Rush Limbaugh And His Brief NFL Countdown Stint
On Wednesday iconic talk show host Rush Limbaugh assumed room temperature. For those of you in Rio Linda, California, Limbaugh died at age 70 after a year-long battle with Stage IV lung cancer.
In addition to numerous deejay gigs early on, Limbaugh also worked in sales and marketing for the Kansas City Royals. On his EIB show, Limbaugh once had Green Bay Packers tight end Mark Chmura on as a guest after he famously declined an invitation to join his teammates at Bill Clinton's White House. Chmura's own legacy dimmed after he was accused (later acquitted) of charges involving a 17-year old babysitter in 2000. Many remember Limbaugh's short-lived tenure on ESPN's NFL Countdown show in 2003, definitely different times for the outfit who by that time had already billed itself as the 'worldwide leader in sports'. In what should had been a surprise to no one, it did not take long for Limbaugh's political views to overtake the program. In his Week 1 debut, Limbaugh spoke out against the Rooney Rule, newly established by the NFL to require franchises to interview minority head coaching candidates. In the years since the Rooney Rule has been expanded and is now an annual lightning rod for the media. It was the Week 4 broadcast telecast that led to Limbaugh's ESPN demise. The topic was whether the abilities of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb had regressed.
"I don't think he has been that good from the get-go," Limbaugh said. "What we have here is a little social concern. The media has been very desirous that a Black quarterback do well. I think there is a little hope invested in McNabb, he got a lot of credit for the performance of his team that he really did not deserve." Analysts Tom Jackson, Steve Young and Michael Irvin interjected and Limbaugh's take was debated - an opinion not different than many Limbaugh consistently made during his radio show. McNabb led the Eagles to a 23-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills that day. The team finished the season making the third of four consecutive NFC Championship Game appearances and McNabb earned his fourth of five consecutive Pro Bowl invitations. As was the case in the early internet/pre-social media era, the blowback from media outlets came out 24-48 hours later. Limbaugh initially received a vote of confidence from ESPN Vice President Mark Shapiro, who noted that the idea behind Limbaugh's addition was to bring 'no-holds barred opinion'. However Jackson expressed displeasure and said he would no longer share the set with the talk radio firebrand, hours later ESPN parted ways with Limbaugh. All parties moved on happily ever after. Limbaugh earned more than a billion dollars from his day job, his eventual $85 million annual salary far exceeding the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Lebron James.
Like him or not, Rush Limbaugh got paid. But even in 2003 he was an awkward fit for ESPN.