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This is Neil Everett: from Oregon to ESPN

On Sports


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - ESPN SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett's state-of-Oregon roots run deep. He'll return to the state next month to host the 61st annual Oregon Sports Awards Feb. 10 at Nike.My favorite anchor on ESPN’s SportsCenter — maybe yours, too — will serve as host for the first time at the 61st annual Oregon Sports Awards Feb. 10 at the Tiger Woods Center on the Nike campus.

But guess what? The pleasure is all his.

“I’m ecstatic,” Neil Everett says. “I’m very excited to represent Oregon. While I’m a Duck, I have a great fondness for all things Oregon. I hope the folks in attendance and watching online will enjoy what comes out of the show.”

That’s right. Everett — UO class of 1984 — has roots in our state. Born in Portland (at age 3, his family moved to Spokane), he attended Willamette University for two years, then finished up college in Eugene, graduating with a degree in journalism.

In those days, he was known as Neil Morfitt. He changed the surname to Everett — his middle name — during his time working television in Hawaii in the late 1990s. A tribute, he says, to his mother.

“Whenever I was in trouble with my mom, she’d say, ‘Neil Everett, get your butt in here,’ ” says

Everett, 50. The name change “was my shout-out to her.”

The Oregon roots run much deeper. His grandfather, Neil Morfitt Sr., was a member of Oregon’s 1920 Rose Bowl team. “Lost to Harvard 7-6,” he says correctly.

Both sets of grandparents were from Astoria. His parents, Neil Jr. (Neil has a different middle name than his paternal grandpa and dad) and Jackie, met while students at Astoria High.

Neil’s father was nicknamed “Laddie,” after Laddie Gale, the late, great member of the 1939 “Tall Firs” UO basketball team that won the first NCAA championship.

“That’s how impressed my grandfather was with the University of Oregon,” Everett says.

While he didn’t play football for the Ducks, Everett brought some athletic talent to Eugene. He was an all-city nose guard and offensive guard at 5-10 and 150 pounds for Spokane’s Lewis & Clark High.

“I was full of piss and vinegar and very technically sound,” he says. “I was the king of the cut-block back in the day.”

During his second year at Oregon, Morfitt was in the stands at Autzen Stadium to watch the unforgettable 0-0 “Toilet Bowl” Civil War game in 1983.

“I was permanently scarred from that game,” Everett jokes. “That was spectacular.”

As a UO student, he took a football coaching class from Rich Brooks and kept statistics for radio play-by-play voice Hal Ramey.

“I was the stats guy when (Washington State’s) Rueben Mayes set an NCAA single-game rushing record against the Ducks,” he says.

Everett got a taste of the electronic media working the midnight-to-6 a.m. shift at KUGN radio.

“All I did was change Larry King tapes,” he says.

He lived at Beta Theta Pi fraternity, where his little brother was wrestler Jed Kesey, the youngest son of literary icon Ken Kesey. Jed Kesey died in an automobile accident at age 19.

“My time at Oregon was special,” Everett says. “The education I got, the friendships I made — and Eugene was a great town.”

Everett’s first job upon graduation was as news director of KGBU radio in Florence.

He then moved to Honolulu, spending 15 years in athletic administration at Hawaii Pacific.

During that time, he moonlighted at various TV stations there, eventually succeeding former Duck and NFL great Russ Francis as sports director at the CBS affiliate.

“Russ had been hired to work the X Games for ESPN,” Everett recalls. “He told the news director, ‘Neil’s going to do sports while I’m gone.’ The news director said, ‘Neil’s not even in the sports department,’ but Russ was a difficult man for anybody to say no to.”

Everett got the permanent job there and eventually landed an audition at ESPN headquarters at Bristol, Conn., “but I botched it horribly,” he says. “I returned to Hawaii with my tail between my legs. For two years, I could hardly watch ESPN. I felt like I had kicked my chance at playing at that level.”

A year later, he got a second audition.

“I was prepared that time and did a good job, but it was another year before they called and offered me a job,” he says.

That was 2000. He served as an anchor for ESPN News for three years, then moved into a spot as a SportsCenter anchor. Since 2009, he has been working the network’s late-night Los Angeles edition Monday through Friday.

During his SportsCenter spots, Everett slips in Duck references whenever he can. But when Oregon State does something noteworthy, he is quick to use his local knowledge to pay homage to the Beavers, too.

OSU’s Jay Locey “is my second cousin, and Mike Cavanaugh (Beaver assistant coach, a former Hawaii aide and a Connecticut native) is a dear friend of mine,” Everett says. “When I was at Bristol, I used to go to his parents’ house in Connecticut when he’d be home from break. I love Mike, (wife) Laurie and their two boys.”

During his time in Hawaii, Everett grew close with Hawaii football head coaches Fred von Appen (an ex-UO assistant who played at Linfield) and June Jones (the Portland native now head coach at Southern Methodist).

“I’m still in touch with June,” he says.

The move from Connecticut to Southern California has brought him back to following the Oregon program. That and girlfriend Stephanie Krohn, a Madison High and UO grad whom he met at — small world — the Tiger Woods Center five years ago.

“I was emcee of a fundraiser there, and she worked for (the benefitting) nonprofit,” he says. “My uncle, Bill Sporre, who had been a baseball star at Linfield, introduced us.”

Now Neil and Stephanie share a home in Marina del Rey.

“She drove the bus on, ‘Let’s make it a plan to start going to some Oregon games,’ “ he says.

Everett saw the Ducks play four times this season — against Arizona and Stanford in Eugene, against Southern Cal in L.A. and versus Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.

“It’s magnificent the way the program has turned around,” he says. “A lot of people expect them to be a top team every year. Rightfully so, but you need to understand the history to appreciate how far the Oregon program has come.”

(Everett, incidentally, also has an affinity for Gonzaga basketball, having grown up in Spokane. Two years ago, I spied him decked in Bulldog garb at a Gonzaga-Portland game in the Chiles Center.)

Everett brings irreverence and humor to his ESPN broadcasts, getting just the right dose without going overboard like some of his colleagues.

“Not to be cliche-ish, but I call it as I see it,” he says. “A lot of it is stream of consciousness. The highlight you’re watching, I’ve never seen it until you’ve seen it.

“You’re trying to tell the story of the game. You’re trying to entertain and inform. It’s finding a balance there and knowing what’s acceptable and what’s not. I’m just trying to have fun. If it’s a poignant story, I want the hair to stand up on the back of the neck of the people watching. If it’s funny, I want them to laugh. I want to say something memorable.

“It’s my own style. I really enjoy the writing part of the job. That’s my own voice. When I talk to young people who say this is what they want to do, the first thing I tell them is, ‘Develop your own voice.’ ”

Everett’s 13 years on the job at ESPN don’t have him looking for a change of scenery.

“I’ll stay as long as they’ll have me,” he says. “Like anything, there are better moments than others. But listen, it’s a hell of a job. It’s a great gig to have.

“I’ve lived upside down for so long in terms of the hours I work, I’ve never thought about, ‘Could I do a 9-to-5 job?’ I hope they’ll keep keep me around for a long time.”

Maybe it will work that way for his new gig with the Oregon Sports Awards, too.

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