Rick Maese (c) 2014, The Washington Post. BRISTOL, Conn. — Adam Schefter had some news to share. On this morning, the audience numbered only one: an AFC executive who had just called.
“Well, I got a few things for you,” Schefter said. “Number one, you got the Titans and Eagles, both very anxious to trade for a wide receiver. They’re both in the wide receiver market. So they’re looking and my understanding is your team is loaded at receiver. . . “
Schefter was in the back seat of a silver GMC Yukon. His driver, a buddy who lives nearby on Long Island, was behind the wheel, navigating the state roads that lead to ESPN’s sprawling campus. Schefter, the sports network’s ever-present NFL news-breaker, had a BlackBerry in his right hand — his “texting” phone — and the iPhone to his ear.
From a media standpoint, the NFL is covered unlike anything else in American sport, and somehow Schefter’s reporting rises above the din. He’s perfected the formula perhaps better than any NFL reporter who’s ever preceded him: a tireless work ethic, the bully pulpit of ESPN and the leveraging of information from sources as a commodity to get more from others.
“He’s crucial because he basically has become sort of this omnipresent guy who seems to know everything,” said Peter King, the veteran Sports Illustrated writer and proprietor of the site TheMMQB.com. “And if he doesn’t know everything, it takes him only 10 minutes to find out what he doesn’t know.”
Schefter attended zero games last year and rarely talks to athletes face-to-face, yet he’s the reporter who keeps beat writers up late at night, the most prolific news-breaker in America’s most popular sport. As the NFL season prepares to kick off Thursday night, According to Adam Schefter has become a phrase every football fan knows all too well.
“There’s a myth out there that people think somebody else gets the majority of the stories. That’s baloney,” said Chris Mortensen, Schefter’s ESPN colleague. “If we’re talking batting percentages, Adam is Tony Gwynn times two.”
With more than three million followers, Schefter, 47, has a larger Twitter flock than any other ESPN personality — and nearly double that of any other NFL reporter. Social media exists somewhere at the crossroads of Schefter’s high motor and a nation’s endless appetite. Others certainly contribute important reporting to the game’s biggest headlines, but on a day-to-day basis, whether a transaction impacts your favorite franchise or just your fantasy team, no one is more important than Schefter. He lives, breathes and eats the NFL. If he slept, he’d sleep it, too.
“We used to joke he should just put a charging dock in his head, like a cyborg,” said the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen. “[His phone] is already basically attached to his ear.”
“He’s constantly moving, but that’s how he’s comfortable,” his wife, Sharri Schefter, said. “I always say to him, sit down, relax. I don’t know if he can do that.”
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There are many theories as to why Schefter breaks so much news: when he covered the Denver Broncos, Mike Shanahan must’ve leaked him news; when he was at the NFL Network, the league surely fed him information; when he was represented by the mega-agency CAA, its network of agents must’ve helped him out (Schefter points out he used CAA for just two years and has negotiated his past two contracts himself).
But the truth is, sources seem to call him as much as he calls them, and information flows both ways. Midway through his drive to Bristol, a front-office executive from the Kansas City Chiefs rang.
“I think you maybe have another suspension coming down the pike,” Schefter told him. “I don’t think it’s today, but I think it’s coming here before the preseason’s over. . . . Oh, you weren’t aware of that? . . . I think Donald Stephenson. Does that surprise you? I don’t know that for a fact, but I had somebody text me and say, ‘Hey, be on the lookout for Donald Stephenson.’ So, I’m giving you a heads-up in advance. If it starts percolating and you give me a heads-up back, that’d be great.”
Four days later when the info was more solid, Schefter reported to the rest of the world that the Chiefs offensive lineman had been suspended for the first four games of the season.
“The reason people talk to you — I’m not stupid — they believe that you’re going to be informed,” Schefter said, “and you’re going to bring something to the table for them . . . I can’t stand calling somebody and just being, like, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Anything new?’ You can’t be a taker. You’ve got to be a giver.”
The cellphone is his trading post, and Schefter always has the goods.
“He’s a guy who’s so plugged in, it behooves you to pay attention to what he’s got,” says Bill Polian, an ESPN analyst who spent 24 years as an NFL general manager.
In March 2012, Schefter called Mike Shanahan, then the Redskins coach. The two have a friendly relationship that dates from 1990. The reporter had heard from a source that the Redskins would be hit with $36 million in salary cap deductions for front-loading player contracts during the uncapped 2010 season.
“I said, ‘Get out of here! They can’t do that,’ ” Shanahan recalled. “He said, ‘It’s all approved, the commissioner signed off.’ He’s the one that tells me that news. I was convinced he was wrong. I take it to the other guys in the building — nobody had any idea.”
Not everyone is as impressed with Schefter’s rapid reporting. Last month, after Rams quarterback Sam Bradford left a preseason game with an apparent knee injury, Schefter tweeted that initial tests “did not show damage to ACL.” St. Louis Coach Jeff Fisher was promptly asked about the report.
“Oh, you know, I didn’t see Adam in the locker room or the training room today,” he told reporters. “That’s funny. If you see [Schefter] tell him I say hi.
“Yeah, he knows everything,” Fisher added, the sarcasm impossible to miss.
The next day, the news became official: Bradford would miss the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
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As the Yukon bowled its way closer to ESPN’s studios, another phone call came in, this time a Miami Dolphins team official.
“So where is your production going to come from on the offensive side of the field this year? . . . Yep, okay, wow . . . I had him on my fantasy team this year . . .”
Schefter tapped his driver, John Napoli, a friend from Long Island, on the shoulder, gave a thumbs-up and whispered, “Charles Clay,” with a smile. The biggest diversion from pro football on these commutes to Connecticut is fantasy football.
Schefter plays in a 16-team league alongside colleagues such as Mortensen, Tim Hasselbeck, Trent Dilfer and Trey Wingo. His fantasy team used to be called the False Rumor Mongerers, a nod to the late Al Davis, who once issued an entire news release refuting a Schefter report that the Raiders would fire Art Shell at the end of the season: “Adam Schefter has always been a false rumor monger with respect to the Raiders and anti-Raider based upon his relationship with Denver and with Mike Shanahan. . . . Adam Schefter could not have gotten his information from a reliable source because there’s only one reliable source and he doesn’t trust Adam.” (Shell was, of course, fired at the end of the season.)
Schefter’s team name this season is “____ Sources,” which he’ll tweak week to week: Good Sources after win, Bad Sources after a loss, Awful Sources after blowouts and so on. The logo on his team page is Mike Shanahan’s face, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the cozy relationship the two have had over the years, which both men say has been exaggerated.
Schefter stays on top of injuries, suspensions and signings, so he’s an essential news source for a nation of fantasy team owners. “When fantasy is as important as reality for you, then Schefter is Warren Buffett,” said Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s “Mad Money.” “You have to know what he’s thinking and what he knows. He is who I aspire to be in the business world. He knows everything before it happens.”
The two TV personalities have carved out a unique friendship. Cramer credits Schefter for helping him win his fantasy championship the past two seasons, and the lively CNBC host keeps Schefter’s phone buzzing with texts.
In June, overlooking a castle in Prague, Cramer gave his girlfriend an engagement ring. “All I ask is that I get your undivided attention,” he told her. “All I ask,” she said, “is that you do not take Schefter’s calls during dinner.”
For Schefter, at times, this all feels like fantasy. He certainly couldn’t have envisioned this 25 years ago when he was looking for work.
As a freshman at Michigan, Schefter didn’t get into a fraternity. He went to the football office to see if he could pick up jock straps or hand out water bottles. Nothing. Same thing at the basketball office. He finally stopped by the campus newspaper, which allowed him to cover the sports no other reporters wanted.
“I think it was all about him needing something to sink his energy into and focus on,” said David Simon, a college roommate and close friend.
After attending graduate school at Northwestern, he finally landed a job with the late Rocky Mountain News in 1990, quickly making a name for himself on a competitive Broncos beat and drawing the ire of the competition, the Denver Post, owned by Dean Singleton.
“Dean Singleton called me,” Shanahan recently recalled, “and said, ‘I got to find somebody that could beat Adam. Got anybody in mind?’ I said, ‘Well, what I would do is hire Adam. You’re not gonna find anybody who’d beat him.’ He laughed, but that’s exactly what he did.”
Schefter made the jump to the NFL Network in 2004 and then joined ESPN in 2009. “The NFL Network just blew it,” Mortensen said. “It was a great fit and timing for us.”
Says Schefter: “This is all accidental, just sort of evolved. Who knew the world would be what it is: the NFL would be as popular, there’d be social media, there’d be such a premium on information, that ESPN would be as powerful as it is?”
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Schefter cultivates sources by sharing NFL tidbits but also establishing personal relationships. He has an incredible recall on wives’ names and children’s ages and without fail mixes in personal chatter with football talk. And most know his own familial circumstances, too.
For years, Schefter was married to the job. In 2007, though, mutual friends set him up on a blind date with Sharri Maio.
“My friends let him know what my situation was,” she said. “I was widowed, had a son, was fiercely protective of my son and didn’t want anyone in my life who was not receptive to all of this.”
Sharri’s first husband, Joseph Maio, was a broker with Cantor Fitzgerald and worked on the 101st floor of one of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Adam just loved my son, our family and fit perfectly,” she said. “I was very lucky to have met someone like him.”
They married within a year of meeting each other. To this day, Schefter keeps a personal journal. The day he got married, he wrote, “[S]o humbling to be sitting with my wife, the woman I love. Those are words I never thought I would get to write, but they were worth the wait.”
Football dictates much of the family’s schedule — “He told me there’s an offseason,” Sharri says, “I haven’t found it yet” — but so do kids and dogs. It’s because of this that Schefter says he hasn’t taken a vacation since the couple’s four-day honeymoon seven years ago.
“I try to get him to take a vacation,” said Seth Markman, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer. “I beg him, get away, go to an island. I think it’d be healthy to turn off the brain a bit, but he’s completely obsessed. He lives for this.”
On the air, Schefter’s Long Island accent is not as pronounced. He’s not one of the network’s loud “personalities,” opinionists or bloviators. He’s content to work the phone and peddle information. To him, even the smallest nugget is still gold. Each morsel of news just makes him hungrier to find the next.
“This is his oxygen,” said Simon, the college friend. “He needs something to drive him to sink his teeth into each day, to feel like he’s contributing. He thrives on the energy of it. He loves the chase.”