THE HOFFMAN INTERVIEW
Ken Hoffman takes a gamble with ESPN 97.5 host Fred Faour
Originally appeared on CultureMap
Fred Faour co-hosts “The Blitz” with AJ Hoffman weekdays from 4-7 p.m. on ESPN 97.5 Houston. In addition to his No. 1-rated talk show, Faour is editor of SportsMap Houston and the author of Acing Racing: An Introductory Guide for Poker Players, Sports Bettors and Action Junkies. His first novel, Jesus Just Left Chicago, is pending publication.
I caught up with him during the seven minutes of free time he has each day — and wasn't sure what I'd uncover.
Ken Hoffman: Both of your parents were newspaper people, and your background is the written word, too. What's the difference in writing a sports column and hosting a sports talk show?
Fred Faour: I think the skill sets are pretty similar. In both, you are expected to have an educated [hopefully] opinion backed up with pertinent facts. The big difference is that in radio, so much happens in real time that no matter how much you prep for a show, you have to think on the fly. I do think that helps when I am writing deadline columns on things like the Texans. You have to find a topic quickly and form an opinion there, too. In the end, though, you are being a content creator with either one, so you just hope to be topical, entertaining and have fun, and hope the readers and listeners do the same.
KH: How did you get the nickname "The Falcon?"
FF: I wish it was something sexy, like I once swooped in on a hang glider and rescued a small child from the clutches of a rabid ostrich. But it just sort of happened one day on the show with Matt Dean. Early in my radio career, I gave everybody else nicknames. Matt would joke that I didn’t have one. So one day he suggested ‘The Falcon’ and oddly it stuck. And if you believe Wikipedia, now I have about 100 other nicknames.
KH: Since your dad was in the sports media, were your childhood buddies jealous that you got to meet famous athletes? Who made the biggest impression on you?
FF: I was the luckiest kid in the world. My father was a legend in the newspaper business and one of the funniest men who ever lived. My mother was the first woman to be named sports editor in Texas. So I knew I would always wind up in the business somehow. But it was a little weird. I thought every kid growing up went to Don Wilson’s pitching camp, Dan Pastorini’s quarterback camp, got to go in the locker room and talk to Guy V. Lewis after UH games, got to be a Rockets ball boy, rode around in the Oilers helmet vehicle, had Billy "White Shoes" Johnson come to his Little League game.
I thought that was normal. My friends weren’t jealous because I really did not have friends. I was kind of a shy, dorky a-hole. [Most people would tell you I still am the latter two.] Where they did get jealous was in high school. My dad had kind of in with whoever promoted all the concerts that came to town. So we got free tickets to everything at the then-Summit and Sam Houston Coliseum. You name a great band, I saw it. If not for those tickets, I would have never had any dates in high school. Come to think of it, I never did anyway. But suddenly I had a lot of friends.
As for impressions: I was never really starstruck with athletes. I’m still not. But I did have one experience that still resonates today. My father was writing a story on the original WHA Aeros. I was maybe eight years old, and waiting for him by the rink at Sam Houston Coliseum. Gordie Howe came out on the ice to practice, saw me looking bored, pulled me out on the ice and taught me how to shoot a puck. He spent 15 minutes with a kid he didn’t know. I have been a hockey fan ever since. I did not understand the significance of it then, but I damned sure appreciate it now.
KH: You've authored books on the subject of gambling. What was the biggest long shot that ever hit for you?
FF: My biggest sports win was a very large bet on the Saints at 17-1 the year they won the Super Bowl. I was in Vegas, a little drunk (shocker) and won a poker tournament and immediately rolled the whole wad into the Saints. As for horses, I have had a lot of big scores and big prices, including a couple winners that were 99-1 on the board. The best one I picked publicly was Anees in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He paid $62.60 to win and I cashed a bunch of tickets on him.
KH: Will sports gambling ever be legalized in Texas?
FF: I don’t see it, unless someone finds a loophole like we did with poker. This state is too influenced by neighboring states and because of that we are still in the gambling Dark Ages. We are decades behind Louisiana. It took forever to get horse racing. We still don’t have casino gambling, and as long as the bordering states keep throwing money at our politicians, we never will.
I love everything else about Texas, but our politicians suck. Let us vote on casinos. If the people say no, I will never bring it up again. But if the people voted yes, those kickbacks from casinos outside of Texas would end, and we can’t have that, can we? I don’t think it happens in my lifetime. But I am old and will die soon.
KH: Gotta ask: What was your worst "bad beat?"
FF: The 2007 WSOP Circuit Event in New Orleans Main Event. Five spots from the money, second in chips at the table and playing out of my mind. I had 10-9 hearts with a 10-10-9 flop against a hyper aggressive player who was the only guy with more chips than me. I goaded him into going all in, snap called he and turns over Ace/Jack. Exactly what I wanted. Even after an Ace on the turn, the player next to me says, 'I folded an Ace.' So one card to dodge. River, of course, is the last ace in the deck. It was worse than getting kicked in the privates. Sent me on about a yearlong spiral of bad play.
KH: You are very open about your personal life on your show, especially talking about past and present marriages. Is that difficult for you? Do you ever get phone calls:"Why did you have to mention that?"
FF: I am sure I have said things that pissed off my exes. But then I did that when I was married to them, so what do they expect? I just believe in being yourself on the radio. I have made mistakes in life, screwed up a lot of things, but a lot of people have. And honestly, I get asked for advice on how to deal with divorce almost as much as I get asked about sports. People like hearing they aren’t the only ones who have had to go through it, especially when they have young kids and had to pay child support.
It can be brutal on everybody -- men, women and the kids. I don’t mind sharing those experiences at all. We all go through highs and lows, and sometimes just knowing somebody else is dealing with it or has dealt with it makes a big difference. Our show has always been as much about life as sports, and I think the Blitzers appreciate the honesty.
My wife now [or as I call her on the show, ‘the current future ex’] has a terrific sense of humor about everything. We have been putting an over/under on how long the marriage would last almost since the day we got together. We are coming up on nine years, so the over players have cashed a lot. She is a bigger smartass than I am, and a much bigger deal in her business than I am in mine, so not much fazes her. And she says the same stuff about me to her friends, only much funnier and with a Western Canadian accent. Oh geez. I hope she doesn’t read this, eh?
KH: With a daily sports show, and now the brains behind SportsMap, is it possible for you to still be a regular fan?
FF: Not really. I have always had to be somewhat detached and look at things from as an unbiased perspective as possible. That goes back to the newspaper days. I want the teams to do well, but I also have to be honest about them on air. The only team I am really a fanboy about is the Toronto Maple Leafs, because there is no conflict with the job. Maybe that will have to change if we ever get a team in Houston, but I will always be a Leafs fan, even when another team moves here.
KH: Is poker a sport?
FF: “No. It is a game of skill with an element of luck. It’s like chess or eSports. I love poker. It teaches us metaphysical understanding of ourselves better than anything out there. But a sport? There are people out there who think that? If so, they need to re-examine every aspect of their lives and put themselves in timeout.”
KH: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
FF: Seriously? This is an issue? Wow, what’s next, who was the best Batman? (Christian Bale, of course.)
I feel like I am being roped into a debate I never cared about and never knew existed and am going to piss off half the population. No, a hot dog is not a sandwich. It is a hot dog. A burger is a burger. A sandwich is something your mother made you take to school every day, and you traded it and a bag of Doritos to the girl next to you — for tacos and test answers.