A 14-Hour Day With Peter King During Super Bowl Week
I spent last Thursday shadowing longtime Sports Illustrated writer and MMQB editor-in-chief Peter King from dawn till dusk. We also taped the podcast above. Here is what stood out about the day:
6:30 AM – Peter’s first responsibility of the day was a spot with Ross Tucker and Geoff Schwartz on SiriusXM. He was wide awake. Before the spot, he made small talk with former New York Giants/Denver Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey, asking him how his son Christian was acclimating with the Panthers, perhaps to glean a nugget for an anecdote down the road, but mostly because he was genuinely curious.
Peter humble-bragged to Tucker about having done 22 spots on radio row that Monday. As he later explained to me, he likes to get most of his radio obligations out of the way early in the week. Actually, “obligations” might not be the right word for it. Endearingly, King says yes to everyone who asks him to come on, no matter the sexiness of the locale or if he’s ever met the host or booker before, only saying no when he absolutely has to be somewhere else soon. But, he still has several scheduled this morning before a day full of other activities.
He interrupted a football conversation to marvel about the Minnesotans getting their morning exercise done by power-walking around the Mall of America, whose stores wouldn’t be open for several hours. He got a big kick out of them (the other day, he’d seen one of these indoor walkers using ski poles). Other discussion topics included the Alex Smith trade and what the XFL would need to do to succeed (12-minute quarters, no clock stoppage for incomplete passes, etc.). Doug Pederson talk yielded way to a coffee anecdote about how Peter used to deliberately book layovers at Chicago O’Hare instead of direct flights so he could get Starbucks. This was in the early 90’s before the chain’s proliferation.
7:00 AM – Peter had a spot with the Mac Attack show in Charlotte. Before the interview, he remarked that he spends more time now listening to podcasts than watching television, and recommended CBC’s Someone Knows Something cold case podcast.
At the end of his spot, he was asked to pick a number 1 through 20. Whichever number he picked would trigger a specific lightning round question. He picked number 8 (out of respect for Carl Yastrzemski) and the prompt was who he respected more, Duke or UNC basketball. King answered Duke, because of Coach K, and that a little while back Coach K’s producer asked him to appear on his podcast. “When? Should I walk there?” he asked. A few weeks after the program, Peter received a handwritten thank-you note (“I don’t think I’m being recruited”) in the mail.
From there, Peter had a spot at 7:25 on the Morning Locker Room show on 105.1 in Eau Claire, WI. He noted that this was the 34th Super Bowl he was covering, and discussed his ice fishing expedition earlier in the week with Vikings PR guy Tom West. When their car was about to drive onto the ice, West instructed him to open the windows. “Why?” Peter asked. “It’s zero degrees outside.” To which West answered, “Just in case……”
After the spot, I told Peter I’d gotten two DMs about the steakhouse dinner shouting match between Chris Russo and David Diehl. King deadpanned about the prospect of such a match becoming physical: “I think Diehl might’ve won that fight.”
8:00 AM- Peter was approached impromptu by the morning show from The Team in Tyler, TX to go on. “Sure!” He mentions that the Kraft/Belichick/Brady 18-year run of excellence is akin to the Joe DiMaggio 56-game hit streak in that we’re never going to see it again.
We bumped into former Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Harris, who now hosts a sports talk radio show in Denver, outside of the Starbucks kiosk in the food court. Peter asked him how he’s doing, the clear implication being how he’s doing with the aftermath of football. Harris said that he hasn’t had any symptoms from head trauma yet, but that he’s undergone upwards of 10 surgeries for various body injuries. “Was it worth it?” Peter asked. Harris answered affirmatively, “I’m 32, I’m retired, my kids’ college is paid for — and I’m black.”
As Peter’s preparing to tape an SI video with Albert Breer, he’s asked if he has time during the day to head over to a nearby hotel to tape a video spot. Initially, he’s unsure, and starts going through a regimented bullet point of everything on his day’s schedule off the top of his head. While one of the MMQB writers doubles as an administrative assistant for him, he doesn’t write down his schedule in a calendar. Why not? “I’m just stupid!” he laughs.
8:30 AM – Peter gets asked by SI video producer Luke Wahl how he thought of the “10 Things I Think I Think” section of his MMQB column. He answered that that section was derivative of the bullet points that Mike Lupica did in his “Shooting from the Lip” column, and that the column as a whole is an homage to Peter Gammons’ legendary baseball notes in the Boston Globe.
“How incredible is it that he knows everything about baseball?” Peter recalls thinking, also noting that he was in awe of Gammons the few times they’ve interacted. “I’m not intimidated in the slightest by Tom Brady, but I’m intimidated by Peter Gammons.”
Peter is very excited that he is scheduled to interview longtime NFL films producer Bob Angelo, who’s retiring now. He seems as excited — if not more — about this get as the one with Deion Sanders he’s taping later. In radio row, we bumped into Gerry Matalon, the former ESPN talent coach who now does consulting for NFL Network and other outlets. He told Peter that he liked his style of interspersing commentary with questions to interview subjects, because the audience is interested in his opinions as well as the guest’s. Peter told Gerry to keep an eye on David Carr, whom he was very impressed by from taping a podcast with him earlier in the week.
9:50 AM – We headed over to the Crowne Plaza where Peter was asked to tape a spot for an SI video about mysterious Pats guru Ernie Adams. “It’s gonna be a short interview,” he joked, implying that, like everyone else, he wasn’t privy to Adams’ specific job entailments. After that, we caught about 45 minutes of writing time on our laptops before taping the podcast at the top of the page.
Topics included why he still gets up so early to do radio spots when his legacy as a football scribe is so firmly intact, what his future content responsibilities may entail when his SI contract expires this offseason, whether he worries about expressing left-leaning political opinions when the Koch Brothers recently backed a bid to acquire SI’s parent company Time Inc., if he enjoys watching a baseball game more than a football game now because he knows he won’t have to distill the former into content, and what percent of former NFL players tell him that, despite all of the injuries and head trauma risks, it was worth it.
Regarding his future, Peter said, “I really don’t want to do quite as much as I’m doing right now. I have a great job mostly with SI, partly with NBC. We’ve done The MMQB for five years. This year, we combined The MMQB with SI’s NFL page for some reasons financial, some reasons journalistic. We were duplicating last year around the Super Bowl we had two separate stories about Tom Brady. I think the powers that be — and I totally understood — thought to put this together and combine forces. That’s really worked out well. I’ve been happy with it. But there’s just something about being in charge. For the first 33 years of my sportswriting career I was on my own. I was alone.”
“And then for the last five years I’ve done mostly what I’ve done for a long time, and I was a boss,” he continued. “I hired people. I ran the site. [Well], I didn’t really run the site. Mark Mravic really ran the site because I was always out or writing. I think I’ve gotten to the point where the boss part of it is probably not something I’m going to continue doing because you have to make choices in life. For a long time — for now 34 years covering the NFL — I’ve thrown myself into my job and I’ve worked pretty constantly and pretty hard.
“I sometimes wake up and say Is that all there is? I feel bad for my wife, quite honestly, because she’s sacrificed for me for all of our marriage, for 38 years. So, whatever decision I make I truly, truly do not want to think about it before the end of the Super Bowl. My contract is up at the end of March. I’ll consider my options and I’ll probably consider the best thing for me that would be maybe a little bit more manageable pace than what I’ve done.”
11:30 AM – Headed back to Mall of America. Peter had about 15-20 minutes to do some final prep for his podcast with Deion Sanders, but even this comparative time crunch didn’t stop him from initiating hello’s with various other reporters. In the security line, he enthusiastically told USA Today’s Lindsay Jones to keep the baby photos coming on Instagram.
A short time later, we met NFL Network PR guy Alex Riethmiller outside the the radio row pen. It was getting to the part of the day where radio row and the adjoining spectator area was SLAMMED, but Riethmiller whisked us around traffic on a route that included cutting underneath the Shake Shack line rope twice and into the NFL Network green room. While this was really just an empty room, it was a clear oasis from a sea of humanity. Being allowed in by security honestly made me feel like Homer Simpson when he joined the Stonecutters.
Deion Sanders and Peter King go back a long time. Peter opened him up initially by talking baseball. It didn’t take very long for Deion to be candid about his vulnerabilities. Uninitiated, he brought up his reputation as someone who avoided tackling, and swore up and down that he never missed a tackle that cost his team a game. He actually talked about how Prime Time was a character gimmick, an outsized version of himself that he turned on when the cameras were rolling, and how the expectations of this Other Deion actually became a burden for him. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that without this persona his actual play on the field probably wouldn’t be remembered quite the same today.
12:30 PM – Peter headed to the stadium to tape a spot for NBC’s Super Bowl coverage, and for these couple of hours I stuck back at the Mall. I had had a mild panic attack because I’d left my notebook, containing essentially everything you just read before the Deion segment, in the media room. Our new writer Henry McKenna, who also covers the Pats for USA Today, thankfully recovered it for me. His first search came up blank when the reporter who took the seat I’d been in did not speak English and apparently nodded or shook his head at all the times the opposite would have been appropriate. Thankfully, the crisis was ultimately averted.
4:00 PM – We reconvened at the SiriusXM pen where Peter was going on with Chris Russo. They’ve been doing this spot during Super Bowl week for over a quarter-century. You may have heard once or twice that Mike and the Mad Dog invented radio row. I later asked Peter why he still appears with Dog but never Francesa. He said Francesa hasn’t asked him on, and added that he doesn’t dwell on why not because, as we’ve exhaustively documented, he’s not short on media exposure.
While this area wasn’t quite the oasis from the mass of humanity the NFL Network green room was, it was very luxurious compared to radio row. Where radio row had tables about two feet of space between each other and gridlock traffic in the afternoons, Sirius had their own section two floors down with an abundance of space and couches. It was like the difference between being in a crammed subway car on the way to the airport and one where you can choose your seat in a spot where you can put your bags down.
While we were waiting for Peter’s spot, he asked me about the New York Times piece on bought Twitter followers. He thought it was the silliest thing in the world that people would do that. King recognizes much of his own large following came when he and Bill Simmons were alone in sports media atop Twitter’s suggested follow list in 2009-2010, but many of them have ceased being regular users.
This conversation reminded me that of the dozens of interactions Peter had with strangers thus far that day, all of them had been overwhelmingly positive. People were genuinely psyched to see him, and provided he wasn’t buzzing to a time commitment he was happy to make quick small talk. This is in stark contrast to his Twitter, where he estimates he gets 50-100 negative interactions a day. I asked him if anyone ever comes up to him in real-life with negativity. He said it was very rare. Many of the times it does happen is when he’s accused of keeping someone like Tom Flores, Joe Jacoby, or Jerry Kramer out of the Hall of Fame.
This led to a very surreal experience for me during Peter’s spot with Mad Dog. Eight feet to my right, Dog was grilling PK about Kramer’s HoF candidacy. Eight feet to my left, Kramer was on one of the couches doing an interview for local Green Bay television. Peter has told the story numerous times that years ago he asked Bart Starr who from the Lombardi-era Packers belonged in the Hall of Fame, and Starr answered Bob Skoronski. Pressed if there was anyone else, Starr said no. Kramer had previously come up for enshrinement nine times in front of voters who had watched him play. Peter told me he wasn’t sure whether or not he’d vote for Kramer this weekend. Ultimately, Peter heard out Kramer’s presenter Rick Gosselin, voted for him, and Kramer got in.
4:30 PM – We headed to Patriots media availability. Peter recognized that it would be a fruitless task to try to talk to Gronk or Tom Brady, who both had semicircles of reporters 20-feet deep in their orbits, and he instead went up to cornerback Patrick Chung and fullback James Develin where he could essentially have one-on-one conversations.
As a way of breaking them out of their state-mandated autopilot answers, Peter asked them: If your house were burning down and there were only one item you could recover, what would it be? Develin answered that when his kids were born, the delivering doctor took his jersey and put their footprints on it.
5:15 PM – We took an Uber downtown with MMQB writers Kalyn Kahler and Andy Benoit to the Fulton Brewing Taproom where Peter was hosting a tweet-up.
A quick digression: This was just my second Super Bowl week so I don’t have much to compare it to other than Houston last year, but I thought Minneapolis did a great job as a host city. Everyone was super friendly and helpful. Despite all the screengrabs from reporters showing frigid weather, it wasn’t actually that bad because the only times you were outside was walking from inside to a waiting Uber or Lyft. The biggest issue for me was how everything was spread out between the Mall and downtown, which were 20-30 minutes apart depending on traffic. It wasn’t the end of the world but it just meant that if you wanted to see someone or do something at a specific time there was a 50% chance it either wasn’t gonna happen or you had to relocate.
Topics of discussion in the car ride included Kramer’s candidacy (Benoit had written about it last February, and was in the room with him when he found out), the Mike and the Mad Dog discussion, and trying to figure out why NFL owners rushed into signing Roger Goodell to a contract extension.
When Peter found out I went to Wisconsin, he brought up a 2007 profile he did on Joe Thomas before the NFL Draft. He said that at the time Thomas — a low-key candidate to replace Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football if Peyton Manning tells ESPN no — lived in a palatial Madison estate. There was a hole in the floor in which you could fall down to the basement. But, it wasn’t blocked off because everybody just knew to avoid it. There was also a keg in the kitchen sink that functionally prevented anyone from doing dishes there. Honestly, that time and place sounds like heaven to me.
6:00 PM – We arrived at the tweet-up at Fulton. There was a room reserved for Peter and his MMQB staff of Albert Breer, Jenny Vrentas, Jonathan Jones, Connor Orr, Andy Benoit, Robert Klemko, and Kalyn Kahler, but it wasn’t cordoned off from the rest of the bar. I’d estimate that there were about 50-60 people who came specifically for the event.
The first half of the shindig was spent mingling. Peter and all his writers were very approachable and everybody was excited to engage with them. He agreed to a request from some of his readers to playfully chide one of their friends for missing the event because he had a prior commitment to ref 7th grade basketball:
The perspective that I got is that Peter’s staff is enormously appreciative of the platform he’s provided them with and have a lot of respect for him as a boss. Even if Peter is not sure he wants to be a boss much longer, this appreciation is reciprocated. You can see it in his Twitter feed. During the day I spent with him, the happiest I saw him was when someone told him how great Jenny Vrentas’s story on Bill Belichick and Nick Saban was.
Nevertheless, his staff is also bemused by his eccentricities. We knew about this when former MMQB writer Emily Kaplan noted that he added three hours to a 10-hour drive during their training camp tour to watch 1.5 innings of baseball.
Robert Klemko mentioned that he showed Peter the “Meow” scene from Super Troopers several years ago. Peter still hasn’t seen the whole movie, but still says the word non-stop. I learned this first hand at 6:15 AM, when I texted him that I was on schedule to meet him at 6:30 and he responded with that one word. I was quite confused at the time and chose not to respond. “Sometimes you’ll have a serious question for Peter about a story,” said Andy Benoit. “Time is of the essence. He answers ‘Meow’ and you don’t know which ‘Meow’ he means.”
The second half of the gathering was a Q&A where readers asked Peter about standard football fare like what the Vikings will do with their quarterbacks and whether Matt Patricia was a good pick for the Lions. Obviously without any notes or preparations, he could just answer anything off the top in his head with personally-collected anecdotes to give his answers color. If a question were relevant to a story one of his staffers had written, he’d give a quick answer and then delegate. Despite the fact that he’d started working 13 hours ago, and by my estimate was engaged in active dialog for 10-11 of them, he showed no signs of fatigue. When the crowd dissipated at about 8:30 PM, it had been a very full day, though I got the distinct sense that it was not atypically busy for him.