The Tom Brady, Larry Bird, Bobby Orr or Ted Williams of Boston television sports anchors is stepping down in a matter of days. But he's not totally stepping aside.
Swampscott's favorite son Mike Lynch, the principal weeknight sports anchor for WCVB-TV (channel 5) for 34 years and a member of the WCVB sports team for 37 years, conducts his final series of reports during the afternoon/evening newscasts this Thursday.
But thankfully, for his legions of fans throughout New England, the all-time king of Boston TV sports broadcasters is departing only the five-day-a-week grind he has endured for more than three decades. He is not riding off into the sunset, never to be enjoyed on the tube again.
“It’s going to be hard to leave after the 15th,” Lynch, the longest tenured sports anchor in Boston television sports history, confessed. “My mind is racing these days. But the fact I will still be doing special assignments for the station, like the High Five series and the Thanksgiving night high school football special, will make it easier to let go. I’m already looking forward to my next High Five feature.”
Which encapsulates so perfectly what Mike Lynch, Swampscott High three-sport star athlete, Harvard placekicker supreme and begrudging Boston media celebrity, has been all about.
Lynch, who turns 66 in late September, has gotten as excited about covering high school sports over the years as he has reporting on Red Sox World Series victories and the Patriots’ six Super Bowl wins.
That in itself reveals another aspect of the Lynch persona that has towered over all of his competition among Boston TV sports anchors.
Lynch has never forgotten where he came from — small-town Swampscott — and who made him a household-name in sports-crazy New England – the fans.
Thus, his extraordinary humbleness and genuine personality has never changed since I first wrote about him for this newspaper when he played football for Harvard in the mid-1970s.
“I’ve tried to conduct myself as my parents taught me when I was growing up,” Lynch says. “Yes, please, no thank you; treat others as you wish to be treated. And I always remember what my father (Dick Lynch, coaching fixture in Swampscott and Danvers AD) told me – if we were supposed to pat ourselves on the back, our elbows would bend the other way.”
So we’ll do the patting on his back for him.
Mike Lynch is the gold standard by which all Boston sports anchors, past, present and future, will be measured. The level of professionalism he has displayed spanning more than 40 years, including his years on the radio at WITS (1510 AM) before he broke through on the television side, has never been matched.
He never needed flash, nor schtick.
“I’ve just tried over the years, with a fantastic Channel 5 team to work with, to deliver consistent, quality sports reporting on a nightly basis,” Lynch said. “I’ve tried to attain the same goals Jim McKay, my role model, used when he talked about hosting Wide World of Sports: ‘We want to inform, entertain and occasionally inspire;’ a wonderful formula.”
Lynch succeeded for more than 9,000 broadcasts, inclusive of his acclaimed High Five and Thanksgiving night specials. He wasn’t perfect in his role, but as close to it as we have ever observed from our easy chair spanning nearly 60 years.
And to think he might have gone on to law school after graduating from Harvard in 1977 (and becoming a part of Crimson football history after his 26-yard field goal in the final seconds defeated Yale in November, 1975, in Yale Bowl, before 66,000).
“That was my initial plan,” Lynch said. “Become a lawyer and see where it takes me. But then I started cozying up with Ned Martin, the Red Sox broadcasting legend who also did Harvard football games on the radio when I played. I started asking him questions about the business when he showed up for practice once a week. Then I talked the station into letting me be Ned’s statistician for Harvard football the season after I graduated.
“I liked it. I hung around the radio station (based near Fenway Park) and got the bug. The following Harvard football season I became Ned’s color man for 100 dollars a game. I was substitute teaching, high school basketball refereeing, bar tending. I eventually became a fill-in voice at WITS, then a full-timer doing Red Sox and Bruins pre- and post-game shows while working the 7 to midnight shift. By then law school was long gone.”
He married Mary Ellen Mullaney in 1980. She already knew what married life would entail, but little did she know hubby would become a Boston TV sports broadcasting icon over the next 40 years and work nights for virtually all of those years.
“It was Friday night of Final 4 March Madness weekend 1982,” Lynch recalled like it was yesterday, “when my big break came. I did an audition tape after the 6 p.m. newscast at Channel 5. Based on that tape I couldn’t get hired for a small-town cable station. But Jim Thistle, who did the hiring at Channel 5 in those days, said get ready to do the next night sports at 6. Jim Coppersmith hired me full time soon enough down the road and here we are all these years later.”
Smart people, those fellas Thistle and Coppersmith.
But all those years working five days a week, 4 p.m. or thereabouts to midnight?
“They were never a problem,” Lynch replied. “I’m a night guy.”
And a morning guy if he had to be for his three daughters and Mary Ellen. And for this observer.
One spring Thursday morning 15 years ago he arrived at my Endicott College 8 a.m. class in “Sport and the Media” in Beverly and had the class enraptured for 90 minutes. The success and fame never went to Lynch’s head.
“I’ve always lived day to day, week to week in this business,” Lynch admitted. “Despite all the support I got from the station all these years, I never felt completely safe in the job; just the nature of the profession, wondering who might show up out of the blue to take my job.”
As the best in Boston for nearly two generations, Lynch was never going to be replaced unless he decided to move on to a bigger market or a network job.
“I never had any interest in moving,” Lynch made clear. “Only one person got Don Gillis’ job (Boston’s first major sports anchor, at Channel 5 from 1962-1983, and a legend in his own right). I’m honored to be the one local kid among thousands who dreamed they would love his job some day. Like Don, I always wanted to be fair, especially in interviews; never try try embarrass anyone.
“I wanted to get the story right. To get it first was nice, and I got my share of scoops over the years, especially when we had just the three big TV stations in town and TV sports was the primary news source before ESPN, sports radio and all the social media.”
What will he miss the most about the job he has held for three and a half decades? “The daily interaction with my co-workers at WCVB,” he replied without hesitation. “All the people I saw on a regular basis at Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, TD Garden. The ushers, the concessionaires and most important the fans. But I repeat I will stay in the business, just on a lesser scale, though I may get so itchy I undertake new challenges.”
Lynch has a million memories from the Boston sports scene, but this one came to mind first.
“I did the Patriots weekly show for 14 years with Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick,” Lynch said. “On September 26, 2001, after the second game of the season, the game when Drew Bledsoe got hurt and Tom Brady stepped in, I interviewed Brady, who was set to start the next game. After the interview I. shook his hand and said, ‘Good luck. I hope things work out for you.’ Did they ever.”
As they did for the inimitable Lynch for another 18 years. He and that fellow he interviewed on September 26 have both become the "GOATs" of their respective professions.