Knock on Woody

Woody Paige said his return to the Post wasn't imminent shortly before conceding that it was -- but he swears he didn't lie. Honest.

So what happened between then and November 2 to change everything? Paige says he really did consider his chats with Moore and Singleton to be casual and social, if lengthy; he guesses that the Singleton get-together lasted "three or four hours." Likewise, he swears that everything came together in the days before the announcement, long after he'd pooh-poohed the possibility that one would be necessary. "I had a binding contract," he maintains, "but I had my agent talk to ESPN, and we told them that writing was really important to me. And we worked something out that allows me to continue to work on Around the Horn and still do three things I love: return to Colorado, return to the Denver Post and write."

That's fine by Moore, who's pleased that he's got a marquee name to step in for George. Regarding the nuts and bolts of the Paige negotiations, the editor certainly thought they were having substantive conversations about the columnist job long before the deal was done. "We had a preliminary discussion about it two months ago," Moore recalls. "I told him, ŒIf you're serious about this, you need to let me know by a certain date.' And then I think he got serious about it, because that date was looming."

For his part, ESPN vice president of studio production Mike McQuade, who oversees Cold Pizza, wasn't surprised in the slightest by Paige's western movement. "He and I had been talking about it for a while," he says. "I knew it was coming." McQuade makes it clear that Paige wasn't pushed out, smacks down conjecture that Skip Bayless, the Woodman's on-screen sparring partner, will go away next, and dismisses whispers that Pizza is bound for the garbage disposal. According to him, "The last weekly ratings report we got had the show up 70 percent, and the big area of growth is in men 18-34 -- the demographic these shows are all about. That was up over 100 percent." Hence, the search is on for Paige's permanent replacement, who McQuade says might be either a sportswriter or a former athlete.

Jay Bevenour

In the meantime, Paige is prepared to answer questions from ESPN types about why he's leaving a burgeoning medium like cable-sports television for print, which is widely considered to be on the wane. The main reason, he says, is because "I care passionately about newspapers, and I think I can be of help to the Denver Post. ESPN can survive with or without me. They've survived without Keith Olbermann. They can survive without me."

Some of Paige's recent statements may be dubious, but that one's indisputable. Woody Paige said his return to the Post wasn't imminent shortly before conceding that it was -- but he swears he didn't lie. Honest.

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