ESPN NFL analyst Marcus Spears is known for his food takes as well as his football takes. He’s exploring the former through a recent partnership with the Louisiana Fish Fry brand, which offers everything from coatings and seasonings through sauces, marinades, seafood boils, and more, including even spice mixes for fried chicken and chicken wings. And that’s led to him dropping some of his own cooking recipes, and also to him weighing in on the importance of food and properly-spiced food.
Louisiana Fish Fry named Spears their “Chief Fry Officer” earlier this year. He spoke to AA on that, his passion for cooking, his contract renewal with ESPN, and his food (and sometimes beyond) rivalry with fellow NFL Live analyst Dan Orlovsky, known for spicy takes on how unspiced he likes his food. To start with, though, Spears said Louisiana Fish Fry was the perfect brand for him to team with given his history with it growing up in Baton Rouge.
“It’s everything, it’s home. It’s very familiar,” he said. “It’s something that I used before I knew what it was. It just reminds me of my grandma as well, that’s where it started. So I think it’s more about the feeling that I get when I’m around it. And then, working with the company is a dream come true, because it’s something that was always present, even in the background of my life it was always present.”
“Because food and family gatherings, it was always there. It just feels right. It feels like something growing up, as a kid, you don’t know if you would have a relationship with them, but it’s recognizable by everyone I know. It’s amazing.”
Spears said even though he’s quite busy with ESPN work, he still enjoys cooking and does so often.
“I cook a lot. I’m mostly a grill guy, but my history is African-American family from the South, Louisiana grandmother, mother, holiday gatherings, family gatherings. That’s just as much a part of the fabric of who I am as football, as anything I’ve done that the public knows about.”
“I still cook, I fry fish, it’s a top-three favorite food. But we have ways of doing it where I’m from, and Louisiana Fish Fry’s a part of that. But it’s also a part of just the culture that I grew up in, a lot of great women and men that could cook, didn’t own restaurants, weren’t world-famous, but I think if the world would have tasted their food, they would have become world-famous.”
You're back in Chef Swagu's kitchen and today I'm showing you the PERFECT snack to make on game day ? My secret weapon? @LAFishFry's At Home Spicy Chicken Wing Mix ? Get some near you: https://t.co/Epc5G29Rz2 pic.twitter.com/6Se5w00vbP
— Marcus Spears (@mspears96) September 1, 2023
While Spears has been putting football takes out there for some time now through his media work, putting food takes and recipes out there is a little newer for him. But he said he loves it, and he loves getting to show off that side of himself and his interests.
“It feels good, because it’s who I am. A lot of the time when you play football, you get pointed in a direction where this is all you do. But the expansion of my foodieism, and really understanding what I know, it’s something I’ve always been interested in. Anthony Bourdain was a guy I watched so much, and the Netflix series about alcohol was phenomenal, and then Somebody Feed Phil is my most recent.”
“But I’m an Andrew Zimmern guy, an Anthony Bourdain guy, I like food, and cooking, and the cultural experience around it. I was able to travel with a lot of those guys wherever they went and see how food is similar, to me, to music, in how it’s communal and how people respond to it. Even when they have differences, it’s something that can bring people together. And I enjoy that aspect of it.”
Meanwhile, Orlovsky has been known for showing off his lack of interest in seasoned food, and his hot takes on food (and other subjects). Spears said he and the other NFL Live panelists have fun debating that with Orlovsky, on and off camera.
“Yeah, he’s just horrible. His food experience is just one of the worst that I’ve ever encountered. And it’s boring. He’s not living life. You live life through food a little bit. Mina [Kimes] has been the one that’s managed to get him to taste different things, because she’s so smart, she knows how to play with his mind.”
“But if Dan could eat plain grilled chicken every day, that’s what he would do. But we won’t allow it. And it’s good that we won’t allow it, because it’s just giving him a little bit more culture. And hopefully one day when we all sit down he’ll order something that surprises us. But that hasn’t happened up until this point.”
Spears said that’s a friendly back-and-forth, though, and it’s part of the great camaraderie between the NFL Live team.
“NFL Live is my baby, and I enjoy that communal feel that I have with my coworkers,” he said. “We’re a family. I try to explain to people, but it’s a different vibe. We really get along. And I don’t know if it’s like that everywhere else, I haven’t been anywhere else, but I really like that we get along. We group chat all day every day about things beyond football.”
He said he thinks that chemistry translates into an enjoyable experience for viewers as well (which makes sense, with even LeBron James chiming in in favor of the show in general and Spears in particular).
“NFL Live is just being able to vibe out with people that I really love and enjoy, and have fun and laugh, but also teach the game, give people a better understanding. And also try to reach a bunch of different audiences, because it can’t just be straight football talk. It needs to be some entertainment, something to come to to say ‘Man, I just love hanging out with these people for the hour that they’re on TV.'”
Spears does more than just NFL Live at ESPN, though, also appearing on the likes of SportsCenter and First Take. He said debating Stephen A. Smith on that latter show is an experience he always gets amped up for.
“The debate format, when I’m going against Stephen A., is probably my most fun and exciting. Because I grew up doing that with my father, my uncles, my family. We grew up in barbershops. So it reminds me of that feel, and it’s not intimidating at all. The most important thing I have to remember when I’m on First Take is not to curse, because you do a lot of cursing when you’re in the barbershop. But that format, to me, that gets me excited like I’m about to play a game.”
He said the great experiences on both those shows are a big part of why he opted to sign an extension with ESPN earlier this year.
“Because of the family at NFL Live, because Stephen A. has been such a mentor to me, and the executives at ESPN, at least in my experience, I’ve always felt like they’re people and not somebody in a role that’s making decisions. I have a good rapport. And I’m a big devil you know guy, no new devils. I have experience of being at ESPN, so it’s almost like ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ And they respected me enough to compensate me for where I am now. And we both were happy with that agreement.”
Spears said relationships with ESPN executives also played a role.
“But on the executive level, the relationship I have with Jimmy Pitaro and Stephanie Druley and Seth Markman and Norby Williamson, I don’t have bad relationships at ESPN. And they’ll all tell you if you talk to them, I don’t do the power routine, I’m not going to a bunch of dinners, I’ll actually come over to your house and have dinner with your family. I like real, authentic relationships. And I feel like all of them know me that way. And I’ve been able to have and experience success.”
Following a college career with LSU and a nine-season NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys, Spears jumped almost immediately into broadcasting. In fact, he started broadcasting locally while still playing. But soon after retirement, he joined the newly-launched SEC Network as a college football analyst in the fall of 2014, then started appearing on NFL Live in 2019, and shifted into a NFL-focused role in 2020. He said where he’s at now is something he’s targeted for some time.
“The only challenge was probably waiting your time. I didn’t know what upward mobility was in television. SEC Network was phenomenal to me, that was where I started, but I would always look at the big network, the Monday Night Countdowns, the First Takes. At the inception, that was considered the top of the top. So that would always be in the back of my mind. And with the SportsCenters, it was just always there.”
He said at times during that SEC Network role, though, that seemed safe and easy to stick with, and trying to jump to the NFL analyst role came with some concerns. So it was important for him to wait for the right moment.
“I was enjoying what I was doing at SEC Network, it kept me close to my home and to what I could do. And the funny thing is, the NFL was always something I said ‘No, I’d rather not do that.’ Because it always seemed to me like if Peyton Manning retired and said ‘I want to have a show,’ somebody was going to have to get out of the way. That’s just how it felt.”
“So for me, it was always about the right time, and then being able to get the opportunity, being able to deliver. And people at ESPN had the confidence to at least give me the opportunity to be on those platforms.”
Spears said the key thing he realized quickly when he joined SEC Network was the importance of being authentic.
“But live television [on SEC Network] was the first time I had a consistent job on TV. And figuring out that being that just being yourself is the best route, because either people are going to love you or they’re going to hate you, but you’ll figure that out. Just be yourself, though: don’t get in the business trying to be something else, and get hired being something else, and get pissed off because you weren’t being yourself.”
Spears also said playing with the Cowboys made the transition to media easier for him, especially after hosting radio there.
“I was familiar because I played in Dallas, and it’s the media capital of the NFL. I did a radio show while I was playing, called Offdays on Tuesdays. I did some local shows around Dallas. So I was prepared for it as much as I could be.”
He said while he’s accomplished a lot during his time in media so far, he thinks there’s still more ahead for him. But he was happy to reup with ESPN for now.
“Ultimately, I’d like to believe that the work has gotten me to the point that I’m at now. And I’m not done. I’ve got a lot more that I want to accomplish, and things in life that I want to get better at. But it’s been a respectful relationship. And that NFL Live crew, what you see is real. And it would have been hard as hell to leave them for a couple more dollars.”
And while Spears is based in the Northeast now thanks to his ESPN work, he still maintains his Louisiana connections, including with cooking and football gatherings.
“My father’s still there, so I’m not too far remote, and a bunch of my best friends,” he said. “Baton Rouge is home, it will always be. But a busy life puts you in a lot of different areas. It’s almost like looking in when you go back, and getting the reminder of where you came from, and the things you were able to accomplish coming from where you were coming from. Baton Rouge is a great reminder, but it’s also still a great place. And as long as LSU plays football in the city, I’ll be there.”
[Image from Marcus Spears on Twitter]