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10 Things I Think I Think On Peter King’s Retirement

Peter King pours a beer over Drew Magary’s head, in a still from a video from the old site.
Image: Deadspin

1. I think this is my quick* take on Peter King’s announcement today that he would no longer be writing his Monday morning column about the NFL.

a. King will be missed. He is part of an older guard of football analysts, having started at Sports Illustrated in 1989. With his retirement, a wealth of information on the NFL will be lost. He has shared so much over the years, but one cannot share everything, and stories that might have used his insight will now have to go without. Darn it.

b. Of course, that he is going out pretty much on top is also great. So many old sportswriters stick around for so long, whether out of vanity or necessity. Though King had more than hinted that he might be finishing up this season, I also like that he’s just retiring in a column and not doing an official tour. A local news anchor here in Philadelphia got a yearlong victory lap. Come to think of it, Jason Kelce kinda did too! Maybe I should take one.

c. King suggests multiple replacement options in his farewell column, and when he left SI he also wrote about the number of young, talented staffers who worked there. He has been a mentor of former Defector staff writer Kalyn Kahler, who is now at The Athletic. She is not only well-sourced and persistent but also comes up with some of the most clever story ideas of any sportswriter. King has long made a point of propping open a door for a new generation of football analysts to do their thing, and he is doing it again here.

d. Wow! No more Peter King. It really does seem like the end of an era. The Super Bowl halftime show in 1989 was an Elvis impersonator, Elvis Presto, a magician who did no Elvis bits. The Super Bowl halftime show in 1980, when King started at The Cincinnati Enquirer, was Up With People’s “A Salute to the Big Band Era.” You can see how the game has changed.

e. I use an asterisk because I guess this isn’t going to be quick.

2. I think Peter King had really better be retired. King declares his retirement with an asterisk, too: “I use an asterisk because I truly don’t know what the future holds for me. I probably will work at something, but as I write this I have no idea what it will be.” Good rhyme. But if he comes back writing some sort of Monday football column in six months, I reserve the right to take back any kind words.

3. I think I know why King’s Monday columns were a regular read of mine for so many years at SI. They were, by their nature, written on a tight deadline. But I almost never found his opinions hastily thrown together. He thought about what he wrote about. He researched things. This is much less common than one might hope for in sportswriting, and really in all of journalism. Even when I disagreed with him, I would usually come away with new knowledge and appreciate his take.

4. I think I am amazed he stuck to the bit this long.

a. King writes that the Monday morning column began when his old editor, Steve Robinson, “asked me to empty my notebook every Monday” starting in 1997. This could have been a slog of a column. I myself once wrote a Monday-morning NFL recap for The Guardian US and they phased me out for another writer a few weeks into a season. I had wanted to do something like it for years, and I was so bad at it. I was disappointed in myself, and knew that I would miss the paycheck, but also I was relieved that I didn’t have to write it anymore. It’s hard! I guess I could just be ill-equipped for that kind of gig, but I just thought I’d end up saying so many of the same things each week somehow.

b. But King’s observations somehow never seemed forced. I trapped myself into an Eagles bit this season, and I carried it through to completion. But I hated it after about Week 9. I hated it at least a little bit by Week 2. I do not know how Peter King managed to do this column since 1997. Even when it comes to bits I like more, the fatigue factor is real. There are a number of lessons I could have taken from the fact that my 2022 recap of Wildwood t-shirts became a live show at the Defector Ideas Festival, and my 2023 recap was just not finished at all, but the main one is: I may have run out of things to say.

c. I need to figure out how King did this for so long and learn from his teachings. I no longer want to do an NFL recap column, though.

5. I think there was one part of King’s farewell column that resonated with me more than others. To explain why, I have to start with my own story:

a. It was a Sunday night in December. My wife was in labor. We had the Eagles game on in our room. That made me smile. I was born a few days before the Super Bowl. My mom later told me that, when kickoff came, her room became the party spot for hospital employees: She was the only one in the ward with the game on the TV. I love these sorts of connections-through-the-ages. Did you know my grandfather also once walked out of his job one day and never came back? He did this after they made everyone sing the company song. Sometimes you hear an old story and learn something new about yourself, or are just reminded of something you’d known and forgotten.

I don’t think anyone really came into our room during the 49ers’ dismantling of the Eagles—this was the game that started the team’s season-ending skid—but I was thinking of that story throughout the night. When Eagles fixers and sideline enforcer Big Dom got kicked out of the game, I thought about a good angle for the next day’s bit. I’d write about Butch Buchanico, Andy Reid’s old body man, who once got a penalty for running over an official while celebrating a big kickoff return to open the game.

I should restate here that my wife was in labor at the time. She was asleep for the Eagles game, but still. It took an exchange with Ray Ratto to jolt me out of it, as I messaged with him about some thoughts for the next day’s blog. “DO NOT WRITE ABOUT ANYTHING OTHER THAN THE NEW THING!” he DMed me. “BIG DOM CAN WAIT!”

He was right, though my son was born the next night so I really could’ve done it. You see? My brain just kept going back to work—not just work but what thing I could possibly do that readers might find interesting or clever or fascinating. I realize a 20-year-old story about Butch Buchanico may be none of these three things. But I’ve established that there were some extenuating circumstances at play.

b. In his retirement column, King writes about getting up in the middle of the night and thinking about a factoid that had been bouncing through his brain: John Madden coached his last game at 42. He got curious, looked something up, and learned that Andy Reid had coached 429 games since turning 42. King tells it as an explanation for why he is choosing to retire instead of just writing a shorter column, as his editor requested. It’s because he might not be able to get all of the information in.

But the spoke to me for another reason: This was a man whose brain works maybe a little bit like mine does, where one little piece of information can drive an obsessive quest to see what else that key fact might unlock, and then make you feel like you have to tell someone about it. Anything can be a figment for a new story idea, or a new thing to learn, or just become another piece of content. I am much younger than Peter King, but I have been writing about sports since I was 17. More than half my life has been spent in journalism, and it is a career I have treasured. But it is also a job that can overtake your life, because it is never done. I am always thinking about the next story, the next good line, the next pitch, the next person I want to call with a question.

c. I am sure this is how King’s brain works. There is no better example of it than the most infamous thing he ever wrote. You know what it is.

This tweet has been deleted, so I had to use Internet Archive and it gave it to me in German Dutch. (I apologize to the people of The Netherlands for mixing up the languages on publication.)

Fuck! This is Peter King hearing about Robin Williams, instantly feeling the need to share it with a stranger, then figuring out a way to contextualize it for his audience online. Let’s be clear: He failed in this attempt, and wrote something really stupid. But also he succeeded, both in writing it as himself and in his way, and in producing something perversely memorable, or memorably perverse. Do you remember any other Robin Williams eulogies?

c. I left a little bit out about that story King told, because he told it in a very Peter King way. It mentions, several times, that King did all of this thinking while going to the bathroom at 3 a.m. It ends with the sentence: “At 66, it’s hard enough to fall back to sleep once you use the bathroom at night—and especially hard if your brain starts working like that.” I can obviously understand the brain bit, but I did not think I thought that I wanted to know about Peter King’s bathroom habits, and maybe I still don’t. I now have an item bouncing around in my brain about Peter King pissing, for one thing, which I do not really care for if I am being honest.

But also this anecdote worked. It was a great example of why Monday Morning Quarterback, and its successor Football Morning in America column, was a weekly read for me and for many others: The column took you into Peter King’s brain.

d. I will miss his work, but I am so excited he might get a chance to exhale after so many years. I’d imagine that his thoughts will still get him out of bed late at night, though. Some brains just function that way.

6. I think I did not always care much about whatever King would go on about near the end of his column. Even when I drank—and I drank so much that I had to quit—I did not care about what beer the man liked. But King’s idiosyncrasies were, to me, the draw of the column. He started at Sports Illustrated in 1989, and wrote for newspapers before then. He had a wealth of sources in the NFL due to his longevity, platform, and his own hard reporting work. What sets King apart from the other sourced-up droids currently on this beat is that he delivered these insights and tidbits and observations in such a delightful way. Even if it was just explaining a ridiculous Odell Beckham Jr. catch against the Cowboys, and how he talked to Beckham on the phone, and his descriptions of the how the play worked… it also really worked for me. It wasn’t showy, there was nothing in the language that necessarily caught your eye, but it was good writing in the simplest and most essential sense. I’d watch a whole day of football, then watch it again through Peter King’s eyes the next day, in an easy-to-digest format despite the length of the column.

7. I think you think that I might not be able to do my own Peter King-style Beernerdness. Well, ha! I did quit drinking a while back. It will be eight years this June. And one thing that’s been really fun to see over the last eight years is the proliferation of non-alcoholic beer. Suddenly I have lots of options and don’t feel so left out! I can spend just as much money on a night out as I used to!

So here are some thoughts on that. (Note: Some of these beers might be not zero-alcohol but “less than 0.5% alcohol," but it’s basically an equivalent for me.)

a. All the NA macro-brews are just like all the alcoholic macro-brews: Fine. Whatever. They’re not “good,” but they’ll do, even without the alcohol. St. Pauli Girl NA is the only one I will pass on. Heineken 0.0 shows up more than O’Doul’s now, and it’s probably a little better. It also doesn’t taste like much of anything. But there’s something to holding that bottle for me. I never had a problem with daily drinking, more just an inability to stop once I started, so the act on its own is not triggering for me in any way. It’s fun to hold some crap NA beer and gulp it down. Feels like old times. I am hoping Samuel Adams Goldrush becomes more widely available; it’s better than the bigger brewers’ options.

b. The biggest “craft” non-alcoholic beer you might see is Athletic, a whole brewery of NA beer. It has hip-looking packaging and seems a step up than the macrobrews. Works for me! Run Wild is a solid IPA, and Upside Dawn Golden goes down very easy. Of course, I do not remember what alcoholic beer tastes like anymore, so I have no idea if these are anything approaching a match.

c. I can never find a consistent selection of other NA beers basically anywhere, but here are some other ones I’ve liked and remembered to jot down: Al's Classic Non-Alcoholic Lager, Best Day Brewing White, Sierra Nevada Trail Pass IPA, Industrial Arts Safety Glasses Non-Alcoholic Pils. That last one is probably my favorite of these.

d. Beyond NA beer, I’ve gotten into hop water, carbonated water with hop flavoring. My favorite is the brand that’s just called HOP WTR. Lagunitas’ Hoppy Refresher is also really solid. I was at Iron Hill Brewery in Delaware last year and they now offer some a hop water as well. We took some home in a growler. It felt like old times.

e. Mixed drinks with non-alcoholic spirits work for me, too. Basically nothing straight does except for one whiskey brand: Kentucky 74. Legit. It’s incredible. I should’ve named this section Spiritless Whiskeynerdness.

8. I think Peter King was as good of a sport as anyone in the business. Not everyone is, and most aren’t even capable of faking it. As you can tell from the image atop this page from the old site, he even played along with us. I don’t fully know why, as I’m guessing we were as mean to him as anyone.

His smile after shoving Drew over is so freaking good. Maybe King’s next career can be acting.

9. I think Peter King is my favorite of all the Peter Kings, pretty comfortably edging out Peter King, 1st Baron King, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain from 1725–1733. Check out this guy’s look!

10. I think that I admire his longevity even more now that I’ve tried to write a list of 10 things. This is about 2,600 words. I am out of gas. Good thing I go on leave at the end of the month! It’s not a lifelong break, but maybe I can take a step back, too. Looks like I even learned something from Peter King’s final column.

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