Bob Papa talks memories of Giants greats, career, coach he ‘rooted so hard for’

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Giants radio voice Bob Papa makes the call to do some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: What do you think of Eli Manning, television persona?

A: There was more to Eli than the Eli Manning faces during a game, or the Eli Manning press conferences or media briefings. In and around the facility we all knew on a day-to-day basis about his practical jokes and stuff like that. I wasn’t that surprised that he had that funny side in him. I’ve done a lot of appearances with Eli over the years, and speaking engagements and stuff, and he is very sharp with the needle. To me, Derek Jeter and Eli Manning are the best stars in New York that perfected handling the media in the perfect way — they never turned down interviews, they knew what their daily responsibilities were after games, during the week or whatever, and they could probably fill up your notebook and my microphone and never really say anything. And I would always say any young player coming to New York should just watch Jeter and Eli Manning press conferences.

Q: Do you believe he’s a Hall of Famer?

A: I do believe he’s a Hall of Famer. Durability counts. He never missed a game due to injury. He had some fantastic seasons throwing … he carried the team in 2011 … his 2015 numbers were phenomenal … but more importantly, he won the big games in the big spots. He played the game to win. There are a lot of quarterbacks, as Phil Simms told me once, that play the game in this modern era with the quarterback rating clicking in their head. And Eli Manning didn’t care.

Q: Favorite memories: Wellington Mara.

A: When I was a student at Fordham, he would come to Fordham basketball games at Rose Hill, and always come on the halftime show of a Fordham men’s basketball game, because he knew how important it was to us as students to have someone like Wellington Mara on at halftime.

I think it was 1991 or ’92, and I was doing the Giants postgame show, the “Giants Point After” on WNEW, and the Giants were going through a rough season, and I knew that everybody was listening to the show and the reaction and the call-in, and I was pretty rough on the team, because it was one of those just bad performances.

And I remember going into the locker room on Monday and Mr. Mara was always in the locker room. And I remember he was leaning against the wall kind of by where the players would go to the training room area where the media couldn’t go.

I remember him saying, “Bob, can I talk to you for a second?” And he reminded me that I was pretty rough on the ball club yesterday. He goes, “You know, you had a lot of things to say about the ballclub. But you didn’t get personal, and our fans know bad football, and as long as you keep coming around and doing your job, and never get personal about players, our fans don’t want to be lied to.”

The Giants have always maintained this level of be critical, be fair, never get personal, and as long as you show your face and you do your work, call it like you see it.

Giants
Wellington Mara
Getty Images

Q: Bill Parcells.

A: Didn’t talk to me for a couple of years. I remember I would, like, ask a question during one of his media sessions in that old workroom in Giants Stadium or in training camp, and never would look at me or anything, and then one day like in the summer of ’90 I asked a question during one of his media things, and he actually answered my question and he looked at me and referred to me by name. I was like [chuckle], “OK. I do exist.” And then having to get to know him away from football after he left the Giants, certainly a guy that you can learn a lot from, and sometimes you don’t understand the lesson until well after the fact.

Q: Why didn’t he acknowledge you at first?

A: ’Cause I think that’s Parcells testing you.

Q: Tom Coughlin.

A: We’d do these TV shows with him — OK, Coach is coming down at 2:30 … be ready. So everybody’s ready at 2:30. And of course he would show up at 2:25. And then the next week it would be 2:20. Then the next week it would be 2:15. And he was just testing everybody. And he was I think playing with us a little bit. But sitting in his office every Friday just me and him one-on-one recording the radio pregame show, and seeing the kindness. My kids sometimes would come with me on a Friday or a Saturday and he’d invite them to sit in the office and we did the pregame show. It’s the nature of his heart, I think probably one of the most misunderstood coaches that rolled through New York, I think people are finally starting to understand really the quality of the man. I’d run through a wall for Coach Coughlin even today.

Q: Bill Belichick.

A: Back then, the assistant coaches were free to talk, and they were easily accessible. Belichick would be in that rubber top with the stationary bike wheeling it through the locker room with a sandwich in his hand, and people could stop him and ask him some questions about what’s going on with the defense or the upcoming opponent. When I started doing “Thursday Night Football” on NFL Network and we had the Patriots, he couldn’t have been more accompanying.

Q: George Young.

A: Very difficult nut to crack. He certainly had his favorites over the years.

Giants
Bob Papa
AP

Q: Lawrence Taylor.

A: LT would treat my father like gold if my father was in LT’s when we were doing a pregame show thing or something like that. When you were around football, Lawrence was Lawrence, but away from football he could be fun. LT’s had a VIP area upstairs, and there was some big pay-per-view fight, and Lawrence was insistent that my father get through the velvet ropes and my father would be afforded the VIP treatment to watch the pay-per-view in the upstairs room. No rhyme or reason to it now (chuckle).

Q: Ray Handley.

A: I had to do the “Coach’s Show” from Gallagher’s Steakhouse with Ray Handley for his two years as head coach.

Q: What was that like?

A: Not much fun. … That first minicamp when they got their [Super Bowl XXV] rings and it was the first time any of us were around, [a PR man] asked me to go to his office: “Coach wants to see ya.” And he immediately sat me down, he goes, “You know, I listen to your postgame show, and you can be pretty darn negative. I’m not gonna really stand for that, there’s no place. …” I said, “But coach, we’re coming off a Super Bowl win, you guys were 10-0 to start last season … how negative did you think I was?”

Q: Phil Simms.

A: I didn’t have a ton of interaction with him until Dan Reeves became the head coach. Phil was great to be around, learned a lot from him, and obviously with the same agent, 16W Marketing, we’ve gotten very close over the years. I think Phil Simms is a perfect example of one of those guys that fans don’t realize how good they have it until the guy’s not there anymore.

Q: Dan Reeves.

A: Of all the coaches — whether it’s the Giants coaches, Chuck Daly when I was with the Nets, Bill Fitch when I was with the Nets, [John] Calipari and any other head coach that I had to work with on a regular basis — there’s no greater gentleman than Dan Reeves. I never rooted so hard for a team than I rooted for the Falcons when Dan took ’em to the Super Bowl, and remains a lifelong friend till this day.

Giants
Dan Reeves
N.Y. Post Charles Wenzelberg

Q: Jim Fassel.

A: He was a lot of fun to be around. His record speaks for itself. To me it’s a crying shame, when you look at coaches around the National Football League that have gotten second and third swings, and Jim Fassel could never get a second shot at being a head coach in the NFL. … That’s ridiculous.

Q: Michael Strahan.

A: I watched him from when he was this wide-eyed kid, was surrounded by Keith Hamilton and Lawrence Taylor, through his evolution as a player, and then becoming a leader. All Michael did was become arguably one of the best two-way defensive ends in football history. I’m so happy for him that he came back for that last season to win the Super Bowl.

Q: And whoever thought he’d become an entertainment icon?

A: He’s the modern-day Frank Gifford, right? He’s the modern-day former athlete that everybody in America knows who they are. And he’s taken it and run with it on such a high level.

Q: Harry Carson.

A: Strong principled. … You could see how he could be an intimidating force, not only across the line of scrimmage but within his own locker room. … A natural leader, and somebody that was as tough as nails and you couldn’t mess with him.

Q: Carl Banks.

A: When you get voted to an All-Decade team, he’s on the second-team linebackers, to me that means you’re a Hall of Famer. [Mark] Bavaro says the reason he was such a good player was because he practiced against Carl Banks every day.

Q: Why is he a good partner in the booth?

A: I try to work really hard at what I’m doing, and I know for a fact that Carl’s putting in just as much work if not more every week preparing for the game. So if you have that kind of respect with somebody, it makes it real easy.

Q: Ernie Accorsi.

A: (Laugh) Ernie had a long memory, man. If you got on the wrong side of Ernie, he never forgot. But thank God I never got in on the wrong side of Ernie. Great historian, incredible storyteller. I loved listening to him tell the [Johnny] Unitas stories and all the behind-the-scenes stories of the NFL and his experiences. … A guy that stuck to his convictions. He’s a great general manager that probably, outside of the Giant world, outside of the Giant fan base, on a more national level, probably does not get the credit he deserves.

Q: Bob Tisch.

A: What a gentleman. I loved picking his brain over the years about the whole business side of things. He was a fan, he bought half the team, but he didn’t make believe that he knew more than he knew.

Q: What are the top three memorable Giants moments that you worked?

A: Super Bowl XLII, obviously, what can you say? … I’ll never forget the 2000 NFC Championship game [vs. the Vikings] … probably the greatest game the Giants ever played in Giants Stadium. … the ’07 NFC Championship game in Green Bay, I remember having like nine layers on outside. And then coming into the booth and I remember going to get a cup of tea and taking a few of the layers off. Put the tea down on the window sill, went back into the press box area, and when I came out a few minutes later, there was ice forming in my Bigelow tea cup. … The plane ride back from Dallas after beating the Cowboys the week before that — that might have been the most fun plane ride I’ve ever seen a team have, with Strahan in the back of the plane holding court with the equipment guys and trainers and support staff and broadcast people and players that were wandering back there, as satisfying a win as I can ever remember seeing a team have.

Q: Was the David Tyree catch your favorite call?

A: I don’t know … from like technical standpoint, I think the Odell [Beckham Jr.] catch against the Cowboys [in 2014], that’s one of my proudest calls, ’cause I think I nailed everything in the call, including him scoring the touchdown as it happened. … The [Jason] Sehorn interception against the Eagles [in the 2000 wild-card game]. … I don’t really rate the calls themselves. … A lot of times I get heat on the fact that we were broadcasting from a corner of the end zone, so the play was going away from us, and on the snap of the ball as I’m watching the receivers darting down the field, I’m looking at Eli but I can also see what’s happening downfield just because of the angle, it’s all in my sight line … and friggin’ Tyree is like racing down the middle of the field, so in my head I’m like, “Tyree is wide open!” But I didn’t say it, and then when Manning gets spun around and he sees it, I said, “Wide open.” He was wide open, he just wasn’t wide open at that moment. But [offensive coordinator] Kevin Gilbride, when he went back and looked at the coach’s tape, he did say I was right.

Q: What are the top memories or moments you’ve covered outside of football?

A: My first Olympics was ’92 calling Oscar de la Hoya winning the gold medal. … Calling Masters on Westwood One radio when Phil Mickelson won his first green jacket [in 2004]. … When the United States four-man bobsled team won the gold in Vancouver [in 2010], it was the first gold medal for the United States men’s bobsled in 50 years. … The Nets playoff run in ’97. … the [Evander] Holyfield-[Buster] Douglas pay-per-view working with the “Fight Doctor” [Ferdie Pacheco]. … There’s been a lot of cool moments for sure.

Q: Who are your biggest influences?

A: I grew up pre-cable television, so you actually listened to games on the radio, and my family were big music fans so it was always on WNEW-AM — which was the voice of the Giants, the Knicks and the Rangers. So I grew up listening to Marty Glickman and Marv Albert on the radio because games were blacked out, or you couldn’t see ’em on TV. Knicks and Ranger games on the road were the only time you saw ’em on TV, and the same thing for the Giants at certain points. So they became sort of the soundtrack of my life. Marty Glickman was the most important mentor, but I guess listening to Marv Albert call games on the radio was probably the greatest influence for me. Just like Marty before him, he made you feel like you were watching the game on TV, they were so descriptive and so pinpoint in describing the court, the ice, the excitement, the football field and the geography of the field that it was almost like you didn’t need a TV, they were that good. It almost created a little bit of a fantasy in your head of what it looked like.

Q: Who have been announcers and broadcasters over the years you’ve admired?

A: The late Bob Wolff because he was also someone who served as a great mentor to me. The late Jim Karvellas was another one, and Spencer Ross. Nobody called a game on network television in the NFL better than Al Michaels, and he’s done it over a sustained period of time. And I’ve been a huge fan of Bob Costas. In all those Olympics and everything else, Costas made it look seamless, like he was just talking to you.

Q: How would you characterize your style?

A: I hope my style will come across as objective and fair. I know Giants fans can get mad at me sometimes for getting overly excited for a big play by the other team. Marty Glickman always said to me, “No matter what sport you’re calling, an exciting play is an exciting play, and you have to translate that to your listener. Then you can put in the context of how it affects the team that most of your listeners may be rooting for.”

Q: If you could go back in time and work any sporting event in history, what would it be?

A: Definitely the 1958 NFL Championship game between the Giants and Colts. … I would have loved to have been behind the microphone when Chris Chambliss hit the home run in 1976 against the Royals, because growing up with my entire family from The Bronx, I had heard about all these great Yankee teams and all these great Giant teams, well my youth was spent with nothing but losses … just such a cool moment watching it on television as a kid with my dad. … I would love to have called the Giants’ first Super Bowl win [in 1987] — 30 years since the Giants sniffed a championship — then again, am I being too greedy? I got Super Bowl XLII, and I got Super Bowl XLVI, so I’m not complaining.

Radio
Bob Papa
MSG

Q: How did a WFAN executive telling you that you might want to think about a job in a different field motivate you?

A: It created a work ethic in me that I was not gonna allow myself to be denied, ’cause I felt I had it in me to do what I was gonna do, and I wasn’t gonna let one man define me. I remember the interview lasted maybe six minutes.

Q: What were your immediate emotions walking out?

A: I was a little stunned, quite honestly, because having come out of Fordham and done all those events on WFUV and work in the Garden and covering all these things, my career appeared to be fast-tracking. … I didn’t let it shake me that much. Although it hit me like a ton of bricks, I just remember it’s like, “It’s just one guy’s opinion. I don’t even know who this guy is.”

Q: You called your father immediately afterwards?

A: Right across the street from the old FAN studios I found a pay phone, I pumped in as many quarters as I had in my pocket ’cause he wanted to hear how the interview went. I told him what happened, and I’ll never forget what he said: My dad’s like, “Well, what are you gonna do about it?” He didn’t want a sob story.

Q: Boyhood idols?

A: Walt Frazier and Bobby Murcer.

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: Frank Sinatra, Babe Ruth, Arnold Palmer.

Q: Favorite movies”

A: “Godfather” I and II, III doesn’t count.

Q: Favorite actors?

A: Denzel Washington and Al Pacino.

Q: Favorite entertainer?

A: Billy Joel.

Q: Favorite meal?

A: Pizza.

Q: The Giants haven’t won a playoff game since Super Bowl XLVI. What’s that been like for you?

A: It hasn’t been easy. Because I feel for the fans, right? But for me, it’s about doing the job and doing the job properly, and doing the job thoroughly and being prepared. Things do turn around. Listen, first game I ever called was 1995, the Giants got steamed by the Dallas Cowboys in my Giants play-by-play debut at Giants Stadium, 35-zip. I had to call some bad seasons. We got spoiled with Coach Coughlin, but still gotta do your job, man. You can’t get swept up in it, that’s for the fans to get swept up in.

Q: The 2021 Giants?

A: I’m cautiously optimistic, quite honestly. As Carl Banks said, they gotta learn how to stop losing before they can start winning. … I believe Daniel Jones is gonna be a very good quarterback, and I’m not alone in that thought process, but he’s gotta be more consistent. And I like Joe Judge. I’m not putting him in Coughlin’s class, but there is a whole other side to him that he chooses not to reveal, but I think he gets it.

Q: So you think Joe Judge is the right coach and Daniel Jones is the right quarterback for the Giants?

A: Yeah, I know it’s not gonna be well received by a ton of Giants fans ’cause they’re ready for change already. Daniel Jones’ rookie season was better than Eli Manning’s rookie season, with a far less team. Eli Manning’s second- and third- and fourth-year teams are a lot better from an offensive line standpoint, a running back health standpoint, pass rusher standpoint than anything that Daniel Jones has played with. I would not throw him to the curb just yet. … I believe he’s gonna be good.

Q: How does the career you’ve had, working virtually every sport imaginable, compare to the career you imagined?

A: Pretty damn good. … I think we all see our career going one way and it doesn’t always necessarily turn out completely, but I always wanted to be the Voice of the New York Football Giants.



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