An Interview with Adam Lazarus
Adam Lazarus: Interviewed on September 20, 2011
Position: Author, Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report
Born: 1982, Cleveland
Education: Kenyon College, 2004 BA in English; Carnegie Mellon, 2006, Masters in Professional Writing
Career: “After finishing my first book, Chasing Greatness
, I freelanced for Atlanta Journal Constitution in 2009 then moved on to Bleacher Report in 2010.”
Personal: “Husband to my lovely wife Sarah and father to our boxer Hannah.”
Favorite restaurant (home): Greenwoods, Roswell, GA. “They specialize in Southern cooking so it was a different type of food than I wasn’t used to when we moved here in 2009. But my wife and in-laws have been going there for years and when they took me I realized what they were always raving about. It’s delicious: I love their meatloaf. Best of all, the portions are ridiculously huge.”
Favorite restaurant (away): Abay, Pittsburgh, PA. “Abay is an Ethiopian restaurant in Shadyside that my wife and I went to for many of our early dates, so there is naturally a sentimental place in my heart for it. I am usually very picky about any food that doesn’t come via the Drive-Thru, but Abay has so many different flavors and such a unique feel that I love it. Plus you are actually encouraged to eat everything with your hands so that was an added bonus.”
Favorite hotel: Renaissance Waverly, Atlanta, GA. “I don’t stay in many hotels, but since my wife and I were married at the Waverly and all of our family and friends shared the day with us there, it’s my favorite.”
Author of: Super Bowl Monday: The New York Giants, The Buffalo Bills, and Super Bowl XXV, (2011): Chasing Greatness: Johnny Miller, Arnold Palmer, and the Miracle at Oakmont, (2010).
Q. Why “Super Bowl Monday
” – what drew you to the subject?
A. Super Bowl Monday: That was arguably the greatest Super Bowl ever played—closest final score, four lead-changes, came down to the last second—but the cloud of the first Persian Gulf War hanging over the game made it such a poignant moment for Americans as well as the soldiers and sailors carrying out Operation Desert Storm.
And considering how many NFL legends were competing that day in front of the “Silver Anniversary team”—an All-Time Super Bowl lineup featuring Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Mean Joe Greene, Mike Singletary, etc was voted on by the fans and honored on the field before the game—it was a great way to celebrate 25 years of the Super Bowl.
I also wanted to retell the story of that entire Super Bowl. Most casual fans remember Scott Norwood’s “Wide Right,” but to boil that game and those to teams down to the outcome of a single play really does neither one justice. It belittles the Giants victory to think that Norwood’s miss “gave them” the game, it ruins the Bills magical season to paint him solely as responsible for the loss, and it diminishes an incredible contest that was so hard fought and so competitive from the first play to the last. But more than anything it’s an unfair burden for Norwood and the Bills franchise to carry. Perhaps the noblest moment in the book isn’t the Giants win or Thurman Thomas’ fourth quarter touchdown: it’s how Norwood and his teammates responded to the missed kick immediately after the game.
Q. How did you research it?
A. I did interviews with the game’s stars and key personnel like Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Jim Kelly, Marv Levy, Bruce Smith, Jeff Hostetler, and many more, but I also relied heavily on newspaper archives from that era. I read hundreds of New York Times, Newsday, Buffalo News, Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, etc. articles. That was a great way to pinpoint specifics that occasionally fade over the years: two decades is a long time.
In some cases, the 1991 version of Jeff Hostetler or Bruce Smith had a better perspective on something than the 2010 version. By using their quotes from that time period instead of today, I was able to tell the story of a play or a game more thoroughly. I also collected tons of resources from the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the NFL Films offices. Both of those trips to Canton and Mt. Laurel unearthed great treasures that I would not have found in the newspapers or even with interviews.
Q. What is the narrative structure you chose and why?
A. I wanted to do a great deal of background work on the game’s key people (Hostetler, Kelly, Ottis Anderson, Parcells, etc) so there are many places where I pull back and include biography. That means the book isn’t completely chronological from page 1 to page 300. But I thought this was the best way to build up the characters so that by the time the reader does get to Super Bowl XXV in the middle chapters, they know what got the players there and how – ironically – many of their paths had crossed before.
Along the same lines, there are some places where I do “Super Bowl Flashbacks.” Not only was that the 25th anniversary Super Bowl and many of the game’s past heroes were honored, but in the Giants-Bills game, there are three very unique moments of Super Bowl déjà vu and I point those out at key moments in the book. The best example is Scott Norwood’s kick at the end of Super Bowl XXV paralleling Jim O’Brien’s kick at the end of Super Bowl V. Obviously those two field goal attempts had different outcomes, but they made for a nice juxtaposition. The other two “flashbacks” are much more subtle but no less intriguing and I did more than simply point out the parallel. In the case of the O’Brien/Norwood parallel, I went back and spoke to O’Brien and some of his teammates in Super Bowl V to recreate the moment and how that one kick changed his life.
Q. Biggest challenge on a reporting/writing level?
A. Collecting the interviews with the key people was challenging and in some cases a long struggle. But it was certainly worth it in terms of adding “behind the scenes” material. Bill Parcells was probably the best example of this. I chased after him for a long time but when I finally spoke with him, he shared so much detail that it really made the book richer. As important as the newspaper research was—collecting quotes from the moment or specific details that have been lost in memory over time—the only way I learned what Parcells or Jeff Hostetler or Darryl Talley was thinking that day was by talking directly with them.
Q. Biggest challenge on a personal level?
A. The Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm is one of the key elements of the book and where the book’s title is derived from: to the soldiers and sailors watching the game in the Gulf, it was already Monday morning, not Sunday night when the Bills and Giants kicked off. So I wanted to tell that part of the story. Not only because of the patriotism on display that day in Tampa – Whitney Houston’s national anthem – but because there were a few players with family members serving and there was a great deal of uneasiness in the nation at that time.
So I chose to give a timeline of the war and told a few stories about soldiers and sailors watching the game – there’s a great picture in the book of a handful of soldiers watching the television, one with a machine gun strapped across his back – and included their feelings about whether or not the game should be played and what it meant to them.
But I struggled with not going too far down that road. For one, this is intended to be a sports book and Jim Kelly, Jeff Hostetler, Thurman Thomas, etc, are the book’s stars. Furthermore, I didn’t want to trivialize the situation and suggest that the Super Bowl was some sort of cure-all for the painful time that so many American were going through—for some it was not a “welcomed distraction”.
And finally I am not a military historian nor am I a veteran so I didn’t want to write a “War Book” when I don’t have that type of expertise. Finding the right balance was difficult, but I believe I achieved it.
Q. How do you envision your career going forward?
A. My agent just sold my next book—another 1980s/1990s NFL story—to Da Capo and it will come out in September 2012, so that’s the next step. I’d ultimately like to get to the point where I can churn out a new sports biography or narrative every few years, while also writing thoughtful in-depth profiles on today’s sporting landscape. I tend to think of myself more as a sports – true – storyteller rather than a reporter or columnist or writer. There’s always drama and intrigue and suspense in the sports world and I try to go out and find it.
Q. Tell us about your work with Bleacher Report and its role in your career.
A. Bleacher Report is a wonderful platform and not just because it helps develop new writers, something that the more conventional outlets don’t really do. Mostly, it has really helped me hone more opinions on the world or sports. Sometimes it’s great to “report” on events or issues in the NFL or Major League Baseball, but to actually voice an opinion about what your seeing was something I didn’t have many opportunities to do prior to Bleacher Report. People who have been watching sports all their lives, like the people at Bleacher Report, are not only entitled to opinions about what they see, but they are justified in expressing them: they/we know a lot about the games and usually offer unique and enlightened views.
Q. Why do mainstream sports media dump on Bleacher Report and why shouldn’t it?
A. Well, I think there is much less criticism now than there used to be–Bleacher Report has been great at adapting and improving constantly. And the best example of that is that they no longer have an “open door policy.” Not just anyone can write for Bleacher Report anymore and that’s helped really increase the quality across the board. But I think part of the criticism was the fact that Bleacher Report writers don’t have the same level of access as mainstream outlets so the viewpoint was seen as a bit distant and therefore less valued. In some cases I understood that, but just because you aren’t in the press box or the locker room doesn’t mean your viewpoint is worthless. I think Bleacher Report’s main goal is to speak more as a voice for the fans (hence the name) and that can be achieved by watching the games on TV or keeping in line with the newspapers/internet/TV.
Q. How does your Bleacher Report work dovetail with your authorship of books, if at all?
A. You know to be honest, they don’t really dove tail at all, and that’s a good thing in my opinion. When I’m writing for Bleacher Report it’s almost always about today’s NFL. My books–this Super Bowl XXV one and my next one, which centers on the 49ers dynasty–are about the past. I love both today’s NFL and the “historical” NFL equally so I get to work in both on a weekly basis. And my books are always about storytelling and building up a story, developing the characters–even though they are non-fiction that’s essential.
Bleacher Report is a different type of style, more about informing the reader about what’s going on in the sports world and offering commentary on that.
(SMG thanks Adam Lazarus for his cooperation)