As Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise bundles up for his trip to Turin, Italy, to cover the Winter Olympics, he takes a break from the big question in sportswriting circles: Is Mike Wise the next Tony Kornheiser?
The fans seem to be trying to instigate a scuffle.
Wise is walking down his street in DC’s Georgetown. A guy in a pickup stops and rolls down his window.
“Mike Wise, right?” he says.
Wise smiles and nods.
“Quit stealing Tony Kornheiser’s stuff!” he says and drives off.
Wise gets this in his e-mail box: “You’ll never be as great as Mr. Tony.”
What better than a feud between heavyweight sports writers to warm up a frigid February? Both are New Yorkers who wrote for the New York Times, both are ridden with angst and do shtick to relieve their pain. They even look alike.
Says Wise, 42: “I’m the young balding guy trying to undermine an old balding guy.”
Kornheiser, 58, is the supernova of talking heads in the sports biz. You can read him in the Post, see him on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, hear him daily on sports talk radio. On his radio show, he’s accused Wise, a relative newcomer to the Post, of mimicking his columns.
Is Wise worried?
“It’s sports talk radio,” he says. “It’s not Iraq. It’s not real stuff.”
Wise came to Post two years ago just as Kornheiser was sliding from the Post’s pages. Two columns a week in Sports and one in Style had shrunk down to one sports column a week. He took his one-liners to TV and radio, his true love.
Now Kornheiser writes three short sports columns a week for the Post. “My little columnette,” Kornheiser calls it. He is the only Post writer with his mug in the paper.
Wise was the first major hire by new sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz. Shortly after Wise started to write, Kornheiser accused him of ripping off his stuff.
When they appeared together last spring on George Michael’s show on WRC-TV, Wise made a point of taking Tony’s regular seat, which Michael pointed out.
“What’s next?” Kornheiser asked. “My wife and children?”
One day Wise asked if Kornheiser was really angry.
“No,” he said. “you’re now part of the show.”
Kornheiser regularly does stick the verbal knife into the ones he loves—John “Junior” Feinstein, Mike Wilbon, his partner on PTI, and columnist Sally Jenkins.
“It’s a badge of honor to be teased by Tony,” Jenkins says. “If he totally ignores you, you are irrelevant.”
Will Wise be the next Tony K?
“No,” says Emilio-Ruiz. “Nobody will ever replace Tony.”
Has Kornheiser hurt Wise?
Says Emilio-Ruiz: “We’re very happy with Mike’s development as a columnist.”
In February Wise will cover the Winter Olympics from Turin, Italy. Jenkins will be there. Tony will stay in DC.
“In the deep recesses of Tony’s mind, there’s a little part that sees me as Martin Sheen heading up the river to kill Colonel Kurtz,” says Wise, raising the ante to Apocalypse Now. “That is completely untrue. Besides I only have a small machete in my computer bag.”
Kornheiser will have the last word—on radio.