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The Friday Five: Sal Paolantonio

Sal Paolantonio has been a mainstay of ESPN's NFL coverage since 1995. “Sal Pal” has covered 26 Super Bowls. He's also the author of four books, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and has been host of NFL Matchup for 20 years..

We caught up with Paolantonio for this week’s Friday Five…

1. Who is your biggest mentor?

My father, Vito. We spent a lot of time together when I was young, playing catch in the yard, talking baseball at the kitchen table late into the night. Once more, with feeling: “How many times did Joe DiMaggio strike out in his 13-year career?” “Only 369, dad.” Right, he said, the important thing is make contact with the baseball. My dad was my Little League coach. He was tough on me, of course. I wanted to be a pitcher. He used to say to me all the time, “Hey, son, it’s not enough to aim at the target. You must hit it.” That served me pretty well in the U.S. Navy when I was a gunnery officer and surface warfare officer, chasing Russian submarines in the Indian Ocean. They say in the news business, “You are what you chase.”

2. What is your biggest pet peeve?

Reporters who get stuff wrong and then blame their sources. There are no bad sources, only bad reporters. When I talk to journalism students, I tell them, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

3. What is your favorite book?

That’s a tough one. I read a lot of biographies, a lot of history, a lot of sports history. There is one book I re-read every summer: The Guns at Last Light, the last of the WWII liberation trilogy by Rick Atkinson. Brilliant reporting and writing, illuminating great lessons about teamwork on a grand scale, uncommon leadership, and enormous sacrifice for the common good. I just finished a Billy Martin biography by New York Times reporter Bill Pennington. Spectacular. Highly recommended.

4. If you could have dinner with any three people in history, who would they be?

Well, let’s stick to the sports and history theme. So first, the late great Steve Sabol, who is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame posthumously in August. Steve lived a few blocks from me in Moorestown, New Jersey. And he taught me how art, music and culture influenced sports, particularly football. He said, “Art is selected detail. So is storytelling. Same with journalism.”

I would ask Jim Brown to join us. Greatest football player ever. And he has great insights into every possible subject. And, finally, jazz trumpeter Miles Davis to add the perfect blend of art, music and sports. I’d mic them all up and ask questions and let them go. I’m not saying it would get The Last Dance ratings, but it would be a big hit on ESPN+!

5. What advice would you give your younger self?

“Don’t give up on those trumpet lessons.” I listen to all kinds of music all the time. From Bach to Bix Beiderbecke to the Beatles. I was a college radio DJ at both Oneonta State and NYU. I pushed singing and dance and music on my three daughters. They were all very involved in chorus and musical theater. My oldest daughter, Zoe, was a triple threat. So, I passed it forward. But I wish I had stuck with it and had that skill. Maybe it’s not too late, I guess.


Check out all of our Friday Five features — including Troy Aikman, Adam Schefter, Andrea Kremer and more — in the Friday Five archive.