Earlier this year, NFL Network reporter Adam Schefter left for ESPN. Taking his place at the NFL was Washington Post Redskins beat reporter Jason La Canfora. And taking La Canfora’s place at the Post is ex-Baltimore Sun sports columnist Rick Maese, who starts his new job later this month.
1. Welcome to D.C. Have you picked out a neighborhood yet?
We were walking around D.C. this weekend, checking out some neighborhoods, and I thought back to my first apartment. It was in Albuquerque, N.M. — where I was born and raised — and cost $380 a month for about 1,000 square feet. So ideally, we’d like to find something like that. In a good neighborhood, if possible. Fortunately, we don’t live too far away right now, so we can take our time a bit.
Supposedly, my predecessor in this gig drove something like 80 miles one-way to get to Redskins Park. Not sure I can do that. Right now we’re leaning toward the Hill. I heard Ashburn has a Ruby Tuesday, though, so we can’t rule it out entirely.
2. Before getting to the Post (and your predecessor), let’s look back to the Sun. You and David Steele were laid off via phone while covering an O’s game. Steele sounded off, but you’ve remained quiet. Care to comment?
Let me try. I’ve bit my tongue thus far, mostly because in those initial days, my emotions changed every 30 minutes or so. Looking back now, I’m still not especially bothered by the way it happened. No, it wasn’t cool, but there’s probably no perfect way to whack an employee. I didn’t need a hug or a pat on the back or a Baltimore Sun souvenir mug on my way out the door.
I’m a couple of months removed now and I mostly feel sadness. The Sun is important to Baltimore, and there’s still a lot of good people trying to do good work. To me, what’s happened there isn’t fair to these people who are on the ground — who are actually practicing journalism — and it’s not fair to the people of Baltimore who depend on the Sun in so many ways. So it’s sad to me. I sincerely hope the people steering the ship have a plan. In a perfect world, newspapers are run by journalists, not kamikaze pilots.
I guess that’s part of why I’m so excited to join the Post. It’s a newspaper still committed to journalism, to great work, great stories and great reporting. I mean, an NFL reporter left and they actually replaced him. They felt they owed it to their readers to replace him. I feel very fortunate for the way things have worked out.
3. You’re covering the Redskins alongside Jason Reid, Barry Svrluga, a stable of columnists and others. Could you describe the role and how you plan to attack it?
You know, that’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to. The way the Post has set up its Skins coverage, we’re a team of reporters. Plus, you got Steinberg on the blog, Cindy Boren on Twitter and Paul Tenorio and others helping in a thousand different ways. NFL fans in other cities would sacrifice a first born for coverage and resources like the Post is offering. So I’m excited about that.
We still have to work out the exact details. It will be a complicated juggling act, for sure. It’s not like Jason La Canfora left his Size 10s somewhere and I’m just slipping into his shoes and his role. I’ll have to build up a rolodex of my own, and there are plenty of things I can learn from Barry and Reid. But hopefully it won’t take long before we find some ways I can put my own fingerprints on the beat. Not sure what that means exactly, but I’m reading a lot of Sylvia Plath and watching some Japenese gameshows in search of fresh ideas.
4. The Skins didn’t much care for La Canfora, who they dubbed “The Sourcerer”. Did he pass on any words of advice?
Ooh, do we all get nicknames? Like professional wrestlers? Now I’m even more excited about starting.
No words of advice. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met Jason. I’d like to. I’ve read blog comments about Jason, and I peeked at a message board when his departure become public. So I know the feelings some fans out there have for him. I couldn’t feel more removed from that, though. Every relationship I’ll have on the beat — from ownership to the PR staff to the locker room and coaching staff — will be a fresh one.
5. La Canfora spun this job into a lucrative on-air gig with NFL Network. What would be your ideal post-Post career move?
After a humbling couple of months, I’m trying to be careful about looking too far ahead. I’ll definitely approach this job appreciating every single day. Readers deserve that, and so does the Post, obviously. But I do take some comfort knowing that there will be a future to speak of. I think the Post will emerge from this current dismal climate on pretty good standing.
6. Perhaps this should have been the first question, but what’s your background beyond the Sun, and beyond sports (previous employers, college, hobbies, etc.)?
It’s rather uninteresting. I’ve known since I was a young paperboy that I wanted to be a sportswriter. I’ve never done much else. I first set foot in a newsroom when I was 14, pestering the fine people at The Albuquerque Tribune. (One of the paper’s stars at the time was Hank Stuever, the Post’s uber-talented Style reporter.) After graduating from the University of New Mexico, I reported in Orlando for four years. And then I arrived in Baltimore in August 2005 to do the columnist gig.
My recent extended vacation has forced me to figure out what else I like to do to pass the time. I’m big into music. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen Drive-By Truckers, Old 97s, Martin Sexton, Gaslight Anthem, Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers and Michael Jackson. Wait, scratch that last one. No one will ever top David Bowie or the Beatles. Seen Bowie once. Supposed to see him a second time, down in Miami several years back, but the show was canceled. After the opening act, some dude fell from the catwalk and died on the stage. Bowie never came out. I’m not sure anyone’s death has affected me quite so profoundly.
But really, that’s about it. Movies, bars, coffeeshops, new restaurants, funky bookstores, funny web sites. Nothing too exciting or illegal.
7. What’s your best story from the Sun?
I’m going to sidestep your question slightly. I’m saving the embarrassing athlete stories for Larry King. Or. Maybe my best-man toast at Gary Williams’ wedding.
Anyhow, when I look back at my time with the Sun, it won’t be a singular story or some home movie. It’s more like flipping through a photo album. Going to work each day at one of the best ballparks in the country. Meeting Ali. China with Cal. China with Phelps. Brian Billick quotes. The student section at Comcast. Dressing as Lincoln and making a mockery of the Presidents Race. Getting an earful each morning from Angelos’ loyal staff subjects. Barbaro. Blindly hunting for Miguel Tejada in the Dominican Republic. Witnessing Dan Steinberg’s ongoing mental breakdown. And that unforgettable Orioles’ World Series. Wait, scratch that last one.
It was a good run. I met some wonderful people and it really was an honor to occupy that real estate three or four times each week.
8. Are you apprehensive about going from a general sports column to a specific beat?
No, not at all. My career goal was never to be a sports columnist, and when I took the position at the Sun, I knew I was still growing as a reporter and as a writer. No matter how long the columnist gig lasted, I knew I’d learn new skills that would prepare me for the next step.
This might be too much inside-baseball for you, but wearing the columnist hat forces you to think critically, to report 360 degrees around an issue or topic, to line up sources on all sides of the fence, and to understand the game –the Xs and Os — in a much more intimate way. You also deal with a level of scrutiny and criticism that thickens your skin. Baltimore fans were never shy and didn’t mince words when I said or wrote something stupid.
So I think the columnist job prepared me for this. There might me days I’ll miss writing with opinion, but I mostly want to tell good stories. There’s a lot of opportunities for that on this beat.
9. Going in, what are some of those stories that you want to tell?
You’ll understand if I don’t divulge a list of specific story ideas. But I’ll try to address this in general terms. I’m curious about relationships and how they help or hurt a team. The running back and the coach. The quarterback and the VP of football ops. The owner and the fans.
The NFL season provides such a perfect and convenient story arc. It makes it easy to measure growth — maybe a rookie defensive end — or whether veterans like Haynesworth, Hall or Dockery can bring a locker room together or whether a head coach can get the most out of his players.
I guess to put it simply, while we’ll always strive to understand the personalities, I’ll really try to moniter change. I like anticipating it, I like spotting it and I like revealing how it affects what we watch on Sundays.
10. Last question, before you go find that house on the Hill: What are your predictions for the 2009 Washington Redskins?
Predictions in July — those never blow up in your face, right? I won’t go too far out on the limb, but let me just throw some stuff against the wall.
DeAngelo Hall will be the most interesting guy in the locker room.
Fans start questioning Campbell after Week 1.
Clinton Portis will be unhappy. Then he’ll be happy again. And then …
The backup QB competition will seem especially important before too long.
If someone forwards me a photo of Cooley that says NSFW, I will not be opening it.
Zorn solidifies his standing by October 1.
Unnamed sources start doubting whether he’ll return by mid-November.
The offense will score more points this year.
That might not matter.
As for the playoffs — no idea. I do know that it’s generally more fun to cover a team with a shot at the postseason than one that’s dead by December.