When people think of the legend of the XFL, they think of WWE chairman Vince McMahon. But McMahon had a partner in the short-lived football league, and nobody ever seems to mention Dick Ebersol. McMahon may have been the voice behind the XFL, but Ebersol has been behind some of the biggest projects in television during his legendary career. Ebersol, who was born and raised in Connecticut, started working in television for ABC Sports when he was 20 years old.
Here’s what you need to know about Ebersol:
1. He Developed SNL With Lorne Michaels in 1975
After working at ABC under Roone Arledge, Ebersol went to NBC in 1984. There, the network needed a weekend show to replace reruns of The Tonight Show. Ebersol made a contribution that would change television forever: he introduced executives to Lorne Michaels. Michaels shared his idea for a sketch comedy show, and Saturday Night Live was born.
Michaels turned SNL into a staple over the next three decades, but Ebersol kept close relations to the program. When Michaels stepped away from the program in the 1980’s, Ebersol briefly served as the show’s producer. This was all while Ebersol started his own production company, which would create successful shows Friday Night Videos and Later with Bob Costas.
2. Ebersol Became President of NBC Sports in 1989
Ebersol rose to become president of NBC Sports at just 42 years old, and would guide the network into the 21st century. He made several acquisitions, including NBA rights, and was crucial in securing Olympics rights for NBC. Ebersol and NBC were at the top of the mountain in 1995-96, when the World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Finals, and Summer Olympics all appeared on NBC. It’s the first and only time in history all those events aired on the same network.
Eberol, who started his career as the first Olympics researcher, made huge financial commitments to keep the games at NBC. Before Ebersol, no network had ever worked a deal for the rights to multiple Olympic games. After a success at the 1996 Atlanta games, Ebersol worked a deal for both the 2000 Summer Olympics and 2002 Winter Olympics. He kept going, and NBC has produced every Olympic games since. Ebersol is credited with producing the 2008 Summer games in Beijing, which set a U.S. television record with 215 million viewers.
3. He & Best Friend Vince McMahon Launched The XFL in 2000
In the mid-1980’s, Ebersol and Vince McMahon collaborated on Saturday Night’s Main Event, a late-night wrestling program on NBC. Ebersol and McMahon became close friends, but didn’t work on another project until over a decade later. When McMahon decided the time was right to announce the XFL, a football league that played in the NFL’s off-season, he immediately became intrigued. Within six weeks, the pair were 50-50 partners. The league promised hard-hitting and less rules, but it didn’t bring the most important aspect- quality football. The first game drew a big rating, but Ebersol had a feeling it wasn’t a smashing success.
“By halftime I knew in the pit of my stomach that this was really just terrible football,” Ebersol said.
The ratings dropped by 50 percent the next week, and NBC canceled the XFL after one season.
4. Ebersol & His Two Sons Were Involved In a Plane Crash in 1994
It hasn’t all been success for Ebersol. He suffered a tragedy in 1994, when a plane carrying him and two of this three sons aboard a Canadair CL-601 Challenger jet crashed shortly after takeoff in Colorado. One of Ebersol’s three sons, Teddy, was killed in the crash. His oldest son Charlie was thrown from the plane, but went back into the wreckage and pulled his father from the flames. His other son, Willie, who is pictured above, was not on the plane. The pilot and a flight attendant were also killed in the crash.
Teddy, who was 14 at the time of the crash, was a big Red Sox fan and had just seen the team win a World Series. On what would have been Teddy’s 16th birthday, the Boston Red Sox refurbished a park of youth baseball fields and dedicated the area as Teddy Ebersol’s Red Sox Fields.
5. He Has an Estimated Net Worth of $50 Million
As one of the most powerful men in sports media, Ebersol made a nice living. According to CelebrityNetWorth.com, Ebersol is worth an estimated $50 million. His wife, retired actress Susan St. James, also had a successful career before retiring to focus on family.
In May of 2011, Ebersol resigned from NBC Sports. He is still working with the network, albeit in a less intensive role. Later in 2011, Ebersol was re-hired as a senior consultant, with a focus on Sunday Night Football and the Olympics.