The Newy Factor

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Scruggs missed Texas and good Mexican food, but he feared coming to Dallas, settling down, getting married, having a kid. (This is exactly what came to pass, of course: He and his wife, whom he met during a halftime contest at a Mavericks game, live on Lake Arlington with their newborn daughter.)

Despite what Scruggs says was "the worst interview I've ever had," Channel 5 hired him in April 2000. The station had been trying to figure out a way to move out Scott Murray, who'd been hammered by Hansen in the ratings for years on Sunday nights despite the station's recent ratings victories over longtime dominator Channel 8 at 10 p.m. weeknights. They had tried Hansen's former No. 2, Brian Jensen, who came off as Hansen-lite, and that hadn't worked. So they went with Hansen's opposite.

In seemingly every way. "Everyone likes Newy," says a Channel 5 on-air staffer whom I quizzed on background specifically because he would tell me the juicy, behind-the-scenes dirt. "I can't think of anyone who doesn't think he's a good guy. Hmm. You want something on Mike Snyder? I can talk all day."

Hansen, however, is a controversial figure even within his own station. He would tell you it's precisely this quality that made him No. 1 all these years, albeit precariously of late. He shrugs off the criticisms of himself as a bomb-thrower who doesn't go to games or comb the locker rooms by pointing out that this is exactly why he can be straightforward when it comes time to criticize a player, coach or owner. It is what makes him unique. And, although he doesn't say it, you know when he points out that Scruggs, Laufenberg and Channel 4's Mike Doocy (whose shows run at different times than his competitors, which makes comparisons tough) do things "I think are pretty weird sometimes," what he means is, they're soft, I'm tough. A point that's easy to concede.

At the same time, it's easy to figure out who Laufenberg is referring to when he says, "My number-one concern is credibility. Not just with the viewer, but with the people I cover, too...The players know who's in the locker room actually covering the team and who's not. And if you take shots at them and they never see you so they can confront you or make you explain yourself, it's just not fair."

Again, Laufenberg says he respects all his competitors, and he's just talking about general philosophy. But this is the charge that other sports people level at Hansen all the time: He's not just a bomb-thrower; he's a long-distance bomb-thrower. They say Scruggs' and Laufenberg's more relaxed, less-abrasive style is not just what players want, but what more and more viewers want, too.

"It's obvious the Dallas market has changed," says Michael Hill, an ESPN News broadcaster who had a bitter break with Hansen and Channel 8 a few years ago, one no one can discuss because of signed agreements. "You're getting more and more [outsiders] moving there. Dale and his critical style is played out. New people come to the market, look at him, and it's obvious he's never played before. So they're saying, 'Who does he think he is?' Newy can be critical, but because he is in the locker room and because he doesn't come across as know-it-all, he is more enjoyable to listen to. Bottom line, Newy is simply better."

Scruggs, by the way, does take his shots at players and owners. But he does it with that big grin, not a Hansen smirk. Hansen will heap praise but can't help but sound smart-ass even when he does this. Laufenberg will call out Cowboys players during radio broadcasts but is a former player so is seen as someone who gives them a lot of rope.

And although Hansen firmly believes he is the best at what he does, and that he would rather be seen as an asshole than a kiss-ass (because you're one or the other, right?), he again offers a defense for those who complain that Scruggs goes easy on players because many of them are black.

"Do I like it that some black players will talk more openly to Newy or to Jean-Jacques [Taylor, the Cowboys beat writer for The Dallas Morning News]? No. Makes me mad as hell. I don't think it's right. But I also think it's legitimate when athletes say they've been tired of never seeing anyone in the locker rooms who looked like them, that the people who cover them are always white. That's changing, and it's important. I'd be lying if I said that hiring people of color or a woman wasn't something I take into consideration when I hire people, and Channel 5 would be lying if they said, 'Oh, Newy's black? We didn't even know that!'

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Eric Celeste
Contact: Eric Celeste