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

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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.  

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!

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.

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

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+

2:26 JOE IN THE OC --
Joe starts with his go-to move, crushing Rachel in Houston with a body-hair joke, this time about her Derek Fisher-esque beard and then another one about her chest hair. Rachel jokes are to Joe what slapping around women in the bathroom is to Ben Roethlisberger...allegedly. Joe gets in a Vinnie Mac shot on his way out the door. GRADE: B+

Yeah, see the first hour was comfortable to me. I knew all of the callers. I listen to the show maybe ten times a year now so I have no idea who a few of these participants are. Cheryl in Austin is one of them. I would say bad things about Cheryl's call, except Austin is really close to Houston and Cheryl sounds like she could kick my ass, if you know what I mean. Another sign Rome is softening -- he lets Cheryl go over a minute with a brutal song called "Loser's Lament," which would have been more appropriate if it had been more autobiographical in nature. Finally, at the 4:18 mark, Rome puts her out of her misery. ROME: "If you're going to sing it's gotta be an A or an F...it has to be great or has to be horrible"  ME (to myself): "Then why did you kill it, Jim?" GRADE: F-

6:05 -- IAFRATE -- Rome calls him one of the "greatest callers in history of radio." No argument here. He's bidding to become a three-time winner of the event. FIRST SIGN that Iafrate has sizable game, gets a zinger in on the caller Cheryl who just got run ("e-mail me verse 11 of your song"). Any content that was clearly unscripted SHOULD get bonus points. Iafrate gives Brad in Corona the welcome to the Champion's Club, and then obliterates him. Makes fun of Brad's photo on JRIB in 2009 (haircut), crushes the city of Corona, mixes in an AWESOME re-set of old-school Jungle by crushing Vic ("Terrence looks accomplished next to you"), capped off by an invite to late `90's object of ridicule Bobby from Brooklyn to come back in to string Vic up by his junk. Punctuates it with a creative ending ("THE SMACK OFF CLUB") by a guy who had maybe the best ending to Smack-Off call ever in 2004 with the song "Whitey's Dad". GRADE: A

13:02 -- There it is! Jim giving us the first hyping of "this year's Smack-Off shaping up like the best ever." Which would make it sixteen consecutive years that the Smack-Off has been better than all of the previous ones, a truly amazing feat! Rome compares the competitiveness of the field thus far to "a Kentucky Derby with 15 horses all in a line headed for home, like Giacomo in 2005." Coming in 2011, Rome makes analogies between the Smack-Off and the World Cup!

1:22 --
Rome: "The truth is there are years where it hasn't been great, this year is shaping up like the toughest choice...nobody has separated from everybody else....it's that close." Sounds like the BEST SMACK-OFF EVER TO ME!!

2:33 -- LISA IN INDY -- Someone will have to help me here, another new caller. She originally turned down an invite and Rome asked her to come back in or something. Anyway, she called in and reminded us she's engaged roughly ten times in 48 seconds and that her fiance is a clone, and...well that's about it. She made the unprecedented move of thanking her writer and fiance at the end of a call that was going to finish 17th out of 12 callers. Naturally, the kinder, gentler Rome gives her a "Good job, Lisa, I like that." Jim Rome '99 would have crushed her and given us 90 seconds of memorable radio in the process. Actually, Jim Rome '99 never would have invited her in the first place....let's move on.

5:27 -- GREG IN VEGAS -- All right, it's go time. The "best caller to never win a Smack-Off," in my opinion and Rome's (and when Rome says something is the BEST, well....). Greg is also the most masochistic caller in the history of the show, seemingly trying to invent new and better ways each time to get kicked off the show. Needless to say, I'm giddy to see what he has planned. Starts off by saying straight up "Since you're not gonna let me finish the call..." A great sign. Proceeds to crack on SportsNation and the corporate transformation of The Jungle. Yep, pushing the envelope, I like it. Gives a theory on Rome show producers. A Kordell Stewart blast, a John in C-town rohypnol barb (long story). Drops in a "I guess if I still listened" about the show itself. Right now it's like watching Ron Artest go for about 35 points...you just know eventually the technical fouls and subsequent blow-up are coming. AND THERE IT IS... Parkinson's smack on Michael J. Fox and lesbian smack on the WNBA ("this is what you get when you don't let your daughters play with Barbie dolls")  BUZZER DROPS. Doesn't stop me from laughing. JIM: "Sexual orientation [smack is] not gonna play," which feels a bit hypocritical coming from someone who used to call Martina Navratilova "Martin" on his show. Best part of Greg's call, my 10-year-old son Sammy's reaction: "Dad, does Greg like sports talk radio?" GRADE: A-

0:50 --
Not sure if you heard, but this is "most competitive smackoff ever!"

2:00 -- RAY RAY IN TAMPA -- Another new caller who I have no clue about, but if this is what qualifies nowadays, then...wow. Butchers a Ric Flair line, "to be the champ, you gotta beat the champ (sic.)" Follows that with "a leader with nobody to follow him is just a fool out for a long walk, and I'm gonna show you where the ocean is." Chases that nonsense with "The Hack-Off is just like the stimulus version in the jungle." Only thing missing is a "AND BANG GOES THE FIRECRACKER!!" at the end. Bye bye, Ray Ray. GRADE: F-

5:15 -- Rome consoles Ray Ray that getting run, "It's all part of a process." So is taking a dump, just saying.

6:18 -- TERRENCE IN SIERRA MADRE -- Rome, clearly still offended by Greg's callous disregard for lesbians, says that Terrence is actually "the best caller to never win the Smack-Off." Disagree, but I do like Terrence. This one was not one of his better efforts. Still will make the top 10 because...well, he finished (which is really all you have to do to make the top 10), but Terrence was better when he involved his brother in his call every year (late `90's). GRADE: B-

0:36 -- VINNY MAC -
- I was psyched to hear that Vince McMahon was in the Smack-Off, then found out that it was just some caller who won a play-in show called the Hack-Off. (What the hell is going on?) It's where the worst of the worst call in and the tallest midget gets a Smack-Off invite. Yay. GRADE: Whatever.


  I actually had to go back and listen to this segment on podcast because....the LOCAL AFFILIATE (Sports Radio 610) pre-empted the Smack-Off for new Texan Kareem Jackson's introductory press conference. So Texan fans, we know if nothing else, Kareem Jackson can shut down Jim Rome.

Good to see that the local affiliate, whose back Jim apparently has by keeping me out of the Smack-Off, responds in kind by pre-empting his signature show with a bunch of ten-word canned answers from a rookie cornerback. I'm not exaggerating when I say that Rome's following was at such a fever pitch in the late `90's that this would have shut down the switchboard at 610 with angry phone calls. In 2010, I got no emails and just a couple tweets about it. I know 610 management sent e-mails out to the few individuals that e-mailed in angrily saying it was a mistake and wouldn't happen again....Translation: Have you seen the Texans when they're angry?!?!

2:40 -- VIC IN NOCAL -- One of the favorites and a guy who Rome has been hyping for three years now. Basically comes in with zero sports takes and just starts throwing haymakers on everyone -- Cheryl in Austin (good), Terrence, Jay Mohr, Willie in KC, Ray Ratto, Iafrate, J-Stew's acting career, Brad in Corona, Mike in Indy...the perfectly structured Smack-Off call if you're trying to win. Just kill everyone. GRADE: A-

8:10 -- "I'll go on record right now...BEST SMACK OFF EVER." Yawn.

8:44 -- DOC MIKE -- Old school, two-time winner who at one time was considered the best caller ever to the show. He may still be. This was a great call because he just came in and sprayed the defending champ Brad in Corona with bullets. Like Sonny Corleone getting turned into Swiss cheese on the Causeway. "I always thought your name was Brandon Corona"..."You look like the oldest son on Eight is Enough and David Hasselhoff had a love child." Probably too one-dimensional a call to win, but great enough to be in the mix. GRADE: A

15:34 -- Rome asks -- "What is last year's champ gonna do in response to that?" We would find out soon.

1:14 --
Rome goes on the record, "This is the best of the sixteen Smack-Offs." Right on.

1:38 MIKE IN INDY -- I would tell you what Mike in Indy had to say but I was completely distracted by his Paul Lynde voice. Seriously, I couldn't focus at all. I think he said something about Ron Washington and Iafrate and Vinnie Mac and something about Brad in Corona mixing in a sports take (ironic for a call with exactly ZERO sports takes). Punctuated by his saying "I DO DECLARE, I DO DECLARE"....catchphrases are allowed now in the Jungle, too, apparently. GRADE: C+

7:40 -- Rome: "This is the last five Smack-Off's rolled into one and an IMPOSSIBLE choice to make." Cool, give me my three more titles!

1:08 --
About to have the "single most dramatic moment in the history of the radio show...it's up for grabs." Buckle up, people.

2:00 -- Defending champ BRAD IN CORONA -- Starts off with the 2010 Smack Off Drinking game (which I'm told was a bit I'd done before, but I don't remember). Goes after Mike in Indy, Ray Ray in Tampa, Steve Williams, Vic in Nocal calling the Dan Patrick Show (easily the best part of his call). At the end says "time to declare me the back-to-back Smack-Off champion...that time is now" HOLY SHIT! Really, Brad? You just got eviscerated by Doc Mike and not one real crackback on him? Hell, not TWENTY real crackbacks on him? NOTHING? Dude, a former two time champ just CRUSHED you and you don't deviate from script? FAIL.  (still better than Trapper, though, so you'll be like seventh) GRADE: B-

1:09 --
Rome: "Congratulations to everyone who made this the best Smack-Off ever, hands down it's not even close." And wait till next year when it's better than all 45 Super Bowls combined!

2:16 -- TOP 10 recap -- See, I miss the four-hour format from years past. Rome used to spend time breaking down the whole Top 10, Mel Kiper style. Now he barely even explains why guys finished where they did. Here's the top 10....

10. Trapper
9. Dan in DC
8. Brad in Corona
7. Terrence in Sierra Madre
6. Jay Mohr

4:30 -- Rome: "Top 5, toughest call ever...almost a coin flip..." (Damn, Kyle, where's my five-sided coin?!?)

5. Iafrate
4. Joe in the OC
3. Doc Mike

7:15 -- "....{drama}...."

2. Mike in Indy
1. Vic in NoCal

7:45 -- Vic in Nocal -- acceptance speech, where he promises not to be an absentee king. Sorry dude, that green jacket is a little too tempting. No need to call anymore? You won't, trust me. See you next April, Vic.

Only 364 more days...till the next Pretzel Day.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. on the Sean & John Show, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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