One of the great joys of Euro 2016 has been watching our broadcasting hero, great American, and recipient of the very first Golden Blazer Bob Ley captain ESPN’s coverage. His depth of knowledge and full head of beautiful hair never ceases to amaze us. In this edition of Three Questions, we ask The General about the marathon nature of covering a month-long football tournament, a special trip to Normandy, and Parisian dining with Sir Ian Darke.
MiB: You have covered football tournaments dating back to the 1982 World Cup. Where does this one stack up in terms of quality of football? Where does it stack in terms of narrative? Would it be fair to say, the latter outstripped the former?
BL: Clearly, the football in Euro 2016 has not been scintillating. When it's been unimaginative or tactical to a fault, we've tried to call it out on the air - both on the host set and at the venues. Folks at home know what they're seeing. But the other narratives in this month - the initial violence from fans (organized Russian mayhem, classic hooliganism from some others) - the emergence of Iceland, the promise of Wales - have all provided us a string of stories that have carried it through this month. As I type this, France - the nation - has just calmed down from its party last night after Les Bleus' victory over Germany. This team's development - Deschamps' management and decisions along the way - have all been fascinating to watch. We hope for a final as entertaining as the first half of the Germany-France semi-final, but Portugal may not be ready to accommodate.
MiB: One image or scene - good or bad - that will stay with you long after Euro 2016 ends?
BL: I wish I could send you this picture, but it's on my higher-end camera and will be downloaded upon my return to the States. It's taken just below the cemetery at Omaha Beach, in Normandy, where more than 9,000 American service people rest. There's a walkway and bluff above the beach itself, and there is a large display of the order of battle for that fateful day, the pivot point of the 20th century - June 6, 1944. It's a long large table, on which the various landing beaches are shown, and the Allied military units which attacked each beach, and the German forces which defended the northwestern coast of France. It is a graphic display of how this day was won. And as a colleague and I approached it - having already visited Omaha Beach - a group of French schoolchildren were gathering about the D-Day display, summoned by their teacher. The kids may been 11 or 12 years old, and their teacher was calling them together to begin explaining what had happened 72 years ago (almost to the week), and what sacrifices had been made to free their nation and Europe. And on the faces of those kids there was rapt attention. They were clearly drinking it in. For any adult, it was almost impossible not to as we were standing between the cemetery and the beach. But that these youngsters were respectfully - even eagerly - listening to this story was a most emotional sight. More striking than any moment on the pitch. Later in the day, after lunch, we drove up to Pointe du Hoc, where the U.S. Army Rangers had scaled the impossibly tall cliffs. The landscape remains pockmarked by artillery depressions. The German defensive structures are still there, and you can climb through them. And you can glance out to sea and imagine what it must have been that morning when the largest invasion force ever assembled began the job of freeing Western Europe, and bringing order to the world.
MiB: Covering a tournament is a marathon stamina-wise. Particularly at the beginning when the games can be three a day. What is the biggest lesson you have learned about successfully broadcasting a month of football?
BL: Experience is the greatest teacher here. From bringing as many creature comforts from home as you can pack (including, a good Bluetooth speaker for tunes in your room) to emptying out your mini-bar (no, not consuming it all) to make room for snacks, late night meals and water and juices from local shops. I have to re-set my body clock. Normally I'm up before 5am, but here, I am often going to work at 530pm and finishing after midnight. So managing your sleep is important, as well not being too proud to take naps when you can.
MiB: Best meal you've had in France... with or without Ian Darke?
BL: Well, I've been reading Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" while over here, and Sir Ian is - himself - a feast without portfolio. So whether it's breakfast over eggs and "L'Equipe" (the French sports daily newspaper) or late night drinks in the hotel bar, any time with him is joyous. However, the highlight may have been an expedition to a long-standing Brasserie near the Sorbonne, recommended by Jeremy Schaap's French photographer, Pascal. Jeremy, Ian, Andrew Hush of ESPNFC.com and yours truly walked down the Boulevard St. Germain a mile or so to the Latin Quarter to Rue des Ecoles, for a marvelous meal. I was happy to suggest a delightful Cote du Rhone, and Jeremy invoked the Golden Rule of French desserts… which is: when there are Profiteroles on the menu, there is no other dessert. All of that, for a marvelous several hours of the Darke Side.