There had been rumors for the last few days that Larry Weisman, then of USA Today, might be coming onboard here at Redskins Park for something. But the rumors were unspecific, as rumors tend to be, about exactly what that “something” would entail. Writing seemed to be the logical assumption, although Weisman has also been a regular on local sportstalk radio, including ESPN 980’s Sports Reporters. And everyone knows that all sportswriters these days inevitably wind up shouting on TV somewhere, so that was a possibility as well.
The official news release yesterday didn’t clarify things much. It named the position — “Editorial Director” — and, in the final line, summed up his role as non-specifically as humanly possible: “Weisman will contribute to various Redskins television, radio and print properties.”
Despite the slight weirdness inherent in interviewing one’s incoming co-worker, I said to heck with it and called Weisman to find out more about him, his cryptic new position, and his pre-Redskins career. But I started with the most obvious question I could think of: what, exactly, would he be doing with the team?
“The discussions that we’ve had so far have been primarily about me doing a lot of things with Larry Michael on the TV end of things,” he said, “with the Comcast SportsNet show Redskins Nation and some other things that may be in the works. Some radio things, some of which I think also need some discussion, and some contributions to the dot-com.”
Wow. So you really will be all over Redskins media.
“What we used to call it at USA Today was platform diving.”
So after these thirty years or so at USA Today, what do you feel like you’re bringing to the Redskins?
“Well, I started covering the National Football League in 1978, and I’m at the stage of my career where I finish interviews with a number of players and I say, ‘Tell your dad I said Hello.’
“I bring a lot of history. I’ve seen a lot — there are times I watch an NFL highlights reel and go, ‘I was at that game. Oh, I was at that game. I was at that game too.’ I’ve been through both NFL strikes in ’82 and ’87, and all of the labor things that went on.
“I covered this league under Pete Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue, and now Roger Goodell — who was an intern in the public relations department with the New York Jets when I was covering them.”
Oh, that’s funny. Did he bring you stats and press conference transcriptions?
“I have this vague feeling that I probably asked him to Xerox something for me once.”
Probably shouldn’t do that now….
“So in the time I’ve been around on the USA Today, I’ve covered the NFL, and the USFL, and I think the last story I’ll have published for them is in the USA Today Sports Weekly, and it’s a retrospective on the Denver Broncos in their AFL years. So I’ve managed to cover the AFL as well.”
You clearly loved your time at USA Today, so what prompted you to make this move? Is it just that — according to the conventional wisdom — newspapers are dying out, or was it something beyond that?
“I think we’re always looking for more opportunity in this business. And, certainly, I’d be lying if I told you that newspapers are a thriving industry and everyone there is banking on a happy retirement soon. So this presented too many great things to really have to think very hard about.
“Obviously, the television exposure. The club’s — literally — insistence that they want me to be objective, not to be a cheerleader or a fan, but to be objective about the things that I cover. That this dot-com, this aspect of the organization, would be a leader. This is something that Daniel Snyder really wants; he wants to take a better look at team opponents, at the NFC East, to do things to make this a real football information portal. And that, I think, plays to my skills.
“So all of that, plus the ability to get a change at this juncture of my career, the fact that I don’t have to move and can stay in an area that I’ve lived in since … oh, gosh, 1983 — and as a University of Maryland graduate, I spent four years here in the seventies. This is a place I love, an area where I want to be, and a league that I’m intimately familiar with. So when you start knitting everything together, it was like Manna from heaven.”
I believe you gave the Redskins draft this year a C+, if I have that right. (NOTE: I didn’t — it was a C.) Are you gonna be comfortable saying to your co-worker Vinny Cerrato, ‘Boy, you really C-plussed that draft.’ How’s that going to work?
“That’s going to be an interesting question. We haven’t had the discussion of if we would grade the draft, so what I would say is, ‘Can I be critical of this team?’ And I think the answer is that I can, with facts behind. And that’s been my history as a journalist — it’s certainly the way we approached things at USA Today. We weren’t very opinion-oriented most of the time, but if you could back up what you were saying, you could say it. So if the Redskins trade picks or do things that appear on the surface to me not to be grounded in a great reality, I think I would say that and they would understand it.
“But I don’t think you would see me calling anyone an idiot — I mean, I haven’t done that in my history as a writer, and I certainly wouldn’t start now.”
Coming from a general NFL beat to focusing specifically on the Redskins and their opponents, is that going to be a tough transition for you?
“When I started covering the league, I was a beat guy on one team, I always liked the broad perspective better.
You can get a little … I don’t want to say tired with the guys, but late in the season and things aren’t going well, you kind of run out of things to say and the problems all sort of seem the same.
“I’m not anticipating there will be big problems with the Redskins, but my background has been to be in different places at different times in the season — certainly late in the season, you’re around the winning teams and the ones where there’s some excitement.
“So this will be different in that I will be tied to this team throughout the 16 games, with the team’s highs and lows and I think that will be different. But I did that for six years covering the New York Jets.
“You do get close to people, and you do feel things in an emotional way that you don’t when you just bounce around the league. I’m not saying that you want them to win or you want them to lose but you know the effort that goes into it and the pain that the guys play in and when you know them, when you see them everyday, it’s a little different feeling from when you just see them on Sunday and then jet back home.”
It’s certainly something that I’ve noticed working here. There are times when it’s much harder to be critical of a guy when you really see just how hard he’s working to improve or get back from injury or whatever.
“It’s a funny thing, because the first coach that I really got to know well was Walt Michaels with the J
ets back in the 70’s, and you would say something to him about a player who was either making a lot of mistakes or just wasn’t getting it done, and Walt’s response was, ‘You know, he wants to do well.’
“And as reporters, we’d kind of laugh at that, but after time you start to understand that they do want to do well and it’s not easy. It’s just not easy. If you think winning in the NFL is easy then you are living in a fantasy land. It’s painfully difficult and most of the teams in the league can tell you that, from Cleveland to Houston and on.
“The success ratio is inordinately awful; 9-7 is a really good year at most places. Building it is one thing and the team unit is something else and the third component is when you have to take it apart and rebuild it.
“When you see the players up close and you get to know these guys, and what they’re dealing with in their personal lives, what they’re dealing with in training and getting through injuries and playing through pain, when you’re close to them it’s not like you’re rooting for the team and it’s not like you’re rooting for them, but I guess in life you’d like the people you are close to to have success.”
Now, I know you’ve done radio. I’d hear you pretty regularly over on the Sports Reporters, and — actually, will you still be doing that show?
“I talked to those guys yesterday in regard to my coming over and doing the show, and Andy Pollin wanted to know if I was now his boss. ‘Bring my car around and have it washed,’ that kind of thing. But I’m not his boss and I’m not anybody’s boss.
“I’ve enjoyed working with Andy and Steve and the other guys that have been in the studio over the years and I’m certainly open to talking to them about it and seeing how it fits whatever schedule they will have me on at the Park. It’s one of those weird kind of things where friends of mine would say ‘I heard you on the radio, I heard you on the radio, I heard you on the radio,’ and I’d say, ‘Have you ever read anything that I’ve written?’ And they go, ‘No.’
“So I would love to stick with the radio because that’s what people think I’ve been doing all these years.”
What about the TV? Have you done a lot of that in the past.
“Yeah, quite a lot actually.
“Over the years in this area, I have made regular appearances on a variety of the football shows. Comcast some years ago had done a sort of roundtable kind of show and I was a periodical guest on that. I’m having trouble remembering which stations ran which shows but there was one called Redskins Playbook. They would have a player and a media guy as a guest every week, and I was part of that.
“I did a show with channel 9 that ran for a year with Jess Atkinson that I think was called Redskins Blitz.
“And I do periodic shots with Comcast, where if there’s breaking news or something they will ask me to come in, or I periodically come around and do a draft roundtable type of thing. I’ve been in a few of those ESPN specials, the ‘who’s the best’ or ‘the worst top 15 something-or-other.’ And of course I had a cameo sort of non-speaking part in the Longest Yard.”
Was that fun?
“It was great. We shot that on election day in 2004, I went into the trailer with John Kerry allegedly ahead and I came out with George Bush reelected. I actually had a trailer, and we met Adam Sandler on the set. There were about a half dozen of us playing sportswriters for about three scenes, and I think they are the first scenes taken out of it when they show it on commercial TV now.
“It was just a lot of fun. We got to see how they do this stuff and how they move the sets and the lighting and what they try to accomplish. And going out to the premiere, that was great. You get to walk to red carpet and meet a lot of the people that were in the movie that you didn’t get to meet when you shot your couple little scenes and be at the parties. It was a fabulous experience and I’m absolutely stunned that I have not starred in a major motion picture yet.”
You just signed on here and you’re already leaving us for Hollywood?
“I think I owe you guys one good season before I have to do what’s right for me and my family.”
Tags: larry weisman, LarryWeisman, redskins.com
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