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The Sports Reporters

Kids wake up early on the weekends. It's what they do. That means watching a lot of early Sunday morning TV.

Unlike other children, I didn't need cartoons to stay quiet on Sunday morning. I was too nerdy for that. I watched The Sports Reporters. And for me, it was personal.

"That's your cousin," my maternal grandpa used to tell me, referring to the host, Dick Schaap. I was 8 when Schaap died in 2001, so that should give you an idea of how young I was while watching him on The Sports Reporters, which has its final episode this Sunday. My grandpa never really had a straight answer for how I was related to Schaap. It wasn't even in his direct bloodline. Schaap was somehow related to me on my maternal grandma's side.

My dad would also remind me every Sunday about how I was related to Schaap. He'd add things like, "That's Mitch Albom, who wrote Tuesdays with Morrie," or "There's Mike Lupica, he writes for the Daily News." These things meant little to me, but I knew they meant a lot to my dad and grandpa. So every weekend, I watched. And I learned.

I don't expect a younger generation (I'll turn 24 this month) to know what The Sports Reporters was and is. Early Sunday morning TV is not a hotbed for millennials. The Sports Reporters was a precursor to Pardon the Interruption, Around The Horn, First Take, Undisputed and the other variations of sports debate shows you see today (throw in Pardon My Take). But imagine all the hot takes were presented in a meticulous manner with a value on evidence and mutual respect. That is what The Sports Reporters was about.

It took the smartest sportswriters in America and gave them the floor to share their thoughts on the past week of sports. Along with Schaap (host from 1988-2001), Albom and Lupica, such names as Bob Ryan, John Feinstein, William C. Rhoden, Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon, Jason Whitlock, Christine Brennan and Bryan Burwell were among the regular panelists. I'd like to think somewhere in there, these individuals taught me how to develop sports opinions with some weight and not just empty hot takes.

It was also a way for me to connect with my dad and grandpa, who came from a newspaper and magazine-driven era. After Schaap's death, John Saunders took over the show. Around that time, in what felt like destiny, my family ran into Saunders in Disney World. We were passing through the Canada section of the Parade of Nations. Saunders, a Canadian, was sitting by himself, watching his kids play with some hockey sticks. My dad recognized him and told him we were fans of the show. He thanked us, smiled and we parted ways. I never got to meet my cousin Dick Schaap. But I will always get to say I met Saunders.

My affinity for The Sports Reporters waned as I got older. In middle school, I started sleeping past the 9:30 a.m. ESPN broadcast and had to catch the re-broadcast at 10:30 a.m. on ESPN2. In high school, I started sleeping past both broadcasts. By college, I wasn't watching much TV other than live sports. I missed much of the Jemele Hill-Pablo S. Torre-Israel Gutierrez era of the show, but when I watched, I saw their generation carry on the ingenuity that has always made the show so great.

Jeremy Schaap, Dick's son (and therefore my cousin in some way), came to speak at Northwestern during my sophomore year. I knew I had to miss the second half of his lecture for class, but I made sure to come for the first half. Just before the event, I was in the bathroom when Schaap walked in. It didn't feel like the place to make an introduction. I said nothing. Later that day, I called my grandma and told her the story. "He probably wouldn't care," she said.

So that summer, I didn't make the same mistake twice. I was covering Yankees HOPE Week in 2013 on the same day that Derek Jeter played his first game since breaking his ankle in the playoffs nine months earlier. I saw Schaap in the postgame press conference and after the room cleared out, I walked over to introduce myself.

"Hi, Jeremy, I go to Northwestern and I really enjoyed your talk this past year," I said.

"Oh, you were there?" he said. "It was great. It's a great school."

"I also don't want this to come off as creepy or anything, but we're cousins," I blurted out.

He asked me how, and frankly, I was unprepared. I just knew from hours of watching The Sports Reporters with my dad and grandpa that we were cousins.

"What's your last name?" he asked.

"Well, my grandma's maiden name is Vandervelden."

"I don't know it, but that makes sense. Vandervelden and Schaap are both Dutch."

This week, Jeremy Schaap paid tribute to The Sports Reporters with a column on "When I think of The Sports Reporters, and I do, often, I think of the big brown paper bags filled with dozens and dozens of H&H Bagels that producer Joe Valerio brought to the set every Sunday morning," he wrote.

I can relate. In my own living room or my grandparents' living room, I spent many Sunday mornings doing the same thing. Eating bagels and watching The Sports Reporters. That hasn't happened in at least a decade, but the experience is still fresh in my mind.

I texted my grandma Thursday after reading Schaap's column (yes, she texts now). I asked if she and my grandpa could pinpoint my connection to the Schaaps. She pulled out the family tree and this is what she found, if you can follow: Her father and Dick Schaap's father were first cousins. Therefore she and Dick Schaap were second cousins. That makes my mother and Jeremy Schaap third cousins and I'm guessing that makes me fourth cousins with Jeremy's children.

But for me, my connection to The Sports Reporters hosts will always be much closer than whatever the genealogy flowchart might say.

Goodbye to my first sports TV programming love. Thanks for everything.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.