The soon-to-retire WIP personality and Chestnut Hill resident just assumes things will always go wrong: “I'm by nature negative and nervous.” But he's picking the Eagles.
Rewind the clock to 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 17, four days before the Philadelphia Eagles, who finished the 2022 regular season with the National Football League’s best record, would take on their archrival, the New York Giants, in an NFC East divisional playoff round showdown. The anticipation is hanging in the air like the morning fog rising from the Schuylkill River. The traffic on 76 seems lighter than usual. The city is brimming with excitement and Keith Jones, from the 94 WIP headquarters four stories up in 2400 Market, is upbeat.
“I am extremely confident that the Eagles will move on,” the former Flyer opines into a microphone, which will transmit his voice to WIP’s thousands of daily listeners. “Every starter is going to be available for the game. That does not happen. The Giants have some key players banged up and the Eagles are going to dominate the game and win.”
Angelo Cataldi and the Morning Team is WIP’s flagship morning show, hosted by Cataldi and his co-hosts Jones, Rhea Hughes and Al Morganti. Cataldi, who moved to Chestnut Hill in 2019, is in the final few weeks of his career after committing to WIP management that he’d retire his snarly and cynical New England accent from WIP’s radio waves at the end of the Eagles’ 2022 season. It’s become a staple of Philadelphia sports radio and the biggest reason why WIP regularly outshines its main competitor, ESPN-affiliated 97.5 The Fanatic, in ratings.
But on this day in particular, listeners are calling in one after another, and they’re following Jones’ lead. Each one is seemingly more confident about the Eagles’ chances than the last. “Destiny,” “confident,” “unruffled” and “superior” are all words they use to describe their attitude.
Eventually, former Daily News reporter and Eagles analyst Ray Didinger joins the party in the studio. Didinger tempers expectations, but only a little. He’s concerned about the Giants’ momentum in the wake of their dominating performance over the Minnesota Vikings in the Wild Card round the Sunday before, but on the whole he’d be “very surprised” if the Eagles didn’t advance.
“If you just look at the two teams in terms of how they match up,” Didinger says between sips of an early morning Diet Coke, “it is a good matchup for the Eagles.”
Matchups aside, the Giants are coming off a short week and the Birds, thanks to a first round bye, have a full extra week of rest, Jones adds. The team is “completely healthy.” The Eagles should be chomping at the bit.
“Well, it's not completely healthy,” Cataldi butts in, throwing cold water on the excitement that had been ravaging through the studio until now. “Avonte Maddox, we're not positive about.”
He’s also worried about the health of Jalen Hurts, who’s only played one game since coming off the injured list, and the team’s coordinators, particularly defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. He says he’s nervous. The Eagles defense, until this point, hasn’t displayed the aggression Cataldi would like to see on the field.
“You're always ripping the coordinators,” says Andy the Troll, one of Cataldi’s regular callers.
“I don't like them!” Cataldi yells into his microphone, arms flailing. “I don't like them, Andy!”
Despite Cataldi’s concerns, the Eagles would prevail - and that’s putting it mildly. The Eagles shellacked the Giants 38-7. At no point was the game close, and the team’s impressive defensive performance under Gannon provided ammo for Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni.
“The fact that [Gannon] doesn’t get respect from our radio station blows my mind,” Sirianni said in a post game press conference before dozens of reporters and TV cameras. “I can’t wait to talk to Angelo.”
Cataldi’s been accused of faking his pessimistic takes on Philadelphia sports ever since he first arrived on the city’s sports radio scene 33 years ago. It’s just for ratings, they argue.
“That’s always been the root of my criticism,” said Kevin Kinkead, a writer for the city’s most prominent sports blog, Crossing Broad, and a long time critic of Cataldi. “I don’t think you have to play a character or do a schtick to do sports talk radio.”
But Cataldi maintains that it’s not a schtick.
“First of all, none of us are very good actors,” he tells the Local from the living room of his Chestnut Hill home. “I don’t think we could sell it.”
And second of all, Cataldi says, it’s just more natural to say what you feel on the radio. And Cataldi is negative. He just is. When he goes to restaurants, he assumes things will go wrong.
“I'm by nature negative and nervous,” he continues. “I’m anticipating disaster around the next corner and it just comes out. That never changed.”
It’s an attitude that has irked players and coaches, especially in his first career as a sports reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer. During his coverage of the 1986 Eagles season, for which he was later nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he had to report without the cooperation of the team’s head coach at the time, Buddy Ryan.
“He wouldn't talk to me for half the season because he didn't like the questions I was asking and what I was writing,” Cataldi says. “He said I was too negative.”
On two occasions during his journalism career, he was almost physically attacked. Once by former Flyers coach Bob McCammon and another by Eagles safety Ray Ellis. On both occasions, they were held back by players in the locker room.
“I didn't ingratiate myself to anyone when I was a journalist,” Cataldi says. “If you do, you're not a journalist. The only difference is it's easier now [as a radio show host] because I don't have to be with these people. But it didn't change the way I approach it. You should not care about those people.”
For that reason, Cataldi has had many feuds over the years. Perhaps feud is too strong a word?
“No, feud is a good word!” Cataldi interjects.
In addition to Ryan, McCammon and Ellis, Cataldi says former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel hasn’t spoken to him in 20 years because he painted Manuel as a “hillbilly.” One of Cataldi’s more famous recent feuds was with another former Phillies manager, the happy-go-lucky Gabe Kapler.
“Gabe Kapler lied all the time,” Cataldi said. “He didn't care what he said to the fans. He was protecting the players at all cost. And he would lie, and that didn't sit well with me.”
Former Eagles coach Andy Reid? Also a liar.
“Andy Reid would not ever answer a question honestly if he didn't want to, and I was offended by that,” Cataldi said. “He wasn't shedding any light on anybody's questions. And they accepted it, and I didn't. So I attacked him on the air.”
Criticism happens to every player, coach and manager in Philadelphia if they’re here long enough, and some understand the dynamic between the teams and the media better than others. Cataldi, for instance, cited former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. as someone who took criticism “better than any other executive that ever worked” during Cataldi’s time in Philadelphia. It’s probably no coincidence that Amaro was born and raised in Northeast Philadelphia.
“The reality of it was that I understood the fan base,” Amaro said in a phone call. “I wasn’t surprised when fans voiced their displeasure.”
Sometimes, Cataldi said, he and his co-hosts would be in the middle of ripping Amaro when he’d call in to tell his side of the story. But despite his combative nature on air, Cataldi in his private life is a bit of a loner. When Hughes had a party for her dog’s 10th birthday (an excuse to get together, she said), Cataldi, in a room full of people he mostly didn’t know, didn’t leave the couch.
“He goes, ‘I’m too awkward,’” Hughes told the Local. “If you wanted to socialize you had to go up to him.”
When asked why he loves Chestnut Hill, Cataldi mostly responds by listing reasons why his wife loves Chestnut Hill. The close-knit neighborhood, the stores in the area, the “beautiful Germantown Avenue.” But Cataldi himself?
“I live primarily in these four walls,” he says. “I don't go out much.”
But Cataldi’s reserved behavior didn’t stop him from coming up with some of the greatest radio fodder in the history of the industry. For instance, there’s the time he got two years worth of material out of a quarrel he instigated with the prestigious Murray Wolf, captain of the Avalon Beach Patrol. In 1999, Wolf ushered Cataldi, who was vacationing with family in the shore town of Avalon, N.J., off the beach for not having a beach tag on his person and had him ticketed for the infraction. Cataldi fought the ticket, and the result was a legal battle that went all the way to the Superior Court of New Jersey.
“He always loves to take up a fight,” Jones said. “He’d turn it into a huge story.”
Then there was hoagiegate, a controversy that started in 2004 when the Eagles banned outside food from newly-constructed Lincoln Financial Field. Cataldi served the only suspension of his career, which lasted two days, after he distastefully compared Eagles security to Nazis over the food regulations. Cataldi apologized and admitted he went too far, but the cause, he maintained, was a noble one. And it worked; the Eagles reversed the ban soon after.
Cataldi also organized the Dirty 30, a group of Eagles fans bused to the 1999 NFL Draft in New York City, who would go on to boo quarterback Donovan McNabb, the Eagles draft pick, for not being running back Ricky Williams - the player most of the fan base actually wanted the Eagles to pick. The event would go on to become one of the national media’s most frequently cited moments when highlighting the boorish behavior of Philadelphia sports fans.
“That’s a moment that will go with Donovan McNabb’s career,” Kinkead said. “Stuff like that gave us a bad representation by proxy. It’s not a representation of Philadelphia sports fans. It’s just a radio gimmick.”
And then there’s the mother of all radio promotions: Wing Bowl, created by the WIP team in 1993. What started as a gimmick in the lobby of the Wyndham Franklin Plaza hotel in Center City grew, until its demise in 2018, into a mischievous and oftentimes inappropriate early-morning celebration of gluttony, sexism and debauchery among the tri-state area’s jockiest dudebros. After the 26th annual edition of the Wing Bowl in 2018, held just two days before the Eagles won Super Bowl LII, the chicken wing eating contest was canceled. The official reason? Wing Bowl, which sold out the Wells Fargo Center in its last several iterations, was created to make up for the lack of success among the city’s sports teams, so there was no longer a reason to hold it now that the Eagles were Super Bowl champs. In reality, however, it was just a convenient reason to stop the event after years of trying to find ways to put it to bed.
“The last two or three years of Wing Bowl we knew it was ending because the world changed and we didn't,” Cataldi said. “You got women dressed in thongs and you've got all sorts of drunken insane behavior at 6 o'clock in the morning. It was a blight on the image of the city. We knew it.”
Hughes said she begged Cataldi to stop Wing Bowl five years before it actually ended.
“It had just become insane,” she said. “None of us wanted to do it. When we finally did make that decision, I popped a bottle of champagne. It had gotten too crazy.”
Cataldi knew the writing was on the wall, but lobbied for one last Wing Bowl in 2019 so fans were aware it would be the last one. He wouldn’t get his wish.
“I think Angelo was really the one who wanted to keep it going the longest because he worked so hard at it,” Morganti said. “The rest of us thought about how social culture had changed, and how it was outside of the bounds of what was acceptable.”
Despite the controversy, Cataldi looks back on Wing Bowl positively.
“In its time, it was pretty awesome,” Cataldi says. “As time goes by people will look back on it with more and more fondness because it represents a part of our past that no longer could exist.”
You know what else he thinks of positively? Uncharacteristically, it's the Eagles' chances of beating the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl on Sunday. He even formulated a plan with management for his last day at WIP to be the day of the Super Bowl parade.
“I don't know if you heard Brian Baldinger [on WIP], but he broke down the two teams and he said he'd be shocked if the Eagles did not win the game,” Cataldi says. “Everybody seems confident.”
Maybe it is time for him to retire.