Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Farmer is a giant of NFL journalism. He has covered the sport for more than 25 years and his work has been honoured in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sam still covers the LA teams to this day and is recognized as one of the very best in the business.
You have enjoyed some amazing assignments while covering the NFL such as climbing Mount Rainier with Commissioner Roger Goodell, watching film with the great John Madden and spending a week with the Seattle Seahawks as they prepared for a game. What is the key to getting that kind of access?
It's all based on trust and that has eroded over the years in our industry. People have a lack of trust and have immediate suspicion, so I feel very fortunate to have built up relationships and it's all based on relationships. I don't love writing about sports as much as I love writing about people who play sports or coach sports. It's about the interaction with people and they have to trust you. Does that mean you paper over everything? No. But it means that you develop a relationship where people know where you're coming from. I once spent a week in Israel with 18 Hall of Famers including Jim Brown, Mike Singletary, Roger Staubach and Joe Montana. That was an incredible trip. You have to be honest and true to yourself and have integrity, of course. But you also have to treat the relationships you have very delicately. Once you ruin one of those relationships and betray a trust, word spreads very quickly and there will be a lot of doors slamming in your face. You have to be an honest broker and your integrity is all you have.
You joined the Los Angeles Times when there was no NFL team in LA. How does it feel now you have two and do you think we might have a franchise in the UK one day?
I really thought the LA team might never come because LA was such a stalking horse in this process. It was effective at getting stadiums built in other cities because LA was the cudgel that could be held over other cities. I used to ask the Commissioner of the NFL about an LA franchise every year at the Super Bowl. One year I didn't ask it and Roger came to me afterwards and said, 'I had an answer for you this year.' My capstone question once we knew the Chargers and Rams were coming to LA was… "Will Los Angeles ever stop getting teams?' When it comes to London, there are more hurdles to overcome. But it is such a fantastic market and the passion for the NFL is so great there. NFL fans in London have to work harder to root for their teams because they have to seek out information. They tend to be better educated than almost everything fan out there – that's how I find London fans. It's not like the old days of international games where somebody cheered a punt. They are very sophisticated and the league loves that. There are stadium options there as well. It is interesting to watch.
I've always found the losing locker rooms of the NFL to be the worst places to visit. Would you agree or disagree?
It surprised me early on in my career when it came to what I thought a losing locker room would be like and what it was actually like. If you're talking about a Super Bowl losing locker room, that is one thing. But a lot of times, players are mercenaries to a degree. If it was an incredibly disappointing loss, it can be quiet. But then there are other times when it's a little livelier than I thought it would be after a loss. They're moving on to the next week and sometimes they feel like they did their job. I won't embarrass the player by naming him, but I was covering the Raiders against the Jets. The Raiders were humiliated in this game at the old Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands. The Raiders put forth a pathetic performance. I was holding a stats sheet as I walked in and a running back furtively called me over to his locker. His first question was, 'How many yards did I get?' I thought, 'Aren't you upset about this at all?' But he was fixated on how many yards he gained in the game..
To listen to Neil's full conversation with Sam Farmer download the latest episode of The Neil Reynolds Podcast, which is available now.