NFL’s Eisen ‘still can’t believe’ the league loves Las Vegas

Rich Eisen of the NFL Network prepares to host the broadcast on the Bellagio fountains during t ...

You see the face. You remember the stories …

A chilly night in Dunsmuir, Calif., some 30 years ago, for one. Dunsmuir High School hosting nearby Weed. It’s a playoff crucial between bitter rivals (are there any other kind?). The game is played on a patch of frozen tundra along the I-15 corridor in Northern California.

We’re walking the sideline, the ABC-TV affiliate reporter and I. He is new to the beat, and doesn’t seem to realize we are not allowed on the playing field, just the sideline.

The reporter is lugging a giant video camera that barely fits in the back seat of his white, KRCR-Channel 7 Ford Escort. He’s moving toward the players, getting some tight action shots but breaking protocol with every snap.

The side judge finally warns him about being too close to the players. There is a punt, flying downfield, and my colleague edges even further off the sideline.

Then, “Wham!” he takes forearm shiver to his midsection.

Not from a player. From the ref.

“Did you see that!?” Rich Eisen asks, unmistakably in my memory of that night. “That tool kit just hit me!”

“Um, yeah,” I said. “He did hit you, no question.”

To this day, I am convinced Eisen was just trying to get the best shot. Go the extra yard. The great ones do that.

Just one of many tales of a bygone era, when we worked in Redding, Eisen as a local TV sports broadcaster and me a sports writer for the Redding Record Searchlight. I think of those days often, watching Eisen ascend to broadcast-TV stardom. He was sky-hooked from Redding to ESPN in 1996, and a few years later moved to a plumb spot as lead anchor on NFL Network, where he is today.

I had not seen or spoken to Eisen for far too man years. Finally, Saturday, I caught him at the NFL Network Bellagio Fountains.

Now we get to talk about the NFL’s interest in Las Vegas. Eisen is an expert on the topic. He’s worked at NFL Network since 2003. The celebrated broadcaster says it’s surreal for the league to be so closely aligned with Las Vegas.

“I still can’t believe, to be very honest, we are in Las Vegas, because of the way that the league has viewed and everything that this city offers to anybody who wants to gamble,” Eisen says. “I never thought the league would have an event here, period. I never thought we would see the NFL logo all over the Las Vegas Strip, or the the Green Bay Packers logo on a playing card. This is historic.”

Eisen will carry any number of memories from this Vegas vacation. Wayne Newton selecting the Raiders pick alongside Marcus Allen. Michael Irvin kissing Donny Osmond on the neck. The Blue Man Group invading the Bellagio’s NFL Network perch and firing party cannons across the set.

“We had Sebastian Maniscalco making the Bears’ pick, and then I went out last night right after the draft and saw Sebastian Maniscalco’s show,” Eisen says, referring to Maniscalco’s performance at Encore Theater. “This doesn’t happen at the NFL draft. I think it’s terrific. Some towns are transformed by the NFL, but Vegas is built for the NFL. It is absorbing it, and it is feeling very comfortable.”

Eisen surveyed his landscape, all the hotels surrounding Lake Bellagio. Cosmopolitan, Caesars Palace, Bally’s, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Mirage, Treasure Island and Flamingo among them.

“I think I have named more hotels than are in some cities that have already held the event” Eisen says. “And I’m not even naming the other 70 or 80-percent of the hotels in Las Vegas. And, there are more topnotch restaurants in Las Vegas than any city, with the exception of maybe New York.

Eisen agrees that the city is rehearsing for the 2024 Super Bowl. As he says, “Las Vegas will not have a problem accommodating the crush of fans that are coming for the Super Bow.” Eisen will be among those visitors. We are fine with that.

Run Rich Run

Eisen is a spokesman for one of our favored charities, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, which operates an outpost at 1635 Village Center Circle in Las Vegas. Eisen’s Run Rich Run campaign, in which he runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine, raises funds and awareness for the hospital. St. Jude’s is celebrating its 60th anniversary, and Eisen has been supporting the cause since 2015. To donate, go to fundraising.stjude.org, the campaign runs through June 30.

Run Mark Run

Vegas’ go-to emcee for sporting events, and most other events, Mark Shunock was almost too gassed to groove on Saturday. I caught up with the proprietor of The Space as he hosted the NFL draft performances at Red Carpet Stage at Bellagio. Shunock was ginning up the crowd to perform a conga line. Know this: If you are loitering on the sidewalk at Lake Bellagio, be ready to conga.

Shunock worked his Mondays Dark charity show, hosted the reopening ceremonies at the Palms on Wednesday, worked the NFL draft Saturday, and later that night hosted the Skakur Stevenson-Oscar Valdez Top Rank at the MGM Grand Garden. As he said, “Tomorrow, I’m going to collapse.”

Shriver hosts KMA event

A few years ago, a group of young women rushed up to Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brian Health co-founder Camille Ruvo. One asked, “Can I have your autograph.” Ruvo said, “Sure, but can I ask who you think I am?”

“Maria Shriver?”

No, but there has always been a strong resemblance, and a shared alliance for neurological health. Ruvo and Shriver will be together at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Cleveland Clinic’s Keep Memory Alive Event Center at Symphony Park in downtown Las Vegas.

Shriver has been a supporter of the Cleveland Clinic’s Las Vegas facility from the start. She is the founder of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, and the Cleveland Clinic’s strategic partner for women’s health and Alzheimer’s research.

Ruvo; Shriver; Jessica Caldwell, director of The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center at Cleveland Clinic; and Dr. Beri Ridgeway, Cleveland Clinic’s chief of staff will lead a discussion of Alzheimer’s disease in women. The talk will including an update on how early detection can offset symptoms for a disease that still has no cure.

“Ten, 15 years ago we didn’t have the tools to diagnose and be able to treat Alzheimer’s the way we do today,” Ruvo said. “We can now tell what can be done when you get that diagnosis at age 40, 45, 50. Diet, exercise, crossword puzzles, anything that can challenge the brain can make a real difference.”

A presentation of the Giorgio Armani spring-summer 2022 collection is also planned. Proceeds benefit The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention Center at Cleveland Clinic, which is the nation’s first Alzheimer’s prevention center specifically for women. For information and reservations, go to keepmemoryalive.org.

Cool Hang Alert

An all-time CHA, doubleheader at Bootlegger Bistro is back with Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns (who close out the Lady Gaga “Jazz + Piano” show Sunday) at 7:30 p.m. Mondays at the Copa Room, followed by the Joey Singer Jazz Duo, co-starring lounge great Sonny Charles, at the Bootlegger restaurant. So much healing and so much soul, you won’t know what to do with yourselves.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.