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Mathai shares sports stories with Los Altos Rotarians


Jerry Tomanek/Special to the Town Crier
Raj Mathai, news anchor for NBC Bay Area, speaks to the Rotary Club of Los Altos last month.

Raj Mathai, weeknight news anchor for NBC Bay Area, shared some of his favorite sports memories with the Rotary Club of Los Altos Feb. 20.

The Los Altos resident and Los Altos High alumnus was accompanied by his 10-year-old son, Maxx. Mathai expressed how much he loves Los Altos and sharing its hometown traditions with his son.

A longtime sportscaster before becoming news anchor, Mathai said his schedule was unpredictable – he traveled to 30 states and six countries – and that’s hard on family life. Now, as a newscaster, his schedule is more stable.

Mathai’s memories of the six Super Bowls he attended were topped by last month’s game in Miami. Although the 49ers didn’t win, he said, “the Chiefs earned their win,” due primarily to their potential Hall of Fame quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mathai recalled how 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan made the postgame party a celebration for the team’s families, who had provided tremendous support for the athletes. His father, former NFL head coach Mike Shanahan, also helped Kyle through the season by analyzing practices and games. According to Mathai, the two-week-long Super Bowl event in Miami and its spectacular halftime show were memorable as a celebration of the local Latin culture, though young Maxx felt the halftime show was “kind of inappropriate.”

Former 49er Jerry Rice actually wears one of his three Super Bowl rings, and he let Mathai hold them all at the recent Super Bowl, producing a memorable selfie.

One of Mathai’s favorite Super Bowl memories was a video he took before kick-off last month while most of the press were enjoying the buffet. He chose instead to roam behind the scenes, soaking in the experience. He found himself alone in a narrow hallway filled with Hall of Fame greats, old buddies who were trading their Super Bowl memories as they awaited the cue to file onto the field. Mathai said he treasured a close-up video he took of Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, John Elway, Tom Brady, Dan Marino and Roger Staubach.

Golden Olympics moments

The top Olympic games in Mathai’s memory – he has attended six – were in the summer of 2012 in London, due partially to the city’s excellent organization and efficient transportation. However, he predicted that the Tokyo games in 2020 may rival London as the best Olympics.

He said every Olympics he’s been to has “brought a tear to my eye because it’s so powerful and emotional to see the world come together.”

Mathai has been selected to run with the Olympic torch three times, in 1996, 2002 and 2008. He brought his 2008 torch from the Beijing games to pass among the Rotarians, sharing a personal Olympic experience with his audience.

However, Mathai recalled, when the torch came through San Francisco in 2008, it was nearly a disaster. Spooked by 100,000 loud spectators on city streets protesting China’s civil rights abuses, the FBI was hesitant to allow the 17 torch runners out of their van to pass the flame. The International Olympic Committee insisted the traditional torch must be carried through the public, so after two hours of checking street by street, Mathai and the other torch carriers were finally allowed out of the van to run a few yards each in a quiet location in Cow Hollow. 

A Rotarian asked Mathai if he thought the 2020 Tokyo Olympics would be postponed due to coronavirus fears.

“We’ll know in four to six weeks, but I doubt it,” Mathai replied, adding that the international organization puts a lot of time and energy into planning each Olympics.

With excitement mounting for fall’s presidential election, Mathai assured the Rotary Club that, as in sports reporting, election facts should be triple-checked before publication. Technology experts have been checking for foreign interference, he said, and “there’s no fake news here.”

Mathai said he looks forward to reporting election results for NBC from Washington, D.C., or New York on election night.

The veteran newscaster offered a bit of advice to young journalists.

“Be there and work harder,” he advised.

Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit losaltosrotary.org.

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