A Front-Row Seat with the Sportswriters Who Sat There

Sit down with host Todd Jones and other sportswriters who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced first-hand some of the biggest sports moments in the past 50 years. They’ll share stories behind the stories -- some they’ve only told to each other.

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Jarrett Bell: Getting personal with the NFL

Jarrett Bell: Getting personal with the NFL

Jarrett Bell has been writing about the NFL since 1981, including the past 29 years as a national columnist for USA Today. He learned long ago that you get the scoop by getting to know the people. Bell discusses some of the more memorable owners, coaches and players he has encountered in four decades. He takes us behind the scenes as two iconic franchises, the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, transitioned in the late 80s and early 90s. Hear tales of Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Montana and Steve Young. Go on a home visit with Jerry Jones. Be there when Eddie DeBartolo vows that heads will roll. And go to dinner with Bruce Smith on Bell’s tab. More NFL stories, and to think they all came because Bell’s first love was . . . hockey?

Bell has covered pro football for USA Today as an NFL columnist since 1993. He previously served as a contributor at ESPN for four years (2013-2017), primarily featured as a panelist on “NFL Insiders” and “SportsCenter.” Since 1997, Bell has been a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee while also serving on the media panel that selects the Super Bowl MVP. He participated on a blue-ribbon panel that selected the NFL’s Centennial Team. Among hundreds of radio and TV interviews, he has appeared on programming for CBS (Face The Nation), NBC (Nightly News), ESPN, CNN, Fox Sports 1, NFL Films, The NFL Network, CNBC, MSNBC, Headline News, Comcast, ESPN Radio, NBC Sports Radio, ABC Radio, Rogers Sportsnet, Sirius Satellite Radio, Pro Football Talk and WUSA-TV.

In 2020, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) honored Bell with a Salute to Excellence Award. That same year, he won first-place honor for projects in Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest. Bell has won three writing awards from The Pro Football Writers of America: game analysis and breaking news in 2009, and breaking news in 2001. He’s won dozens of in-house awards from Gannett, owner of USA Today. He also was cited for an Outstanding Book Award from NABJ for “Resilient by Nature,” on which he collaborated on the memoir for former NFL linebacker Reggie Williams. Bell was featured prominently in two documentaries, “The Forgotten Four” and “Minister of Defense: The Reggie White Story.” He had a cameo role in the feature film, “Invincible.” For nearly 20 years, he was a regular “NFL Insider” guest on the Baltimore Ravens pregame show (2001-2018) on WBAL Radio.

Prior to joining USA Today, Bell covered San Francisco 49ers as a beat reporter for the for The Marin (County) Independent Journal (1990-1992). He was editor of The Dallas Cowboys Weekly in 1989 after working four years in the team’s publications department. Bell was sports director for Fort Worth-based KNOK-FM (1984-1985) and covered high school sports as a staff writer for The Dallas Times Herald (1981-1983) while also serving as a contributing writer for the Cowboys Weekly, which he joined shortly after graduating from Michigan State University in ‘81 with a bachelor’s degree in Human Communication.

Bell serves on the Alumni Advisory Board for the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State. In college, he worked as a student assistant in the Michigan State University Sports Information Office, a news reporter for WVIC-AM and as a teaching assistant for the Department of Communication. He also studied abroad at The University of London during the summer of 1979, participating in The Guardian’s Contemporary Mass Media program. The Detroit native’s career in sports began as a teenager when he was equipment manager for the Detroit Jr. Wings and as an aide in the public relations department for the NHL's Detroit Red Wings.

Transcript

Todd

Hey, Jared, welcome to Press Box Access. It's a pleasure to have you on our show.

Jarrett

Hey, Todd, how are you doing? Thanks for the invite. Appreciate you showing a little bit of interest in a brother having me on the show. This is pretty cool. I like what you're doing.

Todd

Oh, great. Thanks. I'm just real happy you've joined us. I know you're so busy. You're still covering the NFL. You've been doing it since 1981 and you've been at USA Today as the NFL columnist since 1993. Your former ESPN NFL insider, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee since 1997. Since that year, you've also served on immediate panels, Select Super Bowl MVPs. You've participated in the selection of the NFL Centennial team on a blue ribbon panel. I love that blue ribbon right there's. That many blue ribbons anymore. Paps want a blue ribbon in 1893 and they're still proud of it. So you run a blue ribbon panel?

Jarrett

Yeah. Hey, Todd, that was pretty cool because I'll tell you, a couple of the other people who were on that committee that you've heard of, one Ozzy Newsom, he was on that committee. Two Bill Belichick, we've heard of him.

Todd

Oh, yeah, that guy. Yeah.

Jarrett

He was like the only active coach who was on the committee. John Madden was on that committee. The late John Madden. So it was pretty special to be part of that mix.

Todd

It's a real tribute to you and your career. Include you on that.

Jarrett

Yeah. Thanks. It was definitely worth the effort. And I learned a lot and had some really good exchanges, so. Yeah. And that's one that just kind of came out of the blue, didn't know what they were doing and didn't anticipate it. And then it happened and we had a good time with it.

Todd

Right. So the NFL knows you as an authority for all these years. I know you as someone who calls my life to be held for a few days in the mid 90s. Now, I know you won't remember this, but I was at Wilmington College at the Bengals training camp, working for the Cincinnati Post. And Jared Bell from USA Today came into town and you talked to Jeff Blake about something, some type of Jeff Blake scoop. And basically that story came out the next day. It was like you threw a grenade in the training camp and left town.

Jarrett

Yeah. Being a national guy, you kind of helicopter in and then you helicopter out. And that's happened a few times. I've gone to places and uncovered something. I had somebody talk to me and reveal something that's usually what we're talking. And that's what happened with Jeff Blake. And he was critical, if I remember correctly, of David Shuler and the head coach at the time. And it caused a stir because you're talking about your quarterback and there are a couple of other players, and I think Dan Big Daddy Wilkinson being another one who kind of had the same theme. And that was one of those deals.

Jarrett

But, yeah, that's kind of part of the job is to go in and you always try to get the best players, I mean, the best stories with the star players that are definitely going to resonate with a lot of people. So, yeah, I've kind of had that happen a few times.

Todd

I've always had a lot of respect for your career, but I've always had a little bit of a scar because of that day in 95. But it's just a testament to you and your reporting skills and why you've been on this beat for so long. I want to ask you about this. When you think about covering America's favorite sport for four plus decades, what comes to mind first about all those years?

Jarrett

It's pretty incredible, because I've seen the NFL just really grow into that, behemoth that it is on the sporting landscape. And obviously the money is so much bigger now in the sport, not so much for the sports riders.

Todd

Yeah, right.

Jarrett

He talked about the value of the franchises, the value of the players and the contracts. We see. I kind of had a front row seat to some of really all these years, but just to kind of see it evolve on so many levels and to get to the point where so many people actually just care about the NFL talking about fans. And I don't know if you can really expect that any industry or sports League would keep its popularity to continue to grow when you think about some of the issues that the NFL has dealt with.

Jarrett

And so I feel fortunate to cover a beat that people care about, so people cannot get enough of it. Man and Tie, when I started in 1981, there was an off season, right? The games were over, the Super Bowl was over, and you wouldn't see the players again until after the draft. They'd have like a three day mini camp, and that was pretty much it. And then you see them again at training camp. And the players back in the 80s and especially the early 80s when I started, they all had off season jobs. Obviously, the salaries weren't what they are now, but they had off season jobs. When you talk to the players like, hey, what are you doing?

Jarrett

Oh, I'm going to be a distributor for Anheuser Bush. Oh, I'm going to work for the Chamber of Commerce. All these guys had things that they looked at as being bridges to their lives after football. And so that was kind of part of the culture back then in terms of the players, but also reflects kind of how the sport evolved and kind of how the sport was situated. Even from a media coverage standpoint. The players would work out, but they would work out on their own. Now it's a year round deal, and the NFL has been intent on capitalizing on its popularity in the off season, with the draft being such a big event in the combine. I remember going to the my first combine back in the 90s, and there may have been 15 reporters there. Okay. And now it's like 1000, maybe 800, maybe I'm inflating the number a little bit. But there are hundreds of reporters now. And so just to see the growth in that regard just really reflects kind of how the NFL has taken itself to really market itself and keep its presence almost on a year round basis.

Todd

You mentioned the growth, despite all the different issues and problems that come with growth, come with more money, come with more attention. And one of the issues was diversity. And I want to talk more about that. But one thing about that topic of diversity I find interesting about your own life is that you kind of got exposed to sports journalism by being around hockey, which isn't a sport that you think of as being a diverse sport.

Jarrett

Right.

Todd

So you were born and raised in Detroit, and yet hockey kind of introduced you to what sports reporters are all about.

Jarrett

Exactly. But the hockey thing is interesting because I grew up about ten blocks from Olympia Stadium. It no longer exists in Detroit, but that's where the Detroit Red Wings played for many years.

Jarrett

But Todd, the thing that I did was I probably was about nine years old maybe, and I would go up to Olympia. I went up to Olympia one Saturday morning and wanted to get a glimpse of the Red Wings. Right. And so there was a security guard there, a guy named Art, and he said, okay, you can come in and watch practice, but you've got to sit in that seat right there where I can see you. And that's how small the Stadium was. Here's a security guard who is at the gate, and he can see the seat at the edge of the rink from his spot. And he said, okay, I just want you to. You can do that. So I go back the next week and same thing. He says, you can go there, but make sure you stay there. You can watch. So it was just me. The players would be practicing, and they'd see me sitting there. They smack the stick against the glass and shoot a park against the glass and wave and laugh and so on and so forth. Well, as time went on, every Saturday morning, I'd go over there, I kind of got away.

Jarrett

Art took his eye off me.

Todd

He got comfortable or it was like, Barney Five.

Jarrett

Yeah. And Art took his eye off me. And I went down towards the bench area, and I got to meet the equipment manager and the trainer. I was a fixture there on Saturdays for a while, just like that. And so one thing led to another, and I remember one of the assistant coaches, a guy named Billy Day. He asked me if I knew how to skate. And I was like, no. He said, we're going to get you some skates. So Billy Day got me some skates. And then I would go on the ice at Olympia after the team practiced. And that's how I learned to escape. And actually, some of the players even would stick around. And a couple of those guys, I remember Gary Bergman, who was a defenseman for the Red Wings. He taught me how to back skate. And then years later, it was like, I remember Marcel Dion, hall of Famer, one of the greatest players in NFL history. He taught me how to fight Marcel Dion. I don't even know if he ever got in a fight in the NHL. Right. He won, like the lady being trophy for sportsmanship.

Jarrett

And he taught me how to when you get into a tangle with, with somebody, you pull the Jersey over their head. Alex Delveccio was phenomenal.

Todd

Became the coach and general manager.

Jarrett

And let's pick it right up there. Delvecchio was the team captain. And so now we're talking, like, probably around 74, I guess. And he becomes the coach and GM. And he came to me one day and he said, hey, I got a job for you to do, right there's a woman in the PR Department named Kathy Best. And Kathy had polio. She was bound to a wheelchair. And Alex said, I want you to help her out. So I'm in high school now, and it's kind of like, okay, after school, come and see what Kathy needs. And it was stuff like, run this requisition request over to concessions and stuff these envelopes and so on and so forth. And I worked in the press box that kind of got me into the PR wing and gave me something to do. So it wasn't a real job, but Alex would pay me out of his pocket. Really? Yeah, Alex would pay me out of his pocket. Here's $20. You did a good job this week. And Delvekio, I always remember he was like the first adult to let me drive a car. My mom had a car.

Todd

Wait, what kind of car was it?

Jarrett

It was like a Lincoln, Brome, Continental, one of those big grown man granddaddy cars. Right, Jared?

Todd

I can see you rolling through Detroit with that.

Jarrett

Well, it's funny because he's like, I want you to go get us some hamburgers. And it took me like an hour. He's like, where were you? He knew he was glad to see me because the car was in one piece. But yeah, the first time he's like, he sent me to go get hamburgers and I probably took about 30, 40 minutes in the hamburger places right up the street. But I did some joy riding. But Delvacio was the first adult to ever trust me with a car. So that was a great experience. But to the point that you mentioned, it really exposed me to this entire sports industry, which you can transfer from hockey to football to baseball to basketball in that there's Stadium operations, there's coaching, training, equipment managers. And that was another thing I did. I was like equipment manager for the Detroit Junior Wings for a couple of years there.

Todd

So you got the peak behind the curtain of all.

Jarrett

Exactly. Yeah. And got to see a lot of things. But at some point I remember somebody said, do you want to go into being a trainer or equipment medicine? No, I want to get into the media. And like I said, worked in the press box for the Red Wing games, passing out stat sheets and stuff like that. And I just thought the reporters were pretty cool. And so then I go off to Michigan State and try to make it work from there, too.

Todd

Well, you certainly did. I mean, you graduated in 1981 from Michigan State and a few weeks later you leave Detroit or leave East Lansing, I should say Michigan State. And you end up in Dallas, Texas, of all places. And you started working for the Dallas Cowboys Weekly in 1000 1981, the team publication. What was that like to all of a sudden go into the professional world? And here you are. You're actually writing now?

Jarrett

Yeah. Well, I had a great benefit my cousin, my late cousin Larry Bethea, a great player. Yeah. Well, he was a Big Tens MVP. Yeah. There you go. That was my freshman year. I followed Larry to Michigan State. Larry was the reason you talk about always having people. I've been so fortunate to have people in my life at different points that have served me so well. And I just think it's I'm a spiritual man. I just think it's a gift from God that I've had these people.

Jarrett

But Larry then goes on to become a first round pick with the Dallas Cowboys, right? Yeah. And so he also extended himself to me in that regard. So when I was in College, I went to Dallas a couple of times for games and Christmas holidays and stuff like that. Larry just took a great interest in me and really just helped me. And he did tell me this. He was very encouraged by the efforts that I made to really try to build a career.

Jarrett

So I moved to Dallas on a Monday. It was the day after the Cowboys got clobbered in San Francisco. I think it was 45 to 14. So not a pleasant Monday in Dallas. But that was the day I moved to Dallas. And I remember that day like it was yesterday, because on a Monday, the players don't go in until the afternoon, right? They get the morning off. And I think Larry had to be there about two. So he had me drop them off and get the car. He let me use his car, right? And I remember waiting for him, like around five or whatever time they got out.

Jarrett

And I'm in his car in the parking lot, and Drew Pearson comes out and he comes over. And I had never met Drew. And I meet Drew Pearson right then and there. And then Drew was like, hey, he knew I was Larry's cousin because I told him, but he knew I was a relative because I'm in Larry's car. And he says, hey, tonight we're going to do this thing over at the Playboy Club. Two Tall Jones and I. He's like, yeah, two Tall Jones and I, we do this Monday Night football party on Monday nights, and you can come. You don't have to bring your cousin, right? So I told Larry, he said, no, I'm coming. So that was my first night in Dallas.

Jarrett

So that first day I meet Drew in tutor, and then the next day I go to Cowboys headquarters, and they hired me for a part time job with the Cowboys Weekly and just writing features.

Jarrett

But it was a good opportunity to get my foot in the door. And by the end of the week, the Dallas Times Herald, one of the daily papers, they're now defunct. They brought me aboard, and they didn't just immediately hire me, but they gave me some assignments to cover high school football games and liked what they saw. And then a few weeks later, they offered me a full time job.

Jarrett

And so that was how I broke in to the newspaper business. So I had the full time job with the Times Herald. And then I had the part time out with the Cowboys Weekly. And a few years later, I ended up going full time with the Cowboys. And that really prepared me for going to cover the 40 Niners and for the rest of my career. It was a great foundation.

Todd

Well, when you showed up in Dallas in 1981, the Cowboys, they're coming off the decade of the 70s where they became America's team. They were one of the iconic franchises of that decade, along with Pittsburgh and Oakland and Miami.

Jarrett

Oh, yeah.

Todd

So you're at Dallas with this iconic team led by Tom Landry, one of the all time great coaches. And you were pretty much there until Landry was forced out in 88.

Jarrett

Yeah, I was there until 1990. So I was there for the first year, Jimmy and Jerry. But the thing that was cool for me, and it's probably a little different. I know it was different than for most people because my cousin played on the team. Right. And so a lot of the players took an interest in me as a person that they probably wouldn't. And not to say they didn't have rapport with other media, because they did that Cowboys team was loaded with stars, and they were very media savvy. Most of them. I mentioned tutor he probably was one of the least engaged with the media, but he always had some words of wisdom for me and especially like after my cousin committed suicide in 87. But there are a lot of guys. Butch Johnson was always good and tell me you got to dress for success. And Ron Springs, oh, my goodness, he was just a treasure for me. And we would talk about so many different things. Tony Dorsett, one time early on in my years, he said, I know you're a young man just getting started out. He says, anything you need from me, just let me know even if you need money.

Jarrett

I was like, I can't Whoa, wait a minute, pay you off even if you need some money. I know you're young and you're starting out because I was living with my I live with my cousin for like the first six weeks. Now Coach Landry, like a lot of people really just gleaned so much wisdom from him just going to his press conferences. And they do obviously after the games, but also during the week, there are things and the players who played for him would tell you the same thing.

Jarrett

But Cos Landry, he had some philosophical principles that just kind of always stuck with me. And he was no nonsense. We know that. But there was one incident with Coastline there's a couple one time the Cowboys were really in a tough spot. And I think I asked Landry something in his press conference like could this team beat Oklahoma?

Todd

Oh, man, wow.

Jarrett

Yeah.

Todd

From row three.

Jarrett

Yeah. He just smirked and he said, boy, he said, you know, things are bad when your own newspaper is slinging mud at you. And I was just being a Ham that day.

Todd

Well, Landry was the face of the franchise for so long. I mean, he started coaching in 1960, and up until his last season in 1988, it was the guy in the suit and the hat and the stone face, and that was the Cowboys. Right. And then all of a sudden, Jerry Jones buys the team in 1989. Jimmy Johnson has put in his coach. What was that transition like to go from Landry and the Cowboys to all of a sudden Jerry and Jimmy?

Jarrett

Yeah, it was interesting. It was fun. And I feel for everything that's gone on in my career, that was a great benefit to kind of witness that turnover. I remember going to see Coach Landry when he was packing up his office. Right. And Jerry came in with so much energy and all the controversy because of the way they bounced Landry and brought in Jimmy Johnson. Right. And so to see all that was pretty amazing. And then on top of that, I kind of got to know Jerry better than most people. So I'm working for the club. And one of the things Gerry said, the whole organization is just flipped on its head. Right. Not only did Landry leave, but a lot of other people left and front office people and Jerry's bringing in his people. And it was cold blooded in one way, but it was also football. I remember one of the players said, for all the years that timeline, you would cut players, and it would be cold blooded. Well, the same thing happened to him. And the guy wasn't saying that just to Denigrate Landry. He was just trying to say that's kind of the core business of the NFL.

Jarrett

So to see that was interesting. So they called it the Saturday Night Massacre when this whole thing jumped off. And they had a Press conference on Saturday night with Jerry, and he was like, I'm going to be involved in this thing from the socks to the jocks and so on and so forth. So Jimmy's press conference was like that Tuesday. So on that Monday, I went to the locker room, talked to several of the players, veterans, obviously, like, hey, what do you guys want me to ask Jimmy in the press conference? And I started getting all this stuff from the players like, yeah, ask them this. Ask them that about the workout stuff and job security and the things that players would be interested in. So we get to the press conference, and I get to a point where I finally get some questions in, and I'm just firing off on Jimmy. What about the veterans? And what about the workout deal? And what are you going to do? And so on and so forth. And Jimmy was cool. He answered them all, so on and so forth. And that was actually I go back to my office, and then a few minutes later, the phone rings.

Jarrett

It's Marilyn Love, who was Jerry's executive assistant. She just passed away last month, back in early to mid March, sold Rest in Peace. But she calls and says, Mr. Jones would like to see you. Okay? And so I go back to Jerry's office, and I had never met Jerry, right. But he's not bought this thing. And Greg Ayello told me, from his perspective how it went down, because Greg said that he was in there with Jerry, and they were talking about the press conference, and he's like, who's that guy asking Jimmy all those tough questions and says, oh, he works for you. He works for me. Yeah. He's with the Cowboys Weekly. Get him in here, right? So that's when I get the phone call, and I go in there and Jerry's like, boy, you were really giving it to Jimmy. He was like, he's like popping his fist. You were jabbing him. You got them. He said, I like your style, right? I like your style, yeah. So that was how I met Jerry the first time. And then the next day, Marilyn calls and she says, hey, Jerry is looking for a barbecue place.

Jarrett

What do you recommend? Because they had just moved in from Arkansas with him, and a lot of his key people. And then a couple of days later, she calls me back. She said, Where's the dry cleaners? That Jerry doesn't have any clothes. He's been here for five days, and we need to get laundry. Where do you go? Where can we go? And I was like, okay, there's a dry cleaner right around the corner from Valley Ranch and blah, blah, blah. And then it was like, she called me another time, and she was like, Jerry is going to have a little reception for some of his business partners. We need to get a printer. Who do we go to? So those first few days after he purchased a team, Maryland called me multiple times just for little stuff that people needed when they're it sounds like it wasn't America's team.

Todd

It was Jarrett's team.

Jarrett

I would not say that at all, but that just was a human thing. So then one day, Marilyn calls. About two weeks later, Marilyn calls, and she says, Jerry's going home to see his folks. He wants you to go with him. I was like, oh, so his folks and they're both deceased now, but they were living in Springfield, Missouri. Marilyn told me. She said, he said, you don't have to come and write a story. He just wants you to come. He likes being around. He likes you. I said, okay, of course I'm going to get a story. And I got my notebook and all that stuff. So I did do a story, but it wasn't like a condition. Oh, come write a story on me. It was like, come and hang out. And so he was dedicating a YMCA that he had built to honor his father. And so I hop on his leader jet. It was me, him and Jean and his pilots, and that was it. And we fly to Springfield, Missouri. And his dad picks us up at the airport and in the hangar. So Jerry hops in the front seat. I hop in the backseat with Jean, and his Daddy just kind of sits there.

Jarrett

And he's got another one of those big cars. Like, I talk about Alex Elvis, who is kind of another one of those big grandfather cars, right? But I'm in the back seat with Jean and Jerry's in the front seat. And the car is not moving. And Jerry says, come on, Daddy, let's go, let's go. He says, Son, no, what's wrong, dad, what's wrong? He said, Jerry, we have company. He says, you get in the back seat, Jared, you come sit with me. And so there it was. And we go to Jerry's sister's house. And that's where I met his mum and his sister, and a bunch of other relatives are there, but this was the first time that they had seen him since he bought the Cowboys. Okay. Those couple of weeks, right? As you can imagine, it was a whirlwind for him. So that was pretty cool to witness they were saying stuff like, we saw you on CNN and stuff like that. So I spent a day with him. We go to lunch. They did the dedication of the YMCA and just had a wonderful time. And at the end of the day, his mom, she says to me, she says, Jared, I have one thing to ask for you.

Jarrett

I said, what's that? Take care of my boy. Would you do that? And I'm like, me take care of him. And his mom just seemed to be so sweet. His dad was cool. And I was able to even just pick up just from seeing him and his dad interact and talking to his dad. His dad was a businessman. He owned a grocery store. That was one of the things that he did. And he talked about how he would get people in the store by having promotions on Saturday. If that doesn't sound like Jerry, that is it. We got a band here on Saturday, and it's going to get people into the store and do their shopping. And it was pretty cool. I remember one thing. The last thing I'll say from that visit, I remember Jerry's father saying, okay, so you're going to draft Troy Aikman. And I remember Jerry saying, do you know how much money that boy wants? And his dad was like, Jerry, you're in the NFL. The market is set. You got to kind of deal with that. You're going to have to pay. But that's kind of what it is.

Jarrett

And he's like, I don't know, but okay, dad. But yeah, we're going to take apron, that sort of thing. It was funny just to kind of see that exchange.

Todd

You got to experience a lot of behind the scenes things and see how the machine works, just as you did when you were a teenager. So you do it all these years with the Cowboys, and then you leave Dallas after that year of 1989 with Cherry and Jimmy, and you transition yourself into covering a team but not working for it. And now you're going out to the Marion Independent Journal in Marion County, California, and you start covering the San Francisco 49 Ers, which is now the team in the NFL. They're coming off two straight Super Bowls. But like the Cowboys, when Landry and Jimmy transitioned, they were kind of in transition, too. When you showed up, they were going from Bill Walsh to George Seaford, right?

Jarrett

Yeah, George Seaford had been there, had been there for several years as defense coordinator. When Bill was retired, Seaford took over. Seamless is probably not the word, but there was a lot of continuity that was there from the Bill Wash years and some of his coaches. I mean, Mike Homegren, who grew up under Bill Walsh, was still there. And then he ended up going to Green Bay, and Mike Shanahan ended up replacing him as a coordinator. But yeah, that was a great opportunity for me to to cover this team. And just like the Cowboys in the 80s, the 49 has had so many big personalities. Obviously, Montana and Steve Young was the backup when I first got there.

Todd

Think about that, right?

Jarrett

Yeah. But Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley, Jesse sapolo, that was one of my favorite guy. He was the center on that team. And it was cool to kind of get in the mix with them. Now that first year, Todd, I got zero scoops. Okay. And they're like twelve newspapers that covered the 49 Ers. That was kind of the way it was because you had all these papers just like my paper. The Marine Independent Journal was a smaller paper. We had like 50,000 circulation on Sunday, by contrast, the Cowboys weekly had 100,000 circulation, by the way. But anyway but I got a chance to cover a team on a daily basis. But the 49 Ers went for the three P.

Jarrett

They didn't get it, and I didn't get any scoops that first year. But that second year. And this is what led to USA Today. So the paper that I worked for was owned by Ganette. So anything that I wrote, it went to the GNET wire and they distributed to the other GNET papers around the country. But it's like 75 papers. So Ganette News Service had their own wire service, the paper in Nashville. If they wanted to pick up my 49 storey, they could, et cetera, et cetera. Right. And so over a three day period, I had a scoop about Tim Harris, who had been obtaining the trade from the packers, landing in jail. And when he was in Green Bay, he had some issues off the field related to alcohol. Well, he gets arrested before he even plays a game for the 49s.

Todd

That's a problem.

Jarrett

Yes. And so I got the scoop on that. And then a couple of days later, the 40 Niners lose to the Falcons. So now they're two and four. It's like the worst start that they've had since 82 or something like that. But instead of going to George Seaford's press conference, I went straight to the locker room where I found Eddie De Bartolo doing wise move. Pretty much. I said, hey, I want to get your reaction to this. And he says, what the F do you think is my reaction? That's the first thing he says to me. Yeah, it can't be pretty good.

Todd

It's not good when the owners dropping F balms on you.

Jarrett

Yeah. And so what I found out later is that he cussed everybody out in the locker room before I got there. But even before I went to Eddie, I tried to walk around the locker room and talk to some players, and nobody would say anything. None of my guys, like Jamie Williams and Steve Young and Jerry Rice, guys who were very approachable, especially for me, for sure. And nobody would say anything. No, I see Eddie over in the corner. And that's when the exchange happened with him. And here's what he said, Todd. He says, you know how I feel. He says, you write what you think I feel. And I'll say, I said it. I started laughing. I was like, Mr. D, you know, I can't do that. I said, but if you want to make a statement or two, I'll take it. But I can't just make up. I know you're pissed off, but I just can't make that up.

Jarrett

So he said, okay. And he gave me this phenomenal quote about how heads were going to roll. He didn't care if it was the coach. He just started slinging. And so a few minutes later, all the other reporters come in the locker room from the press conference, and he's still in the corner, Stewart. Right. And so they surround him and they asked him about his reaction, and he was just as calm and peaceful. And he said, at times like this, we need to stay together as a family.

Todd

Oh, yeah, right.

Jarrett

I'm at the edge of the pack. Like, yeah, Eddie, you tell them that Eddie talking there. Yeah. So the next day, everybody's got the reaction from Eddie with the calm, peaceful guy. And I've got stripped across the front of the paper, the Barn loops for 49. So that was cool. And then the day after that, I got another scoop that Joe Montana, who had had these elbow issues, and he was not playing at the time because he was trying to get through his elbow injury. Well, I had the scoop saying that he had decided to have surgery that night that Tuesday. And I had it in Tuesday's paper. My Tanner surgery is set for tonight. And so in four days, I had like three major scoops after going the entire first year on the beach not having a scoop. And that just really kind of taught me about the whole thing of kind of getting into the mix, into the flow as a journalist, as a beat writer, and kind of how you have to put your time and for people to trust you with stuff and get to know them and then be able to develop content from there.

Todd

It's like the chess board. You got to figure out what pieces move, what ways fit together.

Jarrett

Oh, yeah, totally. And then right after the Montana store, USA Today called and Jane Palocinski was the managing editor, and he was like, hey, we want to bring you in here during the offseason. We got a program where other guinea papers loan us reporters, and we think you'd be great here. And so I went after the season and spent like four months at USA Today, and they had me covering primarily College basketball and a couple of other things. But that led to them saying, okay, we want you I'm like, I want to go back and cover the $49 another year. And I did it. And then they still had a job for me the next year. So that's when I started at USA Today and then it was national. But I will say this, Todd, it was great for me at that time, too, to have all of those sources that followed me from the Cowboys and from the 49 Ers.

Todd

So, Jared, in 1993, you start covering the NFL for USA Today. How different was it to go from one team to all of a sudden now you're covering all the teams and the League in general. What was the challenge there for you?

Jarrett

Yeah, it was getting to know people and getting to know people in different spots. And when you cover the lead from a national standpoint, you're usually going to be assigned to the hot teams, the hot stories, the hot games. So not complaining about that at all. But just like when you go into New England, the local guys there are the ones who have the sources and know the people. And so there was just the challenge of getting to really know different people. Now you can't know everybody. But I came up with some strategies, Todd, that I think helped. And one was I decided that I was going to try to get in with certain big time players when they were coming out of College. Right. And so it always became very important for me to get to know some of these guys and write about them. And usually when guys are coming out of College and they want their draft stock to be solidified, they're open. So I started going to visit certain every year, be one or two guys, and I go visit them on a College campus or in their hometown. I remember interviewing Michael Vick at a McDonald's in Newport News, Virginia.

Jarrett

Charles Woodson went to the University of Michigan to see him, and that helped lay the foundations. So now when you see Charles Woodson and he's with the Raiders, he knows you, he knows you.

Todd

I have a working relationship.

Jarrett

Exactly.

Todd

You develop that.

Jarrett

Yeah. So that was one of the strategies and the other strategy was to and I got this from reading, sports, illustrating, and talking to some of my Sports Illustrated buddies. Mike Silver being one, you go and you try to have dinner with people because you want to get some access. So a classic example. So I would go someplace and it would be like, okay, let me take you to lunch, right? And Troy Ekeman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irving, my cowboy guys, we had to have a lot of meals over the years with ACMAN. It was at training camp in the cafeteria. And even for some of the other guys, it was that. But you go to a town and you say, I want to have a meal with you. But Bruce Smith is the most classic example of how this works because I didn't know Bruce, right. But obviously he was one of the top players in NFL at the time. And so I called the PR guy and I said, hey, I'm coming in for the Jacksonville game in like two weeks. Can you ask Bruce Smith if he go to dinner with me? If I come in town, like a day early?

Jarrett

And so the PR guy calls me back. He says, yeah. Bruce said he'd do it. He just wants to bring his family. So I look in the media guys while Scott Birch told us on the phone, and I see Bruce, his wife, and their newborn baby, Austin, who was like six months old and eight months old or something like that. I said, sure, yeah, I can do that.

Todd

So he says, that can handle three.

Jarrett

Yeah. So Bruce says, meet me at Jim Kelly's restaurant and whatever time on Friday night. So I get to the restaurant and the people say, oh, yeah, we're expecting you to. We put you in the back room, private room. The Smith party is waiting for you. I walk in the room. I walk in the room and there's like ten people in there. And I'm like, Whoa. I said, wait a minute. You said your family. That's the first thing I said. You said your family. He said, this is my family. That's my sister, that's my brother in law, that's my nephew. This is my cousin over here. And he said, they all came in for the game. We have a great meal. And the bill comes at the end. And it's kind of like, okay. So Bruce was like, so great. He was like, okay, let's do it like this. Let's just split the bill in half, right? Because you didn't know. But you're here with USAA. We split it. So we split the bill. But I'm going to tell you, Todd, that was money so well spent, because every other time I went to Buffalo, Bruce would take me out to lunch, breakfast, dinner.

Jarrett

He's like, whenever you come to town, let me know. And then I visit with him in Virginia Beach and we became really cool, at least from a reporter player standpoint, right over so many years, man, he took me to Jim Kelly's house twice. Jim Kelly would have a party after the game, after their home games, and most of the team would be there. That's how I met Jim Kelly and met Jim Kelly's father. So that access you don't get. And then Consequently or maybe Consequently is not the word. But also what would happen is that Thurman Thomas or Andre Reid or somebody, they said, well, if he's good with Bruce, then, yeah, sure, I'll talk to him and give him some stuff and so on. And so you just kind of build your network like that. And Austin, Austin now is like, shoot, almost 30 years old now. But I remember every step of the way, hey, how's the little baby doing? And the baby grows up and then the baby goes to high school and College and now he's out of College and he's working in real estate. So you just get to know people and have relationships with them.

[Jarrett

And I remember one way it paid off was I was talking to Bruce one day and there was a lot of conversation about his contract. And if he was going to show up at training camp, I talked to him and I was like, well, you know, Bruce, this might be your last big contract. You're in your prime and the market is here. So on and so forth. Got a big deal. So on and so forth. I say, yeah, what are you going to do? I don't know. I don't know. Right. And so he calls me back a couple of days later. He said, I'm not going to training camp. I'm holding out. I say, what? Yeah, I wanted to give you the story. Right. And so he gave me the story and we had a front page of USA Today. But I said, Bruce, you weren't sure the other day. What changed your mind? He said, talking to you. He said, not just you, but I talked to Thurman, Andre Italy, and some of them get biscuits.

Todd

So you throw a grenade into the Buffalo media room just like you did to me and Jeff Hobson.

Jarrett

I will say this. The day the training camps opening, the Buffalo News has a headline that says, Bruce Smith, will he report? Question Mark. And USA Today front page has Bruce Smith comments saying, Bruce Smith is not coming to train again. But that all kind of goes back to trying to build a network and get to know people and trying to find creative ways because you can't get that by just going to the locker room.

Todd

Right. You may have to buy those working relationships.

Jarrett

Yeah. Get people away from the building if you can. But you know what, Todd? The thing that's happened in the NFL over these years, it's more difficult to do that because there's more media and if you're a star player, you got to manage so much. And then everybody people have the publicist now, which can be helpful sometimes in getting to people. But it's not the same as going straight to the site.

Todd

It's not like it was in 1993, and it also was not that way in 1993 was I think about like I'm a few years into my career at that point, and I remember just looking around press boxes, and it was pretty much all white people. Yeah. And the dichotomy of that. Here I am covering NFL, College basketball, and I'm interviewing all these athletes who are predominantly African American, and the press box is mostly white. I wanted to ask you, like when you started that role, that's a national role for America's favorite sport in 1093, did you feel any kind of pressure as an African American because you're in such a high profile role at that time?

Jarrett

I don't think pressure was the deal, especially in terms of being a black reporter. So it wasn't that. But there's inherent pressure in just trying to be good. Right. And then there's also the responsibility of knowing that people may look up to you, other young, aspiring journalists of people of color. So there's that responsibility, and there's also the insight of bringing your perspective. The one thing about you talk about diversity, and that's a great word, obviously. But one of the things that diversity brings you is diversity of thought and perspective. And I think that's kind of how I always looked at what I brought to the table as a journalist. So, yeah, you want to be good and you want to be good if you're black, green, Brown, whatever. But you also have a responsibility to even tell the stories that other people may not tell and want to tell or even have the insight to have the perspective, if you will. Insight might be too strong with the perspective to say, okay, what is this person feeling or how's this going over with that? And so I've definitely made it my business to try to tell stories against a social backdrop when you talk about society and that's kind of how things play.

Jarrett

But I don't think there's been pressure as a black journalist just that directly. But again, there's pressure just to be good and to be right.

Todd

Well, as an African American, you had to carry that weight much differently than I did as a white guy. I didn't have to worry about people looking at me differently just because I was surrounded by mostly white people in the press box.

Jarrett

Yeah.

Todd

That's kind of what I was thinking about was I thought that you were in some ways a trailblazer for mainstream media.

Jarrett

Yeah. And the funny thing is it's always about just trying to connect with people. Right. I think one of the things, Todd, that helped me and it helped me when I went to Michigan State, too. So Michigan state is like 40, 45,000 students, and it's like 3% black. Right. And so being in that environment never really intimidated me. And I think the reason why is because before I started hanging out, actually, a lot of the time I first started hanging out Olympia Stadium, I went to a Christian school in the suburbs of Detroit in Gross Point. In Gross Point, if you know the history of Gross Point, Michigan, it definitely was a Lily white community. And I went to school there from fourth grade through 8th grade for five years and taking a bus from the inner city of Detroit and then going to the suburbs and going to school there and having white classmates and a Christian environment, for sure, but also a contrast to where I grew up. And I could see that every single day. Right. So I go to Gross Point in the daytime and I come home and I'm in Detroit, and it just really kind of helped me gain some perspective, some worldly perspective, and to really realize and recognize how different things are for quality of life or this person versus that person against social backdrop.

Jarrett

But it also allowed me to see people and to deal with people, white people, black people, young people, old people, in a genuine way. And so the bottom line to it is be yourself, be humble, and try to learn from people and engage with people and all of that. But the connection oftentimes comes in knowing that you could deal with we all have stuff in common, right. Regardless, we all want to be healthy and we all want to be safe. We want our families to be safe. There's so many things that we all have in common. And I think I learned that at a very early age, and I think that helped me. Yeah. So years later you get to cover the NFL. Yes. I can understand where you're coming from as a black man and some of the challenges you have. And then I can also understand this guy over here who may not be aware of certain things that somebody else is dealing with or how they've had to deal with it. And I can talk to him and be at ease with him, too, and find things to have in common with a lot of people.

Jarrett

So I think that's been something that's kind of served me well throughout my life Well.

Todd

I think it certainly is a tribute to being able to see the humanity in a sport like the NFL, which is so dehumanizing. It's a Roman Gladiator sport. They wear the equipment, the mask. A lot of times, you just almost take it for granted. These aren't real people out there. And I think you, throughout your career, have been able to build those sources because you recognize the people behind the mask.

Jarrett

Yes.

Todd

And I think that's a tribute to you.

Jarrett

No, thank you. I think a lot of players helped me with that over the years. I remember when I covered the 49, like I told you, the Cowboys was pretty cool because I kind of got it in and met some of those guys even before I got there. But when I went to the 40 Niners and I'm trying to get established on the beat, I remember I mentioned Jesse sapolo earlier. I remember him and Steve Wallace and God McIntyre, the offensive line, they would always give me the business and don't just come in here sticking a microsphone in my face. You ask how we're doing, how we're doing as people. And so they would kind of force you to do that. I'll give you one more person. Magic Johnson. So I went to Michigan State and was a freshman with Magic. Right. I met on my second day on campus and he only stayed for two years, of course, but he had other things to do. But when he hit it big, pretty much from the time he got to the NBA. But I remember specifically during the mid 80s and I was working for a radio station at that time was my full time.

Jarrett

I was still doing Cowboys Weekly part time. I was working for radio station full time. But whenever the Lakers will come to town, I try to set up or get some kind of one on one with Magic. Right. And I remember a couple of times maybe it probably went off about three years or so. He would do the interviews with me, but he would always say, before we do an interview, I want you to tell me what you're doing, what's going on with your career, how it's going to through the years. Like I said, it was just a few years, but I tell him, oh yeah, I left this newspaper covering high schools and I'm still doing the cowboy stuff. Now I'm doing radio and so on and so forth. And that was just so cool because he was the man, he was Magic. He was Magic. But you know what, Todd? The other Laker players would see that and then they would in turn be welcoming to me and a couple of oh yeah, that's Magic, that sort of thing. It's not that I was like super close to Magic when we were in College.

Jarrett

We did have a class together and I would see him, but it's just kind of like as his star, Rose, he just seemed to really kind of remember oh, yeah, I remember this guy from Michigan State and look at him now and what is he doing, that sort of thing. So I always really appreciated that.

Todd

Well, you've certainly throughout your career, been able to shine a light on so many different people Players, coaches, owners, and get past the cardboard cut out that we see sometimes and get back into the actual who are these people? And readers, viewers, listeners have all benefited from the great coverage, and I know the NFL has certainly provided you an interesting life from those days in Olympia Stadium When you thought you were going to play hockey to actually spending four decades covering the NFL. I just want to thank you for your time, Jared. It's been a really enjoyable conversation with you, and I know the NFL never stops. You got to start working those phones and hit the keyboard as soon as we hang this up. But I did want to thank you for this. I really enjoyed it.

Jarrett

Oh, Todd, I appreciate you having me. It's been a good deal for me as well. Just in therapeutic just to kind of have a walk down Beverly Lane. This is cool. Thank you. All right.

Todd

Thanks, Jared. Take care.

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