Sports Media Gone Wild: The Boston Taunt Party (By Way Of Indy)

According to eyewitnesses at a Super Bowl party, ESPN Radio's Ryen Russillo attempted to settle a score with WEEI's John Dennis, whose feud goes back to when Russillo had worked for the Patriots radio network. They would duke it out on Twitter the following day.

Today, you might be hearing about a certain quarterback’s supermodel wife taking her frustration of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants out on said quarterback’s teammates.

Before the Super Bowl, however, two sports radio hosts with a grudge nearly took their frustrations out on each other after crossing paths at a party late last week in Indianapolis – abstaining from a super brawl.

The grudge between John Dennis, longtime co-host of WEEI/Boston’s “Dennis & Callahan” morning show, and Ryen Russillo, who marks his sixth year with ESPN Radio this month, started in 2005, when Russillo, then a personality on the Patriots’ “Rock Radio Network” – their flagship at the time, the now-defunct legendary rock station WBCN – and also heard on radio station WWZN – which airs far less sports content these days than in recent years – allegedly made a pass at a woman identified as Dennis’ daughter. This obviously did not sit well with Dennis, which led to him leaving a three-minute, profanity-laced voicemail for Russillo (audio here; NSFW). This ultimately led to one of the two men losing their jobs – no, not Dennis, but Russillo, who was booted from the Patriots just weeks after being hired for their radio network. (Eventually, Russillo landed studio work for Celtics broadcasts, in addition to his hire at ESPN – for which he earned national praise not too long into his tenure at the Worldwide Leader.)

Fast forward to 2012. Friday night, February 3. Indianapolis, site of Super Bowl XLVI. Big game parties aplenty at the Bud Light Hotel (which, as I’ve come to find out, was actually a Hampton Inn with temporary naming rights). In addition to the Playboy Super Bowl Party you might have heard about (or the Playmates at said party you might have heard being berated by Darren Rovell), there was also an ESPN Super Bowl Party in the same building. WEEI’s Dennis was in the area. And ESPN’s Russillo was in the vicinity as well.

What happened next was about as swift as the Giants’ emergence over the Patriots in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI.

A partygoer claims Dennis and Russillo “ran into each other again, words were exchanged, and they nearly came to blows.” Another source tells Deadspin that the two were “in an alley outside the Bud Light Hotel… [Russillo] definitely got in Dennis’ face. Dennis didn’t make eye contact with Ryan and walked away.” The source added that Russillo “left with a few guys” and that the exchange was so brief, “[I] didn’t even have time to videotape anything.”

Next day, Saturday, February 4. You can get the sense that since Dennis diffused the would-be confrontation by not paying Russillo any mind, that cooler head had prevailed at this point. Not the case. Russillo was ready for round 2.

And what better venue for a sports media slobberknocker than Twitter?

“Always know,” Russillo tweeted to Dennis, “that when you looked in my eyes, you wanted nothing to do with me. You are a liar, and a fake tough guy [John].”

Dennis replied: “[You] were stumbling drunk, legless, and unintelligible. [You] embarrassed [yourself] and ESPN, and got thrown out by security.” Dennis punctuated the tweeted with the hashtag “alcoholic.”

If Dennis’ claims of Russillo being “thrown out by security” are true, it could be why he ended up in an “alley” outside the hotel.

Oh, yeah – Russillo was sure not to let that slide: “That’s one version,” he replied back. “Why didn’t you follow through on your promise? You threatened me, had me fired and then backed down.” (The “had me fired” part, of course, referring to him losing the Patriots radio gig in 2005, practically before he got started.)

About an hour later, Dennis responded: “[Your] friends [and] colleagues have long said [you’re] a real bad drunk.” He added, referring to Scott Van Pelt, whose ESPN Radio afternoon program he has been co-hosting since its inception in 2009, “SVP apologized saying [you] were way out of line.” Dennis closed the tweet with, “get some help,” and the hashtag, “#callAA.”

Which led to Russillo tweeting back, “You call me again, or we can get in a ring for charity. You in?”

Dennis never responded to the tweet. In fact, it appears that every single one of Russillo’s tweets from February 4 had been deleted. No word of it was by ESPN corporate mandate – after all, he did technically challenge somebody to a fight, which would go against one or two of ESPN’s social networking guidelines for its talent, would it not? Like this one: “At all times, exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for colleagues, business associates and fans.” While Dennis isn’t an ESPN employee, he could be perceived as somewhat of a “business associate” of Russillo’s (I know, hard to imagine) in the spectrum of sports media. And let’s not forget the very first rule on the list: “Think before you tweet. Understand that at all times, you are representing ESPN.” Unless he was merely doing a Jim Everett impersonation, he clearly was representing Ryan Russillo and not ESPN.

At any rate, we do not know if ESPN has reprimanded or suspended Russillo for his actions Friday in Indianapolis, or Saturday in social networking, nor if they have any plans of doing so. As of Monday afternoon, Russillo was still representing ESPN and working for Van Pelt’s show, and even teased a new edition of his basketball podcast for ESPN, “The NBA Today,” on his Twitter account.

(No public comments from Van Pelt on his Twitter account, by the way – just some Howard Stern references made to Rich Eisen at around the time of Dennis and Russillo’s near-altercation, and little else.)

Does this mean we have heard the last of this New England sports media feud, or will the next salvo be fired in another seven years?

Will Dennis go into detail with Gerry Callahan about this incident?

Will Russillo actually take Dennis’ advice and “call AA”?

Stay tuned.

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