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Saying Goodbye To The Washington Times Beat Guys

Posted by Matt Terl on December 31, 2009 – 5:02 pm

In a fit of what I can only describe as monumental stupidity, the Washington Times has elected to eliminate the Sports section from their newspaper, choosing instead to focus more on politics and who knows what else. Which means that as of today, veteran beat reporters David Elfin and Ryan O’Halloran will be — for all intents and purposes — off the Redskins beat, and DC is a one-broadsheet sports town. (A fate that Dan Steinberg has already lamented.)

The two were given a farewell party from the Redskins PR staff and their media peers today, with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, general manager Bruce Allen, and chief operating officer Dave Donovan dropping in to say their goodbyes as well. There was cake, and sandwiches, and the presentation of customized jerseys to each of them, numbered to commemorate their years on the beat.

They’re two different kinds of guys — Elfin, who grew up a Redskins fan until he shelved his fandom to begin covering the team in 1989 (and who was instrumental in getting Art Monk finally elected to the Hall of Fame); the younger O’Halloran a Minnesota fan but also objective in the classic sports reporter mold — but on the occasion of their departure I thought it would be worth checking in to get some of their memories of their time — as ESPN980’s Frank Hanrahan puts it — on the Redskins beat.How long have you been on the beat?

DAVID ELFIN: “It goes back to ’89, so it spans 21 years.”

RYAN O’HALLORAN: “I covered the team in ’04 for the Newport News Daily Press, Joe [Gibbs]’ first year; I’d come up once a week on Wednesdays. And then since August ’05, from the Times, it’s been all Redskins stuff. My streak of 98 consecutive regular season or postseason games ends this week. It’s gonna be weird just watching the game on Sunday, if I do watch it.”

In those years, who’s been your favorite guy to cover — just from a talking perspective, not necessarily on the field?

ROH: “Pete Kendall, just because he got it; he’d be there after a win or a loss. But I’ll also say that we’ve been very fortunate to cover the quarterback we have covered with Jason [ Campbell]. He’s the best. And you look around the locker room, and there’s guys I didn’t get along with and guys I didn’t like, but a lot of guys — Casey Rabach, Phil Daniels, Todd Yoder and Chris Cooley, Rock Cartwright — there’s just a lot of good guys. There’s never a shortage of, what am I gonna write today.”

DE: “There are a lot of ’em. Phil Daniels. Renaldo Wynn. Brad Edwards. Casey Rabach. From the old, old days, Mark Rypien was good. Darrell [Green], if you could ever get him to stop. Trevor Matich. Ray Brown. Tre Johnson. Mark Schlereth. Offensive linemen tend to be the best.

“And Jason Campbell is the best quarterback I’ve ever dealt with, by far. Not only is he usually candid, totally cooperative, he’ll talk any day you want him to … it’s not even close.”

Best year on the beat, or best string of games?

DE: “1989. First year. Totally thrilled to be on [the beat]. They didn’t make the playoffs but they won their last five games, finished 10-6, you could see they were turning things around. And I was just kind of in awe of being here.”

ROH: “I’m trying to think of the game that sticks out, but here’s the thing about the Redskins: they don’t play a lot of exciting games. A lot of tractor pulls, but I remember … obviously the Monday night game in ’05, when Brunell threw the two touchdown passes and sort of triggered their season. That was probably the worst deadline game in terms of sudden change. The Jacksonville game in overtime in ’06, Brunell to Moss. That Saints/Redskins game a couple weeks ago, that was one of the highlights.”

Best moment on the beat?

DE: “Okay. So I’m this huge Redskins fan my whole life. I had covered training camp, but I had also covered training camps of the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants, so I wasn’t around all the time. And then I’m the number 2 guy [on the beat], so I’m not even sure that Joe Gibbs knew who I was. He had gone 7-9 the year before, then his dad dies, he’s 5-6, he’s got hemorrhoids, and there are rumors he’s gonna retire. He’s already won two Super Bowls, been to a third, why keep doing this. He wants to put the fires out, and it’s a Tuesday. You know what Tuesdays are like.

“Back then the media room was one big room; PR was in the same room with us. He walks in and the PR guys are all at lunch. Even the secretaries are at lunch. He looks around, I’m the only person there, and he says, ‘C’mere.’ And I say, ‘Coach?’

“He’d written out on his own typewriter a statement about him not retiring, and he wanted someone to proofread it. And that started our relationship.

“It didn’t need much proofreading, and he didn’t retire, and the next year they made the playoffs, and then they won the Super Bowl.”

Worst season on the beat?

DE: “1993. No question. Worse than this year, worse than the Sean Taylor year. They had been good from 1971 to 1992 almost without interruption, then fell off the cliff in ’93 after winning their first game over Dallas. Older team had never lost before. Coaches had never really lost before. Players all know salary cap’s coming, they’re all getting cut. Now the coaches are getting fired. Twice we had bye weeks, twice followed by Monday night games — fifteen days between games TWICE, trying to find something to write about. Nobody makes the Pro Bowl, and even the writer were snapping at each other. So it was a real fun experience.

“This year is up there, but in some ways 2006 was a lot more disappointing, because they’d made the playoffs the year before and … well, it was Gibbs, after all.”

ROH: “This has been the most chaotic season that I’ve covered. It’s the worst team, but everybody says ‘Is this as bad as it’s gotten?’ It’s been frickin’ incredible to cover. There’s something every day. The only thing we didn’t have was the midseason coaching change.”

What’s next?

ROH: “Couple opportunities, but I’m optimistic that I’ll be covering this team next year for somebody.”

DE: “I don’t know what’s next. Just trying to get a job.”

And at this point, I’ll add that — in addition to being true pros in every sense of the word, grinding every day for the last god-knows-how-many weeks despite knowing that the axe was likely to fall — both of these guys have been helpful to and supportive of me since I got here. I appreciate it immensely, and hope to see them both back here covering this team for someone ASAP. You can read their goodbyes here and here.

Everyone out there have a safe and healthy new year.

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