:15 -- Rome goes through the rules, encourages emails, goes through the list of past winners (HE MENTIONED ME!), the list of invitees (at least a few of whom I haven't heard call in literally over ten years), and with that....we go to the phones....

8:30 -- TRAPPER IN DANA POINT -- Old-school caller. Trapper is best known for (a) getting beaten up at the Sacramento Tour Stop, (b) making a tandem call with another caller, an event that with the death of Michael Jackson now moves to the top of the list of creepiest events or people in my lifetime, and (c) making REALLY long Smack-Off calls that listeners hate. This one is no different -- I'm fine with it because I am part of the "Rome old school" also, but I admit that my attention floated during this call. Six minutes later, tramps like us, let the emails begin.... GRADE: C

14:54 -- On the heels of Trapper's six-minute monologue, Rome issues his first warning to participants to keep it...you know....LESS than six minutes.

SEGMENT 2
1:11 --
E-mails are rolling in on Trapper, and it's not pretty. Damn, they hate Trapper. E-mails, by the way, come in two flavors on Smack-Off Friday -- "that was the worst call ever/don't ever call again" and "IT'S OVER!! IT'S OVER!! THERE'S YOUR WINNER!!" Keep it in mind.

2:18  -- DAN IN DC -- Former employee of Rome joining a list that includes Jason Stewart, Steve Carbone, and Boston Phinn as people who have completed the "Smack-Off participant/Rome employee" exacta. Dan spends some time busting on Vic in NoCal, an outspoken former top-10 finisher who will become a recurring target today. Dan hits my former Smack-Off nemesis Steve Carbone for blogging about reality TV, and takes a run at the defending champ, some dude named Brad in Corona (that's right people, I have my name etched alongside "Brad in Corona"...recognize, bitches!) Anyway, Rome says "good, good call....good pacing, good smack, good content..." In other words, go ahead with whatever you had planned for 2:00 Central Time, Dan. Rome won't be calling you. GRADE: B

SEGMENT 3
2:20 -- JAY MOHR --
Yes, THAT Jay Mohr.  Professional comedian, JAY MOHR. Truth be told, Jay's call is the funniest one every year, because...well, he's PAID to be funny! This year, he crushes Tony Larussa, Tim Tebow, and Big Ben's haircut: "Could you give me the sexual predator, please?" Takes a run at caller Vinnie Mac -- "Do you have a stutter or is that a beat box?" -- and Vic, who apparently is rather portly: "You could put your hands in your pockets when you're naked." I laughed out loud at least five times during Jay's call, the delivery was flawless, and it will get sixth place because Jay is like Tiger Woods competing in the 1560 "Show Us Your Tents" golf tournament only he has to use Tin Cup's bag with the shovel, baseball bat, and rake instead of clubs. GRADE: A+


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