After a string of former Northwestern football players on consecutive Purple Mafia Profiles, today we transition to what promises to be an impressive string of sports media heavy-hitters for Fridays to come. Today’s guest is Dave Revsine. Dave likely needs no introduction if you’re an NU fan, or a college football fan in general. Hell, you barely need to be a sports fan to know Mr. Revsine as he spent a decade at ESPN as SportsCenter anchor, OTL reporter and was the voice of ESPN Radio College Gameday among a laundry list of other duties. Dave, as you know, is the face of the Big Ten Network and the lead anchor on Big Ten Tonight, the signature show for the network which has yet to even hit its first birthday, but is a Northwestern football fan’s dream. If you really want to deep-dive into his bio and learn about his circuitous route to sports television fame, click here to get the full story.
Revsine is a born and bred Chicagoan having grown up within earshot of Evanston in Northbrook, Illinois. A 1987 graduate of Glenbrook North High School, Dave is thrilled to be back home where he may arguably have the best non-coaching job of any alum who is a Northwestern football fan. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Dave on a few occasions and his reputation precedes him. Despite what his old fraternity brothers may say, he is the consummate pro and the kind of guy you pray sits near you in your season ticket seats as he is a walking Northwestern sports encyclopedia without the pretentious factor. To his credit and despite my best efforts, Dave is as objective as one can be when talking about the Cats on television. Today, however, we get a chance to take the mic off, walk him off the set and get his Purple Mafia filter. Away we go…
LTP: This Saturday (May 31) marks the one year anniversary of the announcement of your official hire as the lead anchor for the Big Ten Network. How has the experience of jumping from ESPN to an “all NU all the time” environment lived up to (or not) what you anticipated?
Dave: I’m not sure I really knew what to expect, but I have to say that, great as my almost 11 years at ESPN were (and they truly were great), this job has been even better. First off, I’m a college sports guy, so the ability to devote my attention every day to college football and basketball has been a dream come true. Not that I didn’t enjoy voicing over IRL, WNBA and Arena Football highlights on SportsCenter (who wouldn’t?), but this is truly right in my wheelhouse. Plus, it’s not just college sports – it’s the Big Ten. It’s the conference I grew up following and the conference I care most deeply about. Couldn’t be better.
One thing that’s really been great has been the opportunity to truly get to know the programs I follow. One of the tough things for me about being at ESPN was, although I covered college football throughout the fall, I really had only minimal contact with coaches and players. In this job, I’ve spent a lot of time around every team in the conference — for instance, we went to every campus for a day of pre-season practice last year. And we’ll do it again this year. It’s such an advantage when you’re talking about, say, a position battle, and you’ve actually seen both players up close and spoken to the coaches about what they think. Really makes a difference.
As for the actual on-air product, I think I had some trepidation that it might not go all that smoothly in year one. I was part of the launch of ESPNews, and we had some, shall we say, painful moments in the early stages. I’m really proud to say that moments like that have been few and far between here. I think our product looks great, and I’m truly proud of the work we’ve done. Obviously, the distribution issue has been an unanticipated headache. But that seems to be on the verge of resolution.
LTP: At ESPN you were also responsible for being acutely aware of Big Ten action as part of your SportsCenter and College Gameday (radio) experiences. Tell me how you managed to get your fill of Purple football while at The Worldwide Leader.
Dave: Background on the College Gameday radio — We took that show “on the road” about 6 or 7 times a year. We’d set up next to the TV guys with our own stage and a big bank of TV’s so people could stand around and listen and watch. Often, dozens did. If Fowler and his gang are The Beatles, we were The Monkees.
Anyway, per my direction, the ‘Cats were always on one of the monitors. Always. Kiper never had much to say about it, but McShay would occasionally give me the business in the two years that he and Coach DiNardo and I did the show together. Given that Gerry’s nephew is now a Wildcat, we’ve had a bit of a laugh of how Todd would respond if we were still doing the show together. Would definitely have been NU overload for him.
It was always a challenge for me not to focus too much on the ‘Cats game. The way that our show worked was that we would follow 10 or so games at once – constantly updating what was going on throughout college football. Obviously, I was more interested in the NU game than, say, a Wake Forest – Maryland clash. But, my job was to stay on top of both. It took some self-discipline.
I think the toughest part has been not being able to attend games. I haven’t been to an NU home game in person since 2000. I’ve worked every college football Saturday since then. Did go to the game at Miami of Ohio in ’06, since it was on a Thursday. I do miss being there in person, but obviously I wouldn’t trade my job for anything.
LTP: I have a hunch you were pretty diehard while at NU (1987-1991). Tell us about the most memorable game you saw in person while an undergrad.
Dave: My life as an NU fan actually far pre-dates my enrollment as an NU undergrad. My parents both went to Northwestern, and my dad was on the faculty at Kellogg for about 35 years before he passed away last year. He was a huge NU fan and started taking me to games in 1975. They won the first three games I attended (Purdue, NIU and Indiana), and I really believed that dad had gotten me in on the ground floor of something truly great. The 72 losses in the next 75 games disabused me of that notion.
Still, I was a total diehard. I think the low-point for me was the Utah game in ’81. They had come a missed 2-point conversion away from ending the streak in the season opener against Indiana and had played fairly well for a half on the road at Arkansas the next week in a game that, somewhat inexplicably, was televised back to Chicago if my memory serves me correctly. My dad and I figured Utah was a winnable game. After all, the last win had been against Wyoming. Wyoming, Utah – same thing, right? Well, those who were at the game will tell you it was about as miserable a performance as you can possibly imagine. First off, it absolutely poured. It was like the Michigan game in ’98 – total deluge. And NU got hammered – 42-zip. I’m pretty sure I cried. So, that one obviously sticks out.
I vaguely remember a game in either ’76 or ’77 when they were winning at halftime and they let the fans come down on the field to “greet the team” coming out of the locker room. I think they won the game, which (as I peruse my media guide) would mean it was either MSU in ’76 or Illinois in ’77. That was odd. I was at the game in ’82 when they broke the streak. Didn’t actually participate in the Post Laking (I was 13), but did go out on the field to celebrate. As for my undergrad days (6-36-2) – a couple stick out.
On the positive end – the Purdue game my sophomore year. That was a truly miserable day weather-wise (rainy, cold). We had had a party the night before at my fraternity, and no one was particularly interested in getting out of bed, let alone going to watch the football game. Finally convinced a buddy of mine to go, and the ‘Cats crushed them. Bobby Christian had a huge, huge game, the defense played great. Lots of fun. My buddy still thanks me to this day. On the negative end – homecoming my senior year against Minnesota. I was doing the game on WNUR, and the ‘Cats had a chance to win on a last second field goal. Can’t quite remember the distance, but I know it was inside 40 yards, and Ira Adler had some remarkable percentage inside 40 in his career (I want to say he had never missed to this point). Anyway, he missed, and my call was: “…he missed it!!! How in the world could he miss it??!!” (this was obviously in my pre-impartiality days). Fellow Purple Mafia member Mike Greenberg still gets a chuckle out of that one, just as I laugh when he regales me with the tale of him showing up at senior night one year for hoops with a sign that said: “Thanks for the memories, Milan and Bo.”
LTP: Ahh, nice segue. We will soon be hitting up Mr. Greenberg for some Purple Mafia indoctrination, but while we’re on the ESPN topic, I’ve got to ask you about NU-hater, Lee Corso. Is it me or does the guy have a pet peeve about picking the Cats? What insights can you expound upon from the guy who seemingly refuses to put the Willie the Wildcat head on his own mellon?
Dave: I really can’t lend all that much insight on Coach Corso. Though we were on the road with those guys a lot, Lee really kept to himself. Fowler and Herbstreit would always come over and do a segment or two with us, but Lee never did. Frankly, it’s a pretty exhausting day for him. So, the short answer is, I really don’t know what his deal is with NU. I do think that some of the guys who have been in the game for a while have never fully embraced teams like NU and K-State that were once doormats and no longer are. But as to whether Lee has something specific against NU, I can’t really say.
LTP: After spending a decade getting first-hand experience at East Coast-centric media coverage, how has your perception changed (or not) about the Cats and the Big Ten since you’ve returned?
Dave: The big thing that drove me crazy at ESPN was that I felt it took them a while to truly “get” college football. It’s such a non-factor on the East Coast, and so many of those in charge are East Coast guys that I think they didn’t understand the fervor. Yes, Yankees-Red Sox is a truly great rivalry, but there are a bunch of rivalries in college football that are just as deep-seated. I think they finally started to understand that in the last few years I was there. They started to cover recruiting, for instance – something they had never touched before then. Then, last year they launched College Football Live. I think they’ve gotten to the point where they understand what a goldmine they’re sitting on.
As for how my perception towards NU and the Big Ten has changed – I’m honestly not sure it has. I followed the conference so closely in my time out east that nothing has particularly stood out in my return as being different than what I thought it was. What has changed, obviously, is the way I view the teams in the conference. I know this sounds a bit like a party line, but, when you cover teams every day, you truly begin to root for them all. It’s obviously far better for me in my job and for the BTN if our teams are good. I’m sure die-hard OSU fans, for instance, were more disappointed than I was when they lost the BCS Championship game last year — but not by too much. I know it might seem sacrilegious to NU fans to root for the other schools — but when you combine the personal contact that I mentioned earlier with the fact that I’m often put in the position of being kind of a “spokesman” for the conference, I think you could understand why I want to see the whole conference, not just NU succeed.
LTP: I do – all too well. Serve it up – your favorite all-time NU player. Most obscure NU moment you relish? Number of times you’ve “laked the posts”?
Dave: Wow – favorite player. So hard to pick just one. In the pre-revival days – my first favorite player was Greg Boykin. He was the star when I first started going to games. I really liked a little RB they had from (I believe) Wisconsin in the depths of the streak name Jeff Cohn. Had a few really good games, and I was convinced he was going to be great – then he blew out his knee and was never heard from again. Loved Ricky Edwards. Len Williams was an absolute stud.
Christian and Richard Buchanan were among my faves during my time as a student. I think my favorite guy in that time, though was Ed Sutter. Great LB – plus he punted with that knee brace on. That was quintessentially pre-’95 NU.
As for the post-revival – it really is hard to narrow it down. Fitz, Schnur, Bates, Ismaeli, Kustok, Jason Wright – there really have been some very likable guys. I guess I’d go with Fitz only because I’ve gotten to know him so well since then and know what a great representative he is of NU, but it really is tough to narrow it down to just one guy.
Most obscure moment I relish. Before the Homecoming game in ’87, there were signs on a campus for a pep rally at… Burger King.
LTP: Hold on! What?!!!! A Homecoming pep rally at Burger King?!!! You’ve GOT to be kidding…
Dave: No joke. I lived in Willard, so a buddy and I went over there. Among the funniest things I’ve ever seen. As I remember it, there were about 6 band members there, a few cheerleaders, me and my buddy and lots of unsuspecting diners, most of whom were over 85 years old.
Imagine their surprise when the band started playing and Frank Peay grabbed the mic that the cashier normally used to send the orders to the back (“Whopper with Cheese, no onions”) – and uttered the phrase “Tomorrow, we’re going to fry ourselves up some Gopher Meat.” Honestly, I can’t do it justice. The moment that lives on with my buddy and me, though, was when Francis started talking about the game. He outlined the many weapons that the Gophers would bring – extolling the virtues of Ricky Foggie and company, then said, “… but we’ve got some weapons of our own…. Mike Greenfield.. Stanley uh-Dav-en-uh-port”. (he had a great tendency to add syllables where there were none). The postscript is that Davenport carried maybe twice the whole game and Byron Sanders ran for almost 300. That was Francis – crafty – always looking for the edge. Never know which of the senior citizens chowing down on a Whaler might actually have been a Gopher spy.
LTP: You’ve made my day, Dave. It is the nuggets like that story that make this all worth it! Transitioning to how far we’ve come, let’s talk 2008. Despite the major question mark at offensive line, I’ve been spouting off about an 8-4 year for months now. What is your take on this year’s team?
Dave: I certainly don’t think a record like 8-4 is out of the question. I know that both Coach DiNardo and Howard Griffith, our BTN analysts, think NU will be the most improved team in the conference. I agree with you that it will come down to the O-Line in large part. I was generally impressed with how that unit looked at the Spring Game — but then you go into that yearly Spring Game dilemma — was the O-Line good, or was the D-Line bad?
I guess that leads me to my real question with this team — the defense. I’m a huge fan of the Hankwitz hire. I think he was exactly the kind of guy Fitz needed to have alongside him — a veteran DC who has been there before and has had success at the highest level. But, I’m not convinced it can happen overnight. I hope it can, particularly because I think they have some good athletes on that unit, but I’m still kind of in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” mode.
I’m also of the mind that the kicking game still has a long way to go. One thing that’s been overlooked in the Hankwitz hire is that he is a well-known punting guru — having developed several All-Americans over the years. Would be great to see NU excel in that area again, as field position is particularly important when your “D” is a bit suspect. I will say that, after watching them a bit this spring, I do think this team physically looks better than it did 8 or 9 months ago when we saw them in pre-season, which has to be encouraging for NU fans.
I’m not ready to make a prediction at this point because I haven’t seen every team in person yet. I learned so much last year from going to those pre-season camps — so I feel like I should have a better grasp on that come, say, August 29th or so. Feel free to get back to me (ed: oh, I will, trust me!).
LTP: Attendance, as you know, has been freefalling for a decade. What advice do you have for Jim (Phillips) to help course correct, other than the obvious “winning cures all” cliche?
Dave: I really believe that attendance is the missing link for NU football. It’s really strange to me that this remains a problem, because I truly believe the product is really competitive, and we all know that the games are consistently exciting and often come right down to the wire. That’s what’s so puzzling. It would be one thing if they never won, like back in the “bad old days.” But this team does win on a fairly regular basis. I always point to the Illinois game in 2000 as being kind of the microcosm of what’s wrong with NU football attendance. Here was a team that was playing for at least a share of the Big Ten title, playing its supposed arch-rival. And, oh by the way, NU had arguably the most exciting offensive team in the country that year. Yet they couldn’t even sell that game out.
Though I understand that the alumni base in Chicago is small (an assistant SID told me once that NU has the 10th fewest alums in the City of any Big Ten school ahead of only Penn State), it still just doesn’t make sense to me (ed note, I’m actually surprised we’re behind Penn State!). As far as the impact it has — one area that really stands out to me is recruiting. I’ve been to just about every big-time stadium across the country in my travels for College Gameday, and I’ve seen players get walked around on their official visits before the game. It takes a special kind of kid to walk around a packed stadium on gameday and pass up an opportunity to play there in favor of a place that doesn’t fill its stadium. I’m not saying there aren’t kids who do it, because there certainly are, but I do think it’s just kind of human nature to be attracted to those atmospheres (ed note: totally agree and great point. This fact is the major factor in why I think Fitz is an incredible recruiter).
Obviously, that’s far from the only reason attendance is important. All those empty seats represent significant unrealized revenue, which Northwestern could obviously use in the long run. And, I think we can all agree, it’s just more fun to go to a game when a stadium is packed — so, it all kind of perpetuates itself. Go to a game in a sold out stadium, have a good time, come back — and suddenly NU football becomes more of an event. So, how does NU get to the point where it regularly sells out Ryan Field (with its own fans)? I think this needs to be a grass-roots effort and that it needs to focus on young people. If there are fewer NU fans in Chicago than there are fans of other schools (as we’ve already established), then you need to create NU fans. Crazy as he was, the one thing Kevin O’Neill said that really resonated with me was when he mentioned that he’s never run into a single kid on the recruiting trail who grew up dreaming of playing basketball for Northwestern. I think that’s less-true in football becuase of the success the team has had in the lifetime of current recruits, but it probably still applies to a large extent.
So, how do you get kids into NU football? Well, first of all, I think you need to make tickets available to them at steep discounts. Frankly, I’m in favor of giving them away en masse. I know there are studies that show that people who are given tickets rarely return as paying customers — they just come to expect that they’ll get in for free. But, I would contend that it’s not such a bad thing to give away several thousand tickets to each game to kids even if they don’t ever show up again. It will still plant NU in their minds when it comes time to make a college choice down the road regardless of whether they’re potential student-athletes or not. I think that’s great PR for the University — and I do think it’s easy to lose sight of the fact in the world of college athletics that we’re still talking about the University as a whole here — not just the athletic experience.
I’ve always believed that there’s a difference between being perceived as elite vs. elitist (ed note: GREAT point and BINGO, tune in next week for a post on this exact topic!). You want to be seen as the former, but not the latter. Unfortunately, I think much of the Chicago area views NU as elitist (evidence the comments people have made about “spoiled, rich NU students” in reaction to the Mayor Daley commencement speaker controversy this week). Reaching out to the community in this way helps break down those barriers and erase that perception. Let kids realize that this is a special place, but not something that’s out of their reach.
The other thing I’d do if I were Jim Phillips would be to require every single varsity athlete to give one speech at a local school every year. He or she could talk about the team they play on, the challenge of balancing academics and athletics and the value of the Northwestern degree. It would be a great way to reach out to the community and to show off what is Northwestern’s greatest asset in athletics — the student-athletes. I’m always impressed by these young men and women when I come in contact with them, and I know young kids would be too. Again, it’s nice simply to make an impact on kids in the community — to make them understand what a special place NU is. If it has the added affect of making them go home and say to their parents: “I had a Northwestern football player at my school today, and I’d like to go see him play a game” — even better. The encouraging thing for NU fans is that Phillips is a really, really impressive guy. I was a huge Mark Murphy fan and was disappointed to see him go, but I’m totally sold on Phillips. I’ve had a chance to spend a significant amount of time with him in this first month or so that he’s been on the job, and I’m confident that he’ll come up with some good ideas to help the attendance issues.
LTP: Despite your complete objectivity on the air, I know you’ve got Purple in the veins. Do you believe this is the year we finally get past the non-conference mulligan and go 4-0? Which non-conference game has you most concerned? Why?
Dave: It is amazing to thin that NU hasn’t gotten through the non-conference slate undefeated since 1962, isn’t it? Just mind-boggling. Working closely with Coach Holtz for a few years there must have rubbed off on me, because I’m concerned about all of them. DiNardo said in our spring review show that the Syracuse game is “NU’s Super Bowl” — and I do think that’s one they really can’t afford to lose. That SIU game actually scares me the most, though. I’m of the belief that NU ought not to schedule good I-AA teams (I can’t bring myself to say “FCS”). Northeastern, for example, was perfect. Basically, this is a chance to get a free “W” — so go out and find a team you absolutely know can’t beat you. They fell quite a bit short of that this year. This game truly will be SIU’s Super Bowl, and, if the ‘Cats aren’t ready, that could be an issue. I realize they’ll have a new Head Coach and that they have to replace Hill, who was the focal-point of their offense, still, this was a very solid team last year. If App State can beat Michigan, SIU can certainly beat the ‘Cats.
LTP: Cats fans are obviously aware of the key players heading into the season. Offer up some names that we may not be aware of that come November may have made a name for themselves.
Dave: Well, anyone reading LTP probably has a good knowledge of the team, so I can’t say there are names here that people wouldn’t be aware of. I did like the looks of Mabin and Bolden when I saw them this spring — good size — not the kind of guys I see getting picked on at CB. I think NU is in good shape there for a while, particularly given that both those guys figure to be back-ups early-on. I like the way Quentin Davie moves around out there too. He’s still a bit thin, but I still think he can have a nice impact for them. Again, not a name that would be unfamiliar by any stretch, but someone I think is poised to have a much larger role this season. I also really liked what little I saw of Drake Dunsmore last season. He obviously has a very impressive array of skills — I think he’s the kind of guy who could step up with a year under his belt and really make a difference — he’s quite an athlete.
LTP: Thanks a bunch for taking some time to dip into the Purple pool of Wildcat Nation. Keep up the great work and we’ll be sure to have you back throughout the year!