“Once you saw how the season was going to unfold, you knew it wasn’t going to be,” said Michael Barkann.
This was supposed to be the week Michael Barkann once thought he’d be spending in San Francisco, taking both the Mike and Ike Show and Philly Sports Talk out West with him to prepare for the Eagles’ appearance in Super Bowl 50.
Such was the hype last summer when Chip Kelly’s team looked like a juggernaut. Sam Bradford was the real deal at quarterback. DeMarco Murray would make everybody forget LeSean McCoy. And the defense, with a revamped secondary and versatile linebacker Kiko Alonso — acquired in the McCoy deal — couldn’t help but be improved.
They couldn’t miss back in July and August. Only one thing stood in their way: reality.
“Once you saw how the season was going to unfold, you knew it wasn’t going to be,” said Barkann, sitting down to talk with the Jewish Exponent in the Comcast SportsNet (CSN) offices inside the Wells Fargo Center. Some 20 minutes earlier, he’d been on the radio, finishing up his daily four-hour WIP show with sidekick Ike Reese, the former Eagle linebacker and special teams standout. In less than three hours, he would be clad in suit and tie for his role as host of Philly Sports Talk, an hourlong panel show on CSN, where he reviews the day’s events with both local and national media types and sports celebrities.
But at least he’s “off” on this particular night, since CSN isn’t carrying either a Flyers or Sixers game. That means he doesn’t have to do the pre-game show, then a halftime segment, followed by Postgame Live, the network’s wrap-up show. At least there’s a chance on this night he’ll get his preferred seven hours of sleep, before having to go back and do it all over again the next day.
Not that he’s complaining. “All the time, I just feel fortunate,” said the 55-year-old Barkann, who lists, among his many duties, acting as emcee for the annual Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, where he was enshrined in 2010. “I think about all the occupations in the world and what some people do to earn a living. It’s not easy being on a construction crew or some job like that. My dad was in auto advertising. My mom was a buyer for Macy’s.
“I just feel very blessed.”
Getting back to the Eagles, just what went wrong? And why were we all so gullible? “We were blinded by the pre-season and some of the moves they made,” said Barkann, in-season host of CSN’s Eagles Pregame and Post-game Live, featuring former standout running back Brian Westbrook, Hall of Fame writer Ray Didinger and former mayor of Philadelphia/governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell. “They seemed so outlandish at the time, you figure they’ve got to work or why would they do it?
“Once the season started, you could see with your eyes they weren’t going anywhere. That’s why Chip was so vilified. When it went bad, it was like that children’s story. The emperor had no clothes.”
Since returning to Philly — where he started off with KYW television more than 30 years ago — Barkann has covered the various local pro and college teams. It’s kind of ironic he’d wind up here, though, considering he grew up in the heart of Giants territory in East Brunswick, Middlesex County, N.J.
“I really liked Philly teams even though I grew up in New Jersey,” said Barkann, who worked for Pat’s Pizza in Harvey Cedars and made donuts at the Donut Den in East Brunswick before heading off to study broadcast journalism at Syracuse University. “In my late teens, the Phillies, Flyers, Eagles and Sixers all came to prominence.”
After graduating from Syracuse, followed by short stints in Washington and Trenton, Barkann landed at KYW, where his personal highlight remains covering the 1987 Flyers-Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup Final featuring Wayne Gretzky.
But when his contract wasn’t renewed, it was off to Boston, where he spent five years, before taking a gamble on a fledgling CSN. By now he was married and had a daughter, Emily, who’s now 19. (Son Matthew — who was born here — is 15.)
It was also during that span Barkann started doing some extra work as a sidelines and features reporter for USA Network at the US Open, a gig that would last 18 years. Plus, he had the opportunity to cover the Winter Olympics, which meant trips to Albertville, France, Lillehammer, Norway and Nagano, Japan.
“Covering the US Open is like a mini-Olympics,” he said. “But I had two kids. When you’re traveling, you don’t get to see them much. It was important that I was around for them growing up.”
That’s one of many Jewish values that matter to Barkann and his wife, Ellen, who started the Barkann Family Healing Hearts Foundation in 2013. “It’s for people who’ve suffered a sudden loss of life or life trauma,” explained Barkann, who lives in Newtown Square. “We were concerned when they had fundraisers for the 9/11 victims in New York and they weren’t the ones getting the money. We want to see the faces of the people and know who’s getting it.”
There are several events connected with the foundation, most recently a Designer Handbag Bingo and Tailgate Party last weekend, with their annual golf tournament June 26 at White Manor Country Club. They’ll do the Mike and Ike Show on the premises that day, which is just fine with his partner.
“I joke with him about me being part Jewish,” said Reese, who never fully appreciated Barkann’s drive and commitment until they began working together in 2011. “He certainly is proud of his heritage, but doesn’t talk about on the air.
“Whenever I can go out and support him, I do. He has things he doesn’t want to bother me with, but I tell him I want to be part of it. He’s not abusing our friendship. It amazes me every day he has energy to do what he does. I’ve gained an appreciation for how hard he works and how many things he has going which can stretch anybody. But it’s never shortchanged whatever he’s doing.”
That doesn’t stop his biggest fan — his mother, Carol — from voicing her concern. “She would always tell me when I was in school, ‘You should be doing more,’ ” recalled Barkann, a four-sport athlete at East Brunswick High School, who later ran cross country at Syracuse. “Now,” he adds, her advice is “typical Jewish mother: ‘Honey, you’re doing too much. Slow down. It’s not worth it.’
“But I feel I have the energy of someone in his 20s. While sports is our lifeblood here, it’s still sports. It enables us to escape. To be there to provide any kind of entertainment, I feel very fortunate. And Judaism is an important part of who I am. Being visible, like any nationality or ethnic group, you know who is in your group. The other thing is being able to give back with the charity.”
Michael Barkann does all that and more—making it sometimes seem like 24 hours in a day just aren’t enough. No, the Eagles didn’t soar this season and now Mike and Ike spend their days discussing whether Doug Pederson can do what Buddy Ryan, Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes, Andy Reid and Chip Kelly couldn’t.
Get them to Houston , site of Super Bowl 51.