What was missing from the 2020 Philadelphia Eagles other than a consistent offense and, you know, wins? The post-game interviews outside their locker room with Derrick Gunn.
August 3, 2020 just a few days before the start of an NFL preseason that never happened, and just over a month before the beginning of the regular season, Gunn got the call from his long-time employer, NBC Sports Philadelphia. After 23 years, his services were no longer needed.
Call it a combination of a company that has let go of its long-time employees one by one over the years and the effect of Covid-19. Gunn just became the latest victim of what used to be known as Comcast along with the thousands of Eagles fans who relied on his coverage of the team, his breaking news stories and those post-game interviews.
“It was Monday, August 3rd, 1 p.m.” Gunn said reciting the date and time as if it were the birth of a child, or perhaps a time of death.
While it was somewhat of a surprise to viewers and even some of his colleagues in the media, Gunn wasn’t totally caught off guard.
“You know what, as Covid kept unfolding and you saw more and more entities letting people go because of Covid and then when the NFL announced that the media would not be allowed to have one-on-one interviews outside the locker room, or even be in the locker room the wheels started spinning,’’ Gunn said. “I knew I could be eliminated. It wasn’t numbing. It wasn’t shocking. I was smart enough to realize, when I look at my job description and I was hosting a show, ‘Quick Slants’ from my home five days a week—not in the studio—you start adding up the plusses and minuses, you could be in that Bermuda Triangle.”
What did take Gunn aback was the outcry of support from not only fans of his work, but current and former Eagles players and coaches who took to social media to express both their gratitude and concern. Hall of Fame safety Brian Dawkins, for one, recorded close to a two-minute video on Twitter thanking Gunn for his years of the job.
“I was speechless,’’ Gunn said. “From Brian Dawkins to Lane Johnson to Brandon Graham to DJ Jazzy Jeff it was incredible. I really didn’t see that coming.’’
Neither did he expect the reaction to his video that he also posted on social media.
“It was also trending for 48 hours and I still don’t know what trending means. But I was humbled by it. I don’t toot my own horn. Anyone who knows me knows that, but that was a testament to what I tried to do in being consistent, being honest. I never dimed out a source. Players, coaches, front office people, trainers, other media members, they all knew they could trust me.”
Gunn, whose television career began in El Centro, California covering the then-San Diego Chargers and moved to NBC in San Diego, CBS in his hometown of Milwaukee and NBC in Pittsburgh, arrived in Philadelphia when Comcast began in 1997. With his dismissal, Michael Barkann is the only original member of the station still employed there.
“When I left Pittsburgh I had three offers,’’ Gunn said. “One was in Detroit, one was to go back home to Milwaukee at a different station and one was a start-up in Philadelphia. I didn’t want to go to Philadelphia and I certainly didn’t want to go to a start-up. You know how they could be, they could be gone in a matter of months. My agent, however, was adamant that I should at least look into this ‘Comcast.’ He called it a regional ESPN.’’
Gunn took his agent’s advice—isn’t that why he pays him?—and 23 years later he became a legend on the Philadelphia sports scene.
“I checked it out because I didn’t want to go to Detroit and I really didn’t want to go back home,’’ he said of what changed his mind. “My initial goal was let’s give it one contract, three, four years, and see how it goes. As I started covering the team, three years turned into six, six turned into 10, 10 turned into 23.’’
And now it’s over. Or is it?
Gunn hasn’t retired. And he didn’t disappear with his less than half-of-a year severance package, he’s actually been very busy this past football season.
“I’m busy,’’ he said. “But I’m making a fraction of the money I was making.’’
When the football season began so did Gunn’s new endeavors. He began his weekly podcast “Gunn on One’’; did a Sunday morning show on Channel 3 with his former colleague at Comcast, Rob Ellis called “CBS Odds On’’; went to ESPN 97.5 for a weekly three-hour radio show with former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook and started a once-a-week YouTube show, “Grilling the Birds,’’ with former Eagles tackle Tra Thomas.
“When I found out I was being laid off, my wife, Trish, was on a plane to visit her family in California,’’ Gunn said. “So my first thought was, ‘How am I going to tell her?’ I called her and told her what had happened and, at first, she thought I was joking. Then she said, ‘It’s in God’s hands now.’
“But what I had to do was I had to re-invent myself, find out what I wanted to do. All kinds of ideas started coming in, but I wanted to do what was right for me.’’
As the football season concludes Gunn will take his time, reassess everything and decide what’s next for him and his family, which now includes some grandchildren.
“Right now I’m getting a feel for what I like,’’ he said. “I do like being in control of me. I’m hoping to parlay that into something greater. The podcast is doing well. Hopefully, over the next few months, we hope that takes off. There are things I miss. I miss being at practice and in the locker room. I miss traveling with my crew. I miss the atmosphere of being at the game. But I am excited about being more in control of me, investing in me. I’ve always worked for someone else. As you know, desperation breeds creativity. Maybe I won’t go back to TV.’’
As the uncertainty of 2020 came to an end, Gunn still is not sure what next year will bring.
“I don’t want to leave the Philadelphia area,’’ he said, but who knows, I may have to. Maybe I’ll be here next year, maybe I won’t.’’