TSN celebs Jay Onrait (left) and Dan O'Toole meet Morning Star sports editor Kevin Mitchell in downtown Armstrong.

TSN celebs Jay Onrait (left) and Dan O'Toole meet Morning Star sports editor Kevin Mitchell in downtown Armstrong.

TSN duo heads Stateside

Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole of TSN Sports Centre sign with Fox Sports 1 in Los Angeles.

They shot pumpkins out of a cannon, milked cows and bodysurfed through a large crowd in a scorching downtown Armstrong two summers ago.

And they made a lot of people laugh as they signed autographs and posed for photos during the Kraft Celebration Tour.

Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole of TSN Sports Centre did their show live that Aug. 19 Friday, with Producer Tim forced to cut a funny Spallumcheen helicopter sketch since the Saskatchewan Roughriders had just fired their coach Greg Marshall.

Roger Knox and I co-emceed the proceedings, meeting Producer Tim in the trailer studio and doing sound checks for the TSN crew. We were then shooed away to make way for the 6-foot-6 Onrait and his smaller sidekick.

Afterwards, I waited until the line subsided and got in a 14-minute interview with the two celebrity sportscasters. They were, as they appear on TV: hilarious, engaging, friendly and intelligent.

They leave TSN late next month to join Fox Sports 1 which officially launches on Aug. 17. They will be based in Los Angeles.

It appears not everybody out there likes Onrait and O’Toole’s unique chemistry and humour which has earned them a nationwide following. Onrait has 242,000 followers on Twitter.

Wrote Lorin Tochim, of the University of Alberta, on the Edmonton Journal website story: “B-bye to two twits.”

On the Toronto Star site, Nick Pirce said: “Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole are the funniest guys in television.”

From Josh Smit on the same Toronto site: “As a Canadian, I say thank you Fox Sports One for taking Onrait and O’Toole away from TSN. Two of the worst people that ever worked for ‘Canada’s Sports Leader.’ Hate their schtick. How anyone finds it enjoyable is beyond me…These two clowns try to make everything funny and completely fail 95 per cent of the time.”

Responding to Smit was Ian Linross: “It’s entertainment!!!??? They’re not talking about Syria.”

And from Markham Native2: “I’ll be honest, when Onrait first started acting a bit weird, he used to annoy me to the point that I’d change the channel. Over the last two years, however, I never miss an episode with these two guys. Their jokes and subtle references are not for the dense minded. You really gotta be quick and witty to understand, appreciate them, and I love the fact that they refused to conform to the dull and bland reporter types that are a dime a dozen.”

After their departure from TSN was announced, Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted a photo of himself with Onrait and O’Toole, saying “Worst play of the day: Jay & Dan leaving TSN. Best of luck in the U.S., gents.”

I was stunned by the news. So was Knox. So was Ryan Nitchie, who pretty much had the two stocking shelves at Askew’s while he took their bus-trip-to-Alberta-booze orders in between meals at The Brown Derby Cafe.

We got up close and personal with these guys after spending a decade watching them nightly at 11 p.m. And now they’re up and bolting for L.A. It hurts big time.

Fox Sports I is hiring 200 people. Knox and I turned down interview offers. Partly because we enjoy Cheezie Fridays too much and partly because our sons really like their schools.

Onrait and O’Toole will be a major part of a three-hour Fox Sports Live program that will air nightly between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. Eastern.

Though it won’t be formally announced for another month due to contractual obligations, ESPN’s stunning Charissa Thompson has already told her Bristol employers that she is leaving for Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports Live. She will be featured in the same late-night (Eastern) bloc as Onrait and O’Toole.

Fox Sports management become aware of Onrait and O’Toole when they read the Wall Street Journal story above from last July that carried this longing headline: “Why Can’t We Have Canada’s ‘SportsCentre’?”.

Fox Sports executives started taping Onrait and O’Toole’s nightly work from the Fox Soccer Channel studios in Vancouver. They liked what they saw, and offered the anchors a deal that included bringing over their longtime producer.

Thompson will reportedly earn about $900,000 for her first year, and Fox Sports Live anchors will pocket between $300,000-$600,000 per year, depending on the specific talent. This, industry people say, is ridiculous cash. Onrait and O’Toole have certainly earned the right to make such money.