By John Bauernfiend (Indiana)
The first thing you notice about Curt Menefee is his voice. It’s the same voice that’s hosted FOX NFL Sunday since 2006. It’s the voice that has called preseason NFL games, the voice that has called UFC fights. Yes, that voice.
The first time I heard the voice in person I was standing at the security desk in the lobby of the freshly painted FOX Sports 1 studio in Los Angeles, only a few minutes before our meeting to interview the iconic broadcaster.
As I stood, my back facing towards the entrance, Menefee walked in, talking of just having seen “Kobe in the parking lot.” For a moment, I had to focus to shake Mr. Menefee’s hand, which completely engulfed mine. Curt then says he’d meet us in the conference room in a few minutes. The three of us went, and though it turned out that Kobe Bryant was not in the parking garage (it was Cobi Jones, member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, still very cool), reality was not lost on us and where we were.
Menefee grew up in Atlanta, Ga., where he attended Henry McNeal Turner High School. He says he always knew he wanted to be in sports, specifically as a television producer. Menefee, as even he admits, says how he ended up at Coe College is odd.
“It’s one of those decisions you make when you’re seventeen years old that you look back and you go Why did I make that decision? I don’t know. It just kind of felt right.”
As he tells it, as a senior in high school, Menefee and the rest of his AP English classmates were permitted to miss class to meet with college recruiters. A representative from Coe College was there, his booth clearly not as popular as some of the others. Menefee felt bad for the guy, went up to him and struck up a conversation. Eventually he and Menefee exchanged information, and, soon enough, postcards and phone calls started reaching Menefee in Atlanta all the way from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“I knew I wanted to go to a small school away from home, and everything just kind of felt right,” Menefee says. “They had no journalism program, there was no speech department. I mean there was nothing.”
“It makes no logical sense.”
If you live your life with honor, you get opportunities that maybe you wouldn’t. People look at you and will respect you for that.
For two and a half years while he was in school, though, Menefee worked at a local television station. He says his hands-on experiences were more valuable to him than a prestigious journalism school would have been.
“I look back and I would not change a thing,” he says. “I think it helped me become who I am. I got opportunities there that I never would have gotten had I gone to Syracuse or Missouri or one of the big journalism schools.
“I was on air when I was nineteen years old, when I was a sophomore in college. I was reporting for the last two and a half years I was in school. That never would have happened anywhere else.”
The first semester of freshman year, Menefee joined Sigma Nu, but it didn’t work out and he eventually depledged. Returning to school for his sophomore year, he once again rejoined Sigma Nu, and served as his candidate class’s president. “Like a lot of things in my life,” Menefee observes, “it worked out better than planned.” He also says that Sigma Nu helped establish a set of values that he still lives by.
“When you’re 18, 19 years old and you’re a young guy on a college campus, everyone’s having fun and you’re just living life. You tend to get wrapped up in a world with you and your friends and that’s it,” Menefee says. “When you go to fraternity meetings every Sunday, and when you see that crest and those words on a daily basis, it just kind of reinforces that there’s a certain way to live your life. I think Sigma Nu reinforced in me, at a young age, on a daily basis, of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to be perceived. If I ever wanted to achieve anything in my life, there are certain values you have to understand and adhere to.”
After Menefee graduated from Coe, the station where he had been working for two and a half years offered him a full-time job to work in the news department. But Menefee turned it down. Instead of sports, they wanted him to work in the news department. “I don’t want to have to knock on someone’s door and tell them that their kid passed away,” he remembers thinking.
Menefee kept working at the station as a freelancer. Then an opportunity came in Des Moines, Iowa, where Menefee worked as a sports reporter for a year.
Everywhere I’ve ever been, my whole goal has been to be the best guy in that market at the time. The rest of it takes care of itself.
Menefee then moved on to Madison, Wisc., and worked there for two years as a weekend sports anchor.
From there, he went to Sports News Network (SNN), a D.C. based company that was trying to become a 24/7 sports network. But the fledgling network soon went bankrupt and Menefee would spend the next eight months unemployed until a chance encounter with a man running for the U.S. Senate.
That person was Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin politician on his first campaign for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Menefee worked on the campaign for several months before leaving in July to accept a weekend sports anchor position in Jacksonville, Fla. (Feingold won the campaign and became a U.S. senator that November.)
Menefee remained in Jacksonville for a year before moving to work as the weekday sports anchor in Dallas.
After his three-year stint in Dallas, Menefee went to work for the FOX affiliate in New York City where he worked for seven years before leaving to work for the Knicks and Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Things were humming along for Menefee’s career. He worked hard wherever he was and took new opportunities as they came up. His career thus far would be considered a great success by any measure.
In 2006, FOX asked Menefee to be the host of FOX NFL Sunday, the network’s flagship NFL pregame show. “You give yourself more opportunities working hard at the place you are now,” Menefee says, reflecting on his career thus far. “Everywhere I’ve ever been, my whole goal has been to be the best guy in that market at the time. The rest of it takes care of itself.”
The first NFL game Menefee ever attended was an Atlanta Falcons preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The quarterback for the Steelers at the time was four-time Super Bowl champion Terry Bradshaw, who is now Menefee’s broadcast partner along with other NFL legends Jimmie Johnson, Howie Long and Michael Strahan.
The planning for FOX NFL Sunday begins each Thursday with a morning conference call between the on-screen subjects and the show producers. As Menefee explains, everyone but him is in L.A. during the week; Strahan is in New York, Johnson is in the Florida Keys, Long is in Charlottesville and Bradshaw is in Oklahoma. The call serves as a preliminary hearing, to map out what topics should be broached and what the crew is leaning towards discussing.
Menefee will usually write from about 8:00 to 11:00 on Saturday mornings to prepare for Sunday’s show. After that, he and the other cast members check in to a nearby hotel. They watch the college games while doing final preparations for their own show, breaking up around 5:00 p.m. From there, he goes to bed early, trying for eight, to wake up at the brisk hour of 4:30 Sunday morning.
Menefee and the others are in the FOX Sports studio by 5:30 a.m. They have a meeting at 7 a.m. that serves as a full dress rehearsal – suits, ties, make-up and all. Then they go live on air at 9 a.m. pacific time.
We ask Menefee if he gets nervous talking in front of 20+ million viewers (Fox NFL Sunday is the most-watched NFL pregame show). “I honestly don’t get nervous,” he says. “I can remember as a kid, my mom saying that I don’t get too high or too low on anything. I don’t think about how there are millions of people watching me. We’re just having a conversation and there happens to be cameras there. I’m fortunate.”
The show lasts for an hour, with the first set of NFL games beginning at 10 a.m. PT. Menefee narrates periodic highlights during gamebreaks throughout the day, as well as the halftime highlights. The show ends once the second set of games conclude, which is typically around 5 p.m. PT. “It’s basically a twelve hour day. We finish up with a little meeting then get out of here.”
In addition to his job hosting FOX NFL Sunday, Menefee also hosts FOX Football Daily, which airs Monday through Friday at 6 p.m. ET on the new Fox Sports 1 network.
When FOX Sports launched its new network in August 2013, network president Eric Shanks asked Menefee if he wanted to deliver the network’s mission statement, which he gladly accepted.
“I was honored by it,” Menefee said. “There are hundreds of employees that they could have chosen, and they chose me. It meant a lot.
“FOX has been very good to me,” Menefee says. “As the saying goes, ‘how often do you get to go to work and do something you love?’ Between the NFL, soccer (Menefee has announced UEFA Champions League games before) and UFC, it’s rare that you have just as much fun at work as you do at home.”
In the offseason, when he’s not focused on football, Menefee likes to travel. He’s been to every continent and over eighty countries. He golfs, sometimes with his wife and sometimes with Bradshaw in Hawaii. He’s rung the NASDAQ opening bell in Times Square. Yes, Curt Menefee is a man who is enjoying life.
But Menefee has also found himself in the anchor’s chair during critical times in our history. In 2001 he was living less than a mile from the World Trade Center. Menefee remembers having to walk home the 60 blocks from work that night. Everything was quiet, he said, except every now and then you’d hear a siren and that was it.
“You wake up the next morning and ask yourself ‘was it a dream?’ September 11, because I was there and because I was so close to it, has a different connotation than just a date on the calendar, and I don’t think anybody takes it for granted.” (Curt’s reflections on living in Manhattan during the attacks were especially meaningful as we happened to be meeting on the 12th anniversary.)
“It goes back to realizing the power of this medium,” Menefee says, referring to the impact of journalism in this day and age. “People are watching and they understand, and if you’ve got a chance to connect people to an event that has happened, that’s what I am. I am the conduit for that, rather than just giving out statistics.”
Sigma Nu reinforced in me, at a young age, on a daily basis, of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to be perceived. If I ever wanted to achieve anything in my life, there are certain values you have to understand and adhere to.
“99.99 percent of the time, that’s all it is, nothing serious,” Menefee continued. “But when it is something serious, I think you have to remember they’re human beings we’re talking about. I think too often it’s easy to say, ‘my job is to just get facts.’ Your job is to make a human connection.”
But it’s more than that. Sure, the playful banter he shares on the set is fun, but for Menefee it all goes back to honor as your personal reputation. Through it all, through his time at Coe College to FOX Sports 1 to trips to Afghanistan to support American troops, Menefee has lived a life filled with honor.
“Love, honor, truth, I always go back to those three words,” Menefee says. “Love and truth are valuable, but honor is the key, because if you do everything in your life with honor, I think you tend to go the right way. This business that I’m in, if you do it right it’s supposed to be about honor and truth. But I also believe that if you live your life with honor, you get opportunities that maybe you wouldn’t. People look at you and will respect you for that.”
“It’s about you, it’s about your name, it’s about your reputation, it’s about your family name, and I think that is where it comes back to, that word ‘honor.’ Honor is the key to everything I’ve ever done in my whole life.”
All photos courtesy of Fox Sports.