Bayless Family

Skip Bayless, Rick Bayless

During his annual golfing trip, Skip Bayless returns to his native Oklahoma. Before checking into his hotel, the host of Skip and Shannon: Undisputed drives by the two-bedroom, one-bathroom house on 43rd Street in the Mayfair District of Oklahoma City where he was raised. He'll park his rental car there for 10 minutes and reflect.

"It always grounds me and reminds me of how grateful I should be that the two of us got to where we are," Skip said. "I thank God for it."

Skip Bayless Out of this home sprung two famous brothers, Skip and Rick Bayless, who have reached the apex of their respective -- yet completely divergent -- high-profile professions.

After a long run at ESPN, Skip, 66, is the face of Fox Sports 1. Rick, 64, is the winner of Bravo's Top Chef Masters and seven James Beard Foundation Awards, stars in his own PBS series, has published nine cookbooks, and is one of Barack Obama's favorite chefs.

The brothers, who slept in the same bunk bed (with Skip on the top) until they were nearly teenagers, shared a special status in Chicago in the late 1990s. Skip was the Chicago Tribune sports columnist while Rick's Frontera Grill and Topolobampo were becoming two of the most critically acclaimed restaurants in The Windy City.

They have reached such heights despite being raised by parents, John and Levita, who, according to Skip, likely didn't finish high school.

"There is nothing in their genealogy to predict this," said Skip, who was christened John Edward II.

Rick's career path, though, may have been preordained. His grandfather owned a drive-in restaurant, and both of his grandmothers were cooks. John and Levita ran a barbecue restaurant, Hickory House, on the south side of Oklahoma City for 37 years.

Rick Bayless Since the time his sons were young children, John took Skip and Rick with him to work. Their duties progressed from cleaning tables to slicing vegetables.

"That was my fun," Rick said. "For my brother, it was torture."

"I hated it," Skip said. "I despised everything about that place. The flip side of the story is right away my brother, so to speak, ate it up."

Rick, who couldn't wait to spend all Saturday at the Hickory House, attributes much of his success in the restaurant business to that childhood experience.

When Rick was in the fourth or fifth grade, his parents added a room to their new house, which allowed the brothers to have their own quarters. After that, they spent less time together.

Skip took to sports, a field no one in his immediate or extended family had ever expressed interest in, and got his motorcycle license as a young teen.

"At 14 he was basically on his own, cruising away," said Craig Humphreys, Skip's childhood friend and the best man at his first wedding.

After graduating the University of Oklahoma, Rick journeyed away as well. He met his wife, Deann, while doing doctoral work in anthropological linguistics at the University of Michigan, and they lived in Mexico during the 1980s.

They settled in Chicago because Deann was from the city's western suburbs, and Chicago served as the perfect setting for Rick's aspirations of opening his own restaurant, one that would buck trends.

"I wanted to do it in a major metropolitan area that would have enough clientele to appreciate the crazy things I wanted to do," Rick said. "I wanted to open a Mexican restaurant that was different than any other restaurant in the country because it was the real food of Mexico."

Skip took a different road. A straight-A student throughout high school, he earned the Grantland Rice scholarship, a prestigious honor given to the best high school sportswriter in the country, that granted him a full ride to Vanderbilt University.

"I left and never looked back," Skip said. "My only regret is that I kind of had to leave them with that mess."


As a cruel party trick, John, who died of cirrhosis while Skip was at Vanderbilt, would pour liquor down the throat of his toddler son. The guests would express amusement at the contorted faces Skip would make as a reaction to his distaste of the booze.

"My parents' lives revolved around alcohol," Skip said, "especially my father's."

 Skip calls his father's alcohol abuse "the greatest thing he ever did for me" because it led him to totally abstain from it. The exception was when Skip was breaking the story of Joe Namath's retirement for the Los Angeles Times, and the quarterback insisted they meet at a bar. To keep pace, Bayless had two glasses of wine and then fell over.

While Levita went to Alcoholics Anonymous in 1970s and remained sober for the rest of her life, John remained a drunken menace.

While they loaded a truck for the Hickory House, John threw scalding rib cookers at Skip. That burned his hands and led to a father-son fistfight.

Skip, who has legally changed his name from John, kept most of the stories of his father's alcoholism and abuse to himself, but he mentioned this incident to Humphreys.

His childhood friend, who hung out with Skip at his own house much more frequently than Skip's, remembers rarely seeing Rick.

"Skip and I were never really close," Rick said. "We're very different people."

In addition to running a plethora of national restaurants -- six of which are in Chicago -- Rick paints, creates ceramics and plays the piano. He acted in his own play, Rick Bayless in Cascabel, at David Schwimmer's Lookingglass Theatre.

"He's very clever and creative," Skip said, "and had a real artistic bent right away."

Rick Bayless Instead of artistic expression, Skip focused on sports. He was one of the best catchers in Oklahoma City, which produced backstop Darrell Porter, a future World Series MVP, during the same time.

Asked if he's a sports fan, Rick laughed. "You couldn't find a person who has less interest in sports," he said.

Skip is equally uninterested in Rick's passion of food.

He can't boil water and was known for his regimented meal schedule while at ESPN. At the beginning of the week, he'd order five helpings of chicken and broccoli (no sauce) from a Chinese restaurant for his nightly dinners. Over the weekend he similarly bought five sandwiches from his favorite Manhattan deli for his daily lunches.

Their differing approaches to cuisine illustrate how little they have in common.

"I was always told that we look something alike and sound something alike on television," Skip said. "And I'd say it pretty much ends there."

But they do share an obsessive work ethic they say they inherited from their parents, especially their father, who in his late 20s started Hickory House from the ground up. And that work-first mentality is another reason the brothers don't interact more.

"We're both very dedicated to our professions and just completely enthralled with them," Rick said.

They are dedicated to working out as well. Men's Journal profiled Skip's routine of an hour of cardio every day and weight training three times a week. Rick used to lift weights as well, but as a tribute to an ailing family member, he switched to yoga, which he practices daily, and pilates.

When Rick, who does not have cable TV, was working out at the gym, Skip's show would pop up on the fitness center's monitors, making for a surreal experience.

"It's really kind of hilarious," Rick said.

Skip Bayless Skip's TV persona can be abrasive, and his strong opinions polarize. But Humphreys emphasized his friend's kindness, including generous donations to his former schools. He described him as the same person he met in the seventh grade while trying out for the basketball team.

"He's a far, far, far better person than most people realize," said Humphreys, the former postgame radio host for the Oklahoma City Thunder and current host of Sports Morning for 98.1 WWLS. "He is a soft-spoken, quiet, giving guy."

Humphreys similarly praised Rick's humility despite his accomplishments.

"Rick is not a big ego person," Humphreys said, "a very mild-mannered guy,"

But that's the extent of their similarities, a major reason Rick doesn't see his brother often. He calls their relationship "pretty distant."

"We just went our very separate ways, but we didn't fight," Skip said. "There's no bad blood that I'm aware of. I've always been really proud of him. I just don't have any connection other than we shared the same womb."


Their mother, Levita Anderson, who remarried after John's death, passed away in March at 91.

"His mom just had the greatest personality," Humphreys said, "was just the nicest, most outgoing ... a lovely lady."

Because of that outgoing nature, she made both of her sons take speech lessons. Skip gravitated toward debate, and Rick turned to theater, but both attribute their mother's push toward that discipline as a reason for their success.

"Both of us ended up in professions where we're in front of crowds all the time and on TV all the time," Rick said.

Skip Bayless, Rick Bayless In some ways, the youngest Bayless sibling, LuAnn Tucker, 60, is a combination of both brothers. An avid cook, she and Rick often discuss food, and her husband coached a variety of sports on the high school level.

A special education teacher, who was named Teacher of the Year at Edmond (Oklahoma) Santa Fe High School in 2007, she is closer to both brothers than they are to each other. Still grieving Levita's death, LuAnn declined an interview request for this story.

Through the sadness of their mother's passing perhaps came a silver lining.

"We talked more than we had in a while," Rick said.

Levita had been the conduit between the brothers, filling in each respective sibling on what was going on in the other's life and his travels.

Skip said that after her passing, "I'm now communicating with him a little bit more regularly."

They talked for 15 to 20 minutes at the memorial service, updating each other on their lives.

"It was a very nice, pleasant conversation," Humphreys said.

And they've been e-mailing each other periodically since the funeral, perhaps signaling a closer kinship between the two.

"I'm hoping that they can have more of a relationship because they're brothers," Humphreys said. "I would love to see that happen."

Whether that happens or not, the Oklahoma-raised brothers share a bond.

"It's complicated like every family is complicated," Rick said. "Both us have had struggles with all of the stuff that happened to us growing up. But I can look back on it now and say: 'Without the upbringing that I had and that I shared with him, that I wouldn't be where I am.'"

Follow Jeff Fedotin on Twitter @JFedotin.