better know a beat reporter

Better Know a Beat Reporter: Bob Glauber

This is him. We’re undating the photo.

New York sports media is its own bizarre petri dish, a unique amalgam of grizzled cynics, cockeyed optimists, relentless self-promoters, and guys named “Sal.” It’s famously insular, almost like a Junior League sewing circle, a club with rules and spats and gossip and dirty looks to those unfamiliar with their ways. They’re men and women whose obsession with sports, they realized at a young age, outpaced their ability to excel at them. They are on the road together for months out of the year, away from their families and their lives. It’s a traveling summer camp of lost dreams.

They’re hilariously overwrought and negative — after the Yankees lost to the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon, only their second loss in their last ten games, the Daily News called them “the Bumbling Bombers” — but if you’re a player and you win and treat them nice, the hagiography here is just as extreme in the other direction. (The current anti–Joe Mauer–for-AL-MVP movement is being advanced almost entirely by New York beat reporters.) It’s a club that often talks solely to itself, but is heard by — and influences — millions. And they work like crazy.

It’s also a club that, in a dramatically shifting media landscape, is dwindling in power and number. The ink-stained wretches are being bought out, sent to early retirement, laid off (sometimes while they’re sitting in the press box), or, worst of all, assigned blog duty. The job is different, and the mood is somber. The golden age of sportswriting packs is fading.

But the grubby-fingered hordes will always live stronger here in New York: Tabloid culture is in our DNA, and we’ve always understood the 24-hour news cycle better than everyone else anyway. It’s bad … but it’s a lot better here. (In some baseball towns, there are more people in the press box who work for the team than reporters.) Thus, we’ve decided to pull back the curtain a bit for our regular “Better Know a Beat Reporter” series, in which we talk to a member of the Elks Club and find out what makes them tick. It’ll be a regular feature on The Sports Section.

And it begins today with Newsday’s Bob Glauber. Enjoy.

Name: Bob Glauber
Paper, Number of Years: Newsday, twenty
Previous Employers: Gannett Westchester-Rockland Newspapers (now the
Journal News)
Beat: NFL columnist
Twitter: @BobGlauber

How many games do you attend a year as a reporter? How many as a fan?
Probably 25 to 30 NFL games as a reporter, in addition to weekday practices
throughout the season. As a fan, about 5.

What fellow reporter would you say you’re best friends with?
That would have to be Newsday media columnist Neil Best, who I got to know while he was covering the Giants for ten years. Neil has a very levelheaded personality, which goes well with my Type A–ish personality. I frequently bounce stuff off of Neil journalistically, but most of our time is spent busting one another’s chops. Probably our only major disagreement is my look-alike of him. I think he’s Uncle Leo of Seinfeld fame, and he’s mortified by that. Which is understandable. I stand by the call, however.

Football, more than any other sport, puts a premium on “information guys.” Jay Glazer, Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen, so on. You’re one of them. How competitive are you guys for scoops? Do you all secretly hate each other?
There is some feeling of competition, but it’s certainly not acrimonious. I think those guys you mention, in addition to other national guys like Peter King and John Clayton and Mike Florio of PFT, try to beat each other’s brains out. Working for a New York paper, I tend to get more involved in all things Jets and Giants, although it’s certainly nice to get nuggets from other teams. I have a ton of respect for those guys and what they do. I still feel that writing a well-reasoned column is important in our business, and I do take particular pride in that. As for our relationships, I’m no hater. I know and like them all.

Was the job more fun when there was no Twitter and there were no blogs?
I actually think the job is more fun now BECAUSE of Twitter and blogs. It’s a hell of a lot more work and writing volume, but the new media has certainly opened things up for me from a writing standpoint. There is a big part of me that is very well suited to saying things in 140 characters or less. And blogging offers a freedom to your writing that just wasn’t there when it was only newspapers. I also think the new technology has allowed my naturally juvenile temperament to become an advantage. When it comes right down to it, we’re covering friggin’ games, and it’s fun. I love to crack one-liners in the press box, and that carries over onto Twitter and the blog. I also think that the breezier style has seeped into my newspaper writing, too, which is a good thing. All in all, it’s been very liberating, even if it was a little scary at first after so many years of doing it one particular way.

What’s the mood in the industry? There are baseball teams that have, like, three reporters who cover them, and two of them work for the team. It’s a scary time. How has it affected the press-box culture as we’ve known it over the years?
No question it’s THE scariest time in the industry since I’ve been in it. Used to be that there was a natural progression to things: start out taking scores over the phone and covering high schools, wait for a job to open up covering college or a pro beat, sink your teeth into that for a few years, and then try and get a columnist gig. But that whole model is completely out the window as the walls close in on the industry.

It amazes me sometimes that readers are getting far more information and written material than ever, yet no one can figure out how to make money off that trend. I was on a flight to Dallas when I noticed a twentysomething dude take his barf bag and cut a hole in it, put his handheld device in the hole, and then hang it from his tray table so he could watch his movie right there. I thought to myself, “That guy right there probably holds the key to turning our industry around.” I actually tried walking up to him after the flight, but he seemed to get creeped out and walked faster. If that guy is out there, I would urge him to put our industry in that barf bag so we can all be assured of jobs.

Every beat reporter from another city always tells us they think New York sportswriters are insane. True? Could you cover teams somewhere else?
New York sportswriters are most definitely not insane. Occasionally pompous, but not overly so. I think there is something to the sheer volume of writers in New York, which far exceeds every other city. So that can get a little scary. Collectively, it might be a daunting group, but individually, I think with very few exceptions we’re a pretty decent bunch. I could absolutely cover a team somewhere else. In fact, it would be a lot easier because there wouldn’t be so many people to worry about. I feel fortunate to have grown up in the New York area (White Plains), so it was clearly less of an adjustment to getting into the media business in this market. There are times, however, when I’m in midtown looking at the Empire State Building or Madison Square Garden when I can get a little overwhelmed. You get this feeling, “Man, this is the center of the world here.” I can see how athletes would get a little overwhelmed. Sometimes a lot overwhelmed.

Tell us your favorite Mike Lupica story.
I actually owe Mike a huge favor for something he once wrote, which was directed in part at me. It was my first year as Newsday’s NFL columnist in 1992. Ray Handley was in his second and final year coaching the Giants, and it was a disastrous run for the coach. I mean, he was just so out of his element as a head coach following in Bill Parcells’s colossal footsteps. I probably overcompensated that year by adopting a very strident tone in my columns, just trying to find my voice. So I’d rip Handley on a regular basis.

But there was a game the Giants won in Washington midway through the season, one of those Lawrence Taylor–take-over-the-game type deals. The gist of my column was something along the lines of, “Hey, maybe Handley can coach after all.” It was a complete reversal from the bashing I’d done. Lupica never mentioned me by name, but he wrote in his column the next day that you can’t have it both ways with Handley. You either don’t like the guy, or you like him, not both. It was a great lesson as far as being consistent, and I’ve carried with it to this day.

I know people like to bust on Mike, but he’s never been anything but respectful to me, and that includes the (brief) time he was at Newsday. I respect what he has done with his career a ton. Hey, when George Costanza lists reading Mike Lupica’s column as one of the only things going in his life, I’d say you’ve done something.

Who is the most fun player you’ve ever covered?
Brett Favre used to be the most fun, but he changed over the years, becoming so completely self-absorbed it got tiresome. I can remember his second or third year in Green Bay interviewing him alone on the bleachers at the side of the practice field outside Lambeau, and he was a breath of fresh air. He was easily the most free-spirited player I’ve ever been around. He used to imitate Lee Remmel, the Packers’ longtime public-relations man, and it was hilarious. Lee had this deep voice and would introduce Favre at press conferences as “Brett Lorenzo Favre.” And Favre would do these imitations that were hilarious.

Another player I wouldn’t classify as fun, but was certainly unforgettable, was Lawrence Taylor. I was on the Giants’ beat then, and we lived in fear of waking up to this guy having made some news the night before … none of it good. He was as compelling — and scary — a player as I’ve ever been around. I wrote a piece in 1987 that he was drinking alcohol again after a drug rehab, and quoted experts as saying he would eventually go back to using cocaine. I had to run it by Bill Parcells and Taylor. Taylor seemed ten feet tall (his quote to me was, “I don’t give a shit what you write”). Parcells said Taylor’s attorney would get involved as a way to not run the story.

I ran it, and never heard a word from Taylor. The next day, I asked Parcells some football-related question, and he said, “That was a horseshit story, and you’re horseshit for writing it.” As it turned out, Taylor did have a relapse and went back to cocaine. A couple years later, Taylor was at his locker and showed off a Rolex watch he’d found in his locker, which was a complete mess, with clothes, shoes, even a paycheck, strewn about. He showed it to Phil Simms, who couldn’t believe it. “That’s my watch!” Simms said. Somehow, it had found its way into Taylor’s locker.

Who’s the biggest jerk?
I’d have to go with Terrell Owens. I never had to cover him on a beat, but his nuttiness has been way over the top throughout the years. I did have what I thought was one of the most refreshing interviews I’ve ever had with a player a few weeks after he got to the Eagles in 2005. We probably talked for half an hour, and he was as thoughtful and insightful as could be. Talked about his upbringing, his relationship with his grandmother, how he felt people didn’t really understand what was going on inside. But to see him blow the whole thing up the next year with his ridiculous behavior was unbelievable. Basically the same thing in Dallas, although a less intense ending. His M.O. of being nice at the start and then acting all paranoid by the end is really mind-boggling.

Who’d you grow up rooting for? You REALLY don’t root for any team now? Really? Not ever?
I was a Yankees, Jets, Rangers, and Knicks fan growing up. Loved going to Yankee Stadium with my mom and my four brothers, the youngest of whom is named after Mickey Mantle. Just a fantastic time growing up as a sports fan. I was a Jets fan until I started covering football in 1985. Used to go to games with a couple of my brothers, tailgate, drink, the whole thing. But once I started covering football, I really did stop becoming a fan. You can’t do the job properly if you are, in my opinion. I root for good stories now. The one team I allow myself to root for is the Yankees. Don’t have to cover ‘em. I can root for ‘em.

Do you play fantasy football?
I do not. And I will never play it. A number of my fellow sportswriters do, but I feel that my head would explode if I got involved. First of all, I want to look at games strictly from a journalist’s viewpoint, because I have to cover the thing. It’s all-consuming just doing that. To view games with a rooting interest for my fantasy team would take the fun out of it for me.

Will you miss Giants Stadium?
I don’t think I’ll miss the stadium, although I’ve had the privilege of seeing so many great games there — the 1986 NFC Championship Game against the Redskins, the Jets-Dolphins Monday-night thriller in 2000, just to name two. What I’ll miss most is the place we called “the Dungeon.” It was our press room in the bowels of the stadium. No windows. Dank. Dog-pee stain on the carpet that wasn’t removed for ten years. Fluorescent lights. A complete dump. But that’s where we spent the bulk of our time, and it was unforgettable.

I mean, Bill Parcells would come strolling through that room in his early years with the Giants, puffing on a cigarette and shooting the breeze with the writers at the end of the day. Bill Belichick, a no-name at the time, was right down the hall, jotting down plays on your notepad. LT. Simms. Michael Strahan (one of the best guys to ever cover). Harry Carson. Carl Banks. Joe Morris. Jim Fassel press conferences, including the one where he guaranteed the Giants would go to the playoffs. And, of course, Neil Best at the end of a long day of transcribing Fassel quotes, banging his head on his desk at the next cubicle.

Better Know a Beat Reporter: Bob Glauber