I've written in a previous post about my relationship with sports talk radio (my first call was as a 12 year old in '83, defending John Elway from Bob Trumpy criticism on his WLW show from Cincinnati); I recognized at a young age that the worst element of sports talk were the callers, who take their 90 seconds of airtime to display how deeply embedded are conservative virtues into the collective sports fan psyche (my defending the rights of the player against the corporate establishment would mark me as a political outlier; you don't have to scratch too deeply to find where most sports fans live).
More importantly, sports fans are boring (me too, I never made a call worth listening to); which is why you should avoid them on your radio dial.
Someone who recognized that early was Jim Rome; who cultivated a stylized manner of phone call from his listeners (The Jungle) which essentially boiled down to - prepare something to say before you call ("have a take, and don't suck").
The artistic success of that is a your mileage may vary situation; and Rome's own "take" on sports really hasn't evolved beyond the most bumper sticker simplistic - but I must admit, that since my first hearing it during a long, long drive in '96, I have gone out of my way each year to locate the annual Smack Off, the battle among top Jungle residents to provide the best call on the biggest day of the sports radio year. Like one could construct a narrative of modern WWE by viewing only each year's Wrestlemania if need be - listening to each Smack Off can allow you to weave your way through the sports radio landscape without having to kill yourself everytime Big Don calls from a car Phone.
This week, I found the entire history of the Smack Off. And I listened to every call in Smack Off history. Every one (except '95, which isn't available - totally coincidentally, my last ever call to a sports talk show was in the year the Smack Off started). 2011 edit; the above link is currently dead, consider this as partial replacement.
I've re-awarded each year's Huge Call, and I'm willing to say, given that I have the benefit of hindsight, that my choices for annual winner, where they differ from the official selection, are superior.
The Real Winners of the Smack Off:
1995: Actual Winner: JT the Brick
1996: Actual Winner: Jeffrey DiTolla, My Winner: Jeffrey DiTolla
-I'm not sure, upon re-listen, what would have gotten me hooked back in '96 - these early Smack Offs are terrible. They're terrible for two reasons (1) the top end calls are not as good as in recent years and there are relatively few that stand out and, more importantly (2) there just isn't enough depth to support a 4 hour Smack Off - these longer shows, with bad call after bad call, are just drugery to get through - by the time I got to Jim in Crapchester I just wanted to start crying. DiTolla 1 is slightly better than DiTolla 2 to take this year.
1997: Actual Winner: Doc Mike DiTolla, My Winner: Iafrate
-This, I'd argue, is the worst Smack Off - partially because the sound quality of the upload isn't very good - but I defy anyone to listen to Mitch the Rat in Wichita and think this is an event that will still be part of the sports talk landscape in 2010. I didn't like any of the calls, literally, not a single one.
1998: Actual Winner: Stevie Carbone, My Winner: Doc Mike DiTolla
-I'd go 1-2-3 with Doc Mike, Stevie, Iafrate - all who came in at the end to make this, probably the strongest Smack Off to that date. Jim Harbaugh inexplicably calls to essentially say he had nothing to say.
1999: Actual Winner: Sean the Cablinasian, My Winner: Sean the Cablinasian
Enter the Cablinasian; if there is a line of demarcation into the era of 21st century Smack, it would be here with the win by the Cablinasian; Sean's (1) level of preparation and (2) comfort with embracing a manuscript style of call put him a cut above in the new era. As I'll mention in a couple of years - of the big hitter callers in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, I prefer Iafrate to Sean by a little bit - but the Cablinasian was, pretty solidly the best call in '99.
2000: Actual Winner: Doc Mike, My Winner: Doc Mike
If you were going to try this endeavor - listening to every Smack Off call ever - consider starting in 2000, if you make it to 2010, then go back and get to the 90s, as this is the first of the 3 hour years and it's not at all a struggle to get through. The dentist wins again, both in the real vote and mine.
2001: Actual Winner Silk in Huntington Beach. My Winner: Gino in San Antonio (finished 3rd)
-This wasn't a very good year; Silk made easily his best call of the decade, a political takedown of standard sports talk, and if one wanted to leave the result as it was, I'd be okay with that - but Gino (making his, to this date, last ever call to the Smack Off) edges him out largely based on delivery.
2002: Actual Winner Jeff in Richmond. My Winner: Doc Mike DiTolla (5th)
-The worst result in the decade; Jeff's almost a stereoptypically bad caller, mixing in lifted wrestling promo language with boilerplate conservativism. He'll fit it great with the next junior Senator from the Nutmeg State. Doc Mike doesn't make a great call here, but as with 2001, there wasn't a great call, and he should have gotten his 3rd win.
2003: Actual Winner Sean the Cablinasian. My Winner: Dan in DC (4th)
-Sean's the most rewarded caller in Jungle history - a 5 time Smack Off Winner; in my re-working, his 4 titles this decade are reduced to one; I like Sean, he'd make my top 3 or 4 every single year, but I have him getting edged out of most of his titles. Like Gino, Dan in DC stopped calling the Smack Off after failing to win in his year (perhaps out of disappointment for being inappropriately unacknowledged - today, you are redeedmed, Gino in San Antonio and Dan in DC! Redeemed! Redeemed by the Blog of Revelation!) but Dan returned a few weeks ago for the 2010 contest.
2004: Actual Winner Iafrate. My Winner: Iafrate
-Iafrate and the Cablinasian are the most consistent performers over the last ten years (along with Greg in Vegas). They went 1-2 in '04 and that's the way I would have gone as well.
2005: Actual Winner Sean the Cablinasian. My Winner: Iafrate (2nd)
-I'd actually put Sean in third in 2005, behind Iafrate and Stevie Carbone. Iafrate has a more extemporaneous sounding style than Sean (a thought which he interjects in his calls, most effectively in 2007) and that gives him the edge for me.
2006: Actual Winner Sean the Cablinasian. My Winner: Sean the Cablinasian
-Sean's the side here, then Iafrate, Carbone, and Greg in Vegas. Another caller who I dislike, largely for reasons of style is Terrence in Sierra Madre; which I mention here as Rome consistently calls he and Greg the best callers never to have won the Smack Off, a role that was Iafrate's at decade's start.
2007: Actual Winner Sean the Cablinasian. My Winner: Iafrate (4th)
-Sean's third straight - but again, I'm going Iafrate, in my listening - he'd be a three time winner from the decade. Sean, Greg, Carbone once again would round out my top 4.
2008: Actual Winner Iafrate. My Winner Doc Mike DiTolla (2nd)
-The Cablinasian got his own radio show; knocking him out of competition - and whereas the guy I thought had been the better of the two, Iafrate, actually won in '08, I would have had him 3rd, behind Joe in the OC, and my favorite single call in Smack Off history, Doc Mike's "I drink your smacktake" call. In my vote, Doc Mike becomes a 4 time winner.
2009: Actual Winner Brad in Corona. My Winner Greg in Vegas (4th)
-My current favorite caller stylistically is Brad in Corona (just ahead of Joe in the OC) but I would have placed him 3rd in '09, behind Mike in Indy and Greg in Vegas - Greg's shtick is that he says overly offensive things (in '09 there was a Christina Applegate's breast cancer joke) which prevents him from winning. When you listen to every Smack Off call over the past ten years in one week that can really start to wear on you - but taking each year individually, I think this was the best call of '09.
2010: Actual Winner Vic In NoCal. My Winner: Brad in Corona (8th)
-The largest disparity between my choice and the official board, probably due to 2010 arguably being the best overall year for calls, at least in terms of the depth of the good calls, in Smack Off history. Brad was my favorite, and I'm not really a fan of Vic's, as his style is a step too manuscript heavy for my ears - Joe in the OC was a very close second for me, Mike in Indy, Jay Mohr (with his best ever Smack Off call) and Doc Mike would have rounded out my hypercompetitive top 5.
2011: Actual Winner: Brad in Corona. My Winner: Brad in Corona
-Brad and Iafrate should have gone 1-2 (I would have moved Joe in the OC up to 3rd); My top 2 were clearly the strongest in mixing solid content with an extemporaneous sounding delivery; both guys are extra comfortable on the radio; I preferred Iafrate a tick this year; meaning, I liked listening to his call more - I enjoyed the experience more, I found him more likable - but that could be my settling into middle age; I'm now old school defending my intellectual turf against young punks - recognizing that, I vote for Brad - he cut more deeply, was sharper, more creative, and is the only guy on the board who doesn't lose ground to Iafrate stylistically.
I don't know why I didn't listen to 2012. No - I did listen, Chael won and didn't deserve it, but I didn't include that discussion here for some reason.
2013: Actual Winner: Mark from Hollywood. My Winner: Vic in No Cal (3rd)
Mark did a Siri bit that, had you heard it at a comedy club would have come across as really hacky. I didn't think this was a strong year, had Brad in Corona not gotten run, he would have been my choice again.
Here's a link.
2014: Actual Winner: Mike in Indy/Chael Sonnen, My winner: Vic in No Cal (4th)
Chael is famous and can read well, Mike's less so and less so - the optics around the call were significantly better than the actual take which was long and laboriously read. It was only 4 years ago that my dislike of Vic was motivated by his script reliance, now, in context, he seems almost extemporaneous. Mark from Hollywood is head and shoulders above the field in terms of ability to not sound like he's speaking from a script, I preferred Vic's content - but stylistically, no one was close to Mark in the year with the least sports content I can ever recall.
2015: Actual Winner: Brad in Corona. My winner: Mike and Chael (2nd)
Brad, as you can see, has been particularly high on my list of Rome callers; in the real vote, he edged last years winners; but I (narrowly) go the other way, Chael and Mike's worked break up/drop call angle was seamless and got my top spot with Mark from Hollywood being my third choice.