By Sweeny Murti
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The passing of Dave Jennings saddened me deeply. We lost a fine all-time New York Giant and a wonderful broadcaster. I lost a former co-worker and a man I was honored to call a friend.
I worked with Dave on a show called Friday Night Football, co-hosted by Ed Coleman, from 1993-96. The show aired on WFAN every Friday during the football season, I was the producer, and I can tell you in all honesty and sincerity that it was my favorite show to work on during my time as a producer at FAN.
Dave was as knowledgeable as any football broadcaster around, maybe even more so because he knew the rule book inside and out. So many times during Jets games, and later Giants games on WFAN, you would hear Dave authoritatively telling you what the correct ruling should be before the mess was sorted out on the field.
As a broadcaster Dave took pride in being able to do all the elements, not just be the “analyst.” His postgame duties included interviewing the players and Dave began nearly every interview the same way– “What happened out there today?” It was an open-ended question that Dave felt would open up an avenue for discussion, giving the player the chance to set the tone for the interview based on the first answer.
In the postgame of one particularly painful Jets loss in the mid-90s, Dave asked Boomer Esiason his typical first question: “Boomer, what happened out there today?” Normally the most accommodating of players, Boomer wasn’t in the mood after this rough defeat. “Uh… we lost, Dave. Next question.” The edgy answer certainly set the tone and became part of the postgame storyline.
One week later, after a Jets victory, in a perfect deadpan delivery, Dave again asked the first question. “Boomer, what happened out there today?” A room full of reporters burst into laughter, as did Esiason. “Uh… we won, Dave. Next question,” Boomer said smiling.
It was part of Dave’s charm. He could laugh at himself just as easily as others.
One Friday night, former Giants teammate Phil Simms was a guest on the show. Phil and Dave jabbed back and forth at each other in a friendly manner. Phil then recalled a story of a botched punt years earlier when Dave ran for his life toward the sideline before finally getting crunched and sent flying into the bench by a Rams player. In a team film session that week, the Giants special teams coach ran the film of Dave getting knocked silly over and over again, in forward and reverse, the room laughing louder and louder each time they saw it. As Phil told the story, Dave smiled ear to ear, joking about he was able to bring the whole team together. That Giants special teams coach with the incredible sense of humor? Bill Belichick.
Dave was just fun to work with because he was that easy going. In my role as producer I would speak to Dave a few times each week leading up to the show and then spend a couple hours with him in the studio every Friday. We quickly developed an easy rapport, both movie buffs who probably spent more time talking movies old and new than we did about football. I could always get Dave to crack a smile on the air just by uttering a line from A Few Good Men in his ear. When we met up again each fall for the first show of the football season, it took up most of our time just catching up on all the summer blockbusters.
I also learned of Dave’s obsession with the Boston Celtics. Larry Bird’s famous steal against the Pistons in the 1987 NBA Playoffs? Dave was sitting only a few feet away when it happened, or so he told me. Every time I see that highlight my eyes are focused not on Bird or Dennis Johnson, but on the crowd to see if I can spot his balding head along the sideline.
In January of 1996, Dave and Ed were finishing up their third season of Friday Night Football. Dave nailed his prediction for Super Bowl XXX on the show two days before the game, calling “27-17 Dallas” as the closing theme was running out. He couldn’t wait to tell me about it when we prepped for the following week’s wrap-up show. And I certainly never forgot it. I got a laugh out of Dave every time in the years since, with only the words “27-17 Dallas!”
The phone calls weren’t as frequent the last several years. I started covering baseball year round and our paths didn’t cross as much. Everyday life became harder for Dave as the Parkinson’s took more and more life from his body. I could tell the handful of times I called him the last few years that he enjoyed our chats, as brief as they were. His end of the conversation became less and less. The last time we spoke was this past winter.
I ended that call the same way I ended every call with Dave. You see, he had a pet peeve about people saying “See ya” at the end of a phone call. “Goodbye” or “I’ll talk to you later” were acceptable, as was nearly anything else. For whatever reason, “See ya” was something that just didn’t seem like a good farewell to Dave. He went to great lengths to explain it to me once. So, back in the days of Friday Night Football, every one of our phone conversations ended with me and Dave shouting “See ya!” and laughing as we hung up.
When I hung up with Dave for what turned out to be the last time last winter, I just knew he was smiling inside as I signed off in our usual way.
So today, Dave, let me it say one more time with feeling, and with a heavy, heavy heart. We will miss you, my friend.
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