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WGR 550 Buffalo Bills beat reporter Sal Capaccio is everywhere

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A Q&A with the Buffalo Bills sideline reporter

Is it possible that Sal Capaccio is the figurehead of a widespread government surveillance program?

Before you start fitting me for a tin foil hat, hear me out. Capaccio speaks to us at all hours of the day and night from our radios, televisions, phones, and assorted miscellaneous wireless devices. He regularly leaves notes for us on social media and select websites that can be accessed 24/7/365. His face inevitably pops up in photos of almost every major sporting event in town. Ask yourself this: Did you buy a hot dog at Ted’s today because you were actually hungry, or did you buy a hot dog at Ted’s because Sal Capaccio told you to?

If Capaccio isn’t a key component of the Deep State, the only other plausible explanation for his omnipresence in our lives is that he possesses a freakish work ethic while holding down approximately 52 different jobs in local sports media. The latter explanation isn’t nearly as fun as the former, but there’s probably more truth there.

Recently, Capaccio took a breather from every single one of those 52 jobs to reflect on his circuitous journey back to Buffalo, his favorite memories of following the Buffalo Bills as a kid, and the most interesting thing he sees on the sidelines that most fans don’t notice.

Your career path prior to joining WGR reminds me of a professional wrestler who slaves away wrestling in front of 28 people in high school gyms for fifteen years before he finally gets his big break. Is that an accurate comparison or am I stretching a little too hard for a metaphor?

I think you’re stretching, but I get it. I didn’t slave away in the business for many years because I actually left it, full-time at least, for a decade. But the reason I left in the first place was because it was tough to get that break, tough to get to where I was trying to go and got very frustrating.

When you’re young, you think things are going to happen so quickly. Then they don’t and you have to evaluate your next moves. At the same time this was happening, I was also coaching and decided to teach and coach full-time instead. Looking back, I can see I was creating insurance for myself. I didn’t have to keep being frustrated anymore if I wasn’t even trying.

I actually stayed in radio and TV part-time as a fill-in host and doing some play-by-play, but after several years I missed doing it so much that I decided to take that leap back and pursue a full-time job. And yes, it still took a lot of grinding to catch a break and get to where I wanted to go.

Moving back to Buffalo at age 37 to pursue a career in broadcasting with no guarantee of a full-time position was a gigantic leap of faith. Looking back, was it more difficult to convince your wife or convince yourself to take that leap?

First, it wasn’t like I was doing it cold. I had gone to Syracuse to be a broadcaster, worked in the business in college and then for about 4-5 years professionally and full-time before leaving, then took that leap of faith back later. But to answer the question, it was far more challenging to convince myself because, to be honest, my wife is the one who suggested it! She knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. And we were both in a spot in our lives where were ready to make some career changes. So she said, “if you want to…..but I’m giving you this one chance” because she didn’t want to keep changing after that.

So I had to make the decision, which was very hard to do. I was teaching, coaching, had summers off, playing golf twice a week, and here I am about to move to Buffalo to start over in radio for minimal money and minimal hours?! The fear of doing it was far worse than actually doing it.

Has the non-traditional route you’ve taken to your current job given you a chip on your shoulder? You strike me as one of those guys who feels he has to work three times as hard as everyone else in order to succeed.

At the risk of sounding like a pro athlete, I’ve always had the chip on my shoulder for many reasons. I grew up the son of an Italian immigrant who never graduated high school. My father came to the U.S. when he was nine and dropped out of school to work to make money for his family. We were very poor. I remember going to the corner store with food stamps and being embarrassed by it (whether I should have been or not, I’m still not sure). No one believed me when I said I was going to go to Syracuse University. No one believed me when I said I was going to be a professional sports broadcaster.

My father died when I was 19. For many reasons, I had to grow up fast and learned very early on that nothing was going to be handed to me. My mother did a tremendous job of instilling that and reinforcing that to me, as well. So I still take that approach today. I try to be fair and professional, treat people right, and never, ever take what I’m doing for granted.

It’s great when you love what you do, like I do. But I always remember that there are probably millions of people who would love the opportunity to do what I do for a living. It really is a privilege. So, yes, I try to work harder than anyone else. But that’s mostly because I know how lucky I am to be in this position and never want to do anything to have it taken away from me.

I also know what it’s like to not being doing this when you really want to and know you can.

Among other responsibilities, you host a radio and television show, serve as a sideline reporter on Buffalo Bills game broadcasts, act as the team’s beat reporter for WGR, write for the station’s website, and maintain a very active presence on Twitter. What’s the most fun and rewarding part of your job? On the flip side, what’s the most challenging part of your work?

There are so many aspects of what I do that are fun and rewarding. It’s never lost on me that I’m doing what so many young boys and girls dream of doing. If I had to be specific, I’d say being on the sidelines. As someone who’s played football and coached football, I really need that competitive environment in my life. The adrenaline rush is amazing, and going to and seeing so many different stadiums is cool and unique. Again, it’s amazing.

The most challenging is always trying to have fresh, creative content — especially in the offseason. Whether it’s hosting a show or writing a web article, I want it to be different but just as informative and/or entertaining as during the season. There’s often not a lot going on in June or July and there are only so many “camp battles” stories you can write.

What’s the most interesting thing you see on the sidelines that the majority of Bills fans don’t notice?

Great question and the answer isn’t that sexy. It’s got to be the amount of time and work the long snapper and punter put in when they aren’t in the game. Those guys are always snapping and working and staying ready. I guess I notice because I always have to be aware of not walking into a Reid Ferguson snap, otherwise it will take my head off.

You were a Bills fan long before you became a broadcaster. What are your most vivid memories of following the team when you were a kid?

First and foremost the 51-3 game. I was a senior in high school and was there with friends. It was unreal— still gives me chills thinking about it. It was 41-3 at halftime and everyone knew they were going to the Super Bowl. The entire 2nd half was a party in the stadium. Fans were chanting “Sup-er-Bowl” and “Thank You Bills” and “Thank You Ralph” the whole rest of the game. What a feeling.

So many others I couldn’t begin to tell you all of them, but I was there and remember so clearly Ronnie Harmon dropping the pass in the end zone in Cleveland in the 1989 playoffs. My dad drove me and two of my friends there for the game, and even though it was a super tough loss, it is still one of the greatest sporting events I’ve ever watched. Kelly threw for over 400 yards. Beebe fell on his head. Thurman was unstoppable as a pass catcher out of the backfield that day. Webster Slaughter killed the Bills with big plays. Just an amazing game. Horrible ending. And I remember walking out of that stadium as an 18-year old so depressed and the Browns fans giving us crap. Awful.

I remember back to back huge fourth quarter comebacks at home against the Broncos and Raiders in 1990. The Raiders game was on a Sunday Night. After the game we were behind the TNT television set and I had a friend lift me onto his shoulders so I could be on TV… little did I know what I was getting myself into.

I went to every single home playoff game during the Super Bowl years except for one: the Greatest Comeback. But I have to admit to watching that game in a sports bar on an illegal feed (the game was blacked out in Buffalo) was pretty vivid, too.

Drew Brees has stated that he believes kids shouldn’t play tackle football until they reach middle school or high school. As your own son approaches the age where he can begin playing competitive sports, what do you think is the best way to introduce young athletes to a game that has been such a huge part of your own life?

First, it’s super important that they have a genuine interest in playing and not just because their mom or dad wants them to. And if that’s the case, I think flag football at the younger levels is a good introduction. Learn the game from a running, throwing and catching standpoint. Learn spacing, how plays work, what it means to be on a team, the positions, and the role of everyone on the field.

From there, I think the real question for parents is when to allow their kids to play tackle football. That’s something each parent has to decide for themselves. But no matter when it is, it is up to us, the adults, the moms and dads, to make sure the equipment, the coaching, and the overall environment is right and as safe as possible.

No sport will ever be completely safe from injury and all contact sports carry risks. But as we learn more about the game and how it impacts our bodies (and especially young bodies), and as we learn more and develop more in the area of technology and safety, we have to use every resource we can to put it all together and make the game as safe as possible.

Let’s talk about the current team. What was your immediate reaction to the Tyrod Taylor trade?

The only reason you would think this was a poor deal for the Bills is if you did not want them to move on from Tyrod Taylor. Otherwise, getting the 65th overall pick for a player they clearly had no intentions of being on the roster in 2018 is a terrific deal for Brandon Beane and the organization going forward.

Sean McDermott and Beane have generated a tremendous amount of goodwill with fans over the course of just one season, but as you think about last year and look ahead to the upcoming season, what are your greatest concerns regarding the team?

First, they obviously have a QB issue. Tyrod Taylor was just good enough to allow them to win games given the right circumstances, but not good enough to carry them when other parts of the team broke down. It’s a QB league. I know three of the final four teams last season didn’t have great quarterbacks, but you still need a franchise QB if you want to contend every year. They obviously want one and felt they didn’t have one. They have to figure out what to do there.

They also have 22 players scheduled to become free agents. Obviously that’s an issue when you also still have some cap constraints. Now that Eric Wood is retiring, it hurts the cap even more and creates another hole to fill.

Front seven and wide receiver are two areas I’d be concerned about right now before we see how free agency goes.

What is the McBeane tandem’s most significant accomplishment to this date?

I’d say gaining an extra first round pick and still getting a legitimate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate is first, but that was before Beane got to Buffalo. Since then, it’s simply building a good enough roster/team to break the 17-year playoff drought even when almost everyone said they could win no more than 5-6 games.

It’s understood that we’re only two months into 2018 and things can can change quickly in the NFL, but as we stand here right now, give me your gut feeling on three pressing issues:

Is Kyle Williams in a Bills uniform next season?

I think he will want to play, but money will also be a factor in if that happens. It might take some time to figure that out, but yes.

Who do the Bills select on Day 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft?

I firmly believe they will draft a QB, and probably trade up to get one using some of the ammunition they’ve acquired before and with the Taylor deal. That would mean using both first round picks to trade leaving them with one selection.

I think they will go big-game hunting and try to move up to grab Josh Rosen. If not Rosen then Sam Darnold, but a QB either way.

Who is the starting QB for the Bills on Opening Day?

With only one QB on the roster and said rookie coming in, I have to believe they’ll also look to sign a free agent to start for at least a year. I think Teddy Bridgewater and AJ McCarron fit the profile of a guy they would like and want for that purpose. Josh McCown would be in that mix, too.

I think it’s one of those three players or another vet free agent like him. No idea, but to predict I’ll go: 1- Teddy, 2- AJ, 3- McCown .

I’m guessing you’re just starting to immerse yourself in draft research. Give me an intriguing under the radar player you’re interested in learning more about in the weeks ahead. At the other end of the draft spectrum, is there a highly touted player you hope the Bills avoid at all costs?

He’s probably not as much under the radar now since the Senior Bowl, but Richmond QB Kyle Lauletta is really interesting. He doesn’t “wow” you with his physical traits but the kid was impressive in college and Senior Bowl week. He’s like this year’s version of Nathan Peterman in some ways. I am interested in seeing how he is viewed as we get closer to the draft.

I wouldn’t say there is anyone I’d avoid at all costs right now, but I’d be concerned with a RB like Derrius Guice from LSU, who will probably go early, due to the way he runs and the fact he isn’t much of a 3rd down threat. I think you need three-down RBs in today’s NFL, plus guys who run so hard and tough won’t last long enough to justify using high picks on them. He was already playing hurt all last season.

In the time you’ve spent as a sideline reporter, who is most impressive Bills opponent you’ve seen who is not named Tom Brady? Why?

Great question. The answer is Philip Rivers. Dude can just sling it. And from all different angles and still get it where he needs and wants to. He’s bigger than most realize and is really tough. Hangs in the pocket, takes shots, and just keeps coming.

You’ve hung in the pocket answering questions for a long time here and it would be rude to take up too much more of your time. Let’s finish up with a quick lightning round. We start with my favorite question: What’s the first, the worst, and the best concert you’ve ever attended?

I didn’t really attend many concerts until I was in my late 20s, but in college while working for the student radio station, I went to see Boyz II Men with Montell Jordan opening up. I guess that would be the first.

I’m a huge U2 fan and have seen them five times (in Buffalo twice, Boston, Tampa, and Cleveland). Their 360 concert I saw in Tampa was probably the best. They are amazing live.

The worst was probably Motley Crue a couple years ago at Darien Lake. But it was still awesome because it was The Crue and I wanted to go for the novelty. But, boy, Vince Neil’s voice was awful.

You do a lot of phone interviews with sports talk stations out of town. In ten words or less, please describe the worst phone interview experience you’ve ever had.

Winnipeg. Started making fun of the Sabres when the Jets were awful. During a Bills interview.

What’s the average number of times people sing the Sal Capaccio song to you on a weekly basis?

I’d say it happens almost every day now. Sometimes a couple times a day. Depending on where I am and what I’m doing, it can be a good 10-20 times in a week.

On the WGR website, it states that your secret goal in life is to be the host of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. I have a dozen questions here I’d like to ask but let’s go with the obvious one: Do you think it might be time to revaluate your secret goal in life?

(Laughs) Nope. Although maybe not those shows specifically anymore. (I used to watch them but haven’t in years). I’ve always wanted to host a reality TV show. I love unscripted work where I can just be myself. My first goal in life, when I was really young, was to be a game show host. I would still love to do both!

A bomb is set to go off in your house and your family and pets are safely outside. You have time to carry three items out of your home. What are they?

1. My golf clubs.

2. My iMac because it has photos from many years stored in there, including those of my four-year-old son, Max, since he was born.

3. My baseball card collection. Probably thousands of cards from the 80s and early 90s. Many unopened boxes.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in broadcasting?

I think it was just being a sports fan and an athlete growing up and always wanting to be involved in sports in some way.

I used to record myself announcing Sabres and Bills games pretending to be Van Miller, Ted Darling, and Rick Jeanneret, and watching guys like Van, Rick Azar, John Murphy, and Ed Kilgore every night. I wanted to be like them because they were always around the teams, talking to players and coaches, calling the games, and telling you about everything going on.

What was the best and worst part of living in Florida?

Besides the friends I met and still hold dear, and the awesome moments coaching, the best part was the weather. Waking up on a Sunday morning in February and it’s 70-degrees. I could just sit outside on my lanai and have coffee in a t-shirt and shorts. Then being able to play golf year-round at beautiful courses.

The worst part was also the weather! It gets so damn hot sometimes in July and August you can’t even go outside. And then the bugs come out at night and it’s sticky and gross. But also the distance from place to place. No matter where you go, a 10-15 mile drive is routine— and often times farther. Half-hour drives are normal just to visit friends or go to a certain store. Everything is so much closer in Buffalo.

People often refer to Cleveland Hill Eagles football as the Maryvale JV program. Is that a fair characterization?

Hmmm, let’s see… Maryvale has finally started to have winning seasons again after Cleve-Hill has been a perennial WNY small school power for 30 years now, so I’d say that’s a pretty easy no. (Note - I have many Maryvale friends and love them all— except for week one of the regular season)

How many contacts do you have stored in your phone? Please share the initials of the most famous contact on that list.

I just looked and it says I have 1,051 contacts. I had no idea. Wow. I’m deleting some today after seeing that.

Famous is subjective. When I think famous, I consider that to mean nationally or even internationally recognized people. Actors, entertainers, politicians, musicians, etc.. But I’m sure many people in Buffalo would think some of my local contacts are more famous, even though they’re probably just more known to residents of WNY. So, going by my definition of famous, I’d say the initials are “TT”.

It’s Tico Torres isn’t it? I always suspected you had a connection to Bon Jovi’s offer to purchase the Bills…

Last question: You can share a case of beer with five Buffalo Bills, living or dead, out at Training Camp this summer. Who are they and what are you drinking?

I’d want to cover all eras to get good stories and comparisons from each, but also want good storytellers. If I can include coaches, too, I’ll say:

1. Marv Levy

2. Cookie Gilchrist

3. Fred Smerlas

4. Kent Hull

5. Kyle Williams

I want to throw out an honorable mention to Jerry “The Condo” Crafts, because I know him and actually have had drinks with him and he has some AMAZING stories. But I’m still not sure what’s fact and what’s fiction they’re all so crazy.

I don’t drink much. So I’m usually just along for the ride when there’s drinking involved. Therefore, I’ll say we will drink whatever Cookie chooses, because he’s Cookie and I wouldn’t want to choose something that makes him mad.

Many thanks to Sal Capaccio for carving some time out of a busy schedule to answer our questions. Follow Sal on Twitter @SalSports and read his coverage of the Bills at WGR550.com

Follow Tim Hirschbeck on Twitter @TimHirschbeck