Two days before the 2007 Super Bowl in Miami, SI's NFL writers and editors gathered for dinner at Joe's Stone Crab. At one point senior writer Peter King, who was sitting at the end of the table wearing a bib, was simultaneously cracking crab legs, taking a call on his BlackBerry, writing in his reporter's notebook and keeping up a somewhat heated conversation with Dr. Z about the point spread. Taking this in, Peter's wife, Ann, turned to NFL senior editor Mark Mravic and said, "People ask me what it's like to be married to Peter King...."
It is a variation on that theme to be one of King's colleagues. This is his 20th NFL season with SI, after being recruited from Newsday, where he overlapped briefly with Tim Layden, now also an SI senior writer. "It's fall 1988, and I'm new," says Layden. "Newsday assigns me a nebulous midweek story in advance of a Giants-49ers game. I have no idea whom to call. I walk into the press room at Giants Stadium. I ask Peter what to do. Just as I ask, the phone on the table rings. Peter picks it up and starts talking. Then the phone next to it rings. Peter picks that one up too and starts talking. One corded phone to each ear. Then he tells each person, 'Hang on one second.' He turns to me and says, 'You need to talk to Sam Wyche. His private number is ***-***-****. His secretary is Maggie [not her real name]. Call her at 12:18 because that's when Sam gets his coffee and he'll be outside his office. Tell her you need three minutes with Sam.' Then he puts each of the two corded phones back to his ears and resumes two conversations."
The stories keep coming (often with pizza), but they all end the same, with King helping someone. At Giants Stadium two weeks before the 2008 Giants-Patriots Super Bowl, reporter Elizabeth McGarr was on her first NFL story for SI, a sidebar on Michael Strahan. It was a rough assignment for a couple of reasons: Strahan can be prickly, and the Giants were howling underdogs. After Strahan's press conference King had a nervous McGarr follow him out the door to a golf cart, where Strahan sat in the passenger's seat, a Giants p.r. guy at the wheel. Peter spent five minutes interviewing Strahan, then seamlessly told Strahan, "I'd like you to meet a colleague of mine at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Elizabeth McGarr." The p.r. guy already had his foot on the accelerator, but King eased around to the other side of the golf cart and struck up a conversation with him. McGarr got about seven minutes with Strahan, and when her notebook was full, she caught Peter's eye. "O.K.," King said, to the p.r. guy, "thanks a lot." The golf cart sped off. Senior writer Lee Jenkins, who tells this story, calls it the "coolest example of teamwork I have ever seen in this business." McGarr, who had been at SI for a short time and had never met King before that afternoon, felt a combination of exhilaration, relief and pride, "like being initiated into Peter's very special tribe."
After longtime friend and colleague Paul (Dr. Z) Zimmerman suffered a series of strokes, King organized a benefit in New Jersey attended by 250, including journalists, NFL insiders and the coaches of both New York teams. The event raised more than $150,000. King's nickname at NFL headquarters in New York City is Relentless. Do they read him? "Have to," all agree, from commissioner down.
King has been writing his Monday Morning Quarterback column for SI.com—and asking NFL officials, "What does your gut tell you?"—since 1997, back in the Pleistocene of sports websites. Those 800 words a week have become 8,000. And because there essentially isn't an off-season in the NFL, he writes 48 weeks a year instead of 24. Senior editor Larry Burke, who edited King's forthcoming book (a collection of his columns updated with new material, below), says that while other people multitask and divide their attention accordingly, King does five things at once and gives his all to each of them. "It's really how he lives his life," says Burke, "reporter, writer, TV analyst, husband, father, coach, friend, humanitarian, coffee-drinker."
During the season King will do about a dozen radio interviews a week, take numerous calls from coaches and general managers, and field questions from strangers on the street: "Hey, Peter, what about the Vikings?" Here's what happens next: King stops and says, "Here are the four things you have to know about the Minnesota Vikings this year," and does five minutes on all things purple.
Ask King's varied associates to tell you one thing about him, and you'll get: He drives fast; he's interested in sandwiches; he does his TV in one take; he knows what he's doing, knows what he wants; he walks into a training camp cafeteria, and players cheer; he won't let anything get in the way of his friendship with you.
Peter King once offered to give back a chunk of his pay to help save jobs at SI. His colleagues didn't know that until now. I'm sure they're not surprised.