"He didn't burn bridges here, he napalmed them."
That quote from an ESPN spokesman described Keith Olbermann's departure from the Worldwide Leader. From 1992 until 1997, Olbermann's time at ESPN was memorable for launching two platforms, Radio and the Deuce, co-hosting the 11 p.m. ET SportsCenter with Dan Patrick and plenty of funny "This is SportsCenter" promos. But that time was also known for many internal battles between Olbermann and management as described in two tomes, "Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN" co-authored by James Andrew Miller and Thomas Shales, "ESPN: The Uncensored History" by Mike Freeman, and by Dan Patrick on his syndicated radio show.
It's the stories of Olbermann writing angry memos to his bosses, being abrasive to some of his co-workers and making derogatory statements about ESPN's home of Bristol, CT that has led many observers (jncluding your humble writer) to believe that Keithy would never return.
However, an article by Jim Miller in the New York Times shows there's potential that Olbermann could not only make his way back to ESPN, but could even be welcomed by management. This is surprising as it appears that a statute of limitations over Keith's tenure has not only passed, but also eased some of the bad feelings.
Since Olbermann left in 1997, he's worked at Fox Sports both on the cable side and on the network, had two stints at MSNBC, and even came back to ESPN on the radio side co-hosting an hour a day on Dan Patrick's show from 2005 through 2007. During his second contract at MSNBC, Olbermann worked for NBC Sports as a co-host of Football Night in America which reunited him on TV with Patrick. And there was his most recent gig at Current TV which ended with his firing and a subsequent lawsuit that is still pending in the courts.
But this leaves us back to where we started with Olbermann considering a return to ESPN. In the Miller article, Olbermann confirms that he met with network President John Skipper for dinner. While Keithy won't say what the two men discussed, Skipper didn't rule out Olbermann returning, but added there wasn't room for him at this time.
Could Olbermann return to ESPN? It's possible, but not likely. In fact, the odds are pretty firmly against it.
However, let's play "what if?" Let's say the two sides come to an agreement and the bespectacled one returns. What would he do? Would he return to a nightly SportsCenter grind? I think Keith has outgrown doing highlights on a nightly basis.
What about Baseball Tonight? There's no doubting of his knowledge of baseball and Matt Yoder of this site thought that MLB Network might be the logical landing spot for Olbermann before this latest development. Perhaps Keith could host on nights when Karl Ravech is off.
Radio? What if the Powers That Be decided to make a real splash and move Olbermann into the slot currently held by Colin Cowherd? The 10 a.m. to 1 p.m ET slot would compete directly with the Dan Patrick Show. That's one way for ESPN to spite an old employee with a formerly spited one. But I can't imagine Keith would actually go against his old "Big Show" co-anchor.
Maybe various 30 for 30 appearances? Well, we've already seen this come to fruition as the most recent ESPN Films 30 for 30 short film featured Olbermann discussing the rare Honus Wagner baseball card. And with his encyclopedic knowledge, tapping Keith's mind for various documentaries could add some perspective, not to mention some colorful descriptions.
And there's always the .com aspect where Keith could write a blog for the website similar to his posts for MLBlogs.
All this is just speculation, but if ESPN's bosses ever come to grips that they could work with Olbermann a second time (quite the leap of faith), there are endless possibilities to where he could be inserted. However, one could correctly surmise that this second marriage would end in disaster like most of his previous gigs.
It's intriguing to think of Olbermann going back to ESPN, but there has to be a perfect storm to have him return. Having Hurricane Keith swirl around the Bristol campus might be too much for management to bear, but it's intriguing to consider the possibilities.