The Man on the Inside

It wasn’t always like this. His stories used to have a longer shelf life. Back when Adam Schefter was a beat reporter covering the Denver Broncos, breaking news on a trade or blockbuster contract had to wait a day for the next news cycle. But now the man at the informational hub of the country’s most popular sport can deliver a headline to his 2.3 million Twitter followers in seconds—making or breaking a fantasy team in the process.

As a looming figure at ESPN, he contributes to nearly every medium the network owns, from SportsCenter to to ESPN Radio, but Schefter is able to break the news he does because of his relationships. More than 6,000 sources, from coaches and players to agents and scouts spread across the entire NFL, are at his disposal. That’s why he seems to be the reporter who knows the details of a contract before the ink has dried or who breaks the story of an off-field incident before the front office knows.

Pulse caught up with the NFL insider at his North Shore home office, which doubles as a studio for ESPN live feeds. From this room where studio lights hang from the ceiling, an earpiece and suit jacket draped at the ready over his studio chair, he can report to the sports world via an unmanned camera in his closet, breaking stories he has just confirmed via text message seconds earlier. This room is the epicenter, the beating heart of information behind a national fixation. And inside it Schefter manages it all basically from two phones. The Blackberry has physical buttons, making it easier to text with; he’s not even sure he remembers its phone number. The iPhone has an auxiliary battery pack strapped to its back for more talk time.

It’s the offseason, weeks away from training camp—the closest thing he has to downtime. For a couple of hours he spoke with us about his South Shore roots, his opinions on the local teams and Twitter and why he can’t seem to finish Ten Little Ladybugs.

LIP: How did you get into sportswriting?
Adam Schefter:
I wanted to get into a fraternity in college and when I didn’t get in, I joined the student newspaper. And when I went out to get my first job after looking, or sifting through rejections for two years, I wanted to be a sports newspaper columnist. I wanted to cover the baseball team in Colorado and didn’t get the job so I was stuck covering football.

LIP: Where did you grow up?
I was born in Valley Stream but I grew up in Bellmore. I loved growing up there. It was great because of all the houses and the way everyone’s right on top of each other. You walk into the streets and play and you pick up a football or basketball or baseball or hockey game at any time. The streets were a playground—that’s really what it was like.

Adam Schefter@AdamSchefter on the #Giants
I’ll tell you the guy to watch this year is Rueben Randle, very strong receiver and if he plays the way he capable of playing, it will not surprise me if they just let Hakeem Nicks go elsewhere. Then Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle form the 1-2 punch you’re thinking of now as Cruz and Nicks.

LIP: Where you as passionate about sports growing up?
A year ago [ESPN anchor and fellow LI native] Steve Levy and I were brought back to [John F.] Kennedy High School to talk [to students]. He was [telling them about] doing internships for radio stations and working with sports agents and doing all these things in the business with an eye on becoming exactly what he is today. And I’m listening to this and I’m like, ‘I delivered Newsday and I collected carts for Foodtown.’ I was a busboy at Hunan Gourmet, the Chinese restaurant in Bellmore. I’d work so hard. I had to be there at four and I would work until 11. I’ll never forget when you got done the chef gave you some chicken and broccoli and you sat down in the bar area and eat your chicken and broccoli and drink your ginger ale and you were so tired and wiped out. I did whatever I could to make money, never thinking very much about what I was going to be doing in the future, never thinking I want to be a sports reporter—that never occurred to me. Me? I think this has all happened by accident. Like it’s one big accident that I’m here. All I did was try to work hard and figure out a way to make a living and this is where I wound up.

LIP: Did you play sports growing up?
I played high school basketball on a team that at one point was the tenth-ranked team in the state. I was on the bench so it wasn’t like I was a contributor to the team, but I will say this: I took pride in practicing hard and being a part of the team even though the team’s success had nothing to do with me. Look: I’m a 5’8” Jewish guy—it wasn’t like I was going to play college basketball anyway.

LIP: What role did pro sports play growing up?
I loved all sports. I loved the Islanders when they won all their Stanley Cups. I watched all of those games and when Bobby Nystrom scored that goal in overtime…to me that was huge. That was adolescence-defining material. Yankees—I used to listen to every pitch on the radio or watch it on tv.

LIP: You’re constantly on your phones, how often do you tweet a day?
In early July, maybe two to four times a day. But during the season on a Sunday or a Monday, 20 times a day probably. The first two days of free agency it’s like 52 times a day.

LIP: You broadcast from your home. How quickly can you break news on tv?
For the Peyton Manning news [March 2012], when he picked Denver, I literally got a text and within moments—I looked up [at the tv] and Chris Mortensen was on air—I was on air in minutes. The lights are on, the makeup is usually on and all it takes is jumping from my office chair to the on-air chair.

LIP: What are working on next?
There is a new show launching called NFL Insiders. Basically the idea is they’re going to take former general managers like Bill Polian, Phil Savage, Billy Devaney and Louis Riddick—these guys used to work in or run front offices. They take me and Mort [Chris Mortensen] and a couple of other reporters, along with Suzy Kolber who will be one of the hosts and no players allowed. The idea of the show is the men who make the decisions and the people who are the first to report the news of those decisions debating the newsiest topics of the day. In the offseason it will be all about free agency and in-season it’ll be the thought process behind an injury, how trades are made, what would a good trade be, what would a bad trade be, contracts…

LIP: How did you become an “insider?”
Developing relationships with people. I have a Blackberry with over 6,000 names in there… Stories can come from the strangest places that you’d never expect… I remember the day the Giants’ former third round draft pick Chad Jones was involved in a major auto accident down in Louisiana and someone texted me a photo. And when I called the Giants, they didn’t even know about it yet. And that came from a fan on Twitter.

LIP: Did you always think you’d get into sports?
My grandfather founded a major chain back in, I think it was the ’50s or the ’60s, called John’s Bargain Stores. Then he started Shane’s Circus of Values… I used to work there all the time… I never really thought of sports as a being a real, viable option. I thought I’d just go into the family business. I wrote in books where I said I wanted to be a sportswriter/sportscaster, that was really a dream; it wasn’t reality.

LIP: Do you get calls or texts at all hours?
It never stops. Last night, I was putting my daughter to bed, reading her a story and I get a text that the Broncos just signed Ryan Clady. I said, “Dylan, hold on, I’ve got a breaking story” and she knows, she understands that I’ve got to do it right then. I was actually reading her Ten Little Ladybugs and I got to six little ladybugs and I never made it to 10. She got six out of the 10 little ladybugs. Dylan goes, “Mommy will you finish reading, daddy has a breaking story.” Texts, I think it’s just come to be, texting is the way people are going to get you something important and urgent; it’s not going to be an email. No one emails you.

LIP: What is game day like for you?
I’m not watching for the pure fun and joy of it the way fans are. I’m looking to see who is getting hurt, which guy is excelling, which guy on the hot seat is excelling or struggling, which quarterback is liable to be benched. You’re looking at storylines that are going to play out during the week, not during the course of the game.

Adam Schefter@AdamSchefter
on the #Jets

The Jets will be 7-9, 8-8, I think they’ll be a pretty good team and a tough out. I’m not telling you they’ll make the playoffs, but it’ll be one of those seasons Jets fans are pleasantly surprised with. I think Sanchez starts the season, I don’t think he finishes the season as the starter. If he starts elsewhere in the league [it] depends on the opportunities that are out there. What happens with a Josh Freeman, in the last year of his contract with Tampa? What happens with a Jay Cutler with the last year of his contract in Chicago? What happens with Carson Palmer in Arizona?

LIP: What do you expect from the Saints this year?
: I think they have a bounce-back year and they’ll make the playoffs. I think they’ll win their division, I think they’ll be one of the surprise teams in the NFL this year.

LIP: How will RGIII perform?
The only thing that is going to prevent him from being a great quarterback in this league is his health. And he’s already had two major knee surgeries and you hope that he can become RGIII and not Joe Namath.

LIP: Before ESPN you interviewed Barry Sanders as one of your first assignments for the NFL Network. What was that like?
I got done with this interview with him and in my old days the work would just be beginning. You’d have to transcribe the whole thing, you’d have to look through and sift through everything and figure out how you’re going to write the story, then write the story and then send in the story—the process was just beginning after the interview. I turn around and I said [to the producers] “what now?” and they said, “you’re done.” I’m done? I don’t have to transcribe anything? I’m like this is unbelievable and right then and there I saw the difference between my newspaper job and my tv job.

LIP: Why and what is the most important thing about contract figures?
It matters to most people because a player’s salary goes against the cap of the team. Those contracts are not guaranteed. When you see J.R. Smith sign a $20 million contract, or whatever it is, he’s getting every dollar in that contract no matter what happens. When Ryan Clady signs a $55 million contract the only way he’s getting $55 million is if he plays all five years of that deal. Football players have to earn their money every year. Baseball, basketball, hockey…when they sign for those dollars they get those dollars. Most football players don’t collect all the money on their deal. The quarterbacks do, but they’re usually the exceptions.

LIP: Do you read the messages that your tweets inspire?
When I’m tweeting, what I’ve learned is I’m best off to stay in my lane. Do not veer anywhere off football because if you veer off and start giving opinions, people get all worked up and all pissed off. After the Pope stepped down, I tweeted: “Spent much of Sunday trying to get one last confirmation that Pope Benedict XVI will resign. Knew it and never could nail it down…,” as a joke. How…would I have that? Where’s a Jewish guy on Long Island getting a Pope story from, give me a break. But people take it seriously, they were like, “Adam Schefter’s bragging he had the Pope.” You just pick your spots and you don’t do it all the time. But every few months am I allowed to say, “I had that, I just couldn’t get it confirmed,” sarcastically? Why not? I’m a human being.

LIP: Why do you have so many followers on Twitter?
I work for the greatest sports network in the world and I cover the most popular sport in the world. I’m walking in the shadows of their fame. Basically anyone in my position who deals in and traffics information should have the type of following I do.

LIP: How has Twitter changed things?
What surprises me these days is you have people stopping you and saying, “Hey, I follow you on Twitter.” They don’t say, “I’ve seen you on ESPN.” They don’t say, “I’ve read your book.” Here you are on this great network with a huge following and great programming and people say they watch me on ESPN but just as many say they follow me on Twitter.

LIP: How do you know a tweet was successful?
The number of retweets. Let’s go back to like last week [scrolling through his Blackberry], this is perfect… “Aaron Hernandez taken away from his house in handcuffs.” I was retweeted 4,973 times. Anything over a thousand is really good.