Skip to comments.Todd Blackledge brings 'Taste of the Town' to college football
Posted on 09/03/2013 5:39:37 AM PDT by FlJoePa
Todd Blackledge won a national championship, quarterbacking Penn State to the 1982 title, played six years in the NFL and has been a nationally televised college football analyst for nearly two decades.
But for the past six seasons and heading into a seventh, Blackledge has been best known, or at least most recognized, as a food guy.
In 2007, Blackledge began a Taste of the Town segment on each of his game broadcasts. He goes to a restaurant tied to football he went to Mistys in Havelock on his only trip to Lincoln or an off-the-beaten-path, must-eat place, brings along a camera crew and chows down.
Going out to find the best, funky offerings in a college town was nothing new to Blackledge when he started Taste of the Town.
Ive always loved to eat and Ive always loved it when I go to the games to find those places, he said. Id ask the security guys, Id ask players from the teams, Id ask equipment guys. I didnt ask many presidents or administrators. Id ask the down-and-dirty guys. Im not opposed to fine dining, weve done some of those. But I like those funky, hole-in-the-wall places.
"Taste of the Town" came to be when ESPN management encouraged its game broadcasters to take some chances. Blackledge suggested a food segment to his producers.
I said Lets do this, lets see if we can pull this off, Blackledge said. After about three weeks it was huge. It just struck a chord. People like to eat and associate food with some happy memories. It appeals to a much-wider audience than the rabid college football fan ...
Ive had coaches, fans, media guys tell me my wife or girlfriend, she doesnt care about the game. But shes a big fan of the segment. She tells me when Taste of the Town comes on to call her.
Blackledge has now compiled stories about and recipes from many of the places where hes eaten in Taste of the Town: A Guided Tour of College Football's Best Places to Eat, a book co-written with J.R. Rosenthal and featuring photos by ESPN producer Bryan Jaroch.
Its primarily a cookbook, Blackledge said. We have over 100 recipes with varying skill levels. I hope it works as a cookbook that people keep in their kitchens and I hope its entertaining with storytelling about the places and the people and football. And I hope its useful like an app would be. If youre going to a game in a city youve never been to and want to find a place to eat, it can be used for that, too.
Blackledge counts The Salt Lick, a BBQ institution in Driftwood, Texas, about 20 miles from Austin; Golden Harvest breakfast place in Lansing, Mich.; and Satchels Pizza in Gainesville, Fla., among his favorites. He said every college town has a place thats perfect for Taste of the Town.
Im convinced they all do, he said. It can be an ice cream parlor. It can be a doughnut shop. It can be a place that everyone goes to or an out-of-the-way place you have to work to find. Thats part of what makes college football special and part of why I like the college game better than the pros. Its the passion, its the pageantry, its the tradition and its the towns.
Mistys didnt make Blackledges book beyond a listing. "Taste of the Town" targets the SEC and the South, where the segment has been the most popular, and was dependent on where Jaroch had shot photos.
But he said a Lincoln eatery could very well make the cut if theres a second volume of Taste of the Town.
If he returns to Lincoln, Blackledge knows that hell hear about the pass he threw to Mike McCloskey, who caught the ball out of bounds, setting up a 27-24 Penn State win that Nebraska fans believe denied the Huskers a national championship and gave it to the Nittany Lions.
That thing will never die, he said. Thats a funny phenomenon. People dont believe me, but when I first went back to ESPN six years ago, I went out to the College World Series to meet with my producer, director, partner and crew who were working there. We were going to a tailgate they had for ESPN and I told them Im going to tell you, dont be surprised if somebody says something about Mike McCloskey being out of bounds. The first person we met was the mayor of Omaha, and he said it to me.
Blackledge was getting ready for his first game of the season when we talked last week. He and his partner Brad Nessler will be in Dallas at Cowboy Stadium for an 8 p.m. Saturday game on ESPN between No. 12 LSU and No. 20 TCU.
Because Dallas isnt a college town, he hadnt yet figured out where he will go for Taste of the Town on Thursday and Friday. He guessed it would be another BBQ joint. Nor has he yet determined how the 2013-14 season will stack up.
I hate preseason polls, Blackledge said. Every year I get on a soapbox, not that anyone listens to me, and say that I dont think there should be any polls until October. Id rather see teams play, see what kind of chemistry the kids have, see whos eligible and whos injured and see some games. I dont pay much attention to what a team looks like in August. I want to watch them in September.
Blackledge doesnt know where hell be this season. After the first two weeks of the season, the games are assigned on a week-to-week basis.
Regardless of where he goes, hell be ready to go in the booth and on the lookout for another eatery.
I study it hard, he said. Ive been doing this for 20 years and carved a niche for myself as an analyst. Although, after about three months of Taste of the Town, I became a food guy. Now, when people recognize me, they dont ask about the games. Its Where are you going to eat? I can handle that. Im still a football guy. But Im now a food guy too, which is great.
He also has a website with a lot of the food/restaurants on it.
Id ask the security guys, Id ask players from the teams, Id ask equipment guys. I didnt ask many presidents or administrators....”
That should be on his website.