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.
An NFL player tried to run him over with his car. He survived a crash in another car driven by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. He rode in John Madden’s bus, and even piloted the Goodyear Blimp into a U-turn. Oh, the humanity. Yes, covering the NFL has been an interesting ride for Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. Sam takes us along on those journeys, and he puts us in some other unique places that have dotted the path of his decorated career from covering America’s favorite sport. Find something unexpected in Al Davis’ hotel suite. Float in the Dead Sea with Joe Montana and other Hall of Fame players on a trip to Israel. Oh, and play a round of golf with Donald Trump. Hear the reaction of the former President when Sam tried to settle their bet after 18 holes. It’s priceless.
Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times was honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019 with the Dick McCann Memorial Award in recognition of his “long and distinguished reporting in the field of pro football.” He has covered the NFL since 1994, beginning at the San Jose Mercury News, where he served a as a beat reporter covering the Oakland Raiders for five seasons. Sam has been at the Los Angeles Times since 2000, where he covered UCLA for a year before moving to the NFL beat. He’s a two-time winner of California Sportswriter of the Year and won first place for beat writing by Associated Press Sports Editors in 2016. At various times, Sam has also been a beat writer covering the NBA, PGA Tour, and college football and basketball. He began his journalism career in the late 1980s writing about high school and college sports for the Times' San Fernando Valley edition for two years before moving to the Pacific Northwest. Sam covered the University of Washington football and basketball programs at the Bellevue Journal-American in Washington, and he covered the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics at the Valley Daily News in Kent, Wash.
As an NFL columnist, Sam earned national praise for his work chronicling the league’s return to Los Angeles following the 1995 departure of the Raiders and Rams. In January 2016, he teamed with fellow Los Angeles Times reporter Nathan Fenno to break the news that the Rams and Chargers were returning to LA after a 21-year absence.
Covering the NFL has led Sam to some unique places for stories. For example:
· In 2009, he hiked up Mount Rainier with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
· Sam sat in on the “Monday Night Football” booth with announcers Al Michaels and John Madden.
· He piloted the Goodyear blimp.
· He spent a week behind the scenes with Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks.
· Sam traveled with a game officiating crew to document their job.
· He traveled in Europe with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to visit troops who had come back from Iraq.
· Sam also traveled with 18 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame on a 10-day journey to Israel.
"Sam is an excellent storyteller who is passionate about the subjects he writes," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said when Farmer was honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "We may not always agree with his take on every story, but he is fair and respects the facts.”
Todd Jones: I'm Todd Jones, recovering from 30 years as a sport's writer. Thanks for joining me as I sit down with some of the best sports writers of our time, who knew the greatest athletes and coaches, and experienced firsthand some of the biggest sports moments of the past half century. We'll share stories behind the stories. Some we've only told each other. Pull up a seat on Press Box Access.
Todd Jones: I've known Sam Farmer since 1988, and he's made me laugh in every one of our many conversations since. Sam's a funny guy. A natural story teller. He's also one of the best reporters covering the NFL, which he's done for more than 25 years. In fact, Sam was honored by The Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2019. That's no joke. Sam will tell us about some of the biggest names in football history and toss in two scoops of humor. This will be fun.
Todd Jones: Well Sam, thanks for joining us. What do you say we buy everybody a round?
Sam Farmer: That sounds great. Let's start with you. Open that wallet.
Todd Jones: I forgot my wallet. I think it's at home. I think The Los Angeles Times can afford it.
Sam Farmer: Right.
Todd Jones: So go for it my man.
Sam Farmer: Oh yeah. It's great to see you. Great to see you, buddy. It's a-
Todd Jones: Yeah, it's been awhile. I just want to say something. Hall of Famer. Hall of Famer, Sam Farmer.
Sam Farmer: Yeah, yeah. The Hall of Fame dropped a couple notches.
Todd Jones: Yeah.
Sam Farmer: Wait a second. Wait a second.
Todd Jones: What was the entry fee there, Sam?
Sam Farmer: Exactly. I'm still paying it. That's why I can't buy the round.
Todd Jones: Yeah. Well you know, I got to say in all seriousness, joking aside, one of the thrills of my career was in 2019, hearing that you were honored with the Dick McCann Memorial Award and knowing that you are going to be enshrined in Canton. In the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sam Farmer: Oh, thank you, buddy. That's-
Todd Jones: Knowing you all these years, it just made me feel so wonderful that a good friend was rightfully being honored for what a career. And you're still doing it. Still writing great stuff for The Los Angeles Times.
Sam Farmer: Oh, thank you.
Todd Jones: Yeah.
Sam Farmer: Oh, that's so kind of you. And it feels like yesterday that we were interns together at The LA Times.
Todd Jones: I knew you when.
Sam Farmer: I know. And I knew you when. I mean it was really... You were so prolific. That was the thing that always blew me away. You'd have 100 inches written... and I mean... I remember, it was so tough for me to generate copy. I just remember... I think about my first story that I did for The LA Times, and I was a-
Todd Jones: So this is-
Sam Farmer: A desk assistant-
Todd Jones: This is when we were together in the summer of 1988?
Sam Farmer: No, this earlier. This is like, '87.
Todd Jones: Okay.
Sam Farmer: And I was a junior in college. It was the San Fernando Valley edition of The Times. This was back when we were so robust we were able to have all these editions. They assign me... Because I had written a story on the Washington football team, the Redskins, who were my favorite team. It was a Redskins, Cowboys story that it was a sample story. I'm sure it was just horrific. But I think they needed somebody to go out-
Todd Jones: It was a test.
Sam Farmer: Yeah.
Todd Jones: yeah.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. I think my last line was probably the final score. I didn't have any concept of how to put a story together, but-
Todd Jones: They saw something. They saw potential. They sent you to what? An occidental college game?
Sam Farmer: They saw-
Todd Jones: Or something.
Sam Farmer: No. They saw enthusiasm. They sent me to North Hollywood High School for a girl's-
Todd Jones: Oh. Yes.
Sam Farmer: Girls basketball game. Because they said you know, it's a three o'clock deadline. So, I mean, it's a three o'clock game. So he's not going to miss deadline. He's got about five inches to right, which is, of the uninitiated that's a very, very short story. You could probably read it in one breath. A five inch story. And, so they... so I show up there and I was wearing a three piece suit. I think it was the last time I ever wore a three piece suit. And you know-
Todd Jones: At a high school basketball game?
Sam Farmer: At a high school basketball game. I'm sitting up in the stands. And I was a college kid. So of course I fell asleep. I fall asleep in the thing. Woke to the final buzzer. Was still sort of in a fog. And I went down and grabbed a few quotes, that were just unintelligibly scribbled on my notepad. Got my... we went to the scorers table, and I don't know that I... how I knew how to do this. But, I got the individual scorers. Well, the individual scorers didn't add up to the final score but, I only found that out a couple hours later. Which is-
Todd Jones: Ah. Doesn't matter.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. Because parents don't really care.
Todd Jones: Parents don't care. And you know, for facts, you know. Come on Sam.
Sam Farmer: Exactly. You don't get your... But I remember I was driving to The Times headquarters in Chatsworth. The Valley headquarters. And I left the oil cap off my car. So I was stalling at every stop sign. And I got out. In a suit. And I remember, I opened the thing. I let the hood up. And I was looking at the thing. And I know nothing about cars. But suddenly, I'm covered in oil. And I go in to The Times office. And just staring at a blank screen. A computer screen for what felt like two hours. That said by Sam Farmer.
Todd Jones: Good start.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. And I wrote the thing. I just bled and wrote this story which you know now, any sport's writer would be able to write this thing in five minutes. And anyway, the final story that showed up in the paper the next day, looked nothing like what I wrote. So they completely re-wrote it. And they told me, don't call us, we'll call you. And for me, that sort of set the hook for me in terms of my interest in becoming a sport's writer and the challenge. Because I really wanted to be a doctor. Coming out of college.
Todd Jones: Well I mean, I spent college pretty much majoring in beer. And then I got a degree and somehow, the Los Angeles Times called me to come out and work in the summer of 1988. So, I drove my 1980 Honda, with Flintstones brakes across the country and I pulled into Los Angeles like Jed Clampett. And I walked into The LA Times and I sat down and I looked around and I'm thinking to myself, what am I doing here? And you happen to be sitting next to me.
Sam Farmer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Todd Jones: And we spent the entire summer, sitting next to each other like, two goobers who didn't know what to do. Saucer eyed. I mean, I'm reading Jim Murray, Mike Downey, Scott Ostler, and there's Todd Jones from Kentucky, writing a story for The Los Angeles Times. I'm thinking, this is insane.
Sam Farmer: Yeah.
Todd Jones: I distinctly have one memory of sitting on your front stoop and West Hollywood, where you had allowed me to crash on your couch because I was basically homeless. And I remember sitting out one night, listening to Warren Zevon. And every time I hear Desperadoes Under the Eaves, I think of sitting there and again, thinking, how in the hell did I end up here?
Sam Farmer: Yeah.
Todd Jones: What am I doing here? I felt like a total fraud.
Sam Farmer: Well, if you felt like a fraud, I mean... you can't imagine. Because I looked at you and I thought, this guy has experience.
Todd Jones: Yeah.
Sam Farmer: He's covered major... he's covered Kentucky basketball. He's covered major stuff. He's a really good writer. And I learned a lot from you. Just watching you. You had so much more experience. I won on a college paper. I didn't do any of that. I had no experience, other than being a sports fan. And being a fan of the sports page.
Todd Jones: Oh, I don't know. I just kind of hid it... I hid it well. I think we both had a lot of fear.
Sam Farmer: Total feal. Yeah.
Todd Jones: Total fear. Now you're in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Recognized for 25, 26 years of covering the NFL. Known as one of the best football story tellers in the country. And rightfully so. and you started with oil all over your suit at a high school fame.
Sam Farmer: Yeah.
Todd Jones: So, you know, it started very small but, here you are now, nationally respected. But, at the same time, your NFL writing career, almost ended before it even really got started. I mean, you were covering Oakland Raiders, and you were nearly killed by a kicker.
Sam Farmer: Oh yeah.
Todd Jones: I mean, really? A kicker Sam? Not like some big lineman or a linebacker going to rip your head off. You had a kicker almost kill you?
Sam Farmer: I know. Couldn't I have done better than that? That's-
Todd Jones: What happened?
Sam Farmer: You're amazing. How'd you find that story? So, I remember that Sebastian Janikowski, the Raiders had picked him in the first round. He was this troubled kicker from Florida State, I believe? Was he Florida State?
Todd Jones: I think so. Yeah.
Sam Farmer: And he had this sort of a checkered... he had a rap sheet coming in. But, he was a perfect Al Davis, kind of guy. And but he had given up drinking at the start of the season.
Todd Jones: Yeah. Me too. Me too.
Sam Farmer: This is Jolly [(Gruten's) 00:09:57] rookie season. Well, I had gotten word from a guy who had a connection to the beta that he had seen Janikowski out at closing time, in some bar, now I don't know if that was the case, but I had to ask him about after practice. And Janikowski was 250 pounds and very intimidating. I mean he's like a... he was like a linebacker. He was really built like that and gruff, and had this... kind of looked at us with a jaundiced eye. Having had all these issues in college. And rounded into, I think, a more agreeably guy as his career went on. He was established but, he was pretty surly as a rookie. And he came out with the punter and his name's Shane Lechler. Shane Lechler. He and Shane came out after practice-
Todd Jones: So the kicker and the punter were going to work you over?
Sam Farmer: Yeah. Exactly. And a lot of times, we would wait out in the parking lot for the Raiders. The Raiders were the wild, wild west. I mean, take you back a year earlier and Joe Bugel's one season as coach, and I mean, you had player revolts. You had Chester McGlockton running this 350 pound defensive tackle, running through drills in a full length coat, refusing to take it off when coaches told him to do that. He didn't want to do that.
Todd Jones: That's disciple there by the Raiders.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. The Raiders were just completely off the reservation in terms of like the craziness of that team.
Todd Jones: Well, they had a kicker and a punter wanting to kill you. So what happened?
Sam Farmer: Yeah. So, I asked Sebastian about that. I said, I got to ask you. I hear you've been out at closing time at these bars, et cetera. I mean, he turned to Shane Lechler and he said, don't ever talk to this guy. This guy just asked me about going out and partying. Don't ever talk to him. And he got in his SUV and roared out of the parking lot, and nearly hit me. I had to jump between two cars. To not-
Todd Jones: He tried to run you over?
Sam Farmer: Yeah. I mean, I was like... he was like... fishtailing out of the parking lot. And then, then whenever he'd see me, running off the field, he would run right at me and just take a quick side step right before he got to me.
Todd Jones: You should have kicked him.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. The counter kick-
Todd Jones: There must be something about running over sport's writers. I once covered a senior golf tournament in Cincinnati. And this guy Rocky Thompson, who had about 15 minutes of fame. He was a steel worker and he won some of these tournaments on the senior tour, which is basically like, cooperate welfare with a scoreboard. I had to ask him something after a bad round and he was sitting on his golf cart, and I was standing right in front of it. And I said, hey Rocky. Can I talk to you for a second. And he said, no you may not. And just stomped on the pedal.
Sam Farmer: Oh my [crosstalk 00:13:15].
Todd Jones: And same thing. I had to like, literally jump out of the way of a golf cart.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. I'll take a golf cart over an SUV.
Todd Jones: So both of us were almost run over.
Sam Farmer: And we both probably deserved it.
Todd Jones: Yeah. Probably so. Probably so.
Sam Farmer: No, it's-
Todd Jones: But the-
Sam Farmer: But the Raiders were a five year sentence. Covering that.
Todd Jones: Yeah.
Sam Farmer: Covering that team.
Todd Jones: What judge put you out there to cover the Raiders for five years? What did you do?
Sam Farmer: Exactly. Exactly.
Todd Jones: Because when you think about it, the Raiders were run by Al Davis. One of the most iconic characters in the history of the NFL.
Sam Farmer: Yeah.
Todd Jones: But Davis was really about control and paranoia and conflict.
Sam Farmer: Totally.
Todd Jones: Well, you tell me. You dealt with him on a daily basis. Tells us about Al Davis and what that was like.
Sam Farmer: Al was the sweetest to my wife Paige. He could be charming and sweet and everything. He'd play us against each other as writers. Not my wife and I but, the writers. He would... one day he would, or even over the course of the day. Jeff Judea, who was at the San Francisco Examiner and went on to Sports Illustrated and now is at NFL Network, he and I were roommates. And Al would be nice to one of us in the morning and the other one in the afternoon. And I remember one time with Al, I was in Coral Gables Florida, for an NFL owners meetings, and I saw Al in the lobby.
Todd Jones: Oh, by the way. Was he always dressed always in black or silver? He had the pompadour?
Sam Farmer: Sometimes he'd be... oh yeah. He always had the sweatsuit on and he'd have the glasses on the silver chain.
Todd Jones: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sam Farmer: And now that I wear these readers, I kind of understand that. I just have 4000 pairs of these things that I order on Amazon. But, Al, I see Al in the lobby. And I said, Al. Can I talk to you? And he said, come up to my suit. And I thought, I'm going up to Al Davis' suite. I mean, this is unbelievable. This is great. I'm the only beat guy from the west coast there. T.J. Simers and I are the only beat guys, or only NFL guys from California, at these particular meetings at the Hyatt in Coral Gables. And so I go up and Al's got this gigantic suite at the Hyatt. And he's got weights set up. He's got a bench-
Todd Jones: Like barbells? Like barbells set up?
Sam Farmer: Yeah. Barbells. Which he would bring on the road for show. Just to let the other owners know he was staying in shape. Now he's 70-
Todd Jones: Yeah. I was going to say, he's got to be 70, right?
Sam Farmer: Yeah. He's 72 years old or so at the time. And so I said Al. Now he's got three 45s stacked on each side. I mean, there's no way that he's benching this. And I said, al, I see you got your weights. And he looked at me without a hint of irony, he said, yeah. It's hard to stay cut at my age. Stay. Not, get cut. Stay cut. But, much later, I remember because my beat was really, NFL and L.A. Wednesday, NFL coming back to LA so it was more important to me, that I know the owners and the commissioner, and other NFL executives than it was knowing players or even coaches.
Todd Jones: Right, right.
Sam Farmer: Because I was really dealing with these big move. So, I was talking to Joe Brown from the NFL. And it was an owners meetings. I don't remember where we were. Maybe we were in New Orleans or something. And, Al is now having a hard time walking really but, he hangs on to the backpack of-
Todd Jones: And still cut. He was still cut though.
Sam Farmer: He was cut. He was cut but, he's got kind of a Sherpa. The kid with the backpack and he walks along and hangs on to the backpack of the kid. And I'm talking to Joe Brown and I'm taking notes. And Joe Brown was the right hand man to Paul Tagliabue. And Al says, "Sam." He's used me for a distance. He says, "they keep lying and you keep writing it."
Todd Jones: Oh. Al Davis. The tourist battling the NFL always. Always battling the NFL.
Sam Farmer: It was a shuffle by shooting. Shuffle by shooting. He got us both with one shot.
Todd Jones: Well see, just like you hear these legendary stories about his paranoia. Do you remember anything about spies and hidden microphones that you dealt with, with Al Davis and-
Sam Farmer: There were times, when we would talk about something in the press room among reporters and the PR guy would come in and say something very on point.
Todd Jones: Like talk to the plant?
Sam Farmer: Yeah. It was like-
Todd Jones: The house plant in the corner.
Sam Farmer: It was like wait a second. Another time I remember, Jeff Hostetler was having shoulder problems or something and there was a very... we would have a conference call. A conference call and Al Locasale, who was Al's right hand man, he came on and said, we're getting Hos. It's a conference call. No questions. No questions.
Todd Jones: No questions?
Sam Farmer: Nobody can ask questions. He's going to make a statement. No questions. And somebody said, Al is this, going to be transcribed? He said, that's a question. And then... in a very grainy call, Jeff Hostetler talked about his shoulder, and made a statement and got off the phone. And our suspicion at the time was, it was a recording of Jeff Hostetler. And they acted like it was live-
Todd Jones: They doctored it?
Sam Farmer: They doctored it.
Todd Jones: Like Weekend at Bernies. He's not even alive.
Sam Farmer: And it was... so there was always something sort of crazy going on with the Raiders.
Todd Jones: Yeah. Never a dull moment.
Sam Farmer: Never a dull moment.
Todd Jones: You covered the Raiders for five seasons for the San Jose Mercury News, and then in 2000, you went back to Los Angeles. Back to work for the L.A. Times once again. And at the time, Los Angeles did not have a team. So you're an NFL writer. You go to a city that does not have a team. Why didn't you just go to New York City and cover farming? I mean-
Sam Farmer: Yeah.
Todd Jones: You're going to a city without a team and you're going to cover that league. What was that all about?
Sam Farmer: Well, actually, I'll tell you. I actually came in as the UCLA beat writer. And I covered one season at UCLA basketball.
Todd Jones: Oh. Okay. That explains it.
Sam Farmer: But the Raiders had gotten good and so, they would call me in to do a John Gruden profile. A Rich Gannon profile. The Raiders got to the AFC championship game that season and lost to Baltimore which went on and won the Super Bowl. But, I was able to sort of show my NFL chops that way.
Todd Jones: Yeah, because you had built some sources in some people you knew.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. Exactly.
Todd Jones: Yeah. Right.
Sam Farmer: Exactly.
Todd Jones: Right.
Sam Farmer: So that summer, they said, "hey. We'd like you to take over the NFL beat." And I had... you know this was going back to LA, I would have walked... in fact, I even told Bill Dwyer, when he offered me the job. I said, "I'll start walking right now to get down there."
Todd Jones: From San Jose.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. From San Jose which is a five hour drive.
Todd Jones: You're in Los Angeles. Now you're covering a sport. A league without-
Sam Farmer: Exactly.
Todd Jones: Without a team.
Sam Farmer: Oh-
Todd Jones: How did that change things for you?
Sam Farmer: It was a universe, galaxies apart from what I was doing. Thinking in big terms, what team might move to LA? What stadium might work? Who might the potential owner be? And this was a process that involved billionaires and political heavy hitters. People in the entertainment industry. Michael Ovitz and Tom Cruise, and Garth Brooks... whether it was going to be at Dodgers Stadium, the Colosseum, Hollywood Park, downtown LA, San Diego, I mean, Orange County. It was covering this. But, I also covered the league at large. So, I had the dream job. I'd go to the game of the week. I'd get to pick it myself. Hit the Monday night game on the way home. Got to do... because the NFL was vitally interested in how it was perceived in the nation's second largest market because remember, LA was more powerful, and more valuable to the NFL without a team, than with a team.
Sam Farmer: In the period that LA didn't have a team, it was 28 teams either got new stadiums, or had at least 400 million dollars in renovations.
Todd Jones: Damn. I should have gone for a team.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. Exactly. And you had everybody in LA saying, you can build a stadium in my backyard. Almost literally, some of these people. So, it was incredibly, I would say sort of an influential job because the league really cares. So I went to Europe with Paul Tagliabue. Traveled around Europe. I go to John Maddens and watch games with him.
Todd Jones: So you started... really you were covering football but, you were covering much more than football.
Sam Farmer: Yeah.
Todd Jones: You were covering the business aspect of it and-
Sam Farmer: This aspect and got to travel with officials and really got to draw up my own job description. Because people wouldn't want to just read about NFL in LA. They wanted to read about this young guy Tom Brady out of nowhere in New England. So I'm sort of identifying the really interesting stories. The stories that got me excited and questions that I really wanted answered. Whether that was like the officiating crew, or and got to do weird stuff. I mean, Matt Millen and I, we both together, piloted the Goodyear Blimp.
Todd Jones: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You're piloting the Goodyear Blimp?
Sam Farmer: Yeah. Oh yeah. Oh my god.
Todd Jones: Where were you when the Hindenburg went down?
Sam Farmer: That's great. That was... so yeah. We were at the Super Bowl. We were at Tampa. So it was the Super Bowl, the Cardinals, Steelers Super Bowl. We were there early. I wasn't with Matt but, when we got to the... Goodyear called and said, hey. Do you want to ride the Blimp? I said, yeah. Absolutely, I want to-
Todd Jones: Why not?
Sam Farmer: Ride the Blimp. And I got there and it was Matt Millen and me, with a pilot. So we took off. And we were ascending. And it's like... first of all, it's wooden benches in there. It feels very antiquated. And-
Todd Jones: But it's a blimp. I mean, let's face it. It's a blimp.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. And you feel somewhat at the mercy of the elements. Much more than an airplane. Sort of the winds... the winds, literally. So Matt and I were in this thing. We ascended and it's a very sharp ascent. The ascents and descents are very severe. So we get up there, and the guy says, okay, who wants to fly this? And flying it, if I recall, there's a big wheel to the side that was sort of like maybe had something to do with the pitch of the thing. And then there were foot pedals. It's not like a [crosstalk 00:25:46].
Todd Jones: He's pedaling it like a bike?
Sam Farmer: No, sort of like you push one down to turn one way, and push the other down to push the other way. And then you got the wheel that sort of your angle. Sort of positions your altitude... your whatever. And so I said, yeah. I'll try it. So I scrambled around and got into the pilot's seat and Matt was sitting next to me.
Todd Jones: Sweating.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. Immediately, I'm disoriented. I don't know which way is up.
Todd Jones: Oh this is good.
Sam Farmer: I whipped a U-turn in that thing so fast, I think... because I stood on what I thought was the accelerator.
Todd Jones: Did a U-Turn. U-turn with a blimp.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. Matt who had been this ferocious linebacker for the 49ers, The Raiders, fearless and everything. He was scared to death. His fingers were clutched. It was like that scene in Tommy Boy where the fingers are embedded in the dashboard. I was out of that seat in probably 30 seconds because I was so freaked out by my inability to steer the blimp or navigate the blimp.
Todd Jones: Well, Goodyear thanks you for bringing it back in one piece.
Sam Farmer: Yeah.
Todd Jones: And I'm glad that it landed safely and your career did not end the way it almost ended with Sebastian Janikowski in his car trying to run you over.
Sam Farmer: Yeah.
Todd Jones: How did the blimp compare to John Madden's bus?
Sam Farmer: Madden's bus was really cool. So, I did that... I've done that a couple of times.
Todd Jones: What was it like inside Madden's bus?
Sam Farmer: You know, it was actually surprising. He has a number of them.
Todd Jones: As we all do. You know.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. Of course. It was actually, surprisingly spartan. It wasn't like Jerry's bus. I've been on Jerry's bus.
Todd Jones: Jerry Jones' bus.
Sam Farmer: Jerry Jones' bus.
Todd Jones: I love how, by the way, I love how you're on a first name basis with a billionaire. Jerry's bus.
Sam Farmer: Yeah.
Todd Jones: Tell me about Jerry's bus compared with John's bus.
Sam Farmer: Well, Jerry's bus is like a Four Season's. I mean, that was like... John's bus was a nice, sort of decked out, with beds and TVs and stuff. But Jerry's bus is super, over the top, fancy, to the nine's. But, I've also been in a Town car with Jerry, with Jerry driving. Jerry's not a great driver.
Todd Jones: Really? That doesn't-
Sam Farmer: WE're going around-
Todd Jones: Why does that not surprise me?
Sam Farmer: We were, he was just building AT&T Stadium. And we're driving around a construction site. And we drove, circled and circled, and circled on these dirt roads and he's driving a Lincoln Town Car. And I'm in the front seat talking to him, and he's talking all the [inaudible 00:29:04] and the glass and the stadium, how they paid extra for these arches because they wanted to pleat the arches and the art gallery that's inside. And this is going to be, and it was, the greatest... it was the eighth, I think I called it the [crosstalk 00:29:20] hall. It was the eighth wonder of the world.
Todd Jones: And it's insane. It's just insane.
Sam Farmer: And while we're driving... it's insane. While he's driving, he's getting so into it, that he sort of, got off track and crashed through, a sawhorse. And we went down into a ditch. Now, we didn't fully crash the car but, we were down into a ditch.
Todd Jones: You sound like a teenager, explaining this to your dad. We didn't fully crash the car.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. And I was just... petrified and I realized that in a panic situation, I just freeze up. And he said, well thank you. Thank you. You saved us. And I said, how did I save you? How did I save us? And he said, I was like a defensive back and you were like a receiver. I was just looking at your eyes. They got real big. I was looking at your... God Jerry. This is crazy.
Todd Jones: So, you almost kill Jerry Jones, or he almost killed you.
Sam Farmer: He almost killed me.
Todd Jones: He almost killed Matt on a blimp. You almost killed-
Sam Farmer: Matt Millen.
Todd Jones: Matt Millen. You almost kill Matt Millen. Janikowski almost killed you. You have a lot of near misses.
Sam Farmer: Near death experiences.
Todd Jones: You even had access to Donald Trump before he was president, right Sam?
Sam Farmer: Yeah. I did. I got a call, Dave Morgan, who you know. Was one of the editors of the Times and he called me on a Friday night. This was in 2005. And said, "hey. Do you want to play golf with Donald Trump tomorrow?" And Trump was the hottest thing going because he was the host of the Apprentice at the time. And I said, "yeah. Of course. Where?" "Well, it's at this course he just bought out in Palos Merides. It's 16 holes because two holes slopped off into the water.
Todd Jones: Yeah, you know-
Sam Farmer: Yeah. Exactly. And it's later, to give people a point of reference, it's where they had the Catalina Wine Mixer and Step Brothers. It was that... that's where they filmed that. And so, I'm thinking it's going to be this media junket out there and we all are going to meet Donald Trump. Whatever. I get there, and it's Trump and an empty spot in his cart. And PGA PR guy and the pro from this course, which is called Ocean Trails.
Todd Jones: They want you in the cart with Trump?
Sam Farmer: So I'm sitting with Trump, in his cart. And we pull out, and he's starts making introductions to people and he said, "this is the top guy at the LA Times."
Todd Jones: You?
Sam Farmer: And I'm thinking-
Todd Jones: You're the top guy at the LA Times.
Sam Farmer: I'm not. I'm telling people, I'm not the top guy. The top guy doesn't even know my name. But, what I later came to realize, he wasn't doing that for me, he was doing that for him. He wouldn't be with anybody but the top guy from the LA Times.
Todd Jones: Yeah. What kind of golfer was the former president.
Sam Farmer: He was not a single digit handicapper, that's for sure. I mean, he was not... I think he called himself a seven or something. Now, I'm not a great golfer. I do play a little bit. And I'd say, he was probably closer to 15, something like that.
Todd Jones: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sam Farmer: But we went up... I'd be in a skins game-
Todd Jones: How much you take him for?
Sam Farmer: Ten bucks.
Todd Jones: Oh.
Sam Farmer: And so we get back to the clubhouse and he's got the two fives and which, being a sport's writer, I promptly spent. I didn't keep them. I should have kept them. He held on... as I was taking them from him, there was a little surface tension on those bills as he handing them off. And I said, "I just won 10 bucks from Donald Trump." And without missing a beat, he said, "well, I got a private jet and a super model girlfriend. So I'm not doing so bad." He was bugged about it.
Todd Jones: Oh.
Sam Farmer: But then we went and had lunch with his secretary in the clubhouse. So, he immediately starts in. He's like, we need gold ceilings. This was sort of a Spanish style clubhouse. And it was very nice but he really wanted to put his stamp on this place. So he said, "you know, we need gold ceilings. Tell chef, the soup bowls are too big. We're putting too much soup in these bowls."
Todd Jones: Except for you.
Sam Farmer: Tell chef... and she's taking notes. She saying, yes Mr. Trump. Yes Mr. Trump. She's taking notes. We need flat screen TVs. We need flat screen TVs all around. And Sony's. And she's like, "yes, Mr. Trump." Well, at the time, flat screens were kind of exotic. They were expensive. And he said, "Sony's. Sony's?" And she said, "Yes, Mr. Trump." And then he said, "now, he said, what are we going to call this place? Trump International, or Trump National?"
Todd Jones: Sounds like a Monty Python skit.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. And so I said, "all the while you've been saying this place is better than Pebble, is it? You think this place is better than Pebble? Look at these views. This place is better than Pebble." I'm thinking, Pebble has 18 holes.
Todd Jones: It's not missing two.
Sam Farmer: It's not missing two. I mean, it's a dramatic setting. It's pretty. It's not better than Pebble Beach but, anyway. Trump International, or Trump National? He turns to me and he said, "what do you think?" I said, "well, what's international mean?" And he said, "it means like, around the world." Yeah. I know what international means. What's it mean, relative to a golf course? And he said, we're five miles from LA international airport. And I said, "so, this place is better than Pebble but, you want people to associate it with the airport?"
Todd Jones: With LAX.
Sam Farmer: I mean, like that. He turns to his secretary and he says, "Trump National."
Todd Jones: And by the way, this guy's out of here.
Sam Farmer: He said, you're fired. I thought, I helped named that place.
Todd Jones: Nice. And you took 10 dollars from him. Very nice.
Sam Farmer: Yes. Exactly.
Todd Jones: Very nice.
Sam Farmer: So, that-
Todd Jones: Well that's the kind of access you've got Sam, throughout your career and you know, it helped you break some great stories. You broke the story on the NFL coming back to Los Angeles. You broke the story. That was one thing you had to get. I do want to ask you about one trip before we go. You made a trip to Israel a few years back with 18 Pro Football Hall of Famers. And we're not talking just any ole player. I mean, anybody in the Hall of Fame is great but, we're talking about Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Mike Singletary, Roger Staubach, Mean Jo Green. You're there with them in Israel. Tells us a little bit about your trip with that group.
Sam Farmer: It was unbelievable. It just, so cool, going over in this private, 747. Now we, at the Times, sent money to sort of approximate this trip and everything to united, I think it was United Jewish Charities and different groups. Robert Kraft had suggested because he has organized the trip. But to go over in a 60 seat, 747 and get to sit in the cockpit with Willy [crosstalk 00:37:33]
Todd Jones: Wait a minute. You're in a cockpit again? I mean, you're always flying things.
Sam Farmer: This time, they didn't say I could fly it. I got to sit... I sat for a couple of hours in the cockpit and you know, Roger Dolt came back with us on the way home and that was tremendous. But, so many memories of Israel. It was a week, where we hit all the incredible, historic and religious places, historical places. It was incredible but, there was some really funny memories. I remember, so we're leaving Tel Aviv and to head up the northern part of the country, and Roger-
Todd Jones: At the hotel?
Sam Farmer: Roger Staubach in the Hilton in Tel Aviv. Packed elevator and Roger Staubach and Joe Montana are going up in this elevator which is otherwise, packed with just guests from the hotel. And Joe gets off on the lower floor. We got to leave. So we're hustling to get our bags and there's a... he was recognizable. Everyone on the trip recognized Joe Montana. I mean everybody in Israel, when we would walk around, they might not know the other players but, they knew Joe Montana and they knew Jerome Bettis.
Sam Farmer: A guy is just apoplectically on the elevator. And he says, do you know who that is? That is one of the greatest players in NFL history. That's Joe Montana. And he's telling the rest of the elevator this. Doors are closing now. He's turned and he's telling this to Roger Staubach, and not recognizing who Roger Staubach is, and Roger says, really? Who do you play for? And the guy says, he played for the 49ers. And this fan, looks down. We've all got lanyards on. Now I'm not in the elevator. This is recounted to me by Roger. Hey, wait a second. I know you. You're that real estate guy.
Sam Farmer: He had no idea who Roger Staubach is.
Todd Jones: No idea. He was one of the great quarterbacks of all time.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. So that night, we're at dinner. We had two long tables. I'm sitting next to Roger and JO's at the other table. Joe Montana gets up and makes a toast. Very nice toast to the thing. Thanking Roger Kraft. So excited about this trip and he's got his two boys, Nate and Nick with him, and Jennifer, his wife is there. All the wives were there but... Nick and Nate Montana are the only kids that came. But, Roger leans over and kind of stages whispers to me and says, Did he play for the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl? I said, yeah. Actually twice. Twice. And he goes, Yeah. He should try the Pittsburgh Steelers on for size.
Todd Jones: Yeah, Joe only beat the Bengals. Joe had to go up against the Steelers. That's awesome.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. So, we're out... I'll just tell you one of the... we're in the Dead Sea.
Todd Jones: Yeah. Is this where you had another misidentified person? In the Dead Sea?
Sam Farmer: Yes.
Todd Jones: You. Out there, right?
Sam Farmer: Yes. So I go out and now, NFL films was on this trip. They documented it. And guys were out floating in the Dead Dea. You're amazing. How did you remember... that's amazing you know this story. So, we're... I go out. And Dead Sea is nine times the solidity of the Pacific, or seven times, or something. You can't sink in that thing. And it's got the consistency of suntan oil. Nothing lives in this water. And you cannot have a cut, an open wound and go out because it's just excruciating. You can't... so, anyway-
Todd Jones: Sounds like a great swim Sam.
Sam Farmer: Yeah, just terrific. And it's hot too. The water's hot. I go out. Wade out and start swimming out. And I go out... I had gotten to know the little Montana family here. And so, we're beyond the buoys. There's five of us and it's Joe and Jennifer. Joe got some in his eyes. And now he's got to get some water to wash out his eyes. Joe and Jennifer, Nate and Nick. We're out floating and I see that the NFL cameramen are wading into the water and heading out towards us. And I think, I'm not getting out of the water with 18 Hall of Fame, world class athletes. I don't care how old they are. Jim Rand is still a stud. I'm not getting out of the water while NFL films. I'm not doing that.
Todd Jones: If you'd only worked out with Al Davis, you'd have been cut.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. Exactly. It was hard to stay cut at my age.
Todd Jones: So you stayed in the water?
Sam Farmer: So I start swimming outside the arch of the camera.
Todd Jones: Good move.
Sam Farmer: I'm getting away from the camera now. I swim way out to this dock. And because all the salt in the water is just like crust on the, stalagmites or whatever, on the bottom of the thing. So you don't want to walk on this stuff. So, basically I'm floating in six inches of water and climbing up on this dock like the Creature From the Black Lagoon, so it's very unsightly, awkward-
Todd Jones: Yeah but, this is audio.
Sam Farmer: Yeah. So I'm schlepping up the dock and there is a woman probably in her 70s. Looks like an American tourist. Sort of pointing in my directing and pantomiming like a camera. Like she's going to take a photo. And then pointing at me. So I look behind me, I didn't see anybody getting out of the water. But I mean, nobody's behind me. And I said, me? And she says, yes. Can I take your picture? I said, you absolutely cannot take my picture. She said, we'll we're from the Bay Area. You're Joe Montana, aren't you? I'm not. I said, you have the worse impression of a Hall of Fame quarterback. And so, that story made the rounds. And for the rest of the trip, anytime it was roll call, we were getting on the buses, anything. And said, Joe Montana? And somebody would point and say, he's right there.
Todd Jones: Well now, you share a place with Joe Montana. You're enshrined in Canton Pro Football Hall of Fame and because of the great journalism you've done over the years, the stories, which all came back from the access, the relationships, the working relationships that you've built, the trust that you've built. You're flying a blimp. You're on a bus with John Madden. And then, you're breaking the story of the NFLs return franchise to Los Angeles. And so, two years ago, you're in Canton, and you're backstage with Bill Belichick with the Hall of Fame, and I think, your mother? Walked up to Belichick-
Sam Farmer: How do you get these stories? Oh my god. Yeah. My mom. My mom walked on, she said, I know you. To Belichick. I'm like Mom, please. Mom.
Todd Jones: What did Belichick say?
Sam Farmer: Belichick was very nice to her. I mean, everybody's in a festive mood. Everybody's there to celebrate somebody. And you know... but my mom. You know, is from western Pennsylvania. My mom is very gregarious. Loves people. Loves asking them questions.
Todd Jones: Yeah.
Sam Farmer: Finds out everything about you. She's a natural reporter. She wants to know everything about the person and she just asks... she's wonderful. But, she asks an endless stream of questions. She's a natural reporter. And you know all these stories.
Todd Jones: I just love that story of her saying to Bill Belichick, I know you. And you know what Same Farmer? I know you. I knew you back in 1988. We're both a couple of snot nosed kids. We didn't know what we were doing and we had these dreams of trying to become sports writers. And you fulfilled it. And now Sam, you're in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I couldn't be happier for you.
Sam Farmer: Thank you Todd. It's so great to talk to you and we... it's great to have these lifelong friendships. My dogs are going crazy in the background, but, you're a dear friend and I have great memories of working with you and this has been so much fun.
Todd Jones: Yeah. Well thanks for sharing your stories. I think listeners had a lot of fun listening to them.
Sam Farmer: Yep. Thanks so much.
Todd Jones: Take care.
Todd Jones: Thanks for listening to Press Box Access. You can find us here with a new episode, every other Wednesday. If you enjoyed this episode, please be sure to subscribe to us on Apple podcast, or on your favorite podcast app. We'd love for you to review us. Five stars would be nice. Follow us on social media. Drop us an email at [email protected]. And be sure to spread the word. Everyone is welcomed here. This has been a production of Evergreen Podcast. A special thank you to executive producers Michael DeAloia and Geraldo Orlando. Producer Sarah Willgrube and her audio engineer, Dave Douglas. I'm your host, Todd Jones. It's closing time. Rock on.