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Catching It All

Ahmad Rashad has gone from all-pro receiver to all-network announcer.
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95

(continued from page 2)

Now Rashad is involved with several NBC programs. "NBA Off the Court," a more in-depth show than his "NBA Inside Stuff," will premier for the 1994-95 season with profiles of players and coaches and longer features. But he admits his biggest current gig is cohosting "NFL Live" with Greg Gumbel on Sundays. He is also host of "Notre Dame Saturday."

The table is cleared as Rashad lights up his Don Lino Robusto. "I just had one the other day. It's a great daytime cigar." Rashad believes that the right choice of cigar is necessary: some cigars are too strong to smoke before a full meal. His taste in cigars is eclectic. He enjoys a Cuban Partagas Series D No. 4. "I like different cigars at different times of the day. I light one Avo Intermezzo cigar. If I light up in my driveway, it's finished by the time I reach New Jersey [the location of the NBA Entertainment studio]. So I tell time by cigars. Don Lino is a little shorter. It has a lighter, milder taste. I like a fat cigar with a 50-ring size. After a meal some are a little heavier. But the Don Lino is very smooth. You can't smoke a Cuban in the daytime; it's too strong. I also like the short, fat Cohiba Robusto. But you can't smoke that in the daytime either."

Rashad cannot get away with smoking in his home, however. His wife, Phylicia, once a regular on "The Cosby Show," won't tolerate it. "I built a separate shack behind my house just for my cigars. The cigar shack has a television and a couch.

"There's an old saying: 'Smoke less, smoke better.' I smoke probably four or five a day, maybe too many. I was coughing the other day, and my daughter goes with me to the doctor and the doctor says 'you smoke?' And I say 'Yeah, I smoke one or two a day. And my daughter cuts in and says, 'Dad, you smoke more than one or two a day.' 'OK, three or four,' I say.

"It's funny, I always wanted to smoke a cigar, but I used to think I would be too young to smoke. I started smoking when I was playing for the Vikings. I was reading books on cigars. Cosby was smoking, and I used to take his. So that would give me a chance to test them. But they would be big, long ones, and I always thought I would look funny with big, long cigars. And then as time went by and I ended up getting married to Phylicia, people thought I smoked cigars because Cosby smoked cigars. I have known Cosby since I was in college," he says. "Since I was 19 or 20. He introduced me to her on the set."

Rashad's proposal to Phylicia was a famous break-in-the-football-action betrothal on television on Thanksgiving in 1985. "I proposed on the set. She didn't know it was coming. That's probably my single biggest moment on TV. I meet people that I know aren't sports fans who have seen copies of it and say 'that was such a wonderful thing.' She was in the Thanksgiving Day parade in New York, so the parade ended and she was at Macy's. I had told her when she got off the float to go in and look at TV. She went nuts."

Despite Rashad's foray into cigars, his partner Marv Albert claims he knows nothing about it. "I have never seen him smoke," says Albert. "He'll do anything for publicity. The next thing he'll claim is that electric trains are his favorite hobby, just to get into print." With Albert, one needs the grin or the slight alteration in the voice to detect the humor. "He is the dean of sideline reporting," Albert says dryly, "setting new standards every time, game by game. He's replaced the czar of the telestrater [Mike Fratello]."

The Albert-Rashad connection is one of perpetual one-upmanship. "He basically laughs at anything I say, and then he says it's not funny," Albert says. Despite Albert's constant zingers--during the Dream Team II games he hoped that Shaquille O'Neal wouldn't tear down the basket because the delay would lead to "20 more minutes of Ahmad"--Rashad feels he has the last word, since when the Knicks decided to have a "Marv Albert Night" for his long service to broadcasting, they made "Mike and the Mad Dog" of WFAN the masters of ceremony. Rashad refers to them as "Dog and the Fat Man." "The one guy [Chris Russo] looks like a deranged idiot," Rashad says. "And the other [Mike Francesa] is swelling out of his suit."

If the comments seem a bit strident, it is because Rashad was stung hard by the WFAN pair after his Michael Jordan interview several years ago--right after reports surfaced that Jordan had suffered huge gambling losses. Rashad was widely criticized for not asking Jordan "tough" questions during the interview. Jordan, feeling the lash of the press after his midnight jaunt to Atlantic City during the Knicks-Bulls series in 1993, wouldn't talk to reporters for days.

Then one day Jordan saw Rashad at Chicago Stadium and said 'get a camera; let's get this out of the way.' Says Rashad: "I asked, 'Do you have a gambling problem?' 'No.' 'Are you sure you don't have a gambling problem?' 'No, I don't.' 'Does your wife think you have a gambling problem?' 'No, she doesn't.' So what else am I supposed to say? 'No, you're lying?' I know the answer before I ask it anyway. I know he doesn't have a gambling problem.

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