Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King has entertained, enlightened, and occasionally enraged readers with his Monday Morning Quarterback column on SI.com for more than a decade now. Before we had blogs or Twitter or the NFL Network, King was out there emptying his notebook once a week, complete with updates on coffee, field hockey, and, most disturbingly, colonoscopies. Well, now his best columns, along with new material, have been compiled into an entertaining book. King talked to the Sports Section about the progression of his career, his befuddlement at the column’s success, and, of course, Brett Favre.
Do players you talk to know you more from your column, or the magazine? Which do they read more of?
I’m positive they read online more. Players are like my kids, 26 and 23, and they’re not big for print, they’re big for the web. The ones who read me surely read me online, but I don’t think most read any of it at all.
The MMQB has not only been a huge success online, it has led to a career breakthrough for you in the magazine and on television, as well. I think it has even changed the magazine itself.
I think it has helped my career. I get a kick out of someone like Dick Ebersol commenting on something very deep in the column, a column I wrote at 3 a.m. that morning without any sleep. You see guys like [Rick] Reilly, [Tom] Verducci, [Steve] Rushin, Gary Smith, the super-talented writers — I’ve never put myself in a league even close to theirs in terms of being a writer. The column is not edited by the same number of people as the magazine pieces are, nor is everything really changed [in the Web piece]. The magazine has changed a little bit over the years, but for the most part, since I’ve gotten there in 1989, there was never any opinion in the actual magazine. MMQB now is quite opinionated on football and on other things. It has had an effect, I suppose.
And now everyone at SI, newspapers, and television is writing online and on Twitter. It’s part of the job now.
Times have changed. It’s such a Wild-West thing now. I don’t know what the future is. I don’t even know what the present is. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just trying to do something to empty out my notebook at the end of the week, and doesn’t treat my job or my life like the seventh game of the World Series. I lay myself bare a little bit, and I do get strafed for it from time to time, which is fine. I think everything we as reporters do ought to be public.
But yeah, I’ve realized in the last few years how important the web is, because no one knows where print is going. Someone told me last year that it’s like ten years of the journalism business has been compressed into one year. Newspaper circulation has dropped 10 percent in the last years. When I talk to students, I always just say to just make sure to work at the student paper, and at the radio station, and at the TV station, and have a blog, and try to figure out which way the media’s going. Do it all. Because we don’t know.
We all need to be a little bit more elastic, and take assignments, and realize that where we are right now in this media world is not where we were twenty years ago. I mean, an SI job twenty years ago, you know how great that was? I’m writing four pages in the magazine per week during the season, and then in the off-season, half the weeks, I’m not working at all. I couldn’t imagine what an incredible job this was. You got paid a lot of weeks to not work. It was fantastic. It’s not like that anymore. We have to be more adaptable than we were twenty years ago.
To football now. You’re probably always going to be linked to Brett Favre. How should Jets fans deal with his year here, particularly now that he’s thriving in Minnesota?
I was at WFAN [Monday] and saw Joe Benigno, and he said, “I know you’re a Favre guy, but we got no use for Favre. Last year was a disaster! A disaster!” I understand that. I can’t go through Jet rehab or anything like that, but I would say that I think that he’s at the age in life that if you’re 39 or 40 years old, it’s probably that he’s gonna have something go wrong during the course of the year that’s going to affect how he plays. That’s what happened last year. His arm wasn’t right for the last half of the season. From that point on, he was never the same. I certainly don’t blame Jets fans for being pissed off, and I think in a certain way, it’s justifiable. But if he doesn’t get hurt against Cincinnati, that’s gonna be one of the most interesting years in Jets history.
Have you talked to Paul Zimmerman, Dr. Z, recently? [The legendary SI football reporter has been gone from the magazine since a massive stroke in December.]
I went to lunch with him last month in New Jersey. It’s a very long haul. Eleven months ago, he had one major stroke and then two other ones, and he’s in his 70s. When that happens, it’s gonna be difficult for him to come back to what he was in any short period of time. I know from talking to [his wife] Linda that he’s absolutely working his ass off. He’s trying everything humanly possible to come back. He misses communicating. Would he like to be writing? Of course. But more than anything, this is a guy who would wake up in the middle of the night and have something to say. He’s an old-fashioned person who would rather sit and talk and argue at dinner for two hours than sit and watch a movie or watch TV. He’s a different person than most modern-day people. There isn’t anybody who can work harder to get back to communicating and being Dr. Z. I’m hopeful. It’s a very long road.