The Pat McAfee Show discussing an ESPN report on Bill Belichick. The Pat McAfee Show discussing an ESPN report on Bill Belichick. (Awful Announcing on Twitter.)

It had long been said that if an atomic bomb went off in Bristol, Conn., the only things left alive would be cockroaches and Norby Williamson. The longtime ESPN executive was presumably untouchable. Then, Pat McAfee called him a “rat” live on ESPN airwaves, and three months later, Norby was gone.

There’s more to the story than that and the cause and effect aren’t as linear as McAfee’s fans would like. But the changing of the guard was a stunning rebuke of everything we had come to understand about ESPN and how things work there.

“The Pat McAfee Show” has been at the center of that change since it arrived on ESPN’s airwaves last September. Signing on as the company’s new flagship program amid layoffs that included several high-profile reporters and newsmakers, it was impossible not to see the significance. And in the months since, McAfee’s brash style, frathouse sensibilities, and give-no-Fs attitude have been met with minimal resistance from Bristol, never more apparent than when his Williamson comments were met with nothing more than a passing mention by ESPN brass.

ESPN is going to let McAfee and his crew do their thing, regardless of how that may or may not impact the other facets of their business. They see too much value in what he does and the audiences he brings with him to rock that boat.

Balancing the E and the S in ESPN has also been a thorny issue for the company, but Wednesday offered a good reminder of just how far the company is willing to endure in the name of those sweet, sweet McAfee audience eyeballs.

Wednesday morning, ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr., Seth Wickersham, and Jeremy Fowler dropped a damning report about Bill Belichick’s failed efforts to find a new coaching job after his 24-season stint with the New England Patriots concluded. Despite being in the hunt for the Atlanta Falcons’ opening, Belichick and his eight Super Bowl rings found themselves on the outside looking in. The most shocking elements of the report are around the bad blood between Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who allegedly spoke negatively about his longtime coach to Falcons owner Arthur Blank.

If it was business as usual at ESPN, the day’s programs would leverage the report to create discussion, debate, and commentary. It would become the centerpiece of every show’s programming and the network would harness the details to elevate it and build several narratives that could potentially create new discussions on Thursday.

Instead, “The Pat McAfee Show” dedicated a solid 10 minutes to discrediting the ESPN story and undercutting the validity of its reporting, all while broadcasting on ESPN’s airwaves.

A brave new world, indeed.

Referring to him almost exclusively as “Bill,” McAfee and cohort Boston Connor tipped their hands a little about a future announcement involving Belichick. But in the moment, it was notable how much effort was put into making it clear that the “very long article” that “goes very in-depth” didn’t pass their smell test.

“There are a bunch of stuff in there that kinda didn’t make sense,” said Connor as he and McAfee started hand-waving away the reporting on the deteriorating relationship between Kraft and Belichick.

“20-something years together, at some point,” said McAfee. “I mean, marriage for 20 years. Think about any relationship for 20 years. Friendship. Business. Anything for 20 years is a long time. You are gonna realize everything about the other person.”

McAfee explained that there are many conflicting and likely untrue stories out there about the Kraft-Belichick relationship, noting that the Apple TV+ docuseries The Dynasty: New England Patriots, which was partially produced by Kraft, is probably the most realistic source. That’s funny for two reasons: One, because the biggest complaint about that docuseries has been its negative depiction of Belichick, and, two, docuseries produced by the people they are about are notoriously the worst offenders of whitewashing history.

Connor then tried to undercut the presumed drama between Belichick and Kraft, saying that with “the amount of success that they’ve had, you can’t hate somebody when they helped grow your business into what it is today.” We assume he’s never heard of Jerry Jones and George Steinbrenner.

Connor then dug into the reporting itself, saying that some of the instances are “kinda hard to believe” and seemed to presume that several of the article’s statements were speculative or outright guesses and whether or not there is bias in the reporting. He also seemed to question the validity of the anonymous quotes from sources used in the article, even going as far as to speculate that some of the quotes came from “The Pat McAfee Show” itself.

“If they’re burying Bill, I’m glad we’re not a part of it,” added McAfee, who is, again, referring to three ESPN reporters.

Connor would eventually admit that the report has “a little bit of credibility” regarding the way Kraft publicly discussed his comments about Belichick with Arthur Blank. But McAfee quickly stepped on that by flooding the zone with other speculations about the Kraft-Belichick relationship to imply that these details may just be more rumor and gossip than truth.

“Feels like not a bad time, middle of the offseason, a lot of **** going on in the NFL,” said McAfee. “It sounds like it’s a lot of alluding to, anonymous quotes and things like that.”

Connor responds by alluding to the fact that Wickersham wrote a notable book about the Patriots, again throwing out the word “bias” and wondering if things in the article were “pure speculation.”

All else equal, it’s pretty normal for a show like this one to discuss a newsworthy article like the one Van Natta Jr., Wickersham, and Fowler penned. And given that the guy’s nom de plume is literally “Boston Connor” and he has a Bill Belichick-themed tattoo, it’s completely understandable that he’d want to side with the coach of his favorite team.

But this show wasn’t broadcast on a random internet site or X/Twitter or even FS1. It was broadcast on ESPN. And for a midday show on ESPN to spend 10 minutes discrediting a well-sourced ESPN report on the same day it was released is, well, something. And it speaks volumes about how fractured the entertainment and reporting sides of the company are, at least when it comes to finding the synergy that was the cornerstone of ESPN’s editorial efforts for decades.

Of course, as we alluded to earlier (and McAfee almost let slip a few weeks back), there was a more prescient reason why McAfee and Boston Connor spent so much time defending “Bill.” McAfee announced later in the show that not only would Belichick be appearing on their Draft Spectacular next week, but the former Patriots head coach was appearing live on the “progrum.

So in the end, there was perhaps a little calculation in the decision to trash ESPN’s reporting in the name of ESPN’s programming. Protecting Belichick in the name of access and TV ratings was worth devaluing the credibility of three longtime journalists live on ESPN airwaves.

Notably, all of this went down as the NBA announced that it was bringing down a lifetime suspension on Jontay Porter for gambling on games he played with the Toronto Raptors. It was a seismic sports news story that will have huge ramifications and discussion points, especially given the intertwining nature of sports betting companies and leagues like the NBA. However, not only didn’t McAfee mention the breaking news when it happened, it didn’t come up at all during the show.

Because of the independence it grants McAfee to do as he wants, it took ESPN two hours to finally mention the news, which we should note was broken by ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski.

It is hard not to see exactly what the new era of ESPN truly looks like based on everything that went down this morning. A live show on ESPN bashing ESPN reporting while ignoring another ESPN reporter’s breaking news around the biggest story of the day.

As we said, it’s not as though ESPN was a journalism-first bastion before McAfee showed up. But it was striking to see the new power balance play out in such a stark contrast to how things used to be done in Bristol on a day like this.

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to