Whether on the field or on the tube, Steve McMichael’s roughhousing grabs fans.
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Some Texans playing in the National Football League are content with their notoriety on the playing field. For former University of Texas all-American Steve McMichael, now a defensive tackle with the Chicago Bears, that is not nearly enough—which is why his crude and rude postgame show had so many Chicago Bears fans tuning in to NBC affiliate WMAQ, Channel 5. But they weren’t watching just because the 34-year-old Freer native was having his best year as a player since making the Pro Bowl in 1987. McMichael had become a controversial media star, with daily newspapers devoting columns to his antics and Chicago magazine putting him and his wife, Debra, on the December cover. While sportswriters and TV critics loved to hate McMichael’s redneck raunch routine—one columnist called it “sick, slobbering idiocy”—Chicagoland’s viewing public couldn’t get enough of Mongo, as McMichael is locally known.
That was just before WMAQ decided to forgo McMichael’s services and the cable sports channel quickly picked him up for regional distribution. On his debut cable show, the 270-pound lineman played pool with a sword as his cue, compared the center-to-quarterback snap with a homosexual act, sprayed whipped cream on a staffer, and suggested that the Bears hire someone to shoot 49’ers wide receiver Jerry Rice in the foot.
Although the show’s venue has changed, McMichael hasn’t. He is known for his classic bad taste, but to fans he has also become a symbol of rugged individuality for, as he puts it, “not kissing ass.” On his first show for WMAQ in 1990 he created shock waves by picking his teeth with a hunting knife and referring to his wife and her pals as “the Kotex Mafia.” His Chihuahua, Pepe, often made appearances dressed in black leather and a bandanna. But McMichael’s favorite pastime was menacing his cohost, Mark Giangreco, with chain saws, hypodermic needles, and cream pies.
“I didn’t think that I was being that shocking,” says McMichael, who lives in Austin during the off-season. “Where I come from people are a lot more rambunctious. I give the people one hundred percent pure Texas, and from the ratings, they must like it.” McMichael even beat out Bears coach Mike Ditka in head-on ratings competition.
Early in the season, however, it became clear to McMichael that the man-agement of WMAQ didn’t share his audience’s sentiments. “They asked me to tone down—which I did for about a week,” claims McMichael, “but Debra said it was boring, and I agreed. So I came back more outrageous than ever.” The day after McMichael showed up with liquor on his breath, implied on the broadcast that he and the macho Giangreco were lovers, and forcibly admin-istered a mock HIV test, McMichael was sacked.
Unrepentant, McMichael calls his dismissal “hypocrisy at its finest.” He says, “They wanted me to shake things up and get them some ratings, and when that was done, they fired me. I’m not bitter, though. In the full spectrum of my life, Channel 5 was like a flea on an elephant.”