All you need to know about Stan Savran is how surprised his right-hand man and producer Roger Lenhart was when he tuned into 1250 ESPN Radio and heard the familiar voice of the dean of Pittsburgh sportscasters.
And that it was really no surprise at all.
Even if Savran was only five days removed from open-heart surgery that required eight cardiac bypasses.
“The guy, he’s amazing,” Lenhart said. “He did two segments. I was driving to work and just happened to flip on the radio and there he was. He’s one of those guys where, I think he took off a week a year. That’s it. The guy never missed work. It’s killing him to miss stuff.”
Savran’s appearance on the “Stan & Guy Show” prompted a phone call from program director Jim Graci, who voiced his displeasure with Savran for staying on too long so soon after the surgery.
“He sounded a little tired,” said Guy Junker, Savran’s co-host on FSN’s SportsBeat and ESPN Radio. “It meant a ton. This could be anyone of us. It was kind of emotional having him on there.”
It’s been that kind of year for Savran, who has endured the cancellation of SportsBeat and recurring health problems. He has had several back surgeries in recent years, dealing with spinal stenosis and two herniated disks that required removal and a spinal fusion.
So he’s not nervous about going under the knife. And he understood the urgency to seek treatment when he experienced chest pain and numbness in his arm at the same time for the first time. Still …
“I had hoped maybe they would clean up some minor blockages with an angioplasty, but was told it was too extensive,” Savran said. “It never crossed my mind that something had to be done imminently. I’m not afraid of surgery. In fact, my last good night of sleep was the night before the surgery.
“They told me I was headed for a major episode. The good news is, I didn’t suffer a heart attack. There was no damage to the heart. It’s extremely strong. That gives me a great prognosis. I kind of bought myself a new heart.”
The outpouring of support has meant the most to Savran, who said he received a voice mail from retired sportscaster Sam Nover “so beautifully articulated” that it made Savran cry, had hospital visits from nearly every one of his ESPN Radio and FSN co-workers, as well as Bob Pompeani of KDKA-TV and Sally Wiggin of WTAE-TV.
Stanley Cup Game 7 hero Max Talbot sent text messages to Savran, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin asked for daily updates and former Steelers coach Bill Cowher called Savran at his Upper St. Clair home this past week.
“I appreciate not only the personal affection but that people I report on, that I have their respect,” Savran said. “That means the world to me.”
The respect for Savran runs deep among co-workers. Lenhart was continually amazed while watching Savran host “SportsBeat” without relying upon a teleprompter but instead his encyclopedic sports knowledge.
“If that ‘prompter is off, a lot of people are in trouble – Stan never used it,” Lenhart said. “Everybody else that worked at our place – Rob King, Paul Alexander – when they would do SportsBeat, they were just amazed that he never used a ‘prompter. He would write down what we were doing in each segment on a notepad.
“I don’t think anyone can interview like Stan, the questions he gets out. Those ‘In My Own Words,’ they all told him what a great job he did. He’s always so prepared. His interviewing skills are impeccable, incredible. His memory is unbelievable. Just the knowledge the guy has of sports. You can ask him something that happened in 1972, and the guy remembers it like yesterday, not just Pittsburgh sports, but nationwide.”
Adds Junker: “You ask him about Oklahoma State’s 1962 basketball team and he’ll tell you the starting five. It’s ridiculous!”
Savran and Junker — better known as Stan & Guy — worked together for six years at WTAE, 13 years at FSN and the past two at ESPN Radio. They will always be synonymous with “SportsBeat,” the talk show that brought the “first-time caller, long-timer listener” and “Love the Show” greeting.
“It wasn’t like going to work,” Junker said. “We had fun with the porch tours, doing shows with the Pirates and Penguins, going to spring training. With today’s local news, you don’t get to delve into anything. That was real sports, a chance to sink your teeth into some things.”
Savran has been a powerful voice in the Pittsburgh sports scene, but Junker believes the combination of SportsBeat and his radio talk shows gave Savran a special connection with his audience.
“The difference in what Stan has always done in terms of a pure hard-core talk show, he’s always had that in addition to anchoring,” Junker said. “He’s connected to people because of that. It’s always hard for people to trust someone who’s on the air, reading scores for three minutes a night. When you also get to listen to a guy on the radio and call in and talk to him.”
That connection is even more meaningful now that Savran is out of commission for a while. Although he plans to continue his cameos on ESPN Radio, Savran realizes that fatigue will be a factor and that his health has to come first.
“I think he has to take a step back now, and I think he will,” Lenhart said. “But work has been his life for so long, he just loves it so much. He doesn’t miss a thing. He never missed a Cowher/Tomlin press conference. Something like this happens and he’s going to be out of work for a while, it’s going to be difficult for him.
“That’s what he lives for, his work. He’s one of those old-school guys who is committed to something and doesn’t miss. When he had back problems (in 2008) and didn’t travel for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, he fought us long and hard. He was devastated.”
Adds Junker: “Stan doesn’t have any children and lives alone. His career is his life. All of us in the media, it is to some extent and has to be. If you weren’t in love with it and have the passion for it, you wouldn’t put up with all the crap. Of most of the guys I know in the business, the job is more his life than anyone I work with regularly.”
What made me wonder was the timing of it. Savran already had to miss hosting the Mike Tomlin Press Conference and the Mike Tomlin Show this week. Now, Savran won’t be able to attend the Steelers-Browns game Sunday at Heinz Field.
I asked him if it that made it harder, considering he’s a Cleveland native.
“To me, the real Browns are buried underneath the Chesapeake Bay,” Savran snarled, “along with Art Modell.”
Sounds like Stan is going to be all right, after all.