How is it that a guy who grew up in Spokane with a résumé that includes pig hunter and lumberjack goes on to become an anchor on ESPN's SportsCenter?
Well, "Howzit" helps begin to tell the story of Neil Everett and the Hawaiian greeting he's become known for.
"I guess that got Tony Kornheiser's attention," Everett said of the Washington Post columnist who hosts an ESPN morning radio program that airs in Tri-Cities on KJOX 960 AM. "A friend called me up at home to tell me that they were making fun of me on the radio. And then they made a commercial out of it. I don't get AM radio in my car, so I never heard the commercial or any of this."
Everett describes the word "howzit" as "kind of a slang for 'aloha' that's open to interpretation. (Fellow sportscaster) Larry Beil had the copyright on 'aloha,' so I had to come up with something to let the folks back in Hawaii know I was thinking of them."
Anyone who grew up in Spokane can understand the allure of Hawaii. That begins to explain the career path of Neil Everett Morfitt, a 1980 graduate of Lewis & Clark High School who was a varsity starter in both football and basketball.
He went on to earn a journalism degree from the University of Oregon and put his broadcasting skills to work as sports information director and assistant athletic director at Hawaii Pacific University, where he also did basketball play-by-play for radio. But it was his association with fellow Duck -- and former NFL great -- Russ Francis that gave him his big break in TV broadcasting.
"I was working part-time for the CBS affiliate as a feature reporter to make some extra money, but I would sometimes do some serious stuff," Everett said. "Russ was the sports director who was going off to the XGames as a skydiving analyst, and he tells the news director that 'Neil is going to do the sports while I'm gone.' Russ Francis is kind of an imposing figure."
Everett later replaced Francis. After four years as sports director, he left for ESPN and Bristol, Conn., in 2000.
"It was a three-year process," Everett explained. "The first time they flew me back here to audition I was horrible. Awful. I really blew it. A year later they brought me back for another audition, and I thought I did great. A YEAR LATER, they called and said they were going to hire me.
"We didn't do a lot of reporting on national sports in Hawaii. Now if they had me do sumo wrestling in my first audition, I would have gotten the job right away," he said.
His network bio lists pig hunting -- a popular activity in Hawaii -- and being a lumberjack.
"I was a mill worker in Mollala, Ore., but 'lumberjack' looks better," he cracked.
That knack of mixing entertainment with reporting is the common thread at ESPN.
"Some of the guys here are superb ad-libbers, and I'm in awe of them," he said. "I'm not a good ad-libber, but I'd like to think I'm a pretty good writer, and I try to make up with a lot of homework."
At times, he'll mix in references to the Northwest. Occasionally, friends will send him suggestions for catch phrases that he'll develop. But the baritone Everett has long had the pipes for broadcasting, and his high school buds will tell you that the laid-back approach he exudes on TV is the only Everett they've ever known.
"Some people say that, 'It looks like you are having fun on the air,' " Everett said. "I got into a nervous twitch of tapping my finger that I have to remind myself not to do.
"I don't know if 'nerves' are the right word for it. You get juiced. You get jacked. It's like, 'Let's go make television.' "
It's not all glamorous, nor is it consistent. Everett does both SportsCenter and ESPNEWS, and his schedule changes from week to week.
"You definitely work 40 hours a week," he said. "For a 1 a.m. (EST) SportsCenter, you need to be there at 6 p.m. for a meeting. Hopefully, you get out by 3 a.m., but guys have been known to be there until 4 or 5 in the morning.
"A lot of people wonder why it takes that long to put a show together," Everett continued. "I use most of that time because you want to write that lead that nobody else thought of so that someone sitting at home will think, 'Now that was funny' or 'That was interesting' or 'That was cool.' "
In the newsroom, where the anchors write their copy, Everett said, "There's a lot of juice, a lot of energy. That's why they say we work at 'The worldwide leader."
Most anchors new to ESPN begin on ESPNEWS, the round-the-clock update program, rather than SportsCenter.
"They have a different pace," he explained. "On SportsCenter, most of the highlights you've had in front of you for a long time. On ESPNEWS, sometimes you are just ad-libbing. Major League Baseball won't let you air highlights until after the game ends, so say the Giants-Rockies game just got over finally and it's 'Let's all watch this together for the first time.' "
Everett said he enjoys the work on both outlets. "ESPNEWS has the great immediacy to it, and it prepares you well for a lot of other things you do at ESPN as far as preparation, starting with matching your coat and tie," he quipped.
Back in Bristol, Conn., Everett said the friendliness that viewers see among the anchors is not acting.
"There's an understated camaraderie," he said. "Most of the guys have families, so I don't really hang out with anybody in particular, but there's not anybody I wouldn't hang out with."
Probably his closest friend at the studio is fellow anchor John Seibel. Within the industry, Everett also has a bond with Larry Beil, who also left Hawaii for ESPN but has since moved to San Francisco.
"He's a good friend of mine and a great guy," Everett said. "Larry's the first guy I called when I first got the job."
If Everett's late-model Acura pulled in AM radio better, he could have heard the segment of The Tony Kornheiser Show that also got Everett some attention.
Kornheiser sardonically mocks TV anchors, referring to them as "talking heads" or merely "heads." Last spring, he and the crew of his radio program concocted "The Tony Kornheiser Fantasy Head League," holding an on-air draft. A producer of the show, Phil "The Showkiller" Ceppaglia, made the little-known Everett his second-round pick, ahead of famous SportsCenter anchors Brian Kenny and Steve Levy and Karl Ravech.
"And Tim Couch was picked ahead of Donovan McNabb, so mistakes are made," Everett joked.
Up to that point, Everett's exposure had been limited to ESPNEWS. Ironically, he began to see his name on the schedule to anchor SportsCenter.
"When Phil The Showkiller picked me, I think that catapulted me to the reasonable amount of success that I've had," Everett said tongue-in-cheek. "I never met the guy, but I owe him. At least I racked up some points for his (fantasy) team."
Understandably, Everett's favorite sport -- and the one he's most familiar with -- is basketball. His stepfather, Dave Robertson, was the long-time boys varsity coach at Shadle Park High School. His career included directing the Highlanders to the state title in 1981, a game that ended on a controversial call.
"People from Mercer Island still claim they won the game, but the last time I checked Big Dave still had the trophy," Everett said.
Everett's mother, Jackie, who died while he was in college, was also a respected educator in Spokane and remains an every-day influence on his life.
"The first time when I went on TV, I wanted to be Neil Everett," he said. "It's a tribute to my mom, who called me 'Neil Everett' -- usually when she was mad."
Eventually, he hopes to return to Hawaii Pacific, but as faculty.
"Having been out in the working world, I think I have something to offer as a teacher," he said. "I know I could be a good teacher. My mom was a good teacher and so was Dave."
The contract that Everett signed, which the Honolulu Star-Tribune reported to be four years for a total of $400,000, runs out next summer. He's a bargain, especially compared with the reported seven-figure salaries of Chris Berman, Dan Patrick and Stuart Scott.
"What I'm doing is really enjoyable, but I never imagined being here," Everett said. "It was a dramatic and traumatic move, but the four years have gone by fairly quickly."
As far as new contract goes, Everett said, "Hopefully, it all works out. I'm sure it will."
Right now, Everett lives about 20 minutes from the Bristol studios with Eva, his girlfriend from his Hawaii days, and Smiley, his three-legged, mixed-breed dog and faithful companion of 13 years. They are a two-hour drive from New York City or Boston, but a world away from Hawaii.
"I know why Larry Beil left, and that was because of the weather," Everett said. "And there's not an abundance of nightlife right around here. But I have a fairly anonymous existence. I'm not into the celebrity. I'm just glad I've got the job.
"I'm glad I'm not on the jackhammer outside the building," he added. "My mom taught at Continuation (Spokane's alternative high school now called Havermale). I make a lot compared with our parents and how hard they worked. I mean, I'm talking sports. I take the job seriously, but I don't take myself seriously."
* Eric Degerman can be reached at 509-582-1404 or via e-mail at email@example.com.