The Super Bowl matchup gets full attention in the latest ESPN The Magazine.
The Super Bowl LI matchup gets full attention in the latest ESPN The Magazine.

Front Row caught up with senior writer Kevin van Valkenburg and contributing writer Scott Eden about their respective features on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in ESPN The Magazine’s Super Bowl Preview Issue on newsstands today.

What did you find most challenging about reporting and writing your respective features?

You’re going to have to work hard to say something they haven’t already heard. In some ways, I’m not writing about Brady as much as I’m writing about what he represents. He’s a lens that says something about how you view sports.
– Kevin van Valkenburg on
Tom Brady

KVV: Brady is hard to write about for several reasons, the main one being that he’s famous in a way that exceeds the fame of any other player in the NFL. Peyton Manning was the only other player who was close. My mom knows exactly who Brady is, and has opinions about him. When you’re writing about someone who is that level of celebrity, you have to understand a lot of people already feel like they know him. You’re going to have to work hard to say something they haven’t already heard. In some ways, I’m not writing about Brady as much as I’m writing about what he represents. He’s a lens that says something about how you view sports.

SE: The biggest challenge may have been Matt Ryan himself. Or, I should say, the contemporary high-profile professional athlete. Ryan was amiable, chipper and did subject himself to approximately 20 minutes of my probably stupid questioning during the week leading up to the Falcons’ first playoff game. But Ryan is such the consummate professional that he is — like I say in the story — a kind of parody of the bland, noncontroversial, non-substantive modern high-profile pro athlete. He has suppressed his personality in the name of being good in all phases of his game. I think I did detect, though, an extremely subtle but sardonic humor lying somewhere beneath the surface.

What did you learn about Brady and Ryan from writing this piece that surprised you?

KVV: The way that Brady embraces new age philosophy is really interesting. Just the fact that a kid who grew up in a very Catholic home now has a statue of Ganesha in his locker was fascinating to me. He is very spiritual in the sense that he finds peace in different pieces of different religions and teachings. And he believes that’s what kept him from being bitter during the Deflategate stuff.

He’s very good at being unsurprising. However, he did seem to suggest that, during last year’s playoffs, he watched the games at a Maui beach bar, drowning his frustrations in Mai Tais. But he may have been speaking metaphorically.
– Scott Eden on Matt Ryan

SE: Difficult question. He’s very good at being unsurprising. However, he did seem to suggest that, during last year’s playoffs, he watched the games at a Maui beach bar, drowning his frustrations in Mai Tais. But he may have been speaking metaphorically.

How did this change the way you watched last Sunday’s conference championship games?

KVV: I’d already written my piece, and if the Patriots won, I knew it was going to be our cover story so I couldn’t help pulling for the Pats a bit. But if they’d lost, I’d have tucked some of these thoughts in a drawer and saved them for another day. Brady turns 40 this summer. He thinks he’s going to play until he’s 45, but I think the end is going to sneak up on him (and us) one day.

SE: There’s the old sportswriters’ saw about no cheering in the press box, which is a sort of journalistic admonition to be neutral. But after spending a week talking to a bunch of teammates who have forged this tight bond across a crazy season, it’s hard to be neutral. In other words, I was rooting for the Falcons. (Sorry, Green Bay.)

Journalism on Display

  • This Sunday Outside the Lines (9 a.m. ET, ESPN) will feature a segment from an upcoming primetime special Football Forever that airs on Saturday, Feb. 4 (ESPN, 10:15 p.m. ET). Sunday’s piece examines Clairton, a mill town just fifteen miles south of Pittsburgh. As the steel industry dwindled, the town lost nearly two thirds of its population. Yet despite the declining economy, the Clairton High School football team is a perennial powerhouse and the pride of the community.
  • ESPN The Magazine writer Kevin Arnovitz digs deep in his feature on Sacramento King DeMarcus Cousins as part of the Super Bowl Preview Issue out on newsstands today. Cousins is perhaps the most naturally talented big man the NBA has ever seen, with abilities that transcend generation and scheme. In his seventh season, he’s had six coaches, three GMs and two ownership groups. So, in truth, as much as the Sacramento Kings have a DeMarcus Cousins problem, Cousins has a Kings problem. Arnovitz look to expose both sides.
  • ESPN.com motorsports writer Bob Pockrass has been named the recipient of the National Motorsports Press Association’s Joe Littlejohn Award for 2016. The award is named after the former track owner from Spartanburg, S.C., and is presented annually by the NMPA in recognition for outstanding service to the organization. Pockrass recently completed his eighth year as secretary-treasurer for the NMPA.
  • Panelists on Sunday morning’s The Sports Reporters (9:30 a.m., ESPN) will be Mike Lupica (host), Mitch Albom, Howard Bryant and Gene Wojciechowski.
  • ESPN released a major announcement earlier this week about its enhanced commitment to Journalism which includes a 52-week run for E:60 and a brand new, state-of-the-art studio for the daily Outside the Lines.

By Molly Mita

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