ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio Was a Nobody in High School

Plus, the Moorestown-based sports broadcast personality and former Inquirer reporter tells us why Donovan McNabb is misunderstood, his summer chasing Russian subs, and how the Beatles saved the USA.

Illustration by Andy Friedman.

Illustration by Andy Friedman.

My name is … Salvatore Anthony Nicholas Paolantonio. “Sal Pal” for short.

I was named after … my mother’s oldest brother, Salvatore Giardina, who served in the Army in World War II. He was legendary in my family.


I am a … reporter. My job is to find out new stuff and tell our audience about it. It’s really that simple.

I got my big break … when I got out of the Navy and was hired at the Albany Times Union. I was only at the paper 16 months when they sent me to cover the famine in East Africa, because I had been there for the Navy. Right after that, the Inquirer hired me.

My people are from … a little town called Calitri in Abruzzo, Italy. It’s a sheep-herding and farming town in the mountains. My grandfather came here in 1920 with his two brothers. The two brothers went back, and he stayed. Or else I’d be a sheep-herder.

When I was seven years old … we were all ducking and covering under our desks. Then Kennedy was shot. Thank God the Beatles showed up a couple of months later and gave us hope again.

When people don’t like what I have to say … they tell me about it, and I like that.

The next Philly team to win the championship will be … the Eagles. It’s easier to prevail in the NFL than in the other professional sport leagues. And they’ve just invested $30 million in Chip Kelly, so they’ve got no choice.

One bad habit I just can’t break is … ice cream. Chocolate water ice from Rita’s with vanilla ice cream in it.

People would be surprised to know … that I love to garden. I spend a lot of time planting flowers and weeding with my iPod in my ears.

My favorite Philadelphian … is Frank Rizzo, who embodied everything there was about the city.

The best Philly athlete alive today … is Chase Utley. Fundamentally great. Tough as nails. And instinctively knows what’s going to happen next. That’s rare. You can’t teach instincts.

If I owned the Eagles … I would make Ron Jaworski general manager. He’d win a Super Bowl in three years.

The farthest I’ve ever been from Philadelphia … is Diego Garcia, a Navy base in the Indian Ocean. I served from 1978 to 1983, and I spent the summer of 1981 chasing Russian submarines around the Indian Ocean.

I met my wife … in 1976, when I moved her into the dorm at SUNY Oneonta. I was the R.A.

Andy Reid was … respected but not revered. He got close but didn’t get the Super Bowl, and that’s how people will always remember him here.

My dad always told me … it’s not how you act; it’s how you re-act. In other words, don’t show on your face how your ass is getting kicked.

For Thanksgiving, I will … be working. We play NFL football on Thanksgiving. Just the nature of my job: I work on holidays. God bless my wife.

The most misunderstood Philly athlete of all time … would have to be Dick Allen, but only slightly ahead of Donovan McNabb. Not everybody gets to win a Super Bowl. Dan Marino didn’t win a Super Bowl. And remember: As a human being, as a teammate, as a member of the community, there aren’t any players better than Donovan McNabb. He finished a game with a broken leg.

In high school, I was voted … nothing.