Jeff Pearlman

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Adam Schefter

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ESPN's NFL Insider lives and dies with reporting the inner workings of professional football. What life is like for a man who—long ago—just wanted to write. POSTED August 30, 2012

Well, friggin’ football season is upon us once again. Which means we can spend the next five months debating the merits of Peyton Manning’s neck, wonder whether Tim Tebow will have a positive impact in New York and question Dez Bryant’s place on this great big planet of ours.

Oh, wait. We’ve been doing all of the above for, oh, forever. It’s how we treat the NFL in 2012—as a never-ending, nonstop hamster wheel of debate and information and trivial goo. It’s also why I’d never, ever, ever, ever, ever swap places with Adam Schefter.

Don’t get me wrong: ESPN’s NFL Insider is fantastic at his job; a voice of knowledge and wisdom in an ocean of never-ceasing buzz. Yet his job is, quite frankly, overly demanding. To be Adam is to know absolutely everything going on in the biz. Sounds fun—but surely isn’t always kicks and giggles.

Here, Adam talks about his career as a football expert; his love of the game, his take on injuries, his thoughts on Reggie Bush and what sounds like a truly awful Bar Mitzvah suit. He can be seen, well, always on The Network, and Tweets here.

Adam Schefter, go long on the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: First, Adam, huge thanks for doing this. It’s truly appreciated. That said, you confuse me. I don’t mean that in a mean way, or a cruel or mocking way. What I mean is—how do you still care about football? I enjoy the game, like the game. It’s a good release for me, to kick back and watch. BUT, I can’t even imagine living and breathing football; having to dig into insane contract figures and constant injury details and this player unhappy about one thing, that player happy about another. I mean, the world is melting, death waits for us all, a presidential election is in full cycle, the Middle East is a mess. How can you choose football to devote yourself to? And are you ever like, “Man, I just don’t give a shit?”

ADAM SCHEFTER: Your points on the presidential election and the Middle East are spot on. Can’t argue there. But the world we live in is obsessed with sports and particularly football. My job is to provide as much information to those viewers/listeners/fans as possible. And so it’s not the game that thrills me and keeps me coming back for more. It’s the chance to find out interesting information that I, or others, did not know. When I was a young kid, I actually used to wait for the newspaper to be delivered to my house in the afternoon. When it came, and I found something in there that was really interesting, I couldn’t wait to share it with my father when he got home from work. So in a way, I’m still doing that. Now I’m sharing that information with anyone who cares about some element of football. I know it sounds crazy but I’ve been covering this league since 1990, and I still love doing it, and I’m thankful I still love doing it. Football’s not really a game to me; it’s my profession.

J.P.: With your job comes fame. Not Tom Cruise fame, but airport fame and “Hey, Adam, do you think the Pats should keep Welker” fame and probably some meal interruption fame. For you, is fame a perk? Does it do something—anything?—to the ego? Or would you rather just be anonymous and do your job? And do you have a most-annoying recognition moment?

A.S.: I really don’t think about the fame aspect of the job. It’s not what drives me and it never has. Nobody who spent 16 years grinding away in newspapers can care about the fame aspect. I just try to do my job and if people are kind enough to recognize you or ask you about Wes Welker, it’s flattering, to be honest. It’s a sign that they pay attention to what you do. There are people who are nicer to you at restaurants or in shops, and that easily outweighs any negatives that come along with whatever fame there is in the job. I feel bad for Tom Cruise, but there’s nothing about my job to feel bad about.

J.P.: I’m suspicious when it comes to the NFL’s commitment to player safety. I mean, they talk a great deal about equipment improvements and such, yet fight for an 18-game regular season and only seem moderately interested in retired players with health issues. Plus, the league’s record on concussions is atrocious. Am I underselling the league here? And do you think someone like a Junior Seau can be a tipping point?

A.S.: Look, it is really hard to justify being for player safety and an expanded 18-game schedule. But the fact of the matter is, we’ve only recently seen a shift in thinking to where addressing and treating concussions now are a focus in the sport. It wasn’t that way before. But it changed that one weekend when Dunta Robinson slammed DeSean Jackson and James Harrison hit just about any Brown in sight of him. Since then, the NFL has been very clear about addressing this as best as it can. It’s not easy. It’s going to take time. It took a long time for the public to realize smoking wasn’t good for it, and to adopt it. Now the same is happening with concussions in football. The landscape has begun to change – not fast enough, but it is moving, and that’s a good thing.

J.P.: You graduated from Michigan, went to journalism school at Northwestern, wrote for both Denver papers, etc, etc. But how did this—meaning TV—happen? How did you get here? And does television work give you the same thrill and feeling of accomplishment that print did?

A.S.: This is all an accident. I didn’t set out to be a football insider on ESPN. I set out to be a general newspaper sports columnist. But newspapers began dying off—the first three newspapers I worked for, the Ann Arbor News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Rocky Mountain News, don’t even exist anymore as I knew them—and I did some side work in TV and radio in the Denver area when those stations had no one else to put on air. And suddenly, football took off and TV took off, and I was in the right place at the right time. When I started out in this business in the last 1980s, I did it because I loved it. And I lived it, working round the clock as much as I could. But it was total dumb luck that I went into football and TV, which are two thriving businesses today. If I were smart enough to figure that out back then, I’d say salute me. But I’m absolutely not worthy. Just lucky.

J.P.: In 2009 you left the NFL Network for ESPN? Why? What went into the decision? And how hard was it to make?

A.S.: Don’t like to dwell on that, it was one of the darkest periods of my professional career. Boiled down to the absolute basics: my contract was coming up, the Network made me a “take-it-or-leave it offer” I decided to leave, it took me off the air for the last five-plus months of my deal, and I was fortunate enough that ESPN came to the rescue. At the time I really didn’t want to leave NFLN; there were a lot of great people I got to work with there, I wanted to stay with them, and I still remember them fondly. But I’m grateful to ESPN to this day for giving me the opportunity it did. It has been the best place I’ve ever worked.

J.P.: In 2005 you co-wrote (which, we all know, means “fully” wrote) Romo, Bill Romanowski’s autobiography. It’s pretty clear now that Romo was playing with neither a full deck nor a clean body. I’m wondering A. What was that experience like? B. Did you have any hesitation, writing with/for a guy who was pretty notorious and a cheater? 

A.S.: Bill Romanowski is one of the most misunderstood people in sports. He was a little different, but he has a huge heart, and is so smart about the things he does to and for his body. People view him as a cheater, but I don’t. I view him as somebody who always pushed the envelope, who stradled the line, who did everything he could to be the best player he possibly could be. I still maintain that the NFL or NFLPA should hire Romanowski to counsel players on how to best take care of themselves and to educate them on the things they should and shouldn’t be doing. If every player took care of himself the way Romanowski did, their careers would be longer and more productive.

J.P.: Would you let your kids play football, knowing the health risks and what seems to be some pretty awful potential long-term impacts?

A.S.: I have a 12-year-old son who wants to play football in the worst way. I would let him, but unfortunately, my wife won’t. So married men know how that one will turn out. He won’t be playing.

J.P.: This is random, but I’m fascinated by Reggie Bush. Beyond fascinated by him. Never in my adulthood has a player been so overwhelmingly hyped coming out of college. I mean, there was zero doubt he was going to be a superstar. And, well, he’s sorta just very good. What happened? And are you surprised?

A.S.: He’s actually had a very good career. He hasn’t been a superstar, but the then-Texans general manager Charley Casserly saw that, too. He is the one who opted for Mario Williams ahead of him. So the Texans thought he would be very good, but not No. 1 worthy. Bush was so good and so explosive at the college level that some people thought he might be the next Gayle Sayers. He hasn’t been that, but he hasn’t been bad, either.

J.P.: What’s the greatest moment of your career in journalism? The absolute lowest?

A.S.: Funny this question comes after the Reggie Bush question. It’s not the greatest moment but I do remember reporting on that story and telling Rich Eisen there was a good chance that Williams was going to be drafted ahead of Bush, and it was the most skeptical that Eisen ever has been over any one of my reports. He couldn’t and wouldn’t believe it. We went back and forth on TV, with him asking, Is that possible? Few believed it at the time, but it happened. It was pretty memorable. As for the low points, any time you get beat on a big story, particularly when you’re pinning down the final details, that can be very deflating. Very. But I try not to get too caught up in the highs and lows. The best story always is the next one, and the low points are the ones that drive you not to get beat again.

J.P.: I’m pretty fascinated by the whole Joe Posnanski-Joe Paterno book thing. So, as an author yourself, I ask you: You’re Joe Posnanski. You’re a great writer, you’ve worked your ass off, you have this book ready to go—then, boom. The Sandusky stuff. What do you do?

A.S.: Not even going to steal your thunder on this one, Jeff. Think you spelled it out perfectly in the blog post you recently had. Please link to it here. Thought your take was spot on.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ADAM SCHEFTER:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Christian Okoye, strawberry milk, Celine Dion, Salt Lake City, Jeff Kent, mittens, cold meatloaf, the Wiggles, Kellen Clemens, Marriott points, Nike, first class flight, Dead Man Walking, Thomas Edison: Thomas Edison, the Wiggles, strawberry milk, and then you can group the rest together in any order you want.

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, please elaborate: Not that I remember or want to remember. But every time I land on a plane it scares the crap out of me. How does something that big going that fast stop so suddenly. Every time it happens I never trust that it actually will.

• $2 million to quit your job and take over for Pat Sajak on Wheel of Fortune? You in or out?: How long a contract is Wheel of Fortune giving me?

• Five most athletically gifted football players you’ve ever covered?: Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders, John Elway, Steve Young, Randy Moss.

• Five favorite sports books of all time?: Seabiscuit, Everybody’s All-American,  Flashing Before My Eyes, The Red Smith Reader, A Few Seconds of Panic.

• What happens when we die?: Wondered that myself but hopefully the people we’ve touched on this earth will think about us every now and then.

• Some details about your Bar Mitzvah, please …: My blue velvet suit and flattop haircut were beyond ridiculous.

• Not including Los Angeles, what’s the next three most logical American cities for the NFL to expand into?: The league already is where it needs to be. So to me, no places would be any better for expansion than Mexico City and Vancouver. The football appetite there is huge, and those would be great cities to have an NFL franchise.

• If he quit hoops and devoted himself to football training, do you think an NFL team would sign LeBron James to a guaranteed contract? And what position would he play?: Sure, it’s just that the guarantee would be 1/100 of his NBA guarantee. And I think he’d make a great tight end or safety.

• We give you 25 carries starting at halfback for the Giants against, oh, the Rams. What’s your line?: 25 carries, a series of concussions, multiple tap outs

  • farfel

    love these

  • Shirley Schefter

    Adam schefter’s blue velvet bar mitzvah suit was not redicilous and his hair was his own creation. Spoken like a true mother!

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life