A Two-Man Oral History Of "The Princess Bride" Episode Of ESPN NFL Kickoff
The men behind ESPN's Princess Bride-reference-filled show talk about how it happened.
On the Friday, November 9, episode of ESPN's NFL Kickoff, host Trey Wingo and analysts Mark Schlereth and Tedy Bruschi talked, as they usually do, for a half hour about the latest NFL news. But something about this episode was different. For 30 minutes, amidst the discussion of the Patriots' defense and the Chiefs coaching situation, ESPN 2 became a one-channel celebration of The Princess Bride as the trio tossed in references to "corners of unusual size," "cliffs of insanity," and more.
BuzzFeed Sports clipped together a video including many (but not all, as we learned) of the references' allusions earlier this week, which if you count the YouTube video and the BuzzFeed post, has already been seen more than 400,000 times.
How did this happen? Was it an elaborate bet? Was it a prank? Who was the ringleader? Is this a kissing book? Has it got any sports in it? There were only three people on the planet who could answer those questions, and two of them were available to speak to BuzzFeed this week: Trey Wingo and Mark Schlereth.
Mark: Well first let me just say, you get a preemptive apology. I'm on the elliptical right now.
Trey: There was no forethought to it at all [except] we had talked about that movie before. All three of us just really like that movie.
Mark: It just happened very organically. It wasn't like we sat up and said, "Let's do this." A couple of weeks ago someone threw a quote out there.
Trey: Tedy was on an NFL Live episode about a month ago and was the first one to bring in a reference. He said, "You know the Seahawks really have C.O.U.S., corners of unusual size." And I almost spit up laughing so hard when he said that. And last week we maybe dropped in one or two lines and then it just organically happened that day. We just sort of started.
Mark: I think there's a bit of machismo that comes out when one guy does something funny, and the next guy does something funny. Then on the set you're just trying to one-up each other.
Trey: It became like a competition to see who could do it the most or get the best one in there.
Mark: You gotta keep it fresh. You gotta keep it entertaining. And sometimes there's a joke on the set that makes you giggle and makes you laugh, and it keeps things exciting. I always say that I don't do television for the masses. I do television to entertain myself.
Trey: It was purely just to keep ourselves entertained. We had no idea that it would ever turn into anything.
Mark: Ultimately, we're all sophomoric and we like to joke around. There is this locker-room environment that's part of doing what we do for a living.
It's not surprising that a place like ESPN would breed such competition. Besides being built around the competitive world of sports, the worldwide leader is famous for its long hours and relatively unexciting Bristol, Connecticut, locale. Stir-craziness is a definite danger. Plus the kind of people walking around campus tend to be pretty competitive.
Mark: I'm one of the most competitive people in the world. Everything is a game. And if you aren't involved in it, then you are the game. Washing dishes? That to me is a game. Everything I've ever done has been that way. I'm always in a competition. You and I are in a competition right now, and I'm whooping your tail, 14-nothing. And you don't even know what the game is. That's just how I've always operated. And so with something like this, even though no one actually challenged me on the set, it just becomes a contest, and you want to be in the game.
But to reduce what occurred on last Friday's NFL Kickoff to just a competition is to do it a disservice. This was more than a game. It was an affectionate tribute to a movie that these guys seem to really, really, like.
Mark: I just think it's so incredibly done. Right from when Fred Savage is being read to by Peter Falk. "Is this the kissing book, Grandpa?" [Schlereth does a Peter Falk impression.] "No, no, it's got sword fights." It's got a little bit of something for everybody.
Trey: It's got comedy, it's got drama, it's got adventure, it's got a little romance in it. It's just a great movie. And I know Mark and I have talked about it for years. And when Tedy came in a couple years ago, he brought it up that he loved it too.
Mark: I've watched it with my kids dozens of times. It's one of those movies — also Shawshank Redemption, Dumb and Dumber — if I'm flipping channels and it's on TBS, I'm hooked until it's over.
Trey: What's not to like about that movie?! I mean, it's Rob Reiner. And everybody looks at Rob for When Harry Met Sally and all these other things, but his early movies were hilarious. There was a movie called The Sure Thing, which he did in 1985 with John Cusack, and Anthony Edwards, and Tim Robbins, and Daphne Zuniga, and Nicolette Sheridan before any of those guys were stars, which was hilarious. And then The Princess Bride came out in 1987.
Mark: It's entertaining. It's fun. It's wholesome. And when my wife was running errands or whatever, my form of hanging with the kids was, "Hey, let's throw a movie on, get some popcorn, and just be together." And so that was one of those movies that I could do that with even though my kids are spread out. There are eight years between my oldest and my youngest, but we could all sit together and still enjoy that movie.
Trey: In general we all like movies and that kind of stuff. Mark's been in a couple. He's been on a soap opera. So he's a real cultural icon.
Trey, Mark, and Tedy are television pros. So while to a viewer their ability to slip in so many references might have seemed effortless, it was apparently not without difficulty.
Mark: You start wracking your brain. One guy's speaking and I'm trying to come up with something I can say, and in my head I'm like, "Gimme a quote, gimme a quote, gimme a quote." And I know I have to talk about the Patriots defense, so I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out how I'm going to work a quote in here and I came up with the cliffs of insanity thing just in time.
Trey: There have been a couple of times before, where we've done some of the more obvious lines. Like, "Never get into a land war in Asia," or "Never match wits with a Sicilian when death is on the line." "No more rhyming. No I mean it. Anybody want a peanut?" We'd sort of done those before, so this one, we really tried to find things that were really not as well-known.
Mark: You're sitting there wondering if you'll be able to get anything in, and at the last second it pops into your head and you get in. It's fun. It's challenging.
Despite The Princess Bride's place of high esteem in our culture, not everyone appreciated the hilarity and awesomeness of what was going on.
Trey: The funny thing is, the guy that produces the show has never seen the movie. So you know, we're all laughing, and he's like, "What are you talking about?" And I'm like, "Well we're doing all these [references]..." He's like, "I literally have no idea what you're talking about."
Mark: He had no idea. Because when you think about it, when you start throwing those movie quotes out there, like Tedy saying, "You got to storm the castle!" it's not really a cliché, but it fits. I mean, I even used my André the Giant voice: "THERE WILL BE NO SURVIVORS." And it all fits. It's all basically football vernacular.
Trey: I told him his homework is to make sure he watches that movie before we get together again.
And though they love that the video took off online, they had a few criticisms.
Mark: You guys actually missed a few, by the way.
Trey: You missed my favorite reference in the entire show.
Mark: When Trey threw to John Clayton for an injury report.
Trey: Well, I turned to John Clayton for an injury update. Remember when they hooked Wesley up to the machine in the pit of despair? And they say, "Now remember, this is for posterity. How do you feel?" And he starts whimpering. So I went to John Clayton for an injury report, and I forget who it was, but I said, "John, remember, this is for posterity. How does he feel?" I was really bummed that that one didn't make it in.
Sorry about that, guys. My bad.