Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Q&A with Nick Lachey

Jimmy Traina

Cincinnati sports fan delivers harsh words for trio of Bengals

Nick Lachey hopes for big things from the Cincinnati Bearcats in the NCAA tournament.

Die-hard Cincinnati sports fan Nick Lachey recently wrote and performed the theme song (Last One Standing) that was used throughout the Big East tournament. This week the actor-singer spoke with SI.com's Jimmy Traina on a variety of sports topics, including the state of the Bengals, the problems with Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco, the career of Matt Leinart, the SI Swimsuit issue, and much more.

SI.com: As big-time sports fan, you must have been psyched to have your song used by ESPN throughout the Big East tournament. How was that experience?

: It was cool to be able to use all the sports terms in the song, and obviously it was a thrill to have my two passions -- sports and music -- come together. The Big East tournament is five of the best days of the year, so that just made it even better.

SI.com: Being an entertainer means you have a hectic schedule. Do you make sure to have nothing going on during the first two days of the NCAA tournament?

Lachey: Yeah, I do. The NCAA tournament is the best sporting event of the year, so I always make sure I'm home to watch. I have people over. This year, though, I'm actually going to be in Chicago on St. Patrick's Day for a friend's 40th birthday. That could get ugly.

SI.com: Do you have any tips for filling out a bracket?

Lachey: I've been doing brackets for 12 years and I've only won once, so I'm not the guy to give advice. Plus, I have my Cincinnati Bearcats going to the Elite Eight, and that's not good. I pick with my heart, so you don't want to listen to me.

SI.com: How rough is it to be a Bengals fan?

Lachey: At one point, I tried to defend the team. But if you care about your city, your fanbase and ultimately your team, you can't defend that ownership any longer. It's a joke. I've been pretty vocal about saying there needs to be a change there. Quite frankly, I think Mike Brown would love nothing more than if this labor situation ended the season because then he wouldn't have to pay any players, he can run scabs out there and make guaranteed money. For him, no season is a best-case scenario.

But I feel for the city. It's such a die-hard NFL town, and it's so unfair to the fanbase, who are so supportive of that team for very little reason over the past 25 years. It's sad to see the fans go through year after year of having no hope.

SI.com: Do you think it's impossible for the Bengals to be successful under Mike Brown?

Lachey: You're gonna have your aberration years like in 2009 when the division was down and we were able to sweep the division and make the playoffs before exiting in the first round. Short of those blips of success on the radar, Mike Brown has proven he's not the one to make personnel decision. As long as he's the guy pulling the trigger, I don't have any faith that the Bengals will turn anything around.

SI.com: What's your take on Carson Palmer wanting out?

Lachey: It's hard for me because I went to USC and watched him all through college. Obviously, as a Bengals fan, I was thrilled when he became our quarterback. I think, unfortunately, he's been a part of a losing situation and that takes its toll on players after a while. I guess the one gripe I have with Carson is that he's never been the guy. He's never been the rah-rah guy in the huddle to grab someone's facemask and tell them to get their act together. He's always been the quiet type. You never got the feeling he was in control of that team. For him to all of a sudden to now have a voice and speak up is frustrating, not only to myself but to a lot of fans because you wish you would've seen that five years ago when players were acting out. You would've liked to have seen your highly compensated franchise quarterback have a little more initiative at that point instead of when he wants to get out of town.

SI.com: Are you a Chad Ochocinco fan or do you think his act is played out?

Lachey: I think it's played out. I think most people in Cincinnati feel that way. You have players who seemingly care more about their Twitter accounts and generating publicity about themselves than they do about winning. And again, you have to defend Chad on a certain level because it must be tough to come in here year in and year out, and get ready to play for a team that's not gonna go anywhere. But I also think Chad dropped a lot of balls. There were a lot frustrating moments over the past few years where you're thinking, "If you spent half as much energy working on running around the cornerback as you did self promoting, it would be a different situation." I just think the Bengals need a clean sweep from owner down to players.

SI.com: How do you like being part owner of the Tacoma Rainiers (the Triple A affiliate of the Mariners)?

Lachey: It's been a blast. The parent club is in charge of personnel decisions, so as the owner of a Triple-A team, you have a chance to make an impact with promotions and the stadium experience for your fans. In Tacoma, we're in the middle of a $45 million stadium renovation and we just won the Pacific Coast League last year for the first time since the '60s. So I like to think we've done a good job bringing a good product to the fans.

SI.com: But you're still more of a Reds fan than a Mariners fan, right?

Lachey: Oh, yeah. It's funny because I was a quasi-Mariners fan before any of this because Lou Piniella went there. So I was always a closet Mariners fan from the mid-'90s. But the Reds are my team.

SI.com: How do you like their chances?

Lachey. I love what ownership has done. The Castellinis [the owners of the Reds] love the city, they genuinely want to win. They've brought that mentality that St. Louis has to Cincy. It's a smaller market club, but one you feel like can compete year in and year out. Obviously they brought in GM Walt Jocketty from there. They're doing a fantastic job building up the pitching staff and they're doing it the right way. And they did a lot of good things over the winter like re-signing Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto. It sends a great message to the fans that we want to compete, and to come out to the ballpark and support the team. We feel like we should be right there in the mix for the division.

SI.com: You were in the infamous pictures of Matt Leinart partying with some girls back in 2008. Are you close with Matt, and what do you make of what's happened to his career?

Lachey: I'm obviously biased on this topic since I'm a good friend, but I think Matt has gotten a raw deal. It's unfortunate that people define him by that moment. If he was an undefeated starting quarterback when that happened, it would be "colorful," ya know? It's like the line in Bull Durham about a fungus on your shower shoes. You get to the show, it's colorful. Until then... So, lesson learned there. But if you look at his rookie year when Dennis Green coached the Cardinals, I think Matt still holds the single-game rookie passing record. He threw for over 400 yards in a game. I just think he was in a situation in Arizona where he got hurt, Kurt Warner came in and made a run at the Super Bowl and Matt never really jelled with Ken Whisenhunt and he never had a chance to show what he was capable of doing. But I'm excited for Matt to get a fresh start somewhere, because I know he's a starting quarterback in the NFL. He just needs a chance to showcase it.

SI.com: While an athlete doesn't want photos like that made public, he wasn't doing anything illegal or anything like that, either, right?

Lachey: If you look at what was going on with the Mantles, the DiMaggios and the Namaths, my gosh. But we live in a different day and age. We now live in a time where everything is immediate and we all take pictures and videos with our camera phones and it's international news. Everyone's gotta adapt accordingly. People in my business, athletes. It's a different time.

SI.com: What's been your favorite sporting event to attend?

Lachey: I've been really fortunate that I've been able to go to the World Series, Super Bowl, and Final Fours. One of the coolest moments for me was being able to sing the national anthem before Game 4 of the Yankees-Marlins World Series in 2003. It was a great game, too. It was supposed to be Roger Clemens' last game and it went 12 or 13 innings. But year in and year out, my favorite sporting event is the Kentucky Derby. It's a great atmosphere on a beautiful spring day. Churchill Downs is just a special place to be.

SI.com: You have a connection to Sports Illustrated. You recently hosted one of the Swimsuit parties in Las Vegas. Sounds like a fun gig?

Lachey: I hesitate to call that work. It was a lot of fun to be a part of that and I invited a few of my boys out to Vegas to hang out with the girls. As someone who's read Sports Illustrated pretty much all my life, I just want to say thank you for continuing to do the Swimsuit issue.

SI.com: Who is your alltime favorite Swimsuit model?

Lachey: It's Elle Macpherson just because when I was a teenager, getting the Swimsuit issue in the mail, Elle Macpherson was, and probably still is, a goddess. Her appearances on the covers came at the right age for her to make an impact on my life.