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After 50 years at WCCO, Mark Rosen signs off

Rosen brought no schtick, no gimmicks, no catch-phrases to his work for WCCO. He always came across as a decent guy with a passion for Minnesota sports, which is exactly what he’s always been. 

Mark Rosen
Mark Rosen: "I want to enjoy what normal people do. I want to have dinner at home, go to a movie, maybe take some classes."

It ends for Mark Rosen on Jan. 10, at the station where he started, three months short of 50 years since he first walked in the door at WCCO-TV. Retirement from television came a little earlier for the longest-serving sports anchor in the Twin Cities than he planned, but not by much. Rosen was tiring of the grind even before his wife Denise was diagnosed last July with glioblastoma, the same aggressive brain cancer that claimed Arizona Sen. John McCain’s life earlier this year.

TV newsrooms are emptier than they used to be, a product of fewer ad dollars and layoffs to compensate. It can be lonely place. Too many nights Rosen eats dinner alone in WCCO’s Nicollet Mall studios, watching the Timberwolves or the Twins blow another lead, then putting together highlights and a script while his viewers settle in at home in their slippers. The Best Seat in the House, as Rosen titled his 2012 memoir, came at a personal sacrifice he is no longer willing to make. He cherished every moment of the ride. Now it’s time to do something else.

“I have a coffee mug on my desk that says, All I Want Is a Normal Life,” said Rosen, 67, in a telephone interview earlier this week. “I worked nights my entire adult life, from the time I was 18. I worked a lot of nights and a lot of weekends. I want to enjoy what normal people do. I want to have dinner at home, go to a movie, maybe take some classes.

“My sister out in Denver takes a class in film studies. Alfred Hitchcock. (I want to) do some things like that, do the things I was interested in that I never had time to do.”

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That Rosen lasted this long in a business that routinely kicks 50-somethings to the curb — and often even sooner if you’re a woman, sadly — is extraordinary. Taller than many of the athletes he covers (he’s 6-foot-6), Rosen has never been a chiseled-jaw matinee idol. He brings no schtick, no gimmicks, no catch-phrases. He comes across as a decent guy with a passion for Minnesota sports, smart without being pompous, obnoxious or crude. That’s difficult to fake, though it hasn’t stopped people from trying.

“That’s the secret to success for anyone in TV, your authenticity,” said KARE-11 news anchor Randy Shaver, the station’s former sports director and Rosen’s competition for more than two decades. “Mark is the perfect example of that. Who he is on TV is who he is sitting next to you at a restaurant, a movie theatre, or at dinner.

“There are a lot of reasons why I respect him and what he’s done and who he is, but certainly that is one of his redeeming qualities, for sure. He’s the gold standard when it comes to sports anchors, not only in the Twin Cities, but I think in the country.”

Joe Schmit, Rosen’s competition at KSTP since 1985, concurred. “You don’t survive 50 years in this business without being professional,” he said. “And you don’t survive 50 years in this business without treating people well, and treating people with respect. And then when that little red light comes on on the camera, you have to jump into people’s living rooms and be genuine. That’s been his secret.

“It’s the old ‘It’ factor — you either have it or you don’t. Mark obviously has it, because of his genuine, friendly style on the air. On top of all that, he knows what he’s talking about. You put it all together, you’ve got the makings of a guy who lasts 50 years in the business and becomes a legend.”

Rosen began working at WCCO as a junior at St. Louis Park High School, unpaid, tagging along Phil Jones, a neighbor and a WCCO political reporter. “A child,” is how Don Shelby, Rosen’s pal and a retired WCCO news anchor, playfully described him. Hal Scott and Ralph Jon Fritz, the sports anchors, let Rosen produce the year-end sports wrap-up his senior year at Park. WCCO hired Rosen full-time as a University of Minnesota undergrad, and he never left. Never really wanted to, either. His wife is from greater Chicago, and Rosen considered applying to Chicago sports giant WBBM a time or two, but frequent job promotions kept him in Minneapolis.

At WCCO, Rosen stands as the last link to Dave Moore, the beloved news anchor and the face of the station from the 1960s until his death in 1998. “The Dave Moore Rule was, be yourself, and you never have to pretend,” Shelby said. “You never have to remember your lines.”  

A young Rosen took that to heart. “Dave certainly showed me the way,” he said. “It’s such a simple thing to say, but I’ve always felt, the same person you meet on the street is the person I am on the air. I think a lot of people try to be something else on radio and television, and you can’t really hide your personality. I think people see that who I am on television is who I am, period. I never tried to change that.”

Here’s authentic Rosen: A few years back, when he and Carry Clancy, the Wisconsin native who produced Rosen’s Sports Sunday from 2000 to 2013, covered a Vikings game in Green Bay, Clancy brought Rosen to D & G Restaurant, a popular family joint in her hometown of Greenleaf, Wisc. Manny’s Steakhouse, it’s not. But Rosen loved the food and the company. He had such a great time they returned on later trips, once even doing a live shot there.

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“He couldn’t believe the amount of food we had,” Clancy said. “He couldn’t believe the amount of food everybody was eating. And he couldn’t wait to come back. He spent a few hours with my family. That’s the kind of person he is.”

In January 2010, Rosen and Shaver were in New Orleans covering the Vikings-Saints NFC Championship game, which the Vikings lost in overtime. With the score tied late in the fourth quarter and the Vikings in field goal range, Rosen and Shaver headed for the press box elevator to go down to the field for interviews. They were excited, thinking the Vikings were going to the Super Bowl. Then Rosen said something every Minnesota sports fan can relate to.

“We walked to the back of the press box and Mark said something to the effect of, `Maybe we should wait for a few minutes,’ “ Shaver said. “I remember stopping and thinking, OK, we’ll wait. Sure enough, that’s when they had the 12 men in the huddle and the [Brett] Favre interception.

“When the game was going to overtime, we looked at each other, and I don’t think we said a word. We went and sat down. It was that resigned look, like, they’ve done it to us again. All we could do was laugh.”

Carry Clancy, Mark Rosen
Photo courtesy of Carry Clancy
A few years back, when Mark Rosen and Carry Clancy, left, the Wisconsin native who produced Rosen’s Sports Sunday from 2000 to 2013, covered a Vikings game in Green Bay, Carry Clancy brought Rosen to D & G Restaurant, a popular family joint in her hometown of Greenleaf, Wisconsin.
Rosen’s contract at WCCO runs through March 2021, but he decided a long time ago he couldn’t work that long. He thought about quitting next August, right before the State Fair. But Denise’s illness led Rosen to shorten the timeline to April, right after the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four here and 50 years to the month since he started at WCCO. Then, a few weeks ago, he moved it up even further.

Recently Rosen signed a three-year contract extension with sports talker KFAN-FM, adding podcasts to his appearances on the Power Trip and Common Man shows. So Rosen is not going away. But it leaves his nights and weekends free, at a time in his life he needs it.  

Glioblastoma is relentless, and incurable. Median survival rates run about 15 months. Shaver beat Hodgkin’s lymphoma 20 years ago and is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer; his heart aches for the Rosens and their two adult children. “I feel awful,” Shaver said. “As I’ve often said, and Mark knows it all too well as well, cancer doesn’t care who you are and it doesn’t care who you love. It just doesn’t. You have to find a way to deal with all that.”

Shelby, who speaks with Rosen frequently, praised him as the rock his family leans on. Rosen said he’s overwhelmed and grateful for the outpouring of concern from friends, viewers and his many contacts in the sports world. It’s easy to see why so many people care: It’s Rosie, as much the face of WCCO today as Dave Moore was all those years ago. 

“I’ll save it for my last day, but my level of appreciation for everybody knows no bounds,” he said. “People have been extraordinary. And we’re very, very thankful for all of it, believe me.”