For two guys who grew up in roughly the same area, their respective sports youths couldn’t have been more different. One grew up idolizing Jets players like Lance Mehl and Kyle Clifton. The other had a grandfather and great-uncle who were original Giants season ticket holders. The kid fromRonkonkoma basked in the glory of the Islanders dynasty of the 80s as a 10-year old playing pick-up hockey games (on roller skates, no less). The other recalls the Rangers defeat of the Islanders in the 1979 playoffs as a seminal moment of his youth. One delightfully recalls Bucky Dent and the 1978 Yankees, the one who was once a North Shore kid growing up a short ride from Shea and still thinks the ’86 Mets were the better team.
Sure, on the surface Long Island natives Dave Rothenberg and Alan Hahn don’t seem to have much in common, but both have become respected and authoritative voices over the airwaves of New York sports radio. Hahn, originally from Ronkonkoma, worked as a sports writer at Newsday for 15 years before becoming a studio analyst for Knicks games on the MSG Network and, most recently, co-hosting the Hahn & Humpty Show on ESPN Radio (the “Humpty” in question is former Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro). Rothenberg, from Roslyn, has been in sports radio for decades, covering teams up and down the East Coast before returning to New York in 2012. He now co-hosts the Ruocco & Rothenberg Show, also on ESPN Radio.
Pulse caught up with the two opinionated hosts to get the scoop on their Long Island roots and their favorite memories, as well as advice on how to deal with Twitter trolls and why they’re both optimistic about the Knicks, but not too optimistic.
Long Island Pulse: Tell us about your seminal sports moments as kids growing up.
Alan Hahn: The Islanders and Rangers rivalry in the 70s and 80s was the first time I really understood what it was to be a fan. The Rangers beat the Islanders in the ’79 playoffs. My parents were Rangers fans and they were really excited about it. I said, “No, we shouldn’t do that. I’m rooting for that team from now on, ’cause I’m from Long Island and that’s my team.” Then they won four straight Stanley Cups, so that helped.
Dave Rothenberg: For me, it was the Giants… but they stunk when I was a kid. Then Lawrence Taylor came along in ’81 and changed everything. For me, it was this unbelievable interception he made on Thanksgiving Day in 1982. I dressed up as LT on Halloween when I was a kid.
Pulse: Did both of you know you wanted to work in sports?
DR: I was only really good at sports until I was about 11 and I just knew that if I couldn’t play professionally then I could talk about it. But sports talk radio wasn’t even really a medium yet. I just knew I had to do something.
AH: Yeah, my mom would always joke that I learned to read from reading the Newsday sports section. So I went to LIU Post on a basketball scholarship, but I got a degree in journalism and just went from there. When I first got a job at Newsday, it was like Rudy getting to go to Notre Dame. I felt I had made it. [Laughs]
Pulse: There’s a long line of sports reporters and analysts from Long Island. You guys, Adam Schefter, Steve Levy, Bob Costas… Is it something in the water?
AH: There’s definitely a lineage. Even if they’re not from here, a lot of guys started out at Newsday. Peter King, who is now one of the most respected commentators in the NFL and Tom Verducci, who called the World Series this year.
Pulse: Both of you got new radio partners this year. Alan with Rick Dipietro and Dave with Ryan Ruocco. Just as in sports, does there have to be good chemistry when it comes to on-air partners?
AH: For sure. It seems so easy on the surface. Just put two guys together and let them talk sports, but it’s not once those lights come on. You have to have a great rapport otherwise it’s going to be difficult.
DR: I was used to always doing my own show so working with Ryan has been different for me. There was a little bit of an adjustment, but it’s great because we’re very similar personality-wise.
Pulse: How do you feel about each other’s style of commentary?
AH: Actually, it was Dave who was the guy that originally got me into radio.
I would come onto his show after covering Knicks games in 2012 and we had such great chemistry. Dave is the radio pro. He’s got the voice and he’s got the delivery.
DR: Yeah, we had so much fun. Alan’s great, but he’s a little more reserved than I am. I see things more black
and white than he does. I can take a situation and find the good or bad very quickly. He’s more methodical and will analyze the situation a bit deeper.
Pulse: Thoughts about the Islanders leaving Long Island?
AH: [sighs] There was a time, because of the Islanders’ success, that you couldn’t go down a street in Long Island without seeing a bunch of kids playing hockey. It was just that popular. I’ve used the word “bittersweet” a lot. This is an end to a chapter here, maybe the end of the book.
DR: [laughs] As a Rangers fan, there’s kind of something nice about having hated them for so long and that’s where they’ve always been. There’s a tradition there. I just wish they’d be awful every year and stay on Long Island.
Pulse: The only team you guys both like is the Knicks and neither of you seem to be too optimistic about the season. Are Knicks fans just naturally pessimistic?
DR: I think it’s more a cautious optimism. It’s just been so long for the Knicks. Best-case scenario for the most optimistic Knicks fan is still a cautious optimism.
AH: It’s the puppy that’s been hit with the newspaper too many times and now it flinches all the time. That’s a Knicks fan. They flinch. I’m normally careful with optimism, but I’m pretty excited about the future. I think Phil [Jackson] and Derek [Fisher] will get them there.
Pulse: Who was your best interview?
AH: Interviewing Pat Riley at the Hall of Fame media event was awesome. Everybody had kind of gone away and I asked him about the Knicks. No one ever asks him about New York. They all want to know about the Lakers and the Heat.
DR: Lawrence Taylor was like that for me. It was a lifelong dream. I mean, it wasn’t the most groundbreaking inter- view in the history of radio, but I’ll always remember it.
Pulse: Who was your worst?
DR: Oh, there’s plenty. Warren Sapp was terrible. He yelled at me. He didn’t want to talk to me. He was really bad. Telling me I didn’t know anything about football. It was just really combative and uncomfortable.
AH: There was this one time I went up to Vinny Testaverde in the Jets locker room when [Glenn] Foley was the [starting] quarterback and he brushed me off and said something like, “I don’t play, I don’t talk.” He said it real flippantly and walked away and I remember being like, “Seriously?”
Pulse: How has Twitter changed things when it comes to sports reporting and commentary?
AH: Great question. You have direct access to most athletes all the time and you can get information out a lot quicker. It’s also hurt journalism because of the desperate need for attention and the need for clicks so people might massage a story to make it sound more sensational.
DR: Right, Twitter is great and awful at the same time. I can get my opinion out there instantaneously and it makes our radio show more interactive. It’s also horren- dous because for all the people who are nice on Twitter, you have a small percentage who just insult you.
Pulse: How do you deal with the haters?
AH: Don’t respond with anger. Just respond with a joke. If someone tells me I’m a terrible writer and a complete idiot, I’ll tell them they forgot that I also have bad hair.
DR: I ignore it for the most part. The ones that bother
me the most are the racially motivated ones or making comments about my family. On occasion, I’ll retweet them so that everyone who follows me sees that comment and my cool followers will start attacking them for me.
Catch Alan Hahn on his Hahn & Humpty Show on ESPN Radio weekdays from 7 to 10pm and Dave Rothenberg on his Ruocco & Rothenberg Show, also on ESPN Radio, from noon to 1pm on weekdays.