The Sit Down: Curt Menefee

He’s an award-winning veteran studio and game broadcaster, who’s been a familiar face on television for millions of viewers from Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, in Iowa (where he got his start), to Jacksonville, Florida and Dallas, to, finally, New York City. For the past 10 years, he’s shared a desk with me on Fox NFL Sunday, but Curt Menefee and I have known each other for more than 20 years when we were both in the first half of our careers, working hard and hustling to reach our dreams. Like me, Curt doesn’t believe in “happy accidents”: He believes in the power of a strong work ethic, fortunate opportunities, and good, old blood, sweat, tears, and preparation as the formula for opening up doors and making things happen. Aside from being a guy who’s legendary within his profession, Curt’s also one of the most decent human beings I know, with an understanding and empathy for other people that inspires you to want to live your life that way, too. And, if that weren’t enough, he’s an avid traveler with a full passport—he’s visited more than 80 countries and all seven continents—and plays a mean bass guitar … but you’ll have to read on to find out more. (And keep your eyes peeled for other great travel stories from Curt in the future.)

His origin story: “My mother said, as a kid I watched every newscast and sporting event and would walk around calling the games in a play-by-play, but I don’t really remember that. I do remember when I was 11 or 12, I went to listen to a local sportscaster talk about his job and the business, and I remember how cool it sounded. I grew up a sports fan, so I’d always wanted to figure out some way to be affiliated with it; but of course, when you’re that age, you think you’re going to be a professional athlete—it starts there, and then it changes.”

His career: “I’ve had opportunities and breaks along the way, butI think it’s been a matter of preparation everywhere I’ve been. I started out interning at CNN after my freshman year in college, and that was basically on a volunteer basis. I volunteered to work in local TV in Cedar Rapids when I was going to school there, from my sophomore year on, and that turned into a full-time gig. Each step along the way, my goal was just to be the best guy doing what I did in the market: When I was a reporter in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, when I was in Madison, Wisconsin, in Jacksonville, Dallas, in New York. I didn’t worry or even think about trying to be national or network. I just thought, ‘Let me be the best guy in Dallas and the rest will take care of itself.’ And for me it did. So it was kind of a micro-focus more than anything else.”

His turning point:“When I was ‘volunteering’ in Cedar Rapids, a local sportscaster named John Campbell took me under his wing. He taught me how to shoot and edit video, and how to write. I was 19 years old and, at that point, I thought I wanted to be a producer in sports. He said, ‘Why don’t we put your voice down on the tape of the highlights?’ He took the tape to the news director and they said, ‘Why don’t we have him start reporting on high school and college sports?’ I had not even taken a journalism class. But because of John Campbell believing I had the talent to be on air, that was a key turning point in my career. I still keep in touch with him; he recently retired after being on the air for 40 years.”

His routine: “It depends on what day it is, but the one thing is I can tell you is between the months of August and February [i.e. football season], name a day of the week and I can tell you what I’m doing: My Wednesdays are the same as Thursdays and Sundays. We’re on the set by 7 a.m., and it usually winds up being a 12-hour day.”

His book: “[Writing Losing Isn’t Everything] was a totally different experience. I was a history major in college, and I used to write a lot of papers. It was fun to get back to doing something in-depth and more long-form than you get to do on television. But it’s a lot of work: I spent almost two years [working on it] between the time I started on the book and the time the book came out. It’s one of those things I’m glad I did, and I would certainly do it again.”

His success secret: “Hard work. Not just this job, all jobs, all of life, is about work ethic. Because work ethic transfers no matter what you do: Youwant to be on TV, be a doctor, a banker? I think that is the key to everything because when you work hard, not only do you improve, but you show people what you can do; and the more you do, the more you get to do because people have faith in you and they’re willing to give you more opportunity.”

His co-anchor: “I don’t know anybody who works harder than Michael: the number of hours he works, on two different coasts, with six-hour flights in between, and seven days a week? I’m always amazed by watching what he does and does at such a high level. This is my 13th season on Fox NFL Sunday, but I’ve known Michael since 1995. We met when I was a local sportscaster at Fox 5 and he was playing with the New York Giants. It was my first year there, his second. You often become friends with people because you work with, but with Michael, we were friends beforehand, so that adds joy to [our job].”

His must-haves: “My tablet and phone, because I’m addicted to the Internet. And an easy travel bag that I can stuff everything I need into and never have to check it. I’ve traveled all over the world: Africa, for five weeks; Europe, for six; Asia for nine; and I’ve never used anything more than a carry-on. I don’t check-in bags; I don’t believe in it. I don’t want to wait at all in airports. So my bag has to be nice and sturdy, and able to hold everything I need, including multiple pairs of my size-14 shoes—and fit in an overhead, too.”

His inspiration: “People who are hardworking and who overcome adversity. My late mother worked hard to provide for my brother and me; it was just the three of us. Unfortunately she passed away before she saw a lot of my success. But she had a big impact on me understanding and having empathy for other people; and that’s just the right way to live your life.”

His travel habit: “This summer, we did six weeks in Europe. Two years ago, I went to Bolivia and Uruguay and Argentina for two weeks, and then my wife met me and we went to Columbia and Peru. My wife’s the best person to travel with [because she] also understands that sometimes you need to get away and stare at a wall or a tree or an animal. I like to see the world and experience new things, and I really like to meet and talk to people because I think the bottom line is, when you travel the world, the more you travel, the more you realize everybody’s the same. Everybody’s just trying to get through life the best they can and provide for themselves and their family. Some of the happiest people I’ve ever met in the world are ones who we in the U.S. consider people who don’t have a lot. All these things that we take for granted that are necessary in order to have a happy, successful life, these people don’t have and they’re the most joyous, friendliest, kindest people you will ever meet.”

His favorite vacation spots: “I went to Morocco this summer, and the city of Marrakech is one of the top-five cities I’ve ever been to—and I’ve been to almost 90 countries. New Zealand and The Maldives. In Tanzania, I found some of the friendliest, salt-of-the-earth people I’ve ever met anywhere. And Cape Town, South Africa, is probably the prettiest big city I’ve ever seen.”

His hidden talent: “Most people don’t know I play bass guitar. At our wedding, my wife Viollette played drums and I played bass. We did “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” by Stevie Wonder, which is the only song we’ve ever played together. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been learning how to play electric guitar, which is a whole other skill level. I wish I could play more musical instruments; my wife can play piano, drums, trumpet, guitar, and I wish I could be like that.”

His happy place: “I meditate twice a day, every day. It helps get me centered and it’s my happy place because I don’t worry about anything. I also try to carry that [attitude] over in work, at home, with family. I’m not saying it makes me a perfect human being by any means, but it certainly makes me a happier one.”

His motto: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. I try to live my life by seeing it through other people’s eyes.”

His best advice: “Show up on time. I usually try to get [where I’m going] five, 10 minutes early. I don’t want anybody waiting for me, and I don’t want to be the last one on the bus.”

What’s next: “Wherever life takes me. I’m one of those people who likes to explore and dabble in a bunch of different things to see what feels right at the moment. I keep myself open to a lot of different things. You never know where life may take you.”