KDKA’s Bob Pompeani shares stories and insights from a life in sports broadcasting

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It has become clear to me why Pittsburghers love Bob Pompeani almost as much as they love Primanti’s and the colors black and yellow. He is a lifetime Pittsburgher. He attended Hopewell High School and then attended Point Park University.

Pompeani has been working as a sports anchor at KDKA for over thirty years, and in 2015 he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the Tri-State PGA Golf Hall of Fame as well as the Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame.

He is not only immersed in the sports world. Pompeani is on the board of directors for the American Heart Association, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Partners for Quality Inc, and the Give the Kids the World Foundation. He has also been on the Executive Committee for the Mario Lemieux Foundation since 1995.

In a recent interview with him, he showed that his knowledge and passion of sports is as prominent as the bridges over the city’s waters.

Q: How have you and your family been doing in these times?

A: Like everybody else, just trying to be patient and smart. I think people get ahead of themselves sometimes and everybody’s sacrificing but it’s a small sacrifice to make based on what people on the front line are doing and sacrificing every day they go to work which we don’t have to do that fortunately. I think you need to just remember by doing what they’re asking you to do when it’s not that big of an ask that you could lessen these numbers.

Q: Have you learned anything with the absence of sports these past few months?

A: I miss it. I think we all do, but when you do it for a living you take it for granted every day where there’s a lot of stuff to cover and now we’re just going as we go and trying to fill the time with whatever news items come up, and it’s not that easy when there are no game to cover. I miss it. Hopefully, at some point, we’re resuming with no people in attendance because I think people want to see something new on television to preoccupy their time.

Q: Over the years, what are some of the best interviews you have done?

A: Troy Polamalu is really different. He’s thoughtful, reaches deep into his soul to give you answers , not your typical sports answers that you would get from athletes. I think one of the most intelligent guys I’ve ever interviewed was [Penguins goalie] Tom Barraso. [He was a] really, really smart guy. He would think things over very closely and sometimes he was a little over-the-top in terms of if he had thoughts that maybe you were trying to go someplace where you really weren’t because he was thinking deeply into the question. I appreciated [Sidney] Crosby but he’s pretty much a machine when it comes to answers. He’s really good and a tremendous person but you’re not gonna get anything crazy out of him.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Bob Pompeani

Q: What are some of the worst interviews you have ever done?

A: Lawrence Taylor. I got thrown out of a New York Giants locker room because of a line of questioning that I thought was fair but he took exception to. Donald Evans and I, for some reason, never got along. He took things way too personally. Most of the interviews I have done have been good. Some are more colorful than others, but I haven’t had issues with anyone.

Q: Have you ever been afraid to interview a certain person or ask a specific question?

A: No, not at all. That person should understand the role that he/she is in, and I’ve always told people that we do seminars with young athletes and tell them what to expect and that there are no answers you can’t give if you’re uncomfortable with an answer, [but just] move on. You can do it in a professional way and I stress that you carry a platform which means if you handle it well it can lead to other things after your career’s over. If you act [unprofessional], you’re not gonna get many opportunities.

Q: Are there any events, past events or recent, that you wish you could’ve covered or attended that you didn’t?

A: There’s a ton of those, I’m sure. For 22 years I’ve done preseason play-by-play for the Steelers and I wish I could do the regular games. I’ve been fortunate to go to nine Super Bowls and Stanley Cup championships, baseball division championships with the Pirates in the 1990s, Cotton Bowls, Orange Bowls, Rose Bowls, every Bowl I think. I wish I was there for some of the stuff I’ve seen with the legendary players. I’ve done pretty much everything I’ve wanted to do.

Q: What have been some of your favorite places to visit outside of Pittsburgh?

A: We were fortunate enough to cover the Pro Bowl every year in Hawaii, and it’s actually a good way to talk to players and their families laid back as opposed to a scenario of a locker room when the players are on guard. This is more relaxed, you get more answers out of them, so that’s my favorite place to go. One of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had was at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. I’ve been fortunate enough to cover two of those. The one in Japan was really fascinating to me just because there were a lot of Penguin players who were playing in the hockey competition. We went over there and spent 42 days and it was pretty awesome.

Q: I know how much you love golf — how much do you try to golf a year?

A: The answer’s not enough. If it was up to me I would play every day. I can’t do that, even though I belong to a club. I’d like to play a lot more and hopefully in time I will.

Q: What are some of your favorite courses to play on?

A: Oakmont is number one. Laurel Valley is number two. There are so many other great ones. I’ve had the honor and pleasure playing Augusta National six times. That’s still a pinch-me moment and I have all these pictures in my office [of that]. I wish I could go back. I may never get that chance again. That by far, was the best.

Q: Did you see Tiger Woods’ win at the Masters coming?

A: No. I think that Tiger’s an amazing person and athlete. I never thought that after four back surgeries and everything else he was going through, [in addition to] him getting older, that you could win Majors on the PGA Tour. But then, eleven years and almost 4,000 days since he had won a Major, to expect someone to come back and win one with all the young guns out there, but he re-invented himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins a couple more. Will he top Jack Nicklaus’ 18, I don’t know. That would be tough.

Q: Outside of Tiger, who are some of your favorite golfers to watch?

A: I’ve always liked [Phil Mickelson], just because I think he’s got a good personality. I like Rory [McIlory], I like [Jordan] Speith. I was always a Jim Furyk fan because he was more of a grinder to me, someone who reminded me of me. People didn’t expect great things from him but he still continued to flourish and be involved when not many people thought he would. I think it’s sensational that some young people are doing it and doing it well and creating another generation of good golfers, hopefully.

Q: Have you played any rounds with professional athletes?

A: I’ve been fortunate. I got to play with Arnold Palmer. I got to play with Gary Player. When they had the 84 Lumber Classic, I played with a bunch of people there including Vijay Singh, John Daly, Glen Day. It’s been pretty cool.

Bob Pompeani and former Steeler QB Charlie Batch broadcasting a Steelers pre-season game.

Q: With “The Last Dance” and all the talk focusing around Michael Jordan these last few weeks, do you think Tiger Woods is bigger than Michael Jordan?

A: That’s hard. They’re both global brands. You can go anywhere in the world and people know who Michael Jordan is and anywhere in the world people know who Tiger Woods is. I think I would look at them and say Jordan still would probably top [Tiger] just because basketball is played by more people than golf. I think golfing overseas, unless you have a lot of money, you can’t really do it. I’m gonna say Jordan, but I think Tiger is right up there as a global brand.

Q: Were you a Michael Jordan fan?

A: Yeah. I’ve always been. He’s been in town a few times for Maria Leamiuex’s golf tournament, so I’ve seen him win and lose big money at card games. He’s a big gambler.

Q: What’s your favorite Michael Jordan memory?

A: The Shot against the Utah Jazz in Game 6. There have been so many. Everything went through him. He wanted the ball and he made shots when it counted. Two shots: the one in North Carolina where he won the NCAA Tournament and that one against Utah.

Q: How big of a threat do you think LeBron is to Michael’s GOAT status?

A: It’s too bad that this year didn’t go on, or if it does I’m not sure what’s gonna happen with him being in position to win it again this year with a different team. To me, I’m not one of these people to get in these arguments over who’s better. There’s too many good answers. You could talk about the best football player of all time, best quarterback, everybody has a different opinion. I would put LeBron as one of the greatest. I don’t know if he is the greatest or not. My opinion is they’re both great. I look at them as both being completely above everyone else in the game.

Q: I saw that you’re a Golden State Warriors fan — is that correct?

A: Yes.

Q: How did you become a Warriors fan?

A: I got to know Steve Kerr a little but at various golf outings. I’m a big Steve Kerr fan.

Q: How far do you think the Warriors are from another title?

A: They’re gonna get Klay back next year and they have some young guys who benefited from playing as much as they have without all those guys playing, including KD leaving. You never know what they’re gonna do in the offseason. I think with those two guys [Steph and Klay], they’re pretty much assassins from the outside and I think they will try and get what they need — some bigger inside presence. I think they can be a factor. It’s just difficult. I think all the best teams are in the West, with the exception of Milwaukee.

Q: We’re seeing this trend of super duos — do you think it’s good for the NBA?

A: I don’t like how they’re constructed. I don’t mind it if you draft people or make a trade, but now it’s a recruitment more than anything else. I don’t like that. To me, it undermines the whole reason for having a Draft or the role of a general manager. I don’t like it that way.

Q: Heading to MLB real quick, the major story of baseball before everything that would happen was the scandal with the Houston Astros. How would you resolve this situation?

A: I’m not a believer of stripping any titles because it happened. I never was a believer of that. People were there, it happened. What I would’ve done is I probably would’ve suspended everybody on that team. This is a serious business. I don’t think the league took it seriously enough. They weren’t sure how big that thing was, but I think they went into a cover-up stage. They’re doing that to protect the integrity of the game but the integrity of the game has already been compromised. Some people think it’s fine. [They’ll say that] cheating is part of the game. I can understand that, but if you’re corresponding by bangs and everything else they were trying to do, no you’re getting into an area that I don’t think is right.

Q: Do you think this situation could be looked at as a good thing for MLB as it has garnered more interest for the sport?

A: I don’t look at it that way. I would’ve put teams on probation [and say] you’re not allowed to compete for championships or I would’ve started them at a 20-game deficit. I would’ve done something to make them really understand that you’re not gonna win it this year no matter how hard you try.

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and Bob Pompeani

Q: The NFL Draft took place back in April. Were you surprised how smoothly it went on television considering all the technology that was used and everything that could have gone wrong?

A: Yes. I thought there would [be]. They had it all worked out and once they had everyone get into their rooms, it was good. They had some pre-produced stuff ready and you always expect that to happen. I thought Roger Goodell came off as human as he ever looked.

Q: What were your takeaways from Pittsburgh’s draft?

A: Pretty much what I expected. They weren’t gonna trade up. They didn’t have the ammunition to do that. They were gonna sit there and wait for something. They felt pretty good with the options they had. I thought if [JK] Dobbins fell to them, they would take him just because he was an insurance policy for [James] Conner beyond this year. But instead, they chose to go wide receiver. Overall, I gave it a B- grade. I thought all the other teams in that division got As, so I think it’s a tough division.

Q: Were you surprised that the Steelers didn’t take a quarterback?

A: No. They made it clear that they believe in Mason Rudolph. Is it the right call? We’ll find out. If something happens to Roethlisberger and Rudolph comes in and struggles, then the answer is no. The lesson last year is that it is tough to go on without your top quarterback because it’s hard to score points. Even with a defense as good as it was, they needed to score more points. I think with Roethlisberger coming back and if this defense is similar to what it was last year, they’re gonna win a lot of games because they’re gonna score more points than they did last year.

Q: Are you confident Roethlisberger can make it through this upcoming season healthy?

A: I don’t think anyone knows. The hope is that he will. I’ve talked to him enough to know that he’s very motivated. I see good things when he’s motivated.

Q: Do you think that Antonio Brown will be remembered for the good or for the bad?

A: Both. There’s always going to be an “Oh, but …”. As time fades, you get a little more lenient in your criticism. I think that people will remember the things he did here combined with Reothlisberger to make them one of the best quarterback-wide receiver combinations for a six-year span. But, you’re also going to know that he sabotaged [the Steelers] and he sabotaged the Raiders and he sabotaged New England and he sabotaged the Saints. Will he get another chance to sabotage someone else? My answer is no. He’s 32 and is gonna be 33. At some point, you say it’s not worth it.

Q: Do you think that James Conner and JuJu can fill the void that was left by Le’Veon Bell and Antonio?

A: All I know is they’re both gonna be highly motivated. They have a lot to play for. To me, I like motivated players who are playing for a new contract. I think that makes them better just because of the motivation involved.

Q: Do you think the Steelers, in a really tough division, can win the AFC North?

A: I think it’ll be very difficult. I think top-to-bottom it’s probably the best division in football. Maybe the NFC West may be the division that could rival it, but I think it’s going to be extremely competitive and situations like that are good for the league, good for the division, good for each team, and the rivalry.

Q: When and how do you think we’ll see the return of sports?

A: I think we’re gonna see UFC starting. No fans will be the way to go. Until things become clear in terms of a vaccine or cure for this, I think they’re gonna have to proceed very, very conservatively which means no fans. I think you’ll see baseball return with no fans. I don’t think that’s a problem necessarily. We’re gonna see the Korean baseball league begin with nobody there. We’ll see how that goes. You can keep your distance, for the most part, in baseball. Yeah, there are collisions and yeah, there are some things, but mostly you wouldn’t put yourself in harm’s way. The other sports I think will really want to try, but in a limited way. That’s the way it’s going to have to start. If they have success and it continues, fine. Then maybe you can find yourself in the summer with a reduction of these cases and they can add some fans. I don’t know how, but I’m spectualinting that if things get better before they get worse, potentially, you can do that. I’m not Dr. Fauci — I’m just a sports guy who sits and hopes that he gets sports back. I love it. I miss it.