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Episode 02: Petros Papadakis

LIFE ON TOUR  

It’s not unusual for former athletes to stay in shape these days by taking up modern activities, like Pilates or Cross Fit. What is unusual is seeing Petros Papadakis at 6:30 AM wearing checkerboard Vans, a sweaty t-shirt and a rolled-up yoga mat under his arm. But then again, ‘unusual’ is a word that is often thrown around when speaking about the former University of Southern California tailback-turned-radio and television personality.

Papadakis, 40, is one-half of the The Petros and Money Show, a wild and wildly-popular Los Angeles sports talk radio show that is also broadcast globally via the internet. He’s also an analyst for Fox College Football, offering insight on nationally televised games, most recently the 2017 Big XII Championship. But despite his athletic upbringing and his gift of gab, television and radio isn’t exactly where Petros, or “The Old P” he’s often called by faithful AM 570 listeners, expected to end up.

“I wanted to be a reggae dancehall star,” recalls Papadakis. “But that’s difficult to do as a white guy. I also wanted to write comic books but I don’t draw all that well.”

Shortcomings like those haven’t stopped Papadakis’ rise in the Southern California entertainment market. Born into a proud, Greek family, Papadakis has already referred to himself as “ugly,” “deeply flawed,” and “Quasimodo-like” and we haven’t even arrived at his modest Palos Verdes Estates home from the yoga studio yet.

When we do arrive, Papadakis apologizes for the mess in the kitchen left behind by his two toddler children. The house is quiet and the kids aren’t up yet. Papadakis realizes he forget to let his wife, Dayna, know he’s being interviewed and filmed by a four-man crew. “Shhh,” he warns us, as he closes the hallway door, “Let’s go downstairs and work.”

“Downstairs” is Papadakis’ makeshift office built below the house foundation. It’s here where the eccentric radio persona comes out, as he turns on his computer and starts bumping reggae music and begins to give a tour of the room. There’s the collection of nautical wheels, a three-foot poster of Papadakis dressed as a woman – makeup included – resting behind a set of Israeli gas masks and a dip bar. He proudly shows off his dusty record collection, ranging from Michael Jackson and Ice-T to John Wayne Americana folk songs to multiple Rick Springfield albums. It’s easy to see the odd nick-knacks scattered in the room and understand what goes on in his head every day.

petros-papadakis While giving a tour of his home office, Petros showed off his collection of vinyl, including Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker, which he considers “the greatest indie rock album of all-time.”

Before starting his broadcasting career, Papadakis was an average student at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, 25 minutes from Los Angeles and just up the hill from his childhood home in San Pedro. He was, however, a star football player and ended up going to UC Berkeley his freshman year before a case of home-sickness caused him to leave the university and enroll at USC, where his family has long-held athletic ties. His brother, Taso, and father, John, both played football at USC and his maternal grandfather played on the basketball team.

Papadakis majored in English and American literature while at USC, while also scoring 16 touchdowns as a tailback for the Trojans. He was team captain, or in his words, “captain of the worst team in USC history,” which somehow went 5-7 in 2000 despite fielding future stars Carson Palmer, Troy Polamalu and “twelve other dudes who played in the NFL,” he adds in disbelief.

Papadakis, after suffering a foot injury early in his career, resigned himself to the fact that he probably wasn’t going to be a star at the professional level and figured he might end up as a waiter, which he says he was most prepared and suitable for after college. Papadakis spent many summers as a child stocking shelves at the family liquor store – great-grandfather Nick Papadakis was a bootlegger out of the San Pedro harbor during Prohibition – and later as a waiter in the family restaurant, the Papadakis Taverna in San Pedro. “My father and mother opened the restaurant in the early 70s,” recalls Papadakis. “It was a Hollywood place when I was a kid. I served all those people like Harrison Ford and Liz Taylor, John Travolta…everybody would come down there.”

After graduating USC in 2000, Papadakis landed a local broadcasting gig shortly thereafter, covering high school football games as a sideline reporter as well as hosting a weekly USC sports show on Fox Sports. His first big break came in 2004, when we has signed on to commentate Pac-10 (now Pac-12) games. “I had no idea what I was doing. I had zero booth experience at that point,” Papadakis says with a laugh.

Papadakis would go on to host a local sports talk radio show by himself, host the Spike TV sports realty show Pros vs Joes for three seasons, and make national appearances on ESPN, VH1, and NBC. In 2007, Papadakis teamed up with friend and veteran sports radio personality Matt “Money” Smith to create the aforementioned Petros and Money Show. “Thank god I get to work with a polished broadcaster like Matt,” Papadakis adds.

It would seem Papadakis is destined for more, as his post-playing days career has been on a steady climb but when asked what is next for him, he gives a very matter-of-fact answer: “Someone could offer me Monday Night Football and my first reaction would be ‘Oh my god, how will my life change?’, not ‘Great, this is my dream job, I’ll take it.’ My career goal is to remain upright and employed.”

The honest perception Papadakis has of himself is refreshing in the cutthroat entertainment industry and it’s probably what’s helped him succeed most to this point. “If you make a mistake on TV, just check Twitter and it’s there. You don’t even have to make a mistake, just be yourself,” he says. Papadakis is very aware he’s a polarizing figure, from his loud voice some call annoying to his matter-of-fact takes on teams and athletes to his oddball interests he shares with his listeners (“I love Jamaican culture, action figures, Los Angeles trivia, 80s movies, the social structure of Pullman, Washington…”).

Papadakis doesn’t consider himself to be in the public eye but acknowledges what he says or does is broadcast to hundreds of thousands of people daily. He says he tries not to let criticism bother him. “I’ve seen people who make a whole lot more money than I do or are more famous than I ever will be and I see them check Twitter every 15 minutes to see what people are thinking,” he says. After a quick search of ‘Petros’ on Twitter, we see comments like “I’d rather have my liver removed without anesthesia than listen to this guy” and monikers thrown his way like “Fatros,” “Sweatros,” and “Papadickless”.

“I’m not going to pretend that sometimes what people say isn’t a kick in the nuts. It’s the business. We need to take ourselves less seriously. We’re calling a college football game, not signing the Magna Carta.”

13th Century English charter references aside, Papadakis has survived for 18 years as on-air talent but is still humble about where he has been and where he is going. “I don’t’ think of myself as a TV guy or radio guy. I enjoy the work but I try not to get defined by it. We’re not splitting atoms…we’re just entertaining people.”

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