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April 19, 2014

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Ron Kantowski:

Cowherd was never afraid to take a chance

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COURTESY PHOTO

Colin Cowherd, once a Las Vegas TV personality, will co-host ESPN’s SportsNation with Michelle Beadle.

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I used to call Colin Cowherd “The World’s Most Dangerous Sportscaster.” It was both a nod to the “World’s Most Dangerous Band,” which is what David Letterman called Paul Shaffer and his musical pals before they became “The CBS Orchestra,” and a tribute to Cowherd’s propensity for doing George Plimpton-esque stunts during his days as sports director for KVBC-TV, Channel 3.

The one that always comes to mind first is when The Herd, as he and his popular (and sometimes polarizing) ESPN Radio show are now called, strapped on hockey skates and goalie pads for the first time and challenged Wayne Gretzky to a penalty shot before the infamous NHL preseason Grasshopper Game between the Kings and Rangers in 1991.

It was the first and only hockey game played outdoors in the dead of summer at Caesars Palace — which is what the other local sportscasters told their viewers on the 6 o’clock news before the game.

Not Cowherd. Instead, he stood between the pipes — sort of — as Larry Robinson, another hockey legend and Hall of Famer (The Great One apparently was too busy showing his wife how to bet the game), built up a head of steam in his own end, collected the puck at center ice and bore down on the rawest of rookie netminders during a made-for-TV penalty shot.

All that was missing was the cool theme music from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and a couple of buzzards circling overhead.

Wahna-nahna-nah ... wah, wah wah ...

“All I can remember is it was hot in those pads and I was kind of nervous, not knowing if this guy really wanted to bury me,” The Dangerous One recalled.

Robinson didn’t bury Cowherd, but he did beat him like a rented mule — er, sports director.

“It was one of the funniest things I ever did,” Cowherd said. “I put it on my resume tape and it got a lot of laughs.”

That resume tape also got Cowherd out of Las Vegas. He did a stint at WTVT-TV in Tampa and another at KGW-TV in Portland before he was tapped to replace Tony Kornheiser on ESPN Radio’s late-morning time slot in 2003.

On Monday he’ll tackle — at some point, likely literally — a new challenge on ESPN. He’ll co-host “SportsNation,” a Monday through Friday hourlong call-in (and e-mail, text, Twitter and Facebook-in) show with Michelle Beadle that can be seen at 1 p.m. Las Vegas time on ESPN2.

“Life is good,” said the 45-year-old native of Grayland, Wash., who still looks 25. That was Cowherd’s age when he was play-by-play voice of the Las Vegas Stars who, when combined with their current incarnation as the 51s, have produced nearly as many major-league broadcasters as they have ballplayers.

Cowherd joins a roster of Stars/51s broadcast booth alums that includes Paul Olden (former play-by-play voice of the Rays, Yankees, Angels, Indians, Eagles, Jets, Nets and 12-time public address announcer at the Super Bowl), Ken Korach (currently with the A’s), Rich Waltz (Marlins) and Tim Neverett (Pirates).

While Cowherd concedes his like ’em or loathe ’em radio show isn’t for everybody — “Very few people are indifferent about me,” he says — the new TV show should be more universally appealing. Think of it as Bud Light’s drinkability vs. the acquired taste of Guinness.

According to the ESPN publicity wagon, “SportsNation” will be “fueled by fan interaction and focused on fun. We won’t take ourselves too seriously.”

“Whew!” you can almost hear Cowherd sighing in relief. “That was close.”

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