Fit for a King
After 29 years, NFL Columnist Peter King is shifting coverage from Sports Illustrated to NBC Sports in July
Sportswriter Peter King has been an institution at Sports Illustrated since 1989. He estimates he’s written about 5.5 million words for the magazine and his signature NFL website Monday Morning Quarterback, which he founded in 2013. He wrote his last column for SI at the beginning of June, but he’s not putting away his pen and laptop just yet. For that I’m thankful.
After taking the month off, King will begin a Monday morning column for NBC Sports in July. “Monday column; it’s my first love,” he said. He has worked with NBC since 2006, most notably with the “Football Night in America” highlight review and pregame show on Sunday evenings. He will continue to contribute four to six feature stories for the show and will appear one morning a week on Mike Florio’s “Pro Football Talk Live” radio show.
King says there is no bad blood with SI, which asked him to stay on with Monday Morning Quarterback as his sole responsibility, but he had numerous reasons for moving on from a job he had for three decades. The first was to slow down and spend more time with his family. The 60-year-old explained that his father and a brother both died at 64 and another brother died at 55. “I don’t want to continue the family trend,” he wrote in one of his final SI columns.
He also believes a new generation of football writers needs opportunity and exposure. He said MMQB’s writing staff’s average age is 30, a year shy of when he joined SI. “If I stay, their development gets stunted,” he wrote. “They deserve the spotlight I’ve been hogging. They’re ready. I’m really excited for them.”
In the same paragraph, he revealed why he’s a titan in the football media world. In relating the grind of the always-on modern media, he described the moment he found out Saints owner Tom Benson died and how the need to write about his passing delayed a dinner date. “I was the only one on our staff who knew Benson even a little, so I knew it was up to me to write the deadline obit. I sat outside the restaurant thumb-typing the obit on my phone. No complaints. That’s the life. The 24/7-ness of the job, though, has worn on me, as has some of the silly and invented stuff that populates the football media (e.g., 2019 mock drafts 360 days before the 2019 draft). The monster must be fed daily. Enough.”
The truth is, one of the younger journalists could have written the piece on Benson, but they couldn’t have done it better. King has intimate connections all over the league, from owners to coaches to players. That gives him valuable access to the personalities and behind the scenes of the most popular game in the country.
He says his job as a reporter has three parts. First, report the heck out of a story. Second, take the readers where they cannot go. Third, write quickly and be smart.
“Part of what I tried to do – and what I tell young journalists sometimes now – was work hard to find the good stories, and work hard to convince people to let me tell those stories,” he wrote.
“I was best at my ability to make people tell me things, and then report on those things to make them meatier, and then get them to you.”
That’s Journalism 101 in a nutshell.
That’s why readers know if Peter King’s name is on the story’s byline it’s worth reading.
My favorite of King’s columns were during the Saints’ first season after Hurricane Katrina in 2006 and their Super Bowl-winning 2009 season. He was able to get stories that local media couldn’t or didn’t think to. He also knew how to do the right thing, even if it meant breaking a cardinal rule of journalism – don’t become part of the story. King went gonzo in 2005 and bought Saints season tickets in an effort to support the city and the franchise when both needed it most.
He did have his critics who thought he gushed about some players too much and too often, namely Brett Favre, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning, but in doing so, he was able to gain the trust of the biggest and almost always guarded stars of the game and capture and break stories that no one else could, like Favre’s painkiller addiction and rehabilitation.
When King is assigned to a game, it’s a big one. King said Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin shouted, “We’re playing in a Sports Illustrated game!” when he saw him in the week leading up to a 1991 matchup.
As he bowed out at SI, he wrote about a man in his 30s who approached him on a Manhattan train and said, “I’ve read you since I knew what football was. Thanks for everything.”
King thanked him, saying, “There would be no me without you.”
That’s the other thing about King. He’s one of the best, but he’s not big-headed. He knows his audience and tries to deliver the best he possibly can.
I’ll miss King at Sports Illustrated, but I’m glad he’s not done yet. NBC Sports will become required reading on Monday mornings, but I don’t think I’ll eliminate SI. Peter King is a great model for a career, and if he says the kids are alright, I’m interested to see what they produce.