A Peter King Story, And A Lesson About Pants

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For more than a decade, I have carried my Peter King story with me. I figured I'd carried it with me for at least a decade more. But Wednesday’s SB Nation post by David Roth, a searing normcore investigation “How to Dress the Peter King Way,” reminded me that I do not need to bear this alone. I feel it’s time to share it with the world. 

Presenting, in three acts, “Fun...With Peter King?” 

ACT ONE

In August 2003, I’d been a staff writer at Inc. magazine, the handbook for entrepreneurs, for less than a year. That month was when I got my first really cool assignment. The story grew out of a conversation about why so many CEOs were enamored of NFL head coaches and vice versa. It was the golden age of motivational management “leadership” books both by, and for, the not-really-a-nexus of executing the West Coast offense and firing up the sales force to move those solar panels. 

The piece went to print with the headline “Are You Ready for Some Football Cliches?” (I’d say it’s worth a look not because I wrote it, but because it includes former Giants head coach/Quiznos franchisee Jim Fassel using the phrase “be the bell cow.”) I was proud of the piece, as it was one of the first times I got to utilize an actual area of expertise: professional football jokes.

More than that, I was thrilled to get the gig because I’d never spoken to an NFL equipment manager, let alone a head coach, let alone head coaches who had won in the playoffs, and let alone an actual Super Bowl champ. Plus, I got to travel on the company dime to both the training camps of the New York Jets and those glorious birds of Philadelphia, who were biding time in Bethlehem, PA. I was going to meet up with Andy Reid -- long before his clock management skills took him out of the running for co-authoring this sort of management tome -- skipper of my beloved Philadelphia Eagles. 

ACT TWO

My wife and I decided to make a central Pennsylvania weekend out of it, check out the ole’ abandoned steel mill, that sort of thing. The terrific Eagles PR dude Derek Boyko invited us to come out early, said our media sideline passes would allow us to wander about more or less wherever.

This was good by me. Seeing NFL players in person for the first time is truly mind-blowing, and my mind was duly blown. They're so much bigger and faster than on television as to defy description. I saw Donovan McNabb from a distance, thought he was in shoulder pads. Walked over, nope. That was a sleeveless tee-shirt. 

Point is, I ate it up. Loved it. Since I was there for Inc. magazine and strictly to talk to Andy Reid, I didn’t have to do the drudgery reporting like the newspaper beat writers and fancy magazine drop-in scribes. I had nothing to do that morning but eavesdrop on punters keeping a running wager on some closest-to-the-flag game, listen to Freddie “Oven Mitts” Mitchell talk and talk and talk, watch future Republican wimpsteak Jon Runyan legwhip his own teammates, get my picture with team mascot, wait for my confab with the head coach, then call it a day and get my fat-but-not-Andy-Reid-fat ass to Amish country for a slice of Shoofly pie

As the Lehigh Valley started to bake, the morning session ended and Boyko waved me over for my one-on-one with Reid. It didn’t go as planned. It was clear by the end of the first question that the Eagles Bossman wasn’t differentiating me from the sportswriting pack. My “exclusive” wasn’t a real conversation (we’re talking “real” in hit-and-run journalism sense, so fifteen minutes, tops), but rather three minutes while we stood in a parking lot. I didn’t blame him, Reid wasn’t exactly a raconteur to begin with -- basically everything he said made the piece -- and it was 90 degrees and maybe more to the point it was also lunchtime. Coach Batman Utility Belt spit out a few single-sentence answers and I’m sure he felt he fulfilled his end of the bargain. 

I was a little dejected, had hoped I’d be able to get something out-of-the-ordinary from Reid, but I’d set out to get quotes and get quotes I did. At that point, Boyko, as diligent as any PR person I've worked with, came over and said I should speak to Troy Vincent, the erudite former cornerback (and current NFL executive) who owned a number of small businesses while he was in the league, including a financial services company. I was there, notebook and tape (yes, tape) recorder in hand, so sure. Why not?

ACT THREE

Vincent came over we shook hands and started talking. It was the complete opposite of the “conversation” I had with Reid. After ten minutes or so, he asked me if I minded if we sat down on a bench because “my legs are killing me,” but that was the only (extremely understandable) interruption. Vincent has a longstanding reputation as being one of the NFL’s stand-up guys, but I think our chat was more than simply him being a mensch. He was animated and stimulated talking about the similarities and differences of CEOs and head coaches.

If memory serves, Vincent had just been taking summer management classes through an joint program between Harvard and the NFL, but whatever the case, he was fully engaged in a way few interviewees/Pro-Bowl defensive backs are. I don’t know if it was just the change-of-media-outlet-pace, or that he truly was an Inc.magazine devotee as he claimed, but I didn’t care. I was having a ball at how locked in Vincent was. So much so, that when an injured Brian Dawkins walked up with his son -- both, adorably, wearing Penny Hardaway throwbacks, one home/one away -- to discuss lunch plans, he told his all-world cohort that he’d meet him there.

A few minutes after Dawkins left, I saw a man come moseying up to our conversation, that is to say my interview with Troy Vincent. As he got closer, I recognized it was none other than Sports Illustrated’s illustrious football writer Peter King. Now, I am being 100% serious when I say I was dewy-eyed to see him in person. Ever since my first issue at age eleven, December 13, 1982 “Raider on a Rampage” with coverboy Marcus Allen, I’d been enamored with SI.

And yes, I realize how goofy it is that I was still giddy at age 32, but SI was my Bible. It had literally replaced the actual Bible I grew up with as a 17-year Catholic school kid (plus a bonus year working for the Jesuits!) Embarrassing, sure, but King had written Super Bowl cover stories! He lunched with Dr. Z! He golfed with Count Chocula Frank Deford! He drank beer with Sidd Finch!

It didn’t take long for my schoolgirl crush to wane. I may be a Montana bumpkin, but I catch on quick. The MMQB made me understand -- then, now, and forever -- that the byline doesn’t make the man. For a well-paid professional journalist at the country’s preeminent sports magazine/ostensible grown-up man, King’s behavior was... odd. I would have been honored to shake the man’s hand, even to wrap things up with Vincent if need be. We’d been at for a while and I didn’t want to overstep the good vibe as it was. 

Peter King, however, didn’t exactly approach us. He wandered about a perimeter of his own making. He hovered. He cleared his throat. He did everything humanly possible to make eye contact with Vincent even though the entire training camp had emptied out and we both could both fucking see he was standing 15 feet away

I’ve always tried to give King the benefit of the doubt here, in that I suspect he’s generally a socially awkward feller who built a career where he holds sway and power over Alpha Males. If he was just an asshole, King would have butted in and big-timed me, although that would have been way more understandable/way less uncomfortable. After a couple of minutes of King trying to nonverbally get the Eagles DB’s attention, Vincent inquired as to what he needed. 

“Troy, don’t forget, you promised me we’d talk before I leave,” said King with more than a mild hint of petulance.

"I know I did, I’ll be there when we’re done here Peter,” said Vincent.

King, who never introduced himself to me, let out a massive full-on-intentional sigh. Then he belted out in his joking-not-joking -“pretending”-to-be-exasperated-voice, “Ohkkaayyyyyyyyyyyyy” and waddled off to... well, bitch at Boyko if I had to guess.  After he left, Vincent shook his head, gave me a “can you believe that guy” eye roll, and finished up. The interview was fantastic, Vincent was better.

Weirdly, I hadn’t read the article in years and was surprised to find Reid took up as much real estate as Vincent. Don’t remember if that was me performing Andy alchemy or the dreaded old-timey magazine editorial “cutting for space.” Either way, let that be a lesson young journalists. Scratch that, let this be the moral of this story: 

Peter King was wearing an Ohio University tee-shirt tucked into polyester Bike coaching shorts. And mandals. 

Never do that.

 

 

 

 

 

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