One of two new members of The MMQB team. After starting his career at the New York Times, Tim looks back on reporting Manziel vs. reporting Mariota when the QBs were in college, and why he can’t cover the NFL without covering the concussion crisis
Much of the New York Times staff was gathering in the third-floor atrium, lining the overhead balcony, or finding a spot on the stairs with a view, awaiting the ceremony. It was Pulitzer Day, 2013, a joyous occasion because the Times was about to win four awards. People dressed up. Speeches had been prepared. Glasses of champagne were passed around.
Then around the time the ceremony began, word spread that a bomb had gone off at the Boston Marathon. As the speeches went on upstairs, several staffers sprang into action. The newsroom TVs showed the live newscast. At one point Jill Abramson, the executive editor at the time, rushed and asked a sports reporter who the Times had covering the marathon.
It was a freelancer, a former Times intern, someone named Tim Rohan.
“Who the hell is Tim Rohan?!” Abramson exclaimed.
You, dear MMQB reader, may be asking the same question.
Here are some quick biographical facts. I’m 26, a graduate of the University of Michigan, and I spent the last four years working as a Times sportswriter, including the last two and a half years covering the New York Mets. I also dabbled in college football, basketball, and hockey. The one constant, no matter the sport: I wanted to find interesting stories.
Never has the NFL been more popular. And meanwhile, the league is dealing with a concussion crisis that threatens the future of the sport itself. That’s what makes covering the league so exciting right now.
Upon joining The MMQB, Albert Breer and I were asked to write essays introducing ourselves. I’m covering the NFL for the first time, but if there’s one thing I’d like to emphasize to the audience here, it’s that I consider that a strength. I bring a fresh perspective. I’ll take on important topics and aim to write illuminating features, telling stories you’ve never heard before.
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Kevin Sumlin had a policy: Freshmen were not permitted to talk to the media, and that included his quarterback, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel. In order to skirt around the rule, I spent a weekend with his parents, who lived not far from Texas A&M’s campus.
Manziel’s father, Paul, told stories about Johnny’s college recruitment in between a round of golf. In the stadium suite after another win, the Manziel parents toasted their son with friends, raising champagne. The weekend ended with a barbeque at Johnny’s house, his grandmother telling stories about her son getting in a fight. In the garage sat a shiny new Camaro. His father had made a deal with Johnny to incentivize good behavior after Johnny had been arrested for fighting outside a bar earlier that year: If he were a “model citizen,” he would get the car. “Johnny needs structure all the time,” his father said, “because down time for Johnny is the worst time.” You didn’t need to quote Johnny to tell what might come later.
Two years later, I profiled Marcus Mariota just before his Heisman-winning junior season. I went to Hawaii and saw the beach where Mariota would surf at dawn with friends. Those same friends said that, even on the sunniest days, Mariota refused to have a beer. His high school put his picture on its brochure.
These were the kind of private, telling moments away from the field that always stuck with me the most. They are the type of details I want as a reader, and the kind I will to provide you as a writer.
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At the height of his athletic prowess, when he played guard for the Steelers and Chargers in the ’60s and ’70s, Ralph Wenzel was a physical specimen, 6-foot-2, 250 pounds. Near the end of his life, as dementia set in, he slowly lost control of basic motor functions. His decline got to the point where, for his own safety, he wasn’t allowed to drive anymore.
One day, years later, Ralph saw his old driver’s license and got the urge to drive. To appease him, his caretaker took him to Chuck E. Cheese’s. Ralph squeezed his big frame into a child-sized motorized car, smiling, as the caretaker kept feeding it quarters.
“She said every time the clock ran out and the car would stop, he looked at her like, ‘Well,’ and she’d go over and put another quarter in,” said Eleanor Perfetto, Ralph’s widow. For all the painful memories Eleanor had of Ralph’s slow decline, this counted as a funny one.
After his death, researchers at the Boston University-affiliated brain bank found Ralph had C.T.E and his brain had shrunk to half its size—about that of the brain of an infant.
For all the stories on Manziel and Mariota, the story of Ralph Wenzel is arguably more important. It reflects on the future of everyone who plays the game. I don’t know how you can cover the NFL today with a clean conscience, without acknowledging this issue.
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I’ve heard that a faction of MMQB readers still assumes that Peter King writes everything published on the site. That’s fine by me, if you, dear reader, never come to learn my name, but I hope you remember the stories.
Question or comment? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org