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The 5 O'Clock Club: Exclusive interview with Dan Hellie, co-host of NFL Network’s Total Access

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It’s 5 o’clock somewhere...

The 5 o’clock club aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below. Today’s post is dedicated to Chambers716, who seems to need an ‘atta boy this week.

Prior to the Week 3 Redskins-Raiders game, Dan Hellie, the co-host of Total Access and a lifelong Redskins fan who grew up in Gaithersburg, MD, made a public wager with David Carr, on-air personality and brother to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. If the Raiders won their home game, Hellie would wear Derek Carr’s jersey on the air; on the other hand, if the underdog Redskins won on the road, David Carr would wear Kirk Cousins’ #8 jersey on the air.

The results were very satisfactory.

I was so impressed by Dan Hellie’s audacity in backing his underdog Redskins so publicly and winning, that I reached out to him via his facebook page — basically I “cold called” him — and asked if he would agree to an interview with Hogs Haven and the 5 O’Clock Club. I had tried to do the same thing via Twitter with long snapper Nick Sundberg in the off-season without any success, so I didn’t really hold out much hope that Hellie would answer me, much less agree to the interview.

I’m thrilled to report that Dan Hellie answered my message promptly, agreed to the interview, and asked me to send him the questions I wanted to ask. In addition, when I sent them, he wrote back to let me know that he’d received them, that he was traveling to cover a basketball game, and that he’d write his replies while he was on the road. I sent a list of 11 questions and asked that he pick out 5 to 8 that he’d like to answer. He sent back answers to every question in the list! That’s a true professional and a real gentleman.

Sports journalist

If you’re not a regular viewer of NFL Network, you may not be very familiar with Total Access, a daily NFL show that Hellie co-hosts with Lindsay Rhodes. Total Access is my favorite sports show; it is entirely NFL focused, features intelligent insight and discussion of the play on the field and news surrounding the game, and is generally devoid of the bellicose outbursts that typify so much sports coverage these days.

The Total Access co-hosts: Originally paired with another Maryland native, Amber Theoharis, Hellie now shares the stage with Lindsay Rhodes, who apparently really enjoys taking selfies.

Before getting to the Hogs Haven interview with Dan Hellie, I thought I’d share excerpts from a Washington Post story that was published in 2013, when Dan Hellie left his local reporting job in DC to join NFL Network.

Seven years ago, Dan Hellie got what seemed like a dream job. After several years in Orlando and West Palm Beach, he was finally back home in Washington, working for the legendary George Michael at WRC, the most powerful local station with one of the country’s strongest sports brands.

“I thought I would never leave,” he said this week.

But Hellie, at 38, has become one of the longest-serving and best connected sports broadcasters in the city. And this week, he’ll announce his next move: to NFL Network, where he’ll anchor the daily ‘NFL Total Access’ look at the league.

“It’s a blessing to go from one unbelievable job to another,” Hellie said. “I feel unbelievably lucky. And I’m not dumb enough to think that luck had nothing to do with it.”

Perhaps, but there was clearly more than that. Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan placed a call to the network, telling executive producer Eric Weinberger the respect he had “for [Hellie’s] journalism and his reporting.” Owner Dan Snyder also contacted NFL Network President and CEO Steve Bornstein, with a similar message.

“You’re searching for personality, for confidence, for a thorough knowledge of the topic, and that’s what he has,” Weinberger said. “He’s in a unique place, coming out of D.C., learning from George Michael, covering one of the most rabidly followed franchises in sports. We really liked not only his presence on camera, but that he has a point of view when he delivers his reporting.”

Hellie on Youtube

The NFL Network isn’t the only place you can see Dan Hellie in action. Parts of his past live on via Youtube.

For example, Hellie graduated from Magruder High School, and he returned to his alma mater to give the commencement address in 2008. Excerpts of that speech are online, and they give some insights to Hellie’s values.

You can go home again if you’re invited: Dan Hellie spoke to the Magruder High School graduating class of 2008.

Also, one of the highlights of his early career as a local sports reporter came when he decided to try his hand at bull riding after the local rodeo came to town, winning an Associated Press Award for his trouble.

The news report is an amusing, unself-conscious look at the intimidating physical and emotional challenge involved in climbing aboard a ton & a half of wildly bucking, muscular fury determined to get you off of his back. Hellie didn’t distinguish himself through his riding performance, but it made for very entertaining sports reporting that went 'above and beyond'.

Apologies for the poor quality of the photo. I had to capture it from a video feed that didn’t last very long, and this image just seemed too perfect to pass up.

Family man

From local kid, to local sports reporter, to commencement speaker, to bull rider (sort of), to the national stage, Dan Hellie is a success story in his professional life, and his personal life too. He married his high school sweetheart, Anne, and today, the family, including their two children Chase and Caroline, lives in Manhattan Beach, California.

Now living in California: This is Dan Hellie, with his wife, Anne, and their two children — just toddlers at the time — when they still lived in Bethany Beach
Supporting the Burgundy & Gold in California: This Dan, Anne, Chase and Caroline last month at the Redskins-Rams game in the LA Memorial Coliseum
The Hellies having fun: Tubing on the river in Colorado — looks like sun, fun and excitement!

DC area success story

Dan Hellie is one of the top sports television journalists in the nation, and he continues to proudly fly the flag for his hometown Redskins. Success stories like Scott Hanson, the host of NFL Red Zone, Amber Theoharis, Hellie’s former co-anchor, and Dan Hellie himself, are all part of the greatness of the DMV area that makes up the heart of the Redskins fan base.

Now, onto the Q&A with Dan Hellie:

1. I know you were born in the Philippines. What took your family there? Do you have any memories of living there?

My parents joined the Peace Corps out of college and then moved to the Philippines. I don’t remember much because I only lived there for about two years. My mom, who is a recently retired Spanish teacher, didn’t talk to me in English until after she taught me Tagalog, which is the native language of Filipinos, so that was my first language. We basically lived in a hut and didn’t have a washer and dryer. My mom often tells the story of how I used to constantly be on the move and nearly drowned when I jumped into the wash basin that we used for washing clothes.

After our time in the Philippines my folks moved to Honduras to finish their Peace Corps stint. My little brother Brook was born there.

2. You grew up in Gaithersburg Maryland, went to Magruder High School, and married your high school sweetheart. What’s the hardest/best thing about being married to someone you’ve known for so long?

This is a funny one. The best thing is we have the same friends dating back to middle school. The best and worst thing is that she knows everything about me. Whenever she tells me I’m hardheaded, I jokingly reply that she knew exactly what she was getting into when she married me.

Both of our parents still live in the area -- her parents in the same house in Olney, and my folks, who are leaving their home in Gaithersburg after 30+ years and moving to a retirement community in Urbana.

3. In your commencement speech at your alma mater, Magruder High School, in 2008, you talked a lot about “passion”. What are you passionate about that led you to the job and the life you have now?

I really loved sports growing up, especially football and basketball.

I was lucky enough to play football at Magruder for legendary coach Roy Lester who just celebrated his 94th Birthday. I started for him for 3 years as a linebacker, fullback & tight end. (I also long snapped on kicks and extra points for one of my best friends in high school, Vince Petrolle, who was the kicker). Coach Lester always called me “Hallie” — I’m not sure he ever said my name right in those 3 years.

There was one funny moment when I was on defense and responsible for outside contain during practice, and I let our backup QB get past me. Coach Lester was so mad that he literally put me in a headlock — it was later dubbed the "Hellie Headlock”. It was one of those holy crap! moments while it was happening, but looking back it was one of those things that I’ll never forget; in fact, I can’t forget, since my high school buddies still remind about it every now and then.

My basketball coach, Dan Harwood, is still at Magruder and I’m still in touch with him. Not only is he a GREAT coach but he does a tremendous job of keeping former players up to date and involved in the MHS basketball program. I was just an average basketball player, but I have some great memories from my senior year that include hitting the game winner against the #1 ranked and and previously undefeated Blair team.

Anyway, back to your question.

All I ever wanted to do was earn a football scholarship. I took a couple of football visits to D-II schools: Shippensburg U. and Shepard College. My dad really wanted me to go to Shippensburg, but once I realized that I would be one of about 30 recruited walk-ons and wouldn’t be getting a scholarship I pulled the plug on my playing career.

Instead, I decided to attend the University of Tennessee and chase my other dream of becoming a sportscaster. The idea spawned from a career day in 7th grade that I spent with the late great Glenn Brenner at Channel 9. Spending the day with Brenner (who was the best local sportscaster I’ve ever seen) had me hooked!

4. Can you tell us one interesting/entertaining story about an athlete you’ve interviewed or another on-air personality you’ve shared the stage with on Total Access?

Man, there are so many!

One of the early stops in my carer was in Florence, SC where I interviewed Dale Earnhardt Junior’s father, the Intimidator, and man was he intimidating! I remember, during a rain delay at Darlington, doing a walk and talk interview with him. I asked him what he did during rain delays, and he asked me what I was going to do. I said, “I don’t know it’s my first one,” and he said, “Well, you’d better figure it out kid,” and just kept walking. I told myself after that interaction that I needed to come armed with better questions for my next interview.

There have been so many memorable interviews over the years: Donald Trump, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Dom DiMaggio, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant (at the Olympics), Michael Phelps, and one I’ll never forget with Bobby Bowden (while he was fresh out of the shower wearing a towel) after a brutal loss to Miami when he actually thought his team had won on an end-of-the game field goal — until he went to shake hands with Miami coach Larry Coker and Coker said, ‘tough loss coach’.

As for NFL players, I’ve interviewed most of them. The guys that I really get excited to talk to are the ones that I grew up watching, or some of the greats of the game: Art Monk, Doug Williams, Marcus Allen, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, and many others.

5. What’s your best memory as a Redskins fan? How about your worst?

The best? Super Bowl XXII when Doug Williams and the Skins exploded in the 2nd quarter to beat the Broncos.

Worst was when Sean Taylor was killed. I was at his last game in Green Bay. I felt like he was just starting to turn the page and was on his way to becoming an all-time great. That year the Skins lost the playoff game in Seattle. It was really disappointing; numerous guys on that team and the coaching staff thought they had a chance to do something special that year.

6. I think every Redskins fan knows about the bet you made with David Carr, and the resulting visual of him wearing a Kirk Cousins jersey on set after the Redskins beat his brother’s team on Sunday Night Football. What gave you the confidence to back the Redskins so publicly?

I don’t know. I’m just a fan like everybody else. The guys (Willie McGinest, LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis and David) all love to bust my balls about it. I don’t wear it on my sleeve every show, but I think it’s okay to be human and share with our viewers that — just like them — I have a rooting interest, too.

Journalism, TV in particular, has changed from the days when it was felt that no one should know who your team is. I think that’s silly.

7. What do you think the rest of the 2017 season holds for the Redskins?

Honestly, my expectations really weren’t that high prior to the season. I figured the Redskins were an 8 to 9 win team. Losing two 1,000-yard receivers in the same off season had never happened before, and I think that’s something that’s taking the offense a while to get adjusted to.

That being said, I may have underestimated this defense. They are flying around and hitting as hard as any Redskins defense I’ve seen in a long time. If they can get Josh Norman back healthy, the Skins could contend down the stretch.

8. The last two Redskins Offensive Coordinators (Sean McVay & Kyle Shanahan) are both rookie head coaches this season – who is in the better situation?

Right now, McVay for sure. From a talent standpoint, he just had more to work with when he got there, and the team has also added some nice pieces on offense. The Rams top 3 receivers are all new to the roster, and they’re guys that McVay handpicked.

Shanahan has the luxury of a 6-year contract, so he can be a bit more methodical about the roster build there with John Lynch. I think next year you will see a significant improvement in the 49ers with Cousins at QB. I know, I know... it pains me to say it, but the writing is on the wall. Cousins will be in San Fransisco next year.

9. There’s been a lot of focus on the future of the NFL, with discussion of concussions & safety in general, relocations, games in London, increased political activity from players, and falling ratings. In your opinion, what’s the future of the NFL?

It’s the most popular sport in America and, just like everything else, it’s continuing to evolve. The NFL realizes the issues with concussions and is making the game safer. I think the league will be around and thriving for a long time.

The key for the future of the game is to sustain participation in youth football, which has dropped off substantially over the last several years because of safety concerns.

I can say from personal experience (my 10-year old son is playing tackle football for the first time) that the way they coach and teach is entirely different, and much safer than when I played at that age.

10. What are you most looking forward to in your personal or professional future?

I love working at NFL Network and would like to continue my hosting duties here.

Three years ago I decided to dive headfirst into the world of play by play. My first play by play experience was going to a USC game with one of my producers acting as a color analyst. We set up shop on the roof of the press box next to the USC student radio station; I bought a couple of cheap headsets and we called the game while recording it into my iPhone. I remember thinking at the time: “Man, these kids at the campus station are pretty good. I need to step my game up!”

I am now the preseason TV voice of the Tennessee Titans, and I’ve called a number of NFL games on Fox (I have two games coming up the next two weeks: Lions @ Saints and Jets @ Dolphins).

I also call college football games for Facebook, and college basketball games on the west coast.

Also, most recently, I’ve ventured into the world of UFC — calling the Contenders Series — and will do some events on FS1 in the near future.

11. Any final thoughts you’d like to share with the Hogs Haven readers?

HTTR!

I want to thank Dan Hellie for taking the time to answer questions for us. I hope you found his responses as enlightening and entertaining as I did.

Clearly Dan Hellie is a man who enjoys his work, his family, and who gets a lot of joy out of life!

Poll

What do you like best about Dan Hellie?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    That he’s a local kid succeeding nationally
    (39 votes)
  • 7%
    His passion
    (8 votes)
  • 2%
    The fact that he actually tried to ride that bull
    (3 votes)
  • 4%
    The bet with David Carr
    (5 votes)
  • 13%
    That he’s a family man
    (15 votes)
  • 37%
    The fact that, when he has the chance to say anything he wants to, he says, "HTTR!"
    (43 votes)
  • 0%
    Something else (share your ideas in the comments)
    (1 vote)
114 votes total Vote Now