Granieri brothers overcome difficult past to make names for themselves at ESPN
(Originally published in The Press of Atlantic City on 9/20/2020)
In 1994, Frank Granieri and his brothers recorded the “Monday Night Football 25th Anniversary” special.
Rabid football fans, the brothers must have watched the special 25-30 times, Frank estimated.
That memory came to mind last Monday when the Linwood native, now 43, realized how special a day it was.
He was part of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” crew as a graphics coordinator for the game between the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers. A few hours later, and about 1,700 miles away, his younger brother Tony worked as the MNF crew’s talent spotter for the game between the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans.
It was the first time Frank got to work a professional game.
“I remembered that last night and thought, ‘Look at us now, working a ‘Monday Night Football’ game after having watched that,’” Frank said.
Over texts, the two wished each other luck before their respective games, both well aware of how unforgettable a moment it would be. The brothers, who are joined at ESPN by youngest brother Michael and cousin Carl, are grateful to be where they are when their lives could have easily been derailed by family trauma 23 years ago. One morning in March 1997, the Granieri brothers were awakened by their father, Frank P. Granieri Jr., screaming. They raced to their parents’ room to see their father trying to restrain their mother, Antonietta. Frank said he was initially confused as to what was going on, and then he realized his father was covered in gasoline. His mother was holding a lighter.
“The sight of your parents wrestling, not play wrestling but full-on wrestling on the bed...” said Frank, a 1995 graduate of Mainland Regional High School. “Your father’s face is full of distress. Your mother’s full of sort of an angry focus, and my father’s voice was altered by the gasoline he had swallowed. He didn’t sound like himself and I thought, ‘What is going on?’ Then I smelled (the gasoline). I knew something was out of place.”
Antonietta, whose life was plagued by sexual abuse, disappearances and suicide attempts, tried to kill their father for suggesting she be readmitted to a facility for treatment.
The father managed to break free, and Frank and Tony tackled their mother to the ground to prevent her from chasing him. The police were called, and both parents were transported to the hospital. She was eventually taken to the Atlantic County jail before being transferred to Trenton State Forensic Hospital, and later Ancora Psychiatric Hospital between 1997 and 2001. In 2018, their father moved to Australia. That same year, Frank published a book. Titled “Pavarotti and Pancakes,” it examines his mother’s past and the journey his family went through after the attack.
Their mother, who had taken Frank to his first NFL game when he was 7, died in 2017.
In the immediate aftermath of that chaotic morning, their father sold the house to give the family as much of a clean slate as possible. While his sons stayed with their grandparents, he crashed on the couches of friends and family members in the area.
Tony, who was 16 at the time of the attack, was also dealing with severe physical trauma. He suffered a head injury resulting from a collision playing baseball and had to be flown to the Children’s Hospital Of Philadelphia for surgery. “It was just a whirlwind of upheaval and chaos,” said Tony, who graduated from Mainland in 1998. “I don’t know how most people would respond to that kind of stuff, but somehow we didn’t fall into the problems. You see people falling down that path, and we seemed to rally around each other and get through it.” Tony added that the community played a huge role in the family’s recovery, helping out with daily essentials like laundry and dinner. What helped Tony specifically come to terms with the incident was his recovery from the brain injury.
“It kind of gave me some strength to be like, ‘I can get through that. I can definitely get through this, too,’” Tony said. “It’s just a matter of willpower at that point.” Tony went on to play college football at Bryant University until 2003. Through a connection at the university, he got in touch with ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay. The two spoke on the phone several times, and McShay invited Tony to the NFL scouting combine in 2003. Tony landed a job with Scouts Inc., an ESPN partner specializing in scouting and evaluating players.
Two years later, he was called up to ESPN as a talent spotter for “Monday Night Football.” In this role, Tony is responsible for giving the broadcast’s color commentator notes of in-depth analysis between plays. Situated in the broadcast booth but right outside the view of the camera, he’s worked with Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden, Jason Witten and more. Once Tony had made a name for himself within the company, he was asked if he had any recommendations for open positions. That’s when his brothers came along.
“I said, ‘My brothers are the perfect people for this job,’” Tony said. “’They’re clones of me in almost every way, and if you’re liking what I’m bringing to the table, I have two others that are just like me.’”
Michael joined ESPN in 2011, and Frank joined a year later as a graphics interface coordinator. Three years later, Carl got a job at ESPN.
The four Granieris, all graphic interface coordinators, are now known throughout the company as “GSPN.” “I love it,” Frank said. “It’s a source of pride, and it all comes and starts with Tony.”
Anything appearing on the screen that isn’t the actual game, like the scoreboard, player stats and personnel, is the work of Frank. He previously worked with Tony on the College Football Playoff National Championship.
With what appears to be a bright future ahead for the family, Tony says the brothers’ main concern is making sure their children don’t have to grow up under similar circumstances. “The focus is to try and avoid our pasts (and) any of the stuff that happened to us as kids and give our children a real home life, a real situation where they can get their feet underneath them and raise them the right way” he said.