By Zach Baker
When John Buccigross was at Heidelberg in the 1980s, his goal was to be on ESPN. To him, getting a job at the network was the equivalent of a player reaching Major League Baseball or the NFL.
Now that he's there and has been there for more than a decade, the 1988 'Berg graduate said he still can't believe he made it to the network.
"Certainly, it was always my dream to work there, it went on the air when I was 13," Buccigross said. "I grew up with it. When I chose to go to Heidelberg, my goal was to be at ESPN."
So how did he get there?
"I got a little bit of a break," said Buccigross, who was working as a sports anchor in Providence, R.I in 1996, when ESPN was launching ESPNews.
He saw an article about the person at the network who looked at tapes for potential anchors. Buccigross sent his resume to the person..
"I never thought they would call me," Buccigross said. "Sure enough they called, and in 1996 the dream came true."
Since then, Buccigross has moved from ESPNews to the parent network, anchoring SportsCenter. He also was the primary host for NHL 2Night from 1998-2004, and has had a weekly hockey column on ESPN.com since 2001.
This is all stuff you can find out on the Internet. But what does Buccigross think about the evolution of SportsCenter? Does he view himself as reporter or an entertainer?
But most of all, why does he make all the references on the air to Tiffin and Heidelberg?
All of it was covered in an interview with Buccigross last week, as he was heading to town for Heidelberg's opening football game.
LOCAL FLAVOR: Buccigross is loyal to Heidelberg, so much so that he finds ways to make references to the school and the area during SportsCenter broadcasts.
In 2003, he suggested LeBron James would either go to the NBA straight from high school - or go to Heidelberg. It also is common for the Columbian-Bellevue football score to be announced on the show.
Why does he do it?
"It's an ode to the area," Buccigross said. "I loved my four years at Heidelberg. I love the area, I love the people. It gives me a warm great feeling every time I think about it. It's my way to say 'hey, I know you're out there. You're on my mind. It's my way to show my appreciation.'"
THE EVOLUTION OF THE SHOW: Some would argue the show Buccigross dreamed of being a part of in the 1980s no longer exists.
Buccigross agrees the show has changed over the years
"SportsCenter has really evolved," Buccigross said. "When I was watching in the 80s, it was more anchor driven.Now, we're more analyst-driven. It's a louder show."
But the anchor said that doesn't mean it's worse.
"If you sat and watched it then and now, I think you'd say it's better now," he said. "It was more anchor-driven. Now it's faster, and louder. It's changed."
Over the years, SportsCenter anchors have become borderline celebrities, with several of Buccigross' contemporaries moving on to different things. Former SportsCenter anchor Craig Kilborn went from sports to comedy, hosting The Daily Show and then hosting a late night show on CBS. Keith Olbermann is covering (and giving opinions on) politics on MSNBC.
Then, of course, there are the commercials. Buccigross has appeared in humorous spots for SportsCenter with stars such as David Ortiz.
When asked if he views himself as a newscaster or an entertainer, Buccigross answered thoughtfully. He said he tries to keep the show entertaining, while not overdoing it.
"I try not to let the humor and the sarcasm get in the way," he said. "I like to play it straight if I feel my sidekick is getting too silly ... If the other guy is too serious, I try to con it up."
Buccigross said he has no plans to follow Olbermann and Kilborn into entertainment or political discourse.
"I'm under contract [to ESPN] for four more years," he said. [Guys like Kilborn and Olbermann] are more career-oriented than I am. I'm family first. A lot of people in my business want to be famous. I have no desire to be famous. ESPN has given me the opportunity to have a stable job. That's my focus."
At the same time, Buccigross, who has gotten the chance to call some college hockey for the network, said doing play-by-play is "my first love."
YOU SAID IT: "They're fun to do. I grab a free shirt and tie." - Buccigross, on SportsCenter commercials.