I absolutely LOVE doing interviews. Whenever I get a chance to chat with someone about the New England Patriots, I jump on it in a split second. So, when Todd from SBNation's most excellent Alabama blog, Roll 'Bama Roll, let me know Ian Rapoport, Alabama beat writer for the Birmingham News, was heading to the Hub to cover our New England Patriots as the Herald's beat writer, I got hold of Ian and asked him to answer a few questions. He's in the middle of changing jobs and cities, moving, and all the other stuff that goes along with it. "No problem, love to!", says Ian. Very, very cool. Props to Marima for her link in today's links.
Interview after the jump.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?
I’m a 29-year-old native of Boston, though I spent most of my childhood in Westchester County in New York. (No, I was not a Yankee fan.) I attended Columbia University, where I was a member of the lightweight crew team for four years, so I’ve spent some time rowing on the Charles, a pretty awesome experience. In my spare time, I play golf, watch sports and collect Pez dispensers. More than two months ago, I married a sweet Southern girl I met while covering Mississippi State for The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger four years ago. She was an MSU student then, which means she’s a huge Papelbon fan from way back. Coincidence, I guess. Readers of my blog knew – and will know her – as The Banktress, as she works in banking. We have two dogs – a Beagle named Molly and a rescued lab mix named Biscuit.
What memories of your time at the Birmingham News really stick out in your mind? Maybe a particular interview with a coach or player, a fan letter?
So much of what went on during my time at The Birmingham News covering Alabama is indelibly imprinted into my head. Just experiencing a news conference with Nick Saban is memorable enough, and we had a very professional, sometimes comedic relationship. But the two most insane, impressive, and unbelievable things I experienced had to do with fans. One was on Jan. 3, 2007, when Saban landed on a plane from Miami in tiny Tuscaloosa Airport to become Alabama's new coach, and he was met by 5,000 fans. Crazy. And the other thing was walking onto the sidelines for Alabama A-Day annual spring scrimmage in 2007 and seeing 92,000-plus people cramming into the stands. Never in a million years would I think so many people would show up to a practice.
What brought you back to Boston? Was it the opportunity to cover a pro team in a big market town?
I loved covering Alabama and working for The Birmingham News. Spending five years in the South reporting on UA and Mississippi State was something I’ll never forget. But I always grew up a fan of professional sports, mostly baseball and football. In my mind, there is nothing bigger than the NFL, so covering a pro team was always an ambition. When the opportunity arose to cover the Pats, the excitement was for a bunch of reasons. You always want to cover a subject of the most consequence, and the Pats are certainly important both in the grand scheme of the NFL and to their fans. I can’t wait for the chance to team up with the Herald’s reporters, including Karen Guregian and Ron Borges. Plus, I love, love, love Boston, both for the city and for the fans. Alabama fans are crazy, and I mean that in the nicest way. Boston fans are similarly devoted, and it’s great to write for a group like that.
Give us some insight into covering a college team vs. a pro team, especially a pro team in a major market like Boston. Is there more access with college organizations than pro?
I know the NFL is played at a higher level than college, but I’m not sure the work on the beat is completely different. At Alabama, there are at least eight daily beat reporters, a number that doesn’t include Internet sites, radio or TV. But with Nick Saban, much like Bill Belichick, access is very limited. Freshmen cannot talk to the media, neither can assistant coaches, and neither can most members of the administration. It sounds similar in Boston, so at least I’m used to it. You learn to deliver the news and write your stories in a way where the readers can't tell. You just work a little harder.
Will your role at the Herald be beat writer, columnist, or both? Do you anticipate setting up a blog, giving us fans more of the two way experience?
I’ll be the lead beat writer, though obviously Karen will have a huge role in Pats coverage, as well. Everyone always talks about how professional she is, and I can’t wait to see that up-close. It’s going to be fun to form a team with her and Ron, one of the most connected, in-the-know guys in the business. And yes, I will have a blog. Actually, blogging is one of my favorite parts of the job. At previous beats, I set up my paper’s first sports blogs, and both were fairly popular. This was mine at The News: http://blog.al.com/rapsheet/. The goal is to do the same with the Pats. When practice is going on, I’ll update it several times a day, mostly with short, fact-filled posts either about what’s happening at practice, what’s going on in the locker room, or what’s happening in the NFL. Whenever news breaks, it’ll be there, even if it’s during a game. Comments are more than welcome, and so is everyone’s opinion. There are times, I must warn you, when it’s not completely serious. I have a little fun on the blog, too. It’s definitely way more light-hearted than the stories, and I hope you enjoy that behind-the-scenes part of it. As for my job as the beat reporter, I’ll be reporting on the news with plenty of analysis but little opinion. Just as a philosophy, the columnists will offer their opinions, I'll just to report the facts, let people know a little more of what’s going on than they previously did, and tell stories.
We have a number of college players joining the ranks this year. From your dealings with these young athletes, what's it like for them to join an NFL team?
It’s always a mixed bag with college guys. It’s kind of like trying to predict which recruits will thrive in college. You never know. A lot of it depends on individual maturity and the choices they make. But some can also hinge on what type of program players come from and what kind of competition they face. Take Jerod Mayo, for instance. I wasn’t surprised that he came right in and contributed with the Pats, but not just because he’s athletic, smart, and mature. He also played at Tennessee for one of the gurus in the game in John Chavis. His education began way before he got to New England, and that showed.
If there were an Alabama player that would fit on the Patriots, who would it be and why?
Good question. I’ve actually thought about this a lot. It’s safe to say Saban and Belichick look for similar characteristics in football players. So I think the guys that Saban really likes could also play for his buddy. With that in mind, I’ll give you two: Terrence Cody and Javier Arenas. The 6-foot-5, 365-pound Cody is an athletic nose tackle, a perfect 3-4 guy who can take up two or three blockers and also push the pocket in pass rush. He has some issues with his weight (like some big dudes), but he is a really good guy who doesn’t mind working. Plus, he can dunk, and that’s cool. Belichick would like him because he’s got crazy talent, and fans would like him because he’s just a character. A big kid who’ll sign anything fans give him, including their faces and arms, and he still can’t believe he’s a star. Arenas is a tough-as-nails corner who was nearly unrecruited. Now, he’s one of the SEC’s best punt returner and a lock-down corner. Belichick and fans would like him for the same reason: He plays with incredible passion. They even have to dial him down in practice because he’s so intense. The kind of guy who would be just as good in a street fight as he is on the field, but a good leader, too.
Major, major props to Ian Rapoport for his time and great answers to the Pulpit's questions. I'm really looking forward to Ian's work at the Boston Herald and to working with him as much as I can. Again, my thanks to Todd from Roll 'Bama Roll for the connection.