ESPN’s Hank Goldberg leaves an enduring legacy in the sports betting industry

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Before the ubiquitous sports betting pick ’em shows, endless podcasts of bold predictions that often backfired, and the steady stream of boisterous touts on social media, there was Hank Goldberg the sports disabled.

Goldberg, nicknamed “Hammering Hank,” finished .500 or better on his NFL picks in 15 of 17 seasons as an ESPN handicapper, a feat that any seasoned bettor knows is a lot harder than it first appears. With precise spreads from determined bookmakers, a batting average of over .500 in consecutive seasons is impressive enough, let alone nearly 17 in a row with the added pressure of delivering the picks in the public spotlight.

On Monday, Goldberg died on his 82nd birthday from complications of chronic kidney disease.

Goldberg joined ESPN2 in 1994, a year after the station’s launch, and later became a regular NFL countdown, where he made his weekly picks. During his distinguished career, he forged close ties with a number of Las Vegas’ best-known bookmakers – including Art Manteris, former director of the SuperBook at the Las Vegas Hilton (now Westgate) and a 2019 Inducted into the Sports Betting Hall of Fame.

“As a longtime bookmaker in Las Vegas, there were few opinions I valued more about the NFL than Hank’s,” Manteris said ESPN on Monday.

Following the Supreme Court’s PASPA decision, Goldberg made multiple appearances on ESPN’s sports betting program, The Daily Bet. In his later years he also worked for CBS Sports.

Connection to South Florida

Goldberg is inseparable from the Miami Dolphins due to his decades-long association with the franchise.

After moving to Miami in 1966, Goldberg broke into the NFL with a position in the Dolphins’ public relations office. Soon after, Goldberg was recruited by Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder to ghostwrite the handicapper’s nationally syndicated column. Snyder, who died in 1996, is best known for his time as a gambling contributor on CBS Sports’ pregame show. The NFL today.

Before Snyder left CBS in 1988, the handicapper got into a well-documented fistfight with Brent Musburger Manhattan bar called Peartrees. Goldberg had a view of the battle from the bar – as did Todd Musburger, Brent’s brother.

“If you’re talking to people today, they should have had that skirmish at Yankee Stadium if everyone who says they were there was there,” Goldberg said The Rich Eisen Show in 2020. “I can name the people who were there at the time.”

The exchange got so heated that some observers feared he was on the verge of grabbing a liquor bottle to wield as a weapon. Luckily, the brief exchange ended with no broken bottles and Musburger unharmed.

“I’ll never forget Todd yelling, ‘Go on Jimmy, do it like you used to do when you were a gangster,'” Goldberg recalled, drawing a grin from Eisen.

Goldberg eventually flagged down a cab for Snyder, ending the argument, and the broadcasters reconciled days after the incident.

Known for his perceptive storytelling skills, Goldberg often appeared on Eisen’s show, featuring colorful tales of legendary NFL figures. Following Don Shula’s death in 2020, Goldberg told Eisen of Shula’s affinity for horse racing, as evidenced by the station’s frequent lunches with the legendary trainer at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. The two were often joined by former Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese and several others from Shula’s inner circle.

“I did the handicap, of course,” Goldberg noted. “He challenged me just like his players because he didn’t like favourites.”

A love of horse racing

I had the privilege of meeting Goldberg three years ago on the afternoon of the Pacific Classic in San Diego.

Hours before the prestigious race, Goldberg was introduced to me by a former in the press box at the Del Mar racetrack sports grip Contributor Bob Mann. At the performance, I offered Goldberg my condolences on the death of Hall of Famer linebacker Nick Buoniconti. During the approximately 20-minute conversation, Goldberg could not have been more heartfelt or interesting.

As with several other Dolphins stars of the 1970s, Goldberg became close friends with Buoniconti in his later years. Impressed by Buoniconti’s talent, Goldberg immediately began a story about how the Washington Redskins based their Super Bowl VII game plan on running from Buoniconti.

Imagine that, Goldberg pointed out, a team strategizing to stop a middle linebacker instead of a menacing outside pass rusher. Goldberg wondered aloud if it was the only time in Super Bowl history that an offense set up a game plan to neutralize a middle linebacker. The Dolphins defeated the Redskins 14-7 to become the only team in NFL history to end a season in a tie and undefeated.

In retrospect, the anecdote underscores Goldberg’s eye for detail and depth in reporting. I also remember the enthusiasm he had in writing the story, which encompassed his passion for his job. It’s a passion every writer should have for their craft.

Goldberg continued to make horse racing picks until his last few months. In May he made his last appearance on ESPN before the Kentucky Derby. Last month he posted his final race picks and made a selection for the Belmont Stakes.

Goldberg earned the nickname “Hammering Hank” because decades ago he banged a hammer on a desk with his co-hosts at TV station WTVJ, Channel 6, in Miami, survived by his sister and lonely sister Liz.

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