Every Monday, two million football fans visit SI.com to read Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarterback," an 8,000-word column that combines interviews, analysis and commentary with personal stories and notes from the road. The column is jam-packed with revelatory morsels gleaned from King's extensive sources.
King is seemingly everywhere. He appears on NBC's "Football Night in America" and Notre Dame halftime shows, has a show on Sirius NFL Radio, writes for Sports Illustrated's print edition and frequently answers questions on Twitter, where he has more than 180,000 followers.
He is now available in bookstores, too. Sports Illustrated Monday Morning Quarterback: A Fully Caffeinated Guide to Everything You Need to Know About the NFL is a collection of King's favorite columns and also includes new features, such as his list of the top 100 players of all time.
King spoke with the Huffington Post about his book and discussed some of the major issues facing the NFL, including head injuries, an expanded regular season schedule and the prospect of an NFL work stoppage. He also provided an excerpt from his book, which can be found below the Q&A.
Huffington Post: What originally moved you to write your Monday Morning Quarterback column 12 years ago?
Peter King: I had an editor named Steve Robinson. He was my football editor at SI. He went over to this new website, CNNSI.com, and he needed original content. So he called some of the people he knew at the magazine and he asked us to write a column every week, just so they could have something other than the wire. I didn't know very much about the Internet at the time. I had just gotten an email address that year, but he asked me to do it. I did it and I'm glad I did.
HP: One of the defining characteristics of the column is your inclusion of personal details in addition to the football writing. Was this an intentional choice?
PK: One of the things that Steve told me early on is that they wanted the readers of CNNSI.com to sort of feel what our jobs were like. He told me, "If you go out to dinner with a general manager on Saturday night, I would like to read something about that. What was that like?"
I began including some notes about my daughters at the time, just because I think high school sports are really universal. Once my 14-year-old got into high school I started writing occasionally about things like field hockey or softball, and that got a little bit heavier as they had some success and they played some memorable games. Even though there were times that I wrote quite a bit about that, I was always cautious -- with one exception -- to make sure every week in the column to have far more football than anything else, because I knew that's what the majority of the people were reading my column for.
Really the exception to that rule was a week where my dog died and it was right in the middle of the playoffs in 2001. I was distraught. That was the one week where, in the history of the column, if I could have one over... even though that was a very memorable column and a lot of people still come up to me today and tell me that was a very touching column. That was the week where the Patriots and Raiders played the tuck-rule game. I would like to have at the very least written a column a little bit longer to cover some things that I didn't.
HP: Your book includes a Top 100 Players of All Time. Has any active player who barely missed the cut earned their way onto the list this season?
PK: The list is an esoteric list in some ways because one of the things that I wanted this book to be was my choice. I didn't just want to necessarily take the top 100 players and look at who's in the Hall of Fame. I wanted to make sure that somehow in some way I accounted for some of the guys who I think have been slightly overlooked by history. That's why I got Doug Flutie at #100. He hasn't been taken as seriously as I believe he should be. He is a six-time MVP winner in Canada who came to the NFL after his prime was over, and he still did some good things in the NFL.
I have Steve Tasker on the list because I think he is the best special teams player of all time. And because my feeling has always has been that we in the media -- and not just media but fans and everything -- over time have really underrated special teams and its impact on the game.
I would say that of all the guys who are close, the guy who I've had a lot of regrets over not putting on the list is Steve Hutchinson. He is a guard on the Vikings who I think should be in the discussion for the best guard of all time. Almost immediately when I did this list, I said I am probably underrating Steve Hutchinson. He's having a good year on offense. So if there was one guy it would probably be him.
HP: Where do you see the NFL labor negotiations heading and what will be the biggest sticking points?
PK: The fact that there has been no sign of any progress at all, if you listen to [NFL Players' Association executive director] Dee Smith, that would be discouraging to me. One of the things I don't hear anybody talking about that I think is the big problem is that when Dee Smith took over this job one of the things he said was that we are going to take retired players a lot more seriously, that the NFLPA needs to represent retired players better. In particular, obviously, the indigent ones. Leroy Kelly of the Cleveland Browns is a Hall of Fame player and his pension from the league is $176 a month.
I think that it's admirable that Dee Smith wants to include a lot of the players in need who are retired, but I still haven't heard an explanation from anybody about who is going to pay for this. This is not a $2-million-a-year Band-Aid. You can find $2 million in a league as successful as this one. The question is, can you find $50-75 million or whatever it's going to take to take care of so many of these players who are in need? This adds another layer to what is an incredibly difficult task, which is making peace in a sport which is obviously very successful. But it's obvious, too, that there are two very strong sides who feel that the other side doesn't understand their position very well.
HP: How damaging would a labor stoppage be in 2011 and how likely do you think one is?
PK: I would say more likely than unlikely. As far as how damaging it is, I look at the American public and I look at what has happened to my job over the years: I can't write enough football. I can't in all the various forms... SI, SI.com, Twitter, NBC, Sirius NFL radio, everywhere that I'm on. I'm dead serious -- if they could get more out of me or if there could be a three-hour NFL show on Sunday night on NBC, fans would want that. My column is 8,000 words; if it was 12,000 words people would read it. If the NFL didn't play for a year, some people would go away and be angry and say, "I am not going to support these millionaires anymore." I doubt it would last for very long, especially because the NFL basically hasn't had a work stoppage in a generation. If you haven't had a work stoppage in many of these fans' adult lifetimes, I am not sure that one work stoppage is going to make people not be fans anymore.
HP: It seems that there are more bad teams in the NFL this year than in the past. Do you think this is a fluke or might we be entering an era of greater talent disparity in the NFL?
PK: I think it is a fluke. But I also think that we could be entering an era where this lasts for a while. If it's an uncapped year next year, I think some of these teams -- Tampa Bay, St. Louis -- might choose to not spend a lot of money in free agency this off-season. Does that mean that they're going to be down a little bit or stay down for a while? I don't know that. I do think it's a fluke. I don't think there's any logical reason other than 5 new GMs this year decided basically to blow up their team. When that happens -- the Kansas City Chiefs from week 17 last year to week 1 have changed 30 of the 53 players on their roster -- when they do that, you're going to have an adjustment period. So I think it's more of a coincidence than anything else.
HP: Head trauma and dementia are an issue that has gotten a lot of attention as of late. How do you see it panning out?
PK: I think it's incumbent on the NFL and on the players to do everything they can to have an impartial panel of experts, some of whom Malcolm Gladwell found recently for a great piece in the New Yorker. I think it's very, very important that the NFL's investigation into head trauma and brain injuries to football players be a transparent process and that people can trust the results. The last thing the NFL wants to do is spend 2-3 years on a study and then have 2/3 of the people who read it say they don't trust it because it was funded by the NFL. I think it's important that whatever is done here be done so that at the end of the day, fans, media, medical people and players believe that it's a step in the right direction.
HP: Speaking of Malcolm Gladwell, he has predicted that the collective bargaining agreement will eventually allow players to bring lawsuits against the NFL. He believes this change could lead to "radically changed line-play, no-contact practices, and perhaps pre-screening of potential players for genetic susceptibility to dementia." Do you think the league is ultimately headed in this direction?
PK: I am not saying it could never happen, but I don't view there being a logical progression towards that because I think one of the things the NFL will always do in their collective bargaining agreements is they will protect the league's interest against that kind of lawsuit. But the one thing that I think is going to be very interesting in this collective bargaining agreement is -- in my opinion -- the league is going to have give up two or three things that I'm sure most owners feel like they would never give up.
But it's going to be a very contentious negotiation, so while it's not something that I see, would I be shocked at it someday? No, I wouldn't.
HP: What city is most likely to get an NFL team next?
PK: I'd say Los Angeles because they have a very hard-driving, won't-take-no-for-an-answer guy in Ed Roski. There's a pretty good deal in play now for a team there.
HP: What city is most likely to lose its team?
PK: I've gone around and around with this and I can make a credible argument for quite a few different cities, but I beg off the answer because I simply don't know. Logic would tell you that Jacksonville, which can't sell out any games, should move. Their owner, whose legacy in a lot of ways is tied to professional football in Jacksonville, I think would feel a tremendous sense of failure if he ever moved the team.
I might say St. Louis because they're trying to be sold right now, but the NFL badly wants to keep an anchored team in middle America. Even when the ownership change happens in Buffalo, I think it's more likely that the franchise, like Green Bay and Milwaukee once were, basically becomes a Buffalo/Toronto team. At the end of the day you can make an argument for a lot of these cities. You can make an argument for Oakland. I wouldn't know which one is more likely -- it would be an absolute guess on my part.
HP: How likely is the NFL to expand either the regular season or the playoff schedule in the next few years?
PK: Regular season is a total done deal. It will expand to 18 whenever there is a new CBA done. That ship has sailed. Even the purists in football have given up on trying to convince the NFL that 18 games and even 17 games is too many. And I have been very much against it because the level of injury now with 16 games -- can the human body take two more games that really count? And I think the NFL's argument that it's the same number of games, that we're just having more regular season and less preseason games and that's what the fans want -- well, I want vanilla ice cream for breakfast, but I don't eat it.
I don't think it's a smart idea. I think in time that it will be proven that whatever statistical evidence the NFL puts out there, it will be something that will really affect the quality of play in the postseason in the years to come because I just don't see many guys being themselves, because even if they play they would have to go out and play two more games. The human body is probably not meant to play the sport of football anyway, and to have to play more games with the speed and power that players possess right now, I just think is not looking at all the alternatives sensibly.
Below is an excerpt from Peter King's Sports Illustrated Monday Morning Quarterback: A Fully Caffeinated Guide to Everything You Need to Know About the NFL:
Kannapolis, N.C. - August 2008
I am in Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium in Kannapolis, about 40 minutes outside of Charlotte. Tomorrow I'm covering Panthers training camp. Tonight I'm with 178 of my closest friends, and a few crickets, watching South Atlantic League baseball. One of the joys of the job is training camp, and a couple of times a summer, relaxing with a few beers and crickets at a minor league game with the stands as empty as possible. I love it.
Bottom of the second. Strange coincidence: I'm on my second Coors Light. The phone rings. I look down and see it's Mike Tannenbaum, the New York Jets' general manager. We'd been talking over the past few days about Brett Favre, and the Jets really, really want Favre to be their quarterback now that he's openly discussing coming out of retirement to play somewhere in 2008. Now that the story's behind us, and Favre and the Jets had their one year together, I can say a few things about how the whole thing unfolded.
"Favre call you yet?" I say.
"No," he said. "Haven't heard from him."
And if something's going to happen, Tannenbaum says, it's got to happen now. It's just getting too late for a quarterback to learn the offense well enough to start opening day for a playoff contender.
Against my better judgment, because I don't give out anyone's cellphone number without permission, I give Tannenbaum Favre's number, and I tell him, "Text him. Don't call. He'll never pick up if he doesn't know the number." Tannenbaum's dying to make the Jets' case to Favre. And then I text Favre, telling him I gave Tannenbaum his number, and if he wants to talk to him, it's up to him. If he doesn't, don't answer the text and don't pick up the phone.
This is a Tuesday night, Aug. 5. That night, Tannenbaum and Favre talk quite late. Then Tannenbaum flies to southern Mississippi the next morning, meets Favre, and he makes a deal with the Packers on a trade for Favre, and flies back with Favre to New Jersey, and tours Favre around the area via helicopter, and then flies with Favre to Cleveland, where the Jets are playing a preseason game on Thursday night, Aug. 7.
Forty-six hours after Tannenbaum gets Favre's cellphone number, Favre walks into Cleveland Browns Stadium to join his new team.
"Pretty crazy couple of days," says Favre. Really?