CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The University of Charleston is holding a symposium on football, specifically the NFL, and some of the health risks involved.Sounds deep, right?It is. But one of the scheduled speakers, ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth, is able to quickly break down some of that.For instance, as you probably know, Peyton Manning is playing with the Denver Broncos despite multiple neck injuries. Would Schlereth?"Absolutely," he said in a phone interview. "That's what I did. I've had 29 surgeries. I'm that stupid. Football players play football. You've got to be half nuts to do that anyway."Schlereth, though, is anything but stupid. That's why he and fellow ESPN analyst Merril Hoge have been invited to UC's Speaker Series on Jan. 21. (There will be an autograph signing from 4:30-6 p.m. at Riggleman Hall and the symposium at the Geary Auditorium from 6:30-8 p.m. Admission is free.) That's also why Schlereth is one of the most respected NFL analysts on "NFL Live," "Sportscenter" and his national "Sedano & Stink" radio show. (His nickname of "Stink" traces back to growing up in Alaska, where he tells the story of his sister cutting heads off "stinkhead" fish, considered a delicacy.) He won three Super Bowl rings and was an All-Pro offensive guard with the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos.Just don't ask him about Charleston's contaminated water situation."I'm always so knee deep in football and watching film, the sky could be falling and I'd never know," he said.Football, though, he knows. Ditto television.Let's start with this weekend's NFL playoff games. And the NFC championship."I think San Francisco is probably playing better now than Seattle," Schlereth said. "[The 49ers' offense is] clicking better. Seattle is home, but that will be my upset pick.
"To beat Seattle in Seattle you have to have a big, physical team to counter the crowd noise. I think [the 49ers] have that. [Seahawks quarterback] Russell Wilson has been average lately. I just think San Francisco has the formula to beat Seattle: a throwback, old-school football team."He doesn't have the same conviction with his AFC pick."It'll be interesting," Schlereth said. "You have two of the greatest quarterbacks ever [Manning and Tom Brady]. New England has a power running game. [New England coach] Bill Belichick always finds a way to shut down your most lethal weapon."The question is, how does the Bronco defense play? In the second half [against San Diego], it was exposed when [cornerback] Chris Harris was hurt and Quentin Jammer came in. If the Bronco defense shows up and controls the line of scrimmage, I think they'll score enough points and win. If they can't, New England can win."
Which college player should be the next No. 1 NFL draft pick?"Nobody," Schlereth said. "I'm not a college football guy right now. Come April I'll start breaking down film on that. But from the outside looking in, there are none I'd spend a lot of money on."
Much money, however, is spent on Schlereth and the talent surrounding him at ESPN."When I retired from football, I planned on taking a couple years off," Schlereth said. "After a couple days, my wife said if I didn't get another job we were going to get a divorce."Well, I'd done a segment on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on playing through injuries. Afterward, Bryant asked Jim Lampley, who did the piece, 'What's next for Mark?' He said I was intelligent and articulate. Agents started calling. I hired one and a couple weeks later, I did an audition for ESPN. This is my 13th season broadcasting."Then we got down to it: What, exactly, is it like working at ESPN? "Sportscenter" fanatics have to know.
"We have a great crew of people who take great pride in what they put on television and on the radio," Schlereth said. "Being around the people is a lot like being in an NFL locker room, except not as politically incorrect. NFL locker rooms are the most politically incorrect places you'll find."Anyway, it's a lot like our commercials, as goofy as those spoofs are. I'll be walking down the hall and I'm not awed a lot, but sometimes you'll say, 'Oh my God, look who's here.' "As for those regularly in the ESPN complex, Schlereth said there's no doubt which personality is king."Without question it's Chris Berman," Schlereth said. "He's larger than life. When I travel, people will come up and ask me about their teams, etc. When I travel with him, in the same airport, I'm invisible."Yet he's one of the most gracious, accommodating people you'll ever meet. He has great compassion and treats his fan base very well."Schlereth estimates he's on ESPN around 110 days a year, appearing on anywhere from one to seven shows a day. His radio show, which is preempted by live events like college basketball, runs around 175 to 200 days a year.This coming Tuesday, though, Schlereth and Hoge will visit the Capital City."I get to talk about the game I love and hang with Merril," Schlereth said. "That's a winner. I said, 'Where do I sign up?' "Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.