April 3rd, 2012
by bearsbacker

16 years ago today Russ Thaler was working as a weekend sports anchor/weekend weather for WHIZ-TV-AM-FM in Zanesville, Ohio.

Today he is working as a host for NBC Sports Network’s show called NBC Sports Talk. He is also a host for the MLS on NBC Sports Network.

Following his gig in Zanesville, Ohio he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska where he worked at KLKN-TV as a weekend sports anchor and a weekday sports reporter.

He then moved on to work as an anchor and a reporter for Fox Sports Net for a brief time.

Comcast Sports Net hired him as an anchor in the Washington market. He worked there until August of 2011.

Due to the partnership of Comcast Sports Net and NBC Sports, Thaler was given a great opportunity to showcase his anchor abilities to a bigger audience.

He announced in mid-August that he would be leaving CSN Washington for NBC Sports Talk.

NBC Sports Talk airs weekdays from 6-7 p.m. ET.

I had a chance to catch up with Russ this past week and he talked about what it took to get to where he is today, his passion for sports as kid and much more.

Here’s the interview with NBC Sports Talk’s host Russ Thaler:

Q: Did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up? If so, what was it?

A: At first, I wanted to be the Catcher for the New York Yankees.  Growing up in Northern New Jersey the Yankees were my team and baseball was my sport.  Around middle school age my goals shifted and I wanted to win Wimbledon.  Competitive baseball ended for me at age 16 and I played tennis in college but I knew I’d have to do something else besides play a sport in order to earn a living by the time I hit high school.

Q: Was sports a passion for you as a kid?

A: Sports and entertaining were my passions as a kid.  My maternal grandfather, who passed away a few weeks ago, was a band leader for 40+ years.  I got my love of music and entertaining from him.  My dad is a big sports fan (Yankees, Giants, Knicks) and I grew up going to games with him (though we went to Nets games since it was close to home and tickets were easier to come by).  Honestly, the games I played, weather it was Little League or tennis tournaments were always much more of a big deal to me emotionally than the games we went to.  My dad and I played national Father-Son tennis tournaments together from the time I was 15 until I started my own family.  If the Giants lost a game, it was a bummer but I got over it pretty quickly.  When I lost it would haunt me for days (or longer).

Q: What’s your favorite part of your current job?

A: I talk about sports for a living!

Q: Would you change your job for any other one available?

A: There are jobs I would like to have, for sure, and I aspire to do a lot of things I’m not currently involved with right now.  But I wouldn’t change this job for anything at the moment because I understand than I can still improve.  I like to be challenged.  The job I have right now is very challenging in a lot of ways, and I enjoy that.  Eventually it will be time to do something else but I’m really focused on getting better at the job I have at the moment.

Q: Is a sports job exactly how many people imagine its going to be?

A: I’m not sure how it’s perceived, to be honest.  I had no clue what I was getting in to when I started out, but I’ve loved it from the first day to this day.  Seriously.  I’ve never once dreaded coming in to work.  How many people can say that?

Q:Who was a person that you met and you said wow this guy is even cooler in person?

A: Pat Summit is someone who just blew me away in person.  She just has this aura about her that is hard to quantify.  Honestly though, most of the people I’ve met through this job who are incredibly successful in what they do have been very good to me and the people I’ve worked with.  As with most anyone you come across, if you are nice to them then they seem to be nice right back.

Q: How much different is it going from behind the scenes as a fan to right in front of all the action?

A: There are times when I can emotionally detach from the environment and just “work” and others when I find myself “marking out”, to use a Pro Wrestling term.  Here’s an example: The first time I ever covered a football game at Virginia Tech I was just blown away at the noise the crowd made when the team made its way to the field from the locker room.  The first note of “Enter Sandman” hits and the place just goes BANANAS!  Without even thinking about it, here I am, on the sideline, jumping up and down with the rest of the people.  I wasn’t on camera, I was just in the moment.  I remember looking up at the “Sea of Red” for the first time at a Nebraska Football game and thinking, “I get to do this for a living.”

Q: What was your major in college? Did you even envision yourself being where you are now?

A: I was a Political Science major in college and I had thought about going to Law School.  I realized pretty early in my college days that three more years of formal studies just wasn’t for me.  I was a SportsCenter junkie and I thought, “I can do that”.  And here I am (though there was a lot that went on between “there” and “here”.

Q: Where did you grow up? Were you a fan of the teams in that area?

A: I grew up in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.  It’s a suburb of New York City. Yankees, Giants, Nets (and Knicks), Devils… Those were my teams.  I still like to see all the New York and New Jersey teams do well.  I don’t “hate” on any of the teams that play in the same market.  I know that goes against conventional fandom but that’s just me.

Q: What sport is your favorite? Which sport is the easiest/hardest to cover?

A: My favorite sport is tennis, but that’s to play.  I can get in to just about anything when it comes to covering a sport.  Explain to me the nuances and I can appreciate competition at the highest levels.  When I grew up, Hockey didn’t play in to my sports life much.  I didn’t like Soccer at all.  Now, after covering both for the last 10+ years, I can honestly say that they are two of my favorite sports to cover.  I respect both of those sports and the people in the games, and I have become a big fan.

Q: What’s the coolest part of your job?

A: Seriously, I get to watch sports, read about sports, write about sports, and talk about sports. What’s not cool about any of that?

Q: Who do you thank for getting you to this spot in your career/life?

A: My parents (and all of my family) have been supportive all the way through.  They are my biggest fans.  A man named Scott Fisher, who is the Chief Meteorologist at the Fox affiliate in Austin, Texas is the one I credit for opening the door.  Scott was a camp counselor of mine way back in the day and he helped me make my first resume.  Jared Max, who hosts “Maxed Out in the Morning” on ESPN Radio in NYC is one of my oldest and dearest friends.  We played basketball together when we were eight years old and grew up together.  He’s always been a great supporter of mine.  And then you can go down the list.  George Hiotis, the News Director at WHIZ-TV in Zanesville, Ohio, Larry Punteney was my Sports Director and mentor at KLKN-TV in Lincoln, NE. All of the folks at Comcast SportsNet Mid Atlantic (so many special people to me), my agent Steve Herz, the folks at NBC Sports who hired me here, my producers Ricky Diamond and Matt Casey.  I hope no one takes offense to not being mentioned.  Sam Flood, Molly Solomon, and Michael Bass MUST be mentioned.  And my wife, Brooke, has been/is the best partner in all of this I could ever hope for.  Is that enough?  I need to get to work!

Q: Who do you look up to the most in life?

A: I try to learn from everyone I come across.  Good and bad.  Always be open to learn something.

Q: When you go out do you people say “hey its that guy from that sports show” or do you go unnoticed?

A: Depends on where I am. It was more intense in the smaller markets.  Zanesville, OH and Lincoln, NE, it was everywhere.  People were great and it was cool!  The DC area has been very good to me.  Especially around the teams I covered the most, the Washington Capitals and DC United.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years? 10 years?

A: Hopefully still doing what I’m doing in some form and loving every minute of it!

Don’t forget to follow Russ Thaler on Twitter.

Jake Perper is the owner and head writer for Bearsbacker.com. Follow him on Twitter, @Bearsbacker and on Facebook for up to the minute news about the Bears.

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