James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales insist in the intro to this oral history that ”it would take a dozen or more weighty volumes to provide an all-encompassing account of ESPN.” Those Guys Have All the Fun is just a single volume, but it’s hard to fathom what they left out. At 745 pages, it’s a mammoth chronicle of a niche channel that, as Fox Sports chairman David Hill points out, something like 299 million Americans ”don’t give a rat’s ass about.” The book is hotly anticipated among SportsCenter obsessives, who’ve been panting over the prospect of clashing big shots, fratboy antics, and anti?Keith Olbermann venom. Miller and Shales deliver all that, along with a whole lot more — probably too much more if you’re not a drooling ESPN junkie.
Compiled from more than 550 interviews, Those Guys traces ESPN from its birth as an underdog to its current status as a money-printing behemoth. Some of the best sections deal with the early days of cable, when the network invented itself through savvy business decisions and slow-pitch-softball coverage. But it’s the big libidos and bigger egos that will get the most attention. The book is packed with entertaining stories of unpleasant people and awful behavior: booze-fueled boorishness, absurdly arrogant execs, and the endlessly fascinating Olbermann, whom ex?SportsCenter anchor Charley Steiner describes as ”intellectually…a genius and socially…a special-needs student.”
Miller and Shales offer compelling behind-the-scenes tales of many major sports moments, including the Rush Limbaugh?Donovan McNabb flap and ESPN’s takeover of Monday Night Football. Those Guys is padded with too many historical footnotes and dull anecdotes (wow, Peyton Manning remembers Chris Berman sitting in with Hootie & the Blowfish?). But for anyone who does give a rat’s ass about Chris Berman, Dan Patrick, Tony Kornheiser, et al., it provides an impressive account of the network’s embarrassments and victories. B+