Austin Murphy edited transcript
[00:00:01.870] - Austin Murphy
Hey, Austin, welcome to the show.
[00:00:05.870] - Todd Jones
[00:00:06.490] - Austin Murphy
You know what, Austin? We're both former sports writers. I like to think of myself as a recovering sports writer. You're now covering news for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. And after a stint at Amazon, which you wrote about. And we're going to get into a little later. But for this show, we're going to drag you back into your sports riding life. You're like Pacino and The Godfather Three. Just as soon as you thought you were out, we're pulling you back in.
[00:00:44.220] - Todd Jones
Pull me back in.
[00:00:46.120] - Austin Murphy
So we're going to talk about 33 years of Sports Illustrated from 1984 to 2017. I think about when we first met. You probably don't remember, but it was 1991. I was working in Cincinnati, and you came to town to write about Carl Pickens, the Bengals wide receiver.
[00:01:14.890] - Todd Jones
I had written about him when he was at Tennessee with Phil Folmer, and he was not a happy camper there. I think Carl had gone out as a junior, which was less common back then, but he was a Moody and surly person, I don't mind saying an amazing athlete and a great receiver. But I wasn't bashful about capturing. He just wasn't a cheerful person. And he had been a bit of a problem for Coach Fulmer. And the headline was the problem. The headline of the story was and I didn't write the headline. It was the Dude with the Tude. So when I saw Carl a couple of years later, he turned on me in the locker room of the Bengals and gave me an earful. We'll leave it that way. And I said, Carl, I understand you might be upset, but the rumor that I only wrote the smaller words in the body of the story, an editor writes the captions and the headlines, and he wasn't having it. And I don't know, for the purposes of our partner.
[00:02:41.230] - Austin Murphy
Well, he wasn't having it with any of us, the writers in Cincinnati, that's for sure. I do remember Carl. He would give me a look sometimes and I would literally turn into a pillar of salt.
[00:02:55.670] - Todd Jones
[00:02:56.260] - Austin Murphy
Like, you know, Dude with a Tude. He was a hell of a player. And not everybody wants to deal with the media. That's fine. You get all kinds. So we both shared the antipathy of Carl Pickens. But I will say this, Austin, your pain was sued by a much more glamorous side of being a Sports Illustrated writer. Senior writer. I'm thinking about 1999 at Necker Island, owned by Sir Richard Branson. The dude owned an island, and you got sent down there on the type of assignment that I never got. Tell us about that.
[00:03:33.450] - Todd Jones
Well, the Si swimsuit issue, I'm not sure how well it's aging. And again, nowadays they're trying very hard with each issue to be topical, to capture and good on them. But as someone had pointed out, the pose has never changed. It's a woman who has misplaced the top of her bathing suit or is having trouble getting it to stay up. And so the hands are in a position. And you'd think that maybe we would figure out a different or new pose. But no, that's a go to anyway.
[00:05:30.190] - Austin Murphy
they sent you to the Virgin Islands and you're treading water in a pole discussing the follow the Berlin Wall with German supermodel Heidi Klum.
[00:05:42.290] - Todd Jones
Yeah. She was from a part of Germany, and she was lecturing me on my loose grasp of the geography of east and West Germany. And I was embarrassed. But, yeah, I took the job seriously. This was the first body painting issue. They got into it in a big way. And I think they're still doing body painting. But my job was to talk to the artist Joanne Gere, an eccentric but very talented New Zealander, about how you paint humans, how you avoid the paint from the humidity, from running or dripping, and how you capture puckering and very simplitude. So I was taking it seriously, and that was really the only way to do it. Otherwise, you're a major creep. You're there in the room while they're being painted. After a while, I sort of just got the models to agree. We would all think of the pain as a layer of clothing, and then everyone was more comfortable, and it was a surreal.
[00:06:51.670] - Austin Murphy
Yeah. Surreal is the right word. I mean, you're right. That stuff hasn't aged well. It's a bit cringeworthy now. Do you have a favorite expense account story?
[00:07:22.890] - Todd Jones
Well, let's think. It was early in the basketball season and there was the Great Alaska Shootout. And there was also the Maui Invitational. So someone said, wouldn't it be interesting if we sent Austin to Maui to get the first couple of games of that tournament and then to Anchorage to get the tail end of the Great Alaska Shootout? There were no direct flights from Hawaii to Alaska back then, so I had to go back to San Francisco. I sat behind I mean, it probably was 20 years ago. And I still remember this is one of the worst this happens. The passenger in front of me on the SFO to Alaska flight was terribly excellent in a subtle and inoffensive way.
[00:08:23.980] - Austin Murphy
Wait a minute. How did you refer.
[00:08:28.150] - Todd Jones
It was a travelog story, but I remember I had issues with my life.
[00:08:34.740] - Austin Murphy
[00:08:38.930] - Todd Jones
They were unrelated. There was no causality there, but. Well, actually, now, who knows? But I remember going into a store, some kind of old fashioned stationery store and buying a typewriter for $150 or so dollars just so that I Typed out the story and sort of mimeographed it or faxed it back to the office. Whatever, Flint. Yeah. And it wasn't even a thought that I was going to do that another time. And there were trips to Europe for the World League.
[00:09:16.350] - Austin Murphy
Right. Did you end up like in a beer hall at Gino Touretta or something?
[00:09:21.090] - Todd Jones
Sure. Yeah. And I was proud. Gino was super hospitable. And he was kind in a way that he hadn't been when he was at Miami, because I guess we'd been a little mean to him. But I remember going down to Tampa Bay to do a story on Warren SAP, whose star has fallen, sadly. But he was a I think they were about to go up to Green Bay, and he had a great rival with Brett Farve. But Warren tended to go rogue. He would say anything. So Reggie Stanley, the PR guy, was very worried. I said, we're doing this feature. And he said, okay, you're going to sit in this conference room.
[00:10:00.630] - Austin Murphy
You're not leaving.
[00:10:02.910] - Todd Jones
He said, I know USI people like to get them out. This is the days of Mike Silver. And Mike would lead with we would take bets on what the cocktail would be, that Leroy Butler was drinking at the bar two nights before the game, that Mike would go within his lead. But Warren and I sat in this sort of hermetically sealed room and Reggie was outside and we started talking. And after a while, Warren said, what are you doing after practice? So he said, well, just meet me in the parking lot. We ended up driving from Tampa to Orlando. He got us tickets to a Magic game. So there were some good scenes there as Warren. This was during the season, mind you. We ended up in a gentleman's club. I don't know that I wrote about that, but I was quite away from home.
[00:11:04.160] - Austin Murphy
Not in Kansas anymore.
[00:11:07.270] - Todd Jones
No. I was a long way from my own rental car and hotel room and just had the cab back. And I remember the taxi. That cab was also in the neighborhood. $150. And I submitted.
[00:11:20.590] - Austin Murphy
Oh, yeah, $150. Cambridge. Sure.
[00:11:24.910] - Todd Jones
Yeah. The guy had to break it up. He had to make two charges on the Amex. But, yeah. Expense account abuse.
[00:11:33.770] - Austin Murphy
And we wonder why the business has crashed.
[00:11:36.610] - Todd Jones
Right. I think. Was it Jenkins? Dan Jenkins had got a ride to the airport. It was in Columbus. He was doing Ohio State. And so someone gave a ride to his airport. So he tossed his rental car keys to whoever the Sid was in the 70s have one of the students dropped this off at Hertz or at the airport while those keys went into the drawer and were forgotten. And soon, eventually, the bill showed up at Sports Illustrated. It was in the thousands. They probably had stolen the car.
[00:12:17.050] - Austin Murphy
You know, it's another salad, right? I do remember a guy, I was in Cleveland once doing the playoffs, and they had looked like Sodom and Gomorrah at this party. And there's just food and drinks and this is ridiculous. And this writer, I didn't know he had a drink in each hand. And he looked at me and he said, the only thing this place needs is a bowl full of receipts.
[00:12:46.610] - Todd Jones
That was quite a grift. Sorry.
[00:12:51.930] - Austin Murphy
Hey, all joking aside, you wrote a little bit of everything in 33 years and wrote it as well as anybody. And you did thousands of articles. I think you did something like 140 cover stories. You wrote six books. You interviewed presidents Bono, Brad Pitt. You did all these major events. When you really think about it and you look back on it, it was a different life. What comes to mind.
[00:13:25.330] - Todd Jones
When I got the call when the Turk came around and said, Coach wants to talk to you, bring your playbook. That was 2017. And I had been surviving rounds of layoffs for over a decade by that point. For the previous couple of years, I sort of had not a resignation, but the knowledge that this was not I was not going to make it. It was going to be close, but I was not going to make it to retirement age at Time Incorporated. And so I just had my own little goodbye tour where I would ask for a Sharks assignment because the Oilers were coming down and I wanted to see this kid, Connor McDavid. The last couple of seasons of NFL assignments. I don't know. There was a wistfulness because I was like, I was lucky. I was really fortunate. My timing was great. And so when the managing editor called and it was clear he was struggling to get it out. He said, you know why I'm calling. I said, of course I know why you're calling. I'm so sorry. He was so much more upset about it than I was. I was consoling him and telling him not to worry about it.
[00:14:56.130] - Todd Jones
And my tweet out to the universe was that it had been a hell of a run and it was. And someone down in the mentions or whatever was talked about was critical. What is it with these people in the Stockholm Syndrome, and they just were missing it? We're deeply fortunate to sort of find the work that we were put on the planet to do and especially at a place like Sports Illustrated. To your point, you went down the list and I was no Riles or Dan Jenkins. I was a foot soldier. I appreciated who we had. But it was as my son said afterward, he goes, dad, my son was a pilot, and he's like, you were the captain of a 747 for a long time. You were up there. you had like ten Super Bowls, twelve College football Championship games, eight Olympics, Tour de France, eight times, four Stanley Cup finals. When you think about all those events and the places and the people, that's what I'm curious about. Like, certain people come to mind certain times, certain stories who leaps to your forefront
[00:17:36.390] - Todd Jones
In 1984, I got hired as a reporter, which essentially is Deford files his Frank DA Ford will file his long form story, his 4000 word piece. And the reporters there are really fact checkers. Go through the story and get all the property and make sure everything's spelled correctly. Talk to the sources, make sure we got the anecdotes right. It's a luxury that a lot of publications can't afford anymore. Occasionally you'd be given writing opportunities yourself. As a reporter. And if you did okay, you could gradually get more writing assignments and move up the math. Well, my big break out of the fact checking bullpen was I got called down the hall one day by Mark Mulvoy, then managing editor and former NHL beat writer. He's a guy from Boston, and he said, Murphy, what do you know about hockey? And I lied. I lied to it.
[00:18:46.400] - Austin Murphy
What did you say?
[00:18:47.570] - Todd Jones
Essentially, for the next I was like, hey, red lines, blue lines. Ask me anything off site. I see. Long story short, I essentially ended up commuting to Edmonton, Alberta, for the next three years, the Oilers were in their dynasty. And Wayne Gretzky, who was about, I think, a month and a half apart in age, he took his job as an ambassador for the sport really seriously, and he never put his arm around my shoulders. But those guys in the hockey locker rooms understood that if they wanted to grow their sport so you could go up to them after the game and say, what did I just say? I'm sorry when you say they would help. Anyway, it was a privilege that I couldn't really get my head around at that age in my 20s and not even 25. Yeah.
[00:19:58.620] - Austin Murphy
Who can? Nobody has perspective at 25, right?
[00:20:01.350] - Todd Jones
Yeah. I had this experience, as you did, throughout the career, the one that I'm probably most conflicted about and the one that's the most bittersweet was that. So hockey was a difficult currency to earn. But once I understood it and could write it, Michael Farber came to the magazine, and that guy's a hall of Fame writer, and nobody on the planet could write hockey like Michael, but he couldn't do all the hockey stories. So every spring I get thrown.
[00:20:36.690] - Austin Murphy
Hey, somebody's got to play bass guitar, right? I'll do that.
[00:20:41.270] - Todd Jones
Right. Come on, man. I'm shaking Morocco behind Barber. So that was a pleasure. Anyway, another really difficult currency to earn was road racing bicycling. But I was the reporter in the bullpen who had a road bike and was kind of passionate about it. And so I was the guy who in 1995, I covered my first Tour de France. I think Alex Wolfe was busy that July. This was back when Time magazine, we had a Paris correspondent who would go to the Tour de France. The course reveal this was in October before the race. And they would show it was very dramatic. And the riders, the top riders will be there, and they'd say, and then we're going to the Alt Duez. And from there, we'll go into the Massif Central to Leon, and they would announce all the stages. And so this correspondent from Time magazine, Time magazine, put her up in Paris. She would then book hotels at all these mountain villages so that our travel was taken care of. All you had to do was get your certificate.
[00:22:01.590] - Austin Murphy
She was like the aide de camp. Right. She had it all booked out for you.
[00:22:05.470] - Todd Jones
Catch up with the race. This privilege went away. But anyway, so I'm over in Paris and young Lance Armstrong, the first day I got there, he ends up in a he gets in a breakaway with a couple of other riders, and then he and a Ukrainian named Alchikov, they drop everybody else and young Lance is going to drop the hammer on this Ukrainian. And the guy just works him. He's like he gets behind Lance. He rides in land slipstream. And then 100 meters from the line, he pulls out and beats him in the sprint. And so I'm over at the team car and 20 odd year old Lance Armstrong is just dropping F bombs everywhere. I think it was a Motorola team car. They didn't have a bus back then. And he calmed down and he eventually won a stage. He had a teammate who was killed about a week later.
[00:22:59.690] - Austin Murphy
Fabio cassettei in an accident during the race. Pardon my next. Wow.
[00:23:04.720] - Todd Jones
Yes. He crashed and hit headfirst into sort of a concrete pylon and passed on the helicopter. And Lance won a stage later in that race and dedicated it to him. And Lance didn't win that Tour, but he was my lead.
[00:23:27.590] - Austin Murphy
Did you guys hit it off because of your love for biking?
[00:23:32.850] - Todd Jones
Yeah. Lance was highly interested in any attention that sports illustrator was paying to him. He lived in Austin. My name was Austin. There was a lot of serendipity. He was an easy guy to get along with. I haven't seen his more cut throat side. Then he got sick and came back and started winning Tours. Well, Kelly Anderson covered some tours, and then I was our guy as he sort of finished his career. They'd send me over to Fred.
[00:24:08.190] - Austin Murphy
Yes. You had a front row. It was seat for his whole reign.
[00:24:11.630] - Todd Jones
Yeah, right. And I was kind of a translator of this odd European sport to our mainstream US audience. The race would still be going on. So on Saturday night, he'd win the time trial. The race would be in the bag. The next day stage would be ceremonial promenade in Paris. They do the Champslise, but nobody pulls ahead on that Sunday. So Lance, he'd have me up in the hotel room sometimes. Riley was there because Riley was doing a column. Of course he was there. And Lance would sort of let his guard down and just give you a bunch of great material and make it much easier to write that cover story. Then, of course, he'd also be on the cover. So it was a favorable arrangement. Years passed. He retired. There was some depositions that came out Betsy, Andrea that made things uncomfortable. And a few years later, I had to write some stories and ask Lance uncomfortable questions. And that was sort of the end of our more chummy relationship. And the lesson was it should never have been chunky to begin with. But as I said, I was proud of the game stories that I wrote from those tours.
[00:25:47.900] - Todd Jones
But all that time, like a lot of other writers, like most, otherwise, I was missing the real battle that was going on under the surface, which was the doping.
[00:25:57.970] - Austin Murphy
Did you suspect it during that time, really the chummy time, as you say?
[00:26:02.270] - Todd Jones
Yeah, there were a couple there was a book out there was an Irish writer, David Walsh, who was very determined. Betsy was out there in the wilderness. Betsy, Andrea, there were a couple of people. I was convinced that a guy who had been as sick as he was, I was convinced because he told us this would not have risked his health that way with EPO or whatever else they were putting in their bodies. That was super naive and incorrect. It was convincing. It doesn't seem convincing now. Back then, it seemed pretty convincing that he was tested frequently. I don't know if he was the most tested athlete on the planet, as he said, but he never went positive, except for the time we found out later that he had gone positive.
[00:27:06.850] - Austin Murphy
That's interesting, because there's that fine line, right? You get access. You're in his room getting access to make your stories better. And you have to keep this a working relationship.
[00:28:01.410] - Todd Jones
My wife would then what would make fun of me for only having one friend in our hometown or maybe a couple of guys that I was friends with? And I would say, actually, when I go on the road, you'd be surprised. Like when I walk into a practice facility or a Press box, I'm like, you can't see it, but I've got friends all over the country that you haven't met. And I would say that your relationships with the athletes and the coaches and the older I got, the coaches, like, there came a time when you were the age of the coaches and you could talk kids, you could talk child raising. You could talk about how the job kept you away from them. And that right.
[00:28:59.320] - Austin Murphy
Something relatable. Right.
[00:29:00.880] - Todd Jones
But something relatable that then you could sort of transition back to the subject at hand and they'd maybe give you a little more. But to your point, it was almost a social thing. And so, yeah, it could be a little harder to write hard truths right about it.
[00:29:23.500] - Austin Murphy
You mentioned football. When you look back, you did both the NFL and College football for many years. was there two distinct worlds for you, or did you find commonality that fit your storytelling?
[00:30:05.350] - Todd Jones
Football broke my heart. Oh, gosh. I was a high school tight end, and there was a 1200 kids in my graduating class, and I was supposed to start as a senior. I got mono in August, so I missed this fall camp. Like, the team went up to PerCom and prep and bonded. And next thing I know, I'm a second string, tied in. So I was disappointed and played two years at Colgate. Didn't really get on the field. Had a lot of really good Championship teams. And I thought, all right, well, that didn't go so well. But as soon as I quit football, after two years at Colgate, the world opened up. I ended up playing rugby. And then somebody said, hey, why don't you write? Because we had some pretty wild weekends with the rugby team. So I wrote some body first person dispatches for the Maroon.
[00:31:06.690] - Austin Murphy
[00:31:09.290] - Todd Jones
And ended up as a sports writer of the newspaper and got good feedback on the writing. I was like, all right, well, maybe this is something that I'm good at. So that was my career. And I thought, all right, well, football served its purpose, but I'm certainly finished with folks.
[00:31:28.130] - Austin Murphy
What do you mean that broke your heart?
[00:31:32.510] - Todd Jones
Oh, my God, I'll be 61 next month and I still dream of being on the field and what might have been if I hadn't quit. Okay, I'm like, I'm near the sideline, I'm going up. Can I make a one handed catch here? But speaking of Carl Pickens, it was always easy. And I always liked stories on receivers because I felt like, I don't know, I appreciate what they could do. I was in awe of what they could do. To your point, pull me back in football pulled me back in and was my bread and butter. Like, we talked hockey, we talked cycling, football paid my mortgage for decades, whether it was College or pro. Toward the end. Right around the time, actually, that, oh, gosh, that I was realizing that the jig was going to be up soon. My then editor, Adam Durson, had me do a story on what would happen. This is around the time it was after concussion came out. There were a lot of conversations about the NFL was figuring out how to maybe change tackling or easier practices.
[00:33:01.930] - Austin Murphy
Yes, the future of football was being debated. I mean, President Obama was talking about.
[00:33:08.530] - Todd Jones
Right? So they just said, hey, write about what happens if football goes away. What does it look like? Is there a different way to can they play the game differently? Can they play a flag? And that was kind of one of my last stories, and I guess I sort of by then had broken up with football. I liked covering the NFL because even though I wrote a book, Saturday Rules, great read. Sort of extolled. Thank you. Why the College game is so much more colorful and lively and this vast array of offenses and traditions and the marching.
[00:33:49.790] - Austin Murphy
The peasantry, everything, right. That's what makes College football so special.
[00:33:53.220] - Todd Jones
Still make that argument. But when I was our lead College football writer on the NFL, I was either backing up Silver or then I was backing up Greg Bishop. Like Bishop, those guys would get or telling her they would write the Super Bowl game story. But I was free to sort of roam around the edges and find stories that weren't told as often. So I would I was like, who are these guys running down onto puns and getting mugged? So I did a whole story on what it's like to go through your career. You don't carry a clipboard, really. I think it was a notebook or Microsoft notebook by the end. So I got to encounters what's going on in the kicking game with the kicks.
[00:34:58.450] - Austin Murphy
I got to think that the players, the punters, the Gunners, the backup quarterbacks, they had to be glad to talk. They never get any attention.
[00:35:08.170] - Todd Jones
Right? There would be this sort of like, wait a minute, the double take. Like you're asking me, you're requesting time with me. Anyway, it was ground that hadn't been tilled as exhaustively as the rest. So that was sort of where I ended up finishing up. And then my last story for the magazine was I went out to Hawaii and wrote about a high school football team. And in the end, I sort of was drawn to stories that just hadn't been so exhaustively covered.
[00:35:44.120] - Austin Murphy
What did you like about the NFL in general? You said you liked writing about the NFL. Besides finding those offbeat topics, was there something about the League, the game, the passion people have for it? What was it about the NFL that made it so special for you to be a writer?
[00:36:04.490] - Todd Jones
Well, for one thing, it meant that we were at the like all our focus groups. This was the sport that people care about. The stakes were so incredibly high, like what they would do, the sleep they wouldn't get. Like the 1617, this whole arms race. How long can you stay off? How much film could you watch? The stakes were so incredibly.
[00:40:11.640] - Austin Murphy
The NFL coach is legendary for just burning the candlelight. I think about Joe Gibbs and you were like, saluted if you did that right. It was almost masochistic. You were around a lot of coaches who comes to mind in that regard?
[00:40:34.910] - Todd Jones
I guess the thing that struck me, like you asked earlier and maybe even this was why I wrote that book. It applied to a lot of College coaches as well. And it was one of the reasons that I was so grateful for characters like a Mike Leech, then at Texas Tech, or a Pete Carroll who got it going at USC, was that there were characters, there was some joy, there was balance in their lives. When you got to the NFL, it could be pretty joyless.
[00:41:41.130] - Todd Jones
I appreciated spending time on the College beat. And I guess in my career, I went back and I toggled, and that was sort of being a utility infielder was fun that way. It kept me in.
[00:42:01.280] - Austin Murphy
And having played the game, you did know the Nuances. I mean, you had an understanding. You played at the College level. Was there something about writing about football just from that perspective? That the strategy, getting inside the Manisha of the game Besides the characters that you found interesting.
[00:42:25.030] - Todd Jones
Of course, I got to College and they were saying, okay, like in high school, you just look at there's a diagram of the play. The tight end is going to go run down the field ten yards and turn left, look for the ball. In College, they were like, okay, so when you line up, you're going to line up and you're going to see where the corner lines up on you. If he's playing you soft and then backs off, that's a zone. And so you're going to run a zone route, you're going to find a seam in the zone. If he's playing you man, you are going to have to run a man route. And it took me my whole freshman year to figure out ten years ago, 15 years ago in Texas, there were 6th graders. They're having to recognize defenses, like where the game went. I definitely had an appreciation for it. And I mentioned Mike Leach, but there was this ferment, there was this explosion of offensive innovation that started in the old Southwestern Conference.
[00:43:48.590] - Austin Murphy
Right. Defense was optional. And we're going to throw it around.
[00:43:53.130] - Todd Jones
Right? It was fun. It was fun.
[00:43:55.950] - Austin Murphy
As a daily newspaper guy, from afar, I was always naively, wondering, Geez, if I only had that type of access or that much time or that much space. And when you think about it, though, you didn't always have time, even at a magazine, if you recover in the NFL on a Sunday, you had Monday deadlines or even a big College game on a Saturday night. I mean, you probably had some unbelievable writing sessions for a magazine. You're on the road and you're facing a couple of thousand words. What was it like writing for Sports Illustrated when you didn't have time?
[00:44:39.470] - Todd Jones
It was funny. I didn't know what I didn't know because I'm in a newspaper. I did it backwards. A lot of guys or people would start at a newspaper and then get hired by Si. I've done it the other way around. Instead of having three days to choose my words. I'll have 3 hours. But back in the day, you would fly in. You parachute in on a Tuesday or Wednesday to one team, say Auburn. They bring you players and coaches, and then you drive over to Tuscaloosa.
[00:45:20.580] - Austin Murphy
Dreamland got to stop by Dreamland, please. It's good ribs.
[00:45:27.870] - Todd Jones
Yeah. And it's getting a little late in the week. So the further we got into the 90 that access was, it was hard to get players after Wednesday or if you were at Michigan to get them at all on any day. But you'd get some access and write. You could pre write if you had a five or six page story. There were some sections that were going to go in regardless. But then the game often went against you so often scrambling in the locker room. I remember Jean Woodrowski once made fun of Tim Laden and said, what part of the Stadium are we going to be reading about in your lead this week? Because we would do what we could like the access we got. We could lead. All the daily guys had to go up in the press box eventually and start writing and make their daily deadlines so we could wait till the last dog and get what we could, whether it was in the locker room or in the corridor. And so a lot of our leads were in the bowels of the Stadium. But often it was a scramble. And you would have to turn in something Si quality by 09:00 in the following morning.
[00:46:56.470] - Todd Jones
And you'd be making that pot of coffee in the hotel at 03:00 A.m. And thinking, all right, I'm two thirds of the way there or, Christ, I'm only halfway there. I am not going to make this flight.
[00:47:13.330] - Austin Murphy
The cursor is blinking.
[00:47:18.350] - Todd Jones
Man, I am such a fraud. How am I going to but it always got done. Those stories ended up on the cover. I would say Todd, the biggest challenges were for National Championships. The BCS title games were often on a Monday or Tuesday. And so our press went to press Monday night, and there were a couple of plants across the country, so they would hold them open for these games that were on a Monday or a Tuesday. And then you had a newspaper deadline. Then they wanted that story 90 minutes after the game ended. And I just remembered. So we would pre write stories. You would write the bulk of a story. Usc by defeating Texas and containing Vince Young. The USC Trojans became the first team to win three AP National Championships in a row. And so I had two of those stories. I think it was six, it was the classic. And SC was up 17 points, I think late. Yeah.
[00:48:30.100] - Austin Murphy
They had control of the game.
[00:48:33.730] - Todd Jones
And so I'm like, all right, this one.
[00:48:35.760] - Austin Murphy
I'm sitting pretty here.
[00:48:38.830] - Todd Jones
Yeah. Went down on the field. And I remember Vince Young pulled the ball down on that fourth down effortlessly, ran around Frosty Rucker, sorry to call him out and ran right by me. His momentum took him through the corner of the end zone and right by me. I can still see myself in that video. And I was like, I know. So I had to get reaction and haul ask back up to the press box and revise that. And it all turned out very well. But I would never complain about our harsh deadlines.
[00:49:17.150] - Austin Murphy
Right. It was a little different for the newspaper guys going to stick off for us. That's right. Well, you mentioned cover stories. And if it wasn't an event, if you actually hit a profile, what was it like to write a cover story for Sports Illustrated?
[00:49:53.550] - Todd Jones
The one that's leaping to mind now and often if it was going to be a cover and they knew about it well ahead of time. My covers were almost always big game stories, whether it was the Big Ten Championship or FC or NFC Conference Championship. I do remember when Moneyball came out, the movie based on the Michael Lewis book, the producers of the film, they were very interested in promoting it because they thought that it was going to probably win them some maybe surprises or Oscars. So they made people available. And I ended up on the phone for an hour with Brad Pitt. I talked to Michael Lewis, too, and enjoyed my interview with Jonah Hill just as much, who was very subdued in this role as the kind of the analyst. But Brad Pitt was in London and it was going to be a phone interview. And I remember my wife at the time was like, well, can you please call them and ask if we could do the interview in person?
[00:51:14.210] - Austin Murphy
Yeah, right. I'm going to take notes.
[00:51:15.810] - Todd Jones
[00:51:17.510] - Austin Murphy
That only be fair. I mean, you had your moment with Heidi Klum. She should have a moment with Brad Pitt.
[00:51:25.310] - Todd Jones
Sure. I'm down. Anyway, it was a phonor and it was interesting. Who knew? As with the swimsuit models, they were often smarter than me. And Brad Pitt was cool about this, enjoyed that story, and I thought it read well. But yeah. Most of the features were I mean, if it was going to be a cover feature, it might have gone to someone a little higher than me.
[00:52:01.220] - Austin Murphy
you talk about your love for mountain biking. When I think about your bike, I think about it. You must have been like the kid in Et with that bike. It just went up into the sky because you were going around the world. You're on the road 30 weeks, you're interviewing Brad Pitt, supermodels five presidents. You had all these big events, and then all of a sudden it ended in 2017. And when Time Incorporated decides are going to do some corporate downsizing. What a word. Downsizing, right? So you literally get laid off. What was it like to get laid off?
[00:52:44.060] - Todd Jones
Yeah, I think the way I described it was like it was getting hit in a bar fight in the face. It did not hurt as much as I thought it would, at least while you're getting hit, it hurts later. But I had been braced for it. And as I have written, once I got over this thing of it, I was eager to figure out what came next. I leaned on the word reinvention. I was going to reinvent myself. I took a couple of big swings. I've been over to Hawaii a couple of times and been really struck by the quality of the high school football over there. I'm interested in different football cultures, like whether under the umbrella of this one sport, you can have so many different football cultures. I had done a book on a Division Three team in Collegeville, Minnesota St Johnson, Minnesota, and Coach Galardi. And I was quite taken with a program on the north shore of Oahu, the Kahuku Raiders. Not a great big school, but just produced an inordinate amount of Division One and NFL talent. And so I was interested in exploring what was going on there. The game just came to those guys.
[00:54:31.490] - Todd Jones
A lot of them were built for football, but also something in the Polynesian culture that made them selfless uncomplaining good teammates, as you see around the League. And so I tried to get a book deal, and then later a limited series started.
[00:54:54.370] - Austin Murphy
I had kind of like a Friday Night Lights kind of a thing.
[00:54:58.550] - Todd Jones
Friday Night Lights of Oahu with more hair and bowels, as I put it. But it's it was a problem getting TV cameras in schools, especially in public school. And so that fizzled. I did write my last long story for Si was on hookup.
[00:55:23.010] - Austin Murphy
But you were trying to reinvent yourself. You're trying to figure out what's next after three decades of living this crazy lifestyle. Right.
[00:55:36.250] - Todd Jones
ended up in Washington, DC, I was trying to get traction as a political speech writer. I had always been passionate about politics. So I tried to get that experience and wrote, I think, one speech that I got paid for but eventually just ended up as a freelance writer. Right. The stories are fun, but it's irregular, it's erratic, it's unreliable.
[00:57:09.570] - Todd Jones
And so in order to just get a little more steady income coming in and frankly, just to get out of the house and take the fight to the universe and just do something proactive, I did respond to an Indeed.com ad for an Amazon delivery driver.
[00:57:35.190] - Austin Murphy
So you've written about this and you wrote about it in ways that are so thoughtful and re, really length perspective and understanding to it. But I want to ask you, what was it like working for Amazon after you had worked for Sports Illustrated for 33 years?
[00:57:59.890] - Todd Jones
I was like, all right, well, I guess I was fortunate on the front end. I remember I was in some letter from the publisher within a year after I'd gotten hired at Sports Illustrated on some punk spinning a basketball on my finger. I think I was 23 years old and was like reporter Austin Murphy, who's now writing our College Basketball Week section. And people for years and decades, people would come up to me and say, I saw that. I saw you. I didn't like you.
[00:58:45.530] - Austin Murphy
What do you think it was arrogant? Like you're spinning the ball like you own the world?
[00:58:49.150] - Todd Jones
Oh, no, look at this guy. Who's this guy? Like, why not me? Or you make your own bricks? But also, I was lucky. I was fortunate. And then I ran. I was less fortunate. I think mostly I'd be out there driving. And, you know, I went to the warehouse was in Richmond where we had to go and get our vans. Then you go, you get your route, you fill your van up. And a lot of it was around Berkeley. So I'd be driving past the Stadium where I'd covered most recently, where I covered Jared Goff, which was one of my last cover stories when he was drafted. And it didn't really help like to go on to time travel in my mind. And frankly, the job was too difficult for you to get 300 parcels off the van. And you were scrambling because it's hard to find addresses. And honestly, Todd, the first introductory orientation for the drivers, we're all sitting around the break room, and it's me. And I don't know, I was certainly the only I think I was 58 at the time, and everybody else was in their 20s or 30s. And I just found myself immediately taking notes.
[01:00:25.330] - Todd Jones
I'm like, I know I'm going to be writing about this. So we do what we do. We're writers. We tell stories. So part of me was like, oh, man, I've come down in the world. But the other part was like, this is going to read pretty well.
[01:00:39.630] - Austin Murphy
But there are also things that you liked about it, too, right? Things that they taught you about yourself.
[01:00:47.010] - Todd Jones
Yeah. People were like, wow, that's rough. Murph. Like, did you hear about Austin? And I have to tell you that there were mornings that I look forward to it. It was a challenge. It was a mental and physical challenge. I'm a fitness person, and I did not have to work out doing that job. You were hopping and running, and they told you not to run ever. But if I was falling behind, I would run the packages. If you were up in the Hills above Berkeley, there were these houses, like 45 steps up to the doorstep. So it was a little sprint with each delivery.
[01:01:32.430] - Austin Murphy
Did it make you reflect on your career as a writer, as Sports Illustrated differently?
[01:01:39.410] - Todd Jones
I think that it put a finer point on what we talked about earlier, where toward the end, I gained. I was like, this is not going to go on forever. And I described a wistfulness. It made me appreciate what I'd had. And as I've written, who knew that the Amazon gig, it checked some boxes. It was what I needed at the time. It wasn't ideal, but it also was my path back to professional. Right.
[01:02:17.440] - Austin Murphy
Because you wrote a great piece for The Atlantic. It went viral and really led to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the newspaper in California, to contact you. And you accepted a job as a general assignment reporter. And so you are back doing what you do.
[01:02:43.290] - Todd Jones
My wife and I, when we were empty nesters, we moved up the 101 from San Antonio to Petaluma, California, where the Press Democrat had won a Pulitzer in 2018 for its coverage of the wine country wildfires. And our friends Mike Silver and Brian Murphy had both started there. It's a solid. I mean, it punches over its weight class. I'd always respected the paper. And so when I got up here, I've been knocking on the door a little bit. They occasionally would they put the word out? They were looking for a reporter. I had one freelance story for them. As with so many other applications, I was sending out folks, I don't know if it was because I was 58, but it's just like you were sending into this void and never hearing back. I was getting traction with the Press Democrat. But after the Amazon story ran, I heard this later from a guy who was an editor there. One editor went to the managing editor and said, this guy has been trying to join our staff and he can really write. Let's interview him. But the managing editor at the time justifiably was he wondered what I would do for them.
[01:04:12.290] - Todd Jones
Can someone with a weekly background as a weekly magazine writer make daily deadlines? Could I turn stories around quickly enough? And frankly, would I be up for the adjustment? Would I be okay playing smaller rooms, as it were? And of course, I was. And frankly, I was completely defibrillated by a new challenge. To your point. I'm a general assignment reporter. I'm covering everything except sports. And I had a difficult day a couple of days ago. I had to reach out to the relatives of a young woman who was killed in a car crash on the 101, filed that piece at eleven and immediately turned to a second story, getting reaction from people around the county on the news that morning that our mask mandates are going to go away. And so I had two stories that day at 630, then cracked a beer and was like, damn, that was a long day, but it's super fulfilling. Your email address is at the bottom of each story. It's a community. Sonoma county is geographically large, but it feels very small.
[01:05:43.510] - Austin Murphy
It's meaningful work, right? That's what it is, right?
[01:05:48.440] - Todd Jones
Yeah. I got no complaints. I'm really happy here. I'm challenged, and as I put it early, I finally have reinvented myself.
[01:06:04.830] - Austin Murphy
Well, you know what? You're telling stories, right?
[01:06:09.870] - Todd Jones
Yeah. This is what we do.
[01:06:43.150] - Todd Jones
I'm covering the how did I put it? The kid at Cal Poly local boy who got together with some engineers and designed a prosthetic for a burn victim, as I put it. Is he any less of a hero than Tom Brady. I'm writing about a different Gallery of heroes, but they're out there and they're getting fewer eyeballs, but it means a lot.
[01:07:43.240] - Austin Murphy
That's great because that's fulfilling in itself. And I know the readers in your county are blessed to have you telling stories because you've got a lot of them and we were blessed to have you share a lot of them with us here on Press Box access. It's been a real joy recounting some of your days at Sports Illustrated and it's been a real pleasure to know you over the years. Austin, thanks for joining us as a guest.
[01:08:09.690] - Todd Jones
Thank you. Thank you for having me, Todd.