Belated Chat with Charlie Pierce

After yesterday’s chat was interrupted, I managed to check in again with Charlie Pierce and arrange for him to answer several of the questions that were submitted for the chat.

Here’s the questions submitted by readers and the answers from Pierce:


From Craig: I read the book within two days of its arrival. Were you disappointed that the team didn’t achieve more success in 2005, as you were juxtaposing Brady’s life with the current season?

CPierce: Craig –
I’ll be honest. If they had won the Super Bowl, that would have been me behind Brady on the podium, waving the Lombardi over my head. And my agent and my editor at FSG would have been right behind me. However, I think the year worked out well because he did have to face more adversity, personal and professional, than he did in other years. I might be making lemonade out of lemons here, but I’m happy with what I got.

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From Eric: Charlie – Some local scribes use the “difficulty” in getting access to the Patriots’ inner thoughts as an excuse to essentially give up and fill column inches with same old same old, or jabs at the team for lack of access.. What sort of obstacles, if any, did you face, both from the Patriots, and your writing brethren.

CPierce: Eric –
I had the same access that any beat guy would have, which convinced me that I wouldn’t want to do that for a living. If you, as a fan, want information, then it matters to you that, when the locker room opens up for daily access, there are only two or three guys there, often the same ones, day after day. Now, let’s be fair, access to every professional sports team — and, increasingly, to the major college programs — steadily has been shrinking over the past decade or so, The major events are hopeless now, and that’s creeping down into the regular season, too. That said, the Patriots are notoriously tougher than most teams. (This isn’t me talking. It’s a general opinion throughout the NFL.) There are moments in which they go beyond merely being tough and become positively unhelpful. It will be interesting to see if this continues if and when the team goes through another rough patch.

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From Greg: Charlie, how would you compare the level of repartee of an episode of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” to an episode of “The Big Show”?

CPierce: Greg –
Many people have remarked on the similarities.
Although I don’t think Madeleine Albright’s been on The Big Show yet.

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From Craig: Charlie, a few questions. Is Brady’s image the same as Brady’s reality? I may be the guy’s biggest fan but I almost find it too good to be true that he’s so squeaky-clean, family-oriented and deferential. Also, could you speak about Brady’s relationship with Bledsoe and Henson? He was caught in two pretty big firestorms there but seemed to come out without looking bad at any point.

CPierce: Craig –
I think he’s a pretty normal 20-something as regards his life off the field. His sister as much as told me that. What got him through the Michigan situation was the support crew he’d put together for himself, and the fact that he was pretty much the consensus choice within in the locker room. At which point, he determined quite consciously that he would not blow up the team, even though he was angry enough that, were he so inclined, he could do it. That cemented his stature with the coaching staff, which really was in a tough spot, and with his teammates. That situation enabled him to get through the Bledsoe period the way he did, although everyone involved says the unsung hero of that whole deal was Damon Huard, who selflessly acted as ambassador between Bledsoe and Brady, and between each of them and the staff, He’s got a native shrewdness about the dynamics of how groups of people operate together, which is part of the reason why political consultants get all humid about him.

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From Dow: Hi Charlie, not to reach too far back or get too far off subject, but when was your last contact with Tiger and what was it like?

CPierce: Dow — Tiger who?
Seriously, we have had no contact since the day I spent with him for the GQ piece in 1997. His father once said that he hoped my story wouldn’t wreck his son’s career. I feel confident in saying that it didn’t.

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From Dave: Charlie – First – thanks for chatting at our site. Very kind of you. . . The book’s fantastic – just a real pleasure to read.

I’m wondering: Did anyone of merit have any disparaging words to say about Tom Terrific? Can he really, truly be this universally loved?

CPierce: Dave — He really has managed to go through life without making any genuine enemies that I can find. He’s tougher on himself than anyone is on him, although Greg Hardin, his athletic counselor at Michigan, was pretty tough on him when he seemed to be letting the situation there get him down.

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From Bob in NH: Charlie – Taking off your media hat for a moment. As a fan, do you find the coverage of the Patriots to be done without malice or agenda? Yes, I’m referring to Borges in particular, but can you at least see how a fan would rather not have to know that a certain writer hates his subject matter?

Also, what is your take on sportswriters seemingly taking every single chance to make extra money by appearing on radio and television. Although you certainly have exercised that right personally, I see your financial gains primarily coming from your expertise (writing books and articles) rather than Sports Final, Sports Extra, Fox Sports New England, NESN, NECN, CN8, blah, blah, blah.

CPierce: Bob — Second part first.
Synergy across the media is part of the deal these days. Newspapers expect their sportswriters to do the multimedia shuffle on the grounds that “visibility” helps the paper. I’ve never seen any data that prove this, but the people who run things seem to believe it. I have a couple of radio gigs — Only A Game and Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, both on NPR — that I do because I enjoy them a great deal. (And for the money. Thanks to everyone who buys the tote bags!) What I tell anyone who asks is to remember that radio and TV are a different skill set, and one that’s foreign to a lot of writers. People who do it should take the time to study and to learn the skills needed to succeed in the different media. Just throwing a writer in front of a microphone or a camera does a disservice to the writer, and to the consumer.

As to the first, I actually do see the newspaper coverage of the team to be done without malice, as I understand the word. As to “agenda,” well, that’s a word that gets tossed around pretty loosely. The line between opinion and reporting has gotten far too blurred for my boring old self, at least in part because of the phenomenon we discussed above. If you do a regular sports-radio show, the medium demands that you express an opinion more freely — and, I would argue, more crudely — than you would in the newspaper. So, when you go back to being just a by-line, it’s hard for the listener/reader to separate your print persona from your broadcast one.
That’s part of the bargain you make when you do those shows. Are their writers who dislike the people they cover? I assume there are. (I once was in the media room at a political dinner for a recent presidential campaign and one of the candidates got booed by the assembled reporters. For what it’s worth, this would get them all tossed from the press box at Fenway.) By and large, though, I see very little evidence that the daily news coverage is affected by it.

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From Scott: Charlie – Since you know Brady a little now, what does you see as you’re watching him play the last couple of weeks?

CPierce: A couple of things, actually.
1) I’m seeing a guy playing for the second season behind a jury-rigged offensive line. I’m not entirely sure Dan Koppen’s all the way back. The rest of the guys are dinged up, and he’s got a rookie running back trying to learn to pick up blitzes — which Maroney’s done pretty well, actually. So I think maybe he’s just a little bit more concerned about his blind side than he was a couple of years ago, especially since, as I describe in the book, he played last season more injured than we thought he was. 2) The offensive scheme seems oddly unsure what to do with the Treasure of Sierra Madre there at running back. I think Maroney’s good enough to make this team a run-first offense and less of a West Coast hybrid than it’s been. In addition, it really does take a while with a whole new receiving corps, but that explanation runs out of steam at the halfway point.

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From Mike: Everyone talks about Weis leaving, but fails to mention QB coach Hufnagel leaving as well the same offseason.
Brady thrives (lead in yardage last year) despite the upheaval on the coaching staff. McDaniels is still learning on the job and the new QB coach has very little experience. Does Brady look at Peyton Manning’s relationship with Tom Moore and bum out he doesn’t have that experienced veteran in his headset during games and in meetings during the week?

CPierce: Mike — Given the turmoil that’s surrounded him as regards his coaches ever since he left high school, I think Brady’s better equipped to handle this situation than most young quarterbacks would have been. Remember — both the coordinator and the head coach who’d recruited him at Michigan were gone before he even enrolled, and then there was the extended burlesque with Brian Griese and Drew Henson, where Lloyd Carr was handed a bad situation and handled it badly. At New England, he had Dick Rehbein, his most fervent original advocate, die suddenly. Now Weis is gone, and Josh McDaniels is there. Would he have liked a relationship like Peyton has in Indy with Moore? Probably. But his whole career has been an extended exercise in the opposite direction.