"Look, Steve, I didn't want any prima donnas in the press box. I don " want any guys up there in Calvin Klein jeans and plaid shins looking for special treatment.
— Rick Smith, San Diego Chargers' Public Relations Director
I'm going to miss the Chargers' press box. By any reckoning, it has to be one of the best seats in the house (though the way the team is playing, one wonders if there is such a thing as a good seat). Mind you, it's not the view that's so special as the treatment that goes with it, a tender kind of handling that, for a few hours anyway, offers the sports reporter the illusion of privilege, a momentary escape from his routine as a working stiff, a passing fantasy that he must be doing something worthwhile to be accorded such attention.
Before the game, there's a big lunch — fried chicken or roast beef with salad and vegetables. At half time, George Pernicano, local restaurateur and part-owner of the team, sends up stacks of pizzas for everybody to munch on while they watch one of the day's other NFL games on TV. And there's plenty of beer and wine to wash down the chow. At one end of the eating room, cold draft beers are set up for the taking. At the other end is a bar, and you need only belly up and ask. During the game, when you're supposed to be busy taking notes, pretty young women bring the drinks to you in your seat. Some of the guys like to drink coffee and make it appear as if they are really working, but a bunch of chilly lager goes into a typical game's coverage, especially afterward, when the writers have nothing to do but lean around the bar and wait for their press handouts.
That's another thing — the Charger press-box staff does a great deal of the work you might assume the press is doing. During the game, the staff records everything that happens, and after every quarter, they hand out to the press play-by-play write-ups of the action and the quarter's complete statistics. At the bar after the game, the handouts include full game stats and descriptions of every play, as well as "Postgame Quotes," the reflective wisdom of the various coaches and players as collected by the Charger staff. A healthy percentage of all the quotations reported in the next day's newspapers come directly from these official quote sheets, and between beers, the writers barter the quotes for the next day's use as if they were kids trading bubblegum cards.
Rick Smith: "I don 't like to give credentials to weeklies, Steve. I don '1 want people around who're only interested in boondoggles. "
Whatever boondoggles are. I think he meant things like John Jefferson and Fred Dean and the Charger defense. Those are probably boondoggles. I suppose reporting who the team's winos are and the coke junkies and the several other players unhappy with their contracts would be considered dwelling on boondoggles, also. That's my guess anyway. Maybe people who were plaid shirts and designer jeans are more likely to be interested in boondoggles than other people. For a public relations man, Rick Smith can be strangely opaque.
I did get the part about his reluctance to accredit weekly publications. The limitations on daily sportswriters haven't changed much from Ring Lardner's time, when the writer was actually in the employ of the team. How could you say anything negative or inflammatory about the people who were signing your paychecks? And though today's beat writers are employed by their newspapers rather than by those whom they cover, the quality of their allegiance is still unstrained by any too-zealous investigative work. Why? Because their jobs depend on churning out a piece on their team every day, and if they were to write the meat of what they actually know rather than the toddler's mush they persist in spooning out, they would quickly alienate their subjects, and be shunned by the people they were assigned to report on. Witness the surprise of the Chargers' boycott of the "KIckoff Banquet" in August. Somehow the football writers for our local dailies managed to spend long hours and days with the team in training camp without publishing even a hint in advance that the banquet was in jeopardy. As late as the day before, Jerry Magee, the Union's football man, was hawking tickets for the banquet in his column.