Talking Sports with Mike Felger

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COM alum hosts popular show on 98.5 The Sports Hub

Mike Felger, Felger and Massarotti, The Sports Hub, Boston Sports Radio 98.5

Mike Felger (COM’92) began as a Boston Herald intern sophomore year and ended up writing for the paper for 19 years. Photos by Jackie Ricciardi

In a city passionate about sports, there may be no more influential—or controversial—chronicler of Boston’s pro sports scene than Mike Felger, cohost of the popular afternoon sports radio talk show Felger and Massarotti. Each weekday from 2 to 6 p.m. on WBZ FM’s 98.5 The Sports Hub, former Boston Herald writers Felger (COM’92) and Tony Massarotti opine on the Bruins, the Celtics, the Patriots, and yes, the Red Sox, who open at home today against the Milwaukee Brewers at 2:05 p.m.

A self-described “Cheesehead,” Felger grew up in Wisconsin, but fell in love with the Bruins as a kid. Just a year after arriving at BU, he landed an internship at the Herald, where his job ranged from answering phones and transcribing reporters’ interviews to writing horse race results. He would spend 19 years at the paper, advancing to lead reporter, covering the Bruins from 1997 to 1999, and then covering the New England Patriots as a beat columnist from 1999 to 2008, when he left the paper.

Felger has been a staple of local television, as well as radio. He cohosted The Big Show on 93.7 WEEI sports talk radio from 2000 to 2005 and hosted The Mike Felger Show on 890 ESPN Radio for the next three years. He joined the Sports Hub when it launched in 2009. He also is a television host for Comcast SportsNet New England. He is the author of Tales from the Patriots Sideline: A Collection of the Greatest Stories of the Team’s First 40 Years (Sports Publishing, 2004).

BU Today sat down with Felger at his WBZ studio to talk about his lifelong obsession with sports, his career, today’s Red Sox home opener, and how sports coverage has changed over the past 25 years.

BU Today: You grew up in Milwaukee, where fans are obsessed with the Packers. Were you the odd kid who paid attention to national sports?

Felger: As long as I can remember, I was a ridiculous sports fan, but most of it was local, meaning the Wisconsin teams. I would have followed national sports, but as a young kid in the ’70s, there really wasn’t much chance to do it. There was no internet, no cable TV, no ESPN. The extent of my national sports knowledge was whatever I could find in Sports Illustrated. It was a different time, but I devoured whatever I could get my hands on.

The national team I followed the most, oddly enough, was the Bruins. We didn’t have an NHL team in Milwaukee, so you kind of had to pick one. I picked the Bs. We used to drive down to Chicago to see games when Boston came through. We used to get up in the middle of the night and watch them on tape-delayed broadcasts of Hockey Night in Canada. The Bruins thing has sort of always been in my blood.

When you came to BU, the dominant varsity sport was hockey. What impact did that have on your early sportswriting career?

I’ve always been a huge hockey fan and was even a pretty big college hockey fan as a kid. So when I got there, the BU team only fed that. BU was a hockey school, and Boston was a hockey town. I loved that. It was something that I definitely appreciated and followed closely. There were some great players and great teams during my time there. My junior year, for example, our first line was Keith Tkachuk (CAS’96), Shawn McEachern (SMG’92), and Tony Amonte (CAS’93). Pretty good.

You started at the Herald as an intern sophomore year. How different was sports coverage back then?

Massively different. Again, this was preinternet. So there was no blogging, no tweeting, and no posting online. Back then, you got a story at 3 in the afternoon, and your readers didn’t find out about it until the paper came out the next morning. Also, covering local teams was far more adversarial back then. Now it feels like beat reporters work in step with the teams. Back then, the mind-set felt far more critical.

Mike Felger, Felger and Massarotti, The Sports Hub, Boston Sports Radio 98.5

Felger is now cohost of the successful sports talk radio show Felger and Massarotti, which was recently named the sixth highest rated sports talk show by Talkers magazine.

How did you make the transition from Herald intern to Bruins beat reporter?

The old-fashioned way: by working hard and grinding it out. The first day of sophomore year in 1989 I was in a journalism class and the professor, Norman Moyes, went around the room asking us what we wanted to do in journalism. When he got to me, I said, “Sportswriter, sportscaster, something like that.” He walked over to my desk and wrote down a number and told me to call it, telling me it was the number for the Herald high school sports desk. He said they had internships and that I should mention his name. I called that afternoon, and a few days later went down for an interview. I got the internship, started work the next week, and ended up working there for 19 years.

I went from answering phones to typing in box scores and horse racing results to covering high school then college games to covering the Boston Revolution, the Bruins, the Patriots. The progression from answering phones as an intern to covering my first beat full-time took about eight years.

You’ve covered it all when it comes to pro sports in Boston. What was your favorite experience?

When I started covering the Patriots in 1999, it was head coach Pete Carroll’s last year. Covering the transition from Carroll to Bill Belichick (Hon.’04) and the ascendance of Tom Brady was pretty interesting. Not sure anything could beat that. I was in the locker room just about every day from 1999 to 2007, and I’d have to say that was an inspiring team and an inspiring time.

The team I enjoyed covering the most, however, was the Bruins. I really respect the culture of that sport and enjoy being around it. The Patriots locker room, by contrast, was not a comfortable place. But maybe that was just me. I wasn’t the most popular guy in there.

Speaking as a talk radio host now, what’s the biggest difference between broadcast journalism and beat reporting?

As a beat guy, you have to cater to sources, couch what you say carefully, and often play politics with the people you cover. That’s all out the window in talk radio, or at least that’s how I approach it. As a beat guy, you have to try and keep certain people happy. Now I just pretty much let it rip. It’s much more fun.

Did you ever think growing up that you would get to shoot the breeze with retired pro athletes for a living?

That’s not what strikes me. What strikes me are these former athletes who couldn’t stand me back when I was stirring up crap for the newspaper—they want to get into the media now, and suddenly they don’t think I’m so bad. These guys wouldn’t take a leak on me if I were on fire back in the day. Now it’s, “What’s up, Felgy?”

After living in Boston for more than two decades, do you feel allegiance to any New England sports teams?

I definitely have an allegiance to the Patriots, and I genuinely like the Red Sox. And for business purposes, I want all the local teams to contend for championships, including the Celtics. But in terms of being a “fan,” the only local team I really get emotional about is the Bruins. If I’m going to lose sleep for any team around here, or anywhere for that matter, that’s the one.

With opening day at Fenway here, what do you expect from the team and from the fans this season in light of last year’s World Series win?

I think the Red Sox will have a tougher go at it this year, which is obvious, because they led wire-to-wire last year and won a championship. I’m sure they’ll contend, but we shouldn’t expect too much.

The atmosphere on opening day will be big, but if you’re asking if it’s going to be like it used to be from 2003 to 2009, it’s never going to be like that again. That was a unique time and a unique team that won a World Series for the first time in almost a century, and the city’s love affair with the Sox at that time was something we may never see again.

Can you imagine doing anything other than sports journalism for a living?

I can’t see myself doing anything other than sports media, and if I never work for another company than the Sports Hub or Comcast SportsNet, I’d be a happy man. Hopefully I’ve got a long way to go.

The Red Sox play the 2014 home opener at 2:05 p.m. today, Friday, April 4, against the Miwaukee Brewers. Purchase tickets here.

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