The Smack-Off is an annual competition on The Jim Rome Show as a way to recognize the best callers to the show, as well as a means of determining the best caller of the year. In the past, it is held in the mid-to-late spring and takes up the entire program on a Friday.
Since the show's move to CBS Sports Radio in 2013, the Smack-Off was moved to the summer so that more people could listen and so that participants would be looser. The 24th Smack-Off is set for July 20, 2018.
The Smack-Off was created because host Jim Rome and producer Travis Rodgers had sought to find a way to guarantee good calls after an extended period of bad calls. The two discussed the feasibility of such an arrangement on a daily basis but decided it could not be done. However, they figured they could accomplish that at least once each year. Rome has explained that bad calls do happen on the Smack-Off, and that he does have to run callers off. However, most callers to the Smack-Off bring their best calls of the year and usually are very entertaining.
The Smack-Off is the only day in which Rome does not schedule interviews or offer his own takes. Also, the competition is an invitational, meaning only 30 listeners are invited to participate. Invitees are named one week prior to the event. This serves two purposes: First, it allows for a buzz and opinions to be expressed throughout the week, generating good "takes" by other callers leading up to the event. Second, Rome and his crew have, in the past, added callers if there is a glaring omission. The show's Web site often has polls asking the listener's opinion on who should or shouldn't have been invited; however, polling results do not directly affect the field. On the day of the event, Rome explains the format, repeats the invitees and warns those invited that invitation does not guarantee participation. Callers have been left off because Rome had to announce the winner. Usually, the first hour's callers begin at about the quarter-hour in the first hour; the second hour is dedicated to calls; the third hour's calls stop at about the bottom of the hour, allowing Rome to name the top 10, replay the winning call and allow a short interview with the winner.
The Smack-Off began in 1995 while the program was still on local radio, but it continued into the program's syndication. Smack-Off XXIII, the most recent event, was held on June 26, 2017 and was won by Leff in Laguna Beach.
The Smack-Off can be separated into five distinct eras: the pre-syndication era (1995-1996), the old school years (1997-2001), the Calibrifrate era (2002-2008), and the New Blood era (2009-2015), and the Leff in Laguna Invitational era (2016-present).
The Pre-Syndication Era Edit
This era is known primarily for three things: the Di Tollas' strength, J.T. the Brick's win and later estrangement from Rome and the show, and the horrible performance of caller Jason in Fullerton (later known as Jason Stewart, show contributor). J.T. the Brick won the first Smack-Off and was offered a radio position from a competing radio network. Although Rome continues to invite J.T. each year, he otherwise ignores the Brick, since he resents the younger host's defecting to a competing network (though both currently work for Premiere Radio Networks; J.T. for the Fox Sports Radio division). Doc Mike and Jeffrey Di Tolla both competed strong, with Jeffrey (also known as Esquire) winning Smack-Off II. Doc Mike was a heavy favorite to win the first competition but was beaten out by the now-famous J.T. the Brick. Jason from Fullerton laid down a call that Rome later called "truly horrible" and that "might be the worst call ever in the history of the Smack-Off." Jason was one of the first Smack-Off callers to be run off. This "truly horrible" caller (in one of the more ironic twists of fate) would later became the call screener for The Jim Rome Show, known on the show as J-Stew.
The Old School Years Edit
This era was dominated by those callers known by Jim as the "SoCal legends." Doc Mike Di Tolla won in 1997 and 2000; Stevie Carbone took the title in 1998; Sean the Cablinasian became the first caller outside of Southern California to win the Smack-Off in 1999. Silk in Huntington Beach won in 2001 with a take which focused on his alleged employment at 7-11 and several racially insensitive remarks such as mexican gardners, Vietnamese drivers and black people buying $5 worth of gas.
This also was an era of controversial decisions. Steve Carbone (previously known as Stevie from LMU) was "Phoneslap," the phone-screener at the time. Carbone made a great call, tearing the Clones apart. His call will be best remembered for his announcement: "I am not a [expletive] clone!" However, conspiracy theories abound, the first being that he was the last caller of the day and the second being that he was the phone-screener. In 2000, caller Dan in D.C., made a legendary call but was denied the victory because his station, WTEM in Washington, did not carry all three hours live. Rome essentially admitted this when he said, "Dan, bang your monkey. It cost you the title." Doc Mike became the first two-time winner because of this. In 2001, caller Jim in Fall River made a historic call in which at the end of his call, an unknown animal (many have presumed it was a donkey) begins to yell in the background and Rome continues to ask Jim what the noise is, only for the caller to continue on his rant. Things got so out of control, Rome ran him only to get dozens of e-mails in the next segment about Jim raping a donkey or having Chewbacca in his house. Jim Harbaugh, who at the time was playing for the Indianapolis Colts, also called in 1998, becoming the first celebrity to participate. His call was bad, but Rome was not about to run off an NFL player, so the Clones had to sit through it.
The Calibrifate Era Edit
The Era of Expansion in the Jungle allowed for a wider range of callers. Therefore newer callers got a chance to call in and eventually win. In this era, only one caller from Southern California won, and previous unknowns stepped up and won. In 2002, Jeff in Richmond, one of the most controversial callers in the Jungle, won with a loud, self-promoting and defiant call. Jeff, a caller known for his claims of knowing Bob Costas, riches, luxury homes and cars, and his rants against liberal politicians, ranted against Osama bin Laden, a caller known as Trapper, and then ended his call with the biggest "GOOD NIGHT NOW!!" ever heard in the Jungle.
Smack-Off IX in 2003 featured more new callers and the second two-time winner, Sean the Cablinasian. It also marked the fourth consecutive second-place finish for Iafrate. This Smack-Off featured a surprise third-place finish by Joe in the OC (Orange County, Calif.). A near-miss was Greg in Vegas, who might have won had it not been for a "horrible Bruce Edwards blast."
Smack-Off X, in 2004, featured Iafrate's breakthrough victory, featuring his take on John Niems' infamous song, singing "Whitey's Dad" for the engineer of the program, Brian Albers. Terrence in Sierra Madre, Calif., finally made a good call but could only take third, cementing his place as the best caller never to win the Big One.
Smack-Off 2005 was considered the best Smack-Off to its time. It featured the highest placement of a woman in the jungle (Rachael in Houston), Iafrate's fifth second-place finish, another third-place finish for Terrence in Sierra Madre, and the first three-time winner, Sean the Cablinasian.
Smack-Off 2006 featured Sean the Cablinasian becoming a four-time champion, and the first-ever back-to-back winner of the Smack-Off in Jungle history. Sean sealed his win by telling Rome he'd talk to him in about an hour (Sean made his call in the middle of the second hour) and by ending his call with "Boom goes the dynamite." Oren in Denver, a promising first-time Smack-Off participant, continued his war of words with Jeff in Richmond but got run because there seemed to be no end in sight to his call. The Smack-Off also featured impresive performances by Rachel in Houston (fifth place), Iafrate (fourth place), who spent most of his call cracking on Terrence in Sierra Madre (who once again failed to win his first Smack-Off), and called the Smack-Off the "Cablifrate Invitational" referring to him and Seany taking first and second over the last years by saying "You had to go back when Saddam actually had WMDs to find anyone other than Sean and me who medaled higher than bronze." and cracking on George Mason University for making it to the Final Four and proclaiming "Nobody cares who came in fourth" (Which makes it ironic that he came in fourth place) and Joe in the O.C. (third place). Greg in Vegas finished second behind Sean with some stinging, yet politically incorrect, takes to which Jim remarked "I'm not sure whether to run him or rack him."
Soon after winning the 2007 Smack-Off, Sean the Cablinasian accepted a position as the afternoon talk show host with 1560 KGOW, located in Houston, Texas. Because KGOW was a rival to the affiliate station that broadcasts The Jim Rome Show, there was speculation that Sean Pendergast would not be allowed to compete in the 2008 Smack-Off. After months of silence, Rome announced that Cablinasian would not be eligible to participate in future Smack-Offs, in spite of his lifetime exemption. Rome explained that this wasn't personal, but that business practices in radio demanded this. J.T. the Brick, on the other hand, was welcome, because he and Rome worked for the same company, Premiere Radio Networks, though J.T. hasn't made an appearance on the Smack-Off since gaining his own talk show. Even after Rome moved to CBS Sports Radio, J.T. is still welcome to compete.
In 2008, Iafrate won his second title in the event, although he admitted his victory should be accompanied by an asterisk because the Cablinasian wasn't allowed to compete. Iafrate's call directly referenced the five-time winner's absence, comparing it to a golf tournament in which Tiger Woods chose not to compete. Specifically, Iafrate said the Cablinasian turned the event from "The Masters into The Wachovia."
Iafrate's call came early in the second hour of Smack Off, not long after the efforts of "Doc" Mike Di Tolla, the two-time winner who would finish second in the 2008 Smack Off. Di Tolla had not competed in several years, and Iafrate tailored his take to rubuke the long-time veteran for his absence. He attacked Mike for his lack of originality, calling him the "Official Jungle Mad Lib" and also hammered Jay Mohr. Rome dubbed Iafrate's take as "awesome" after it ended, and only one competitor following that take - 1998 winner Stevie Carbone fromLMU - attempted to critique Iafrate's efforts. Iafrate was awarded a Slingbox, and the choice of a computer or plasma TV, whereby he hastily choose the computer ("Ooh that's a tough one. I'll take the computer dude"). However, Iafrate's wife vetoed this, as revealed on Sean the Cablinasian's postgame show, and he ended up calling back to get the plasma TV instead. Iafrate was also the subject of Rome's final burn in his TV show, Jim Rome is Burning.
Vic in No-Cal attempted to go "wire-to-wire" in the Smack Off as the day's first caller, but he did not finish in the top ten. Comedian Jay Mohr demanded the slot right after Vic, and spent most of his time talking "smack" about the newcomer. Mohr finished sixth. Shortly after the Smack-Off, DiTolla announced on The Jim Rome Show that he would resume calling in more frequently, prompting commitments from Vic as well as Gino in San Antonio to do the same.
The New Blood EraEdit
In the 2009 Smack-Off, three first time callers got into the top ten (Brad in Corona, Mike in Indy, and Josh in Grand Rapids) with Josh in #7 and Brad and Mike at #1 and #2 with Brad being the first rookie to win the Smack-Off. The defending champ, Iafrate, ended up at #5. In 2010, Vic in NoCal became the tenth different Smack-Off winner in what Rome called the best, most competitive Smack-Off ever. In 2011, Brad in Corona won his second Smack-Off, edging out a very strong call from 1998 winner Stevie Carbone. Vic in NoCal finished fourth. In 2012 UFC fighter Chael Sonnen became the second professional athlete to participate in the Smack-Off, and was named the winner.
Sonnen returned to the 2013 Smack-Off, and so did Jason Stewart, the former call screener and former Smack-Off participant from 1995. On the June 11 show, Stewart called to announce his intent to participate in the 2013 Smack-Off, his first participation in eighteen years. Rome agreed to allow him to call, provided he use his former caller identification, "Jason in Fullerton". However, neither one of them came out on top, as the 2013 Smack-Off championship was awarded to the 2012 Golden Ticket winner, Mark in Hollywood. Mark won the event by manipulating his iPhone voice, Siri, to help him insult Mike in Indy.
The 2014 event was historic in that it marked the first-ever co-championship in the Smackoff. Mike in Indy and Chael Sonnen joined forces to create an unexpected tandem call that stunned Rome, the XR4TI, and the Clones. It marked Mike's first title and Chael's second. It also marked the first time that a Top 5 ranking was used instead of a Top 10, as in previous years. Brad in Corona came in third and redeemed himself after last year's debacle in song which got him and likely the Smack-Off on thin ice. Also, this was the year that Leff in Laguna Beach made his debut call to the Smack-Off; he didn't crack the top 5, though.
The 2015 event featured more callers than the previous year. Brad in Corona called first and successfully went wire-to-wire to pick up his third title despite another strong tandem call at the end from Mike in Indy and Chael Sonnen, and Leff in Laguna Beach's successful helicopter trick before his so-called "Invitational" (see below).
The Leff in Laguna Invitational EraEdit
The 2016 event was historic in that it happened it marked the first time ever that a caller gatecrashed Rome's studio. Leff in Laguna Beach did just that, and that along with CBS Sports Radio update announcer Rich Ackerman referencing him and making a faux update about him and Brad in Corona stunned Rome, the XR4TI, and the Clones, and made everyone on hold drop off for a while thereafter. It marked Leff's first title, and the second time that a Golden Ticket winner won the Smack-Off after Mark in Hollywood's 2013 win. Chael Sonnen and Mike in Indy played it alone for the first time in three years; they came in eighth and second respectively. Also, this Smack-Off featured one of only three song parody callers to participate, John in Little Rock(the others being J.D. in Nashville in 2008 and Sheryl in Austin in 2010, the latter getting run); he unfortunately got run partly because it wasn't the best work he had as those songs that earned his Golden Ticket both that year and the year before, and partly because his parody was of a song that no listener and no member of the XR4TI has ever heard of, even Rome himself.
The 2017 event featured a record 30 invitees, though only half of them got on. Leff in Laguna Beach went back-to-back on the strength of bringing in several old school callers from the 1990s namely Terrance in Sierra Madre, Kerwin in Riverside, among others, to recreate a photo shoot from a 1996 article on the Jungle that appeared in Sports Illustrated.
The 2018 Smack-Off, the 24th event, will be the first Smack-Off to air on television, as Rome's show is now simulcast on CBS Sports Radio and on CBS Sports Network TV.
All-Time Winners Edit
- 1995 - J.T. the Brick
- 1996 - Jeffrey E. "Esquire" Di Tolla
- 1997 - "Doc" Mike Di Tolla
- 1998 - Stevie Carbone from LMU
- 1999 - Sean the Cablinasian in Houston
- 2000 - "Doc" Mike Di Tolla (2nd title)
- 2001 - Silk in Huntington Beach
- 2002 - Jeff in Richmond
- 2003 - Sean the Cablinasian in Houston (2nd title)
- 2004 - Iafrate
- 2005 - Sean the Cablinasian in Houston (3rd title)
- 2006 - Sean the Cablinasian in Houston (4th title)
- 2007 - Sean the Cablinasian in Houston (5th title)
- 2008 - Iafrate (2nd title)
- 2009 - Brad in Corona
- 2010 - Vic in No-Cal
- 2011 - Brad in Corona (2nd title)
- 2012 - Chael Sonnen
- 2013 - Mark in Hollywood
- 2014 - Mike in Indy/Chael Sonnen (co-champions, 2nd title for Chael)
- 2015 - Brad in Corona (3rd title)
- 2016 - Leff in Laguna Beach
- 2017 - Leff in Laguna Beach (2nd title)
- 2018 - Brad in Corona (4th title)
Invitations are attained in three fashions. The first is as recognition for body of work, multiple "awards" of Huge Call of the Day (a show-ending playback of what Rome has selected as the best call of the show), lifetime achievement, or as a reward for an especially exceptional call. Longtime invitations do not mean people might not lose their invitation, as Rome threatened to do to Kerwin in Riverside before Smack-Off 2005. Rome can offer invitations for any reason, or none at all, and he admits that the invitation process is totally subjective.
The second is in the form of a lifetime exemption. Previous winners get automatic invitations every year. They can go the entire year without calling and still be invited. J.T. the Brick, for instance, has not called in years but still is invited to participate every year. Sean the Cablinasian was famous for flaunting the fact that he only calls for the Smack-Off. One of the major questions whenever invitations are announced is which callers will get their first invitation. Usually, first-time invitees do not fare well in the Smack-Off, but exceptions occur, such as Joe in the O.C., Casey in Vegas, Brad in Corona, Leff in Laguna Beach and Kaleb in Green Bay.
The third is through the "Golden Ticket" system, in which a new caller who comes out of nowhere with an exceptional call, or who puts together a series of good calls, can be given a "Golden Ticket" to the Smack-Off. The "Golden Ticket" concept comes from the 1970 film Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, in which five children who found a Golden Ticket in a Wonka Bar got a free trip to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. When Rome awards a Golden Ticket, show engineer Alvin Delloro plays a sound byte of Grandpa Joe Bucket singing "I've got a golden ticket!" The Golden Ticket is not guaranteed, however, and Rome reserves the right to revoke a Golden Ticket for a recipient who calls back later with a bad call, or is so afraid of losing his ticket that he doesn't call at all. When Rome revokes a Golden Ticket, Alvin plays the Grandpa Joe sound byte in reverse, which comes across as "Smackee Smitty Helicopter!"; for that reason, callers who lose their Golden Tickets are said to be "smacky-helicoptered".
SoCal legends have had longtime invitations. Silk in Huntington Beach was able to eventually co-opt this privilege into a personal lifetime exemption by winning in 2001. Other longtime invitees through the SoCal Special are Terrence in Sierra Madre, Trapper in Dana Point, and Irie Craig. Additionally, from 2010-2012, the winner of the Hack-Off got an automatic bid to the Smack-Off.
The Smack-Off stands as the most important day of the Jungle for fans. It has become the day to honor the best callers (according to Rome) and also recalls high points in the past year for listeners, as well as bringing back old memories from the high points in the show.