As most of you know by now, I am leaving Pewter Report after 10 years of service to pursue a new job on a different career path. It wasn't an easy decision to make, but I am excited about the new career path and will cherish the great memories with Pewter Report.
Like you, following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has always been a passion of mine, even when the team was the laughing stock of professional sports. Although covering Tampa Bay's Super Bowl XXXVII season was certainly memorable, one of my favorite seasons as an NFL fan was 1997. In fact, one of the best games I ever attended was the '97 regular season opener between the Bucs and San Francisco 49ers. My best friend Frank and I bought tickets to the game that were located halfway up from the field on the 50-yard line for just $50 apiece (boy, how times changed). It was amazing to see the thousands of 49ers fans in attendance silenced by the injuries sustained by quarterback Steve Young and wide receiver Jerry Rice, and Tampa Bay's 13-6 win over San Francisco. It was clear that the Bucs were a team on the rise on that Sunday.
In addition to watching the Bucs and the NFL, it just so happened that one of my other passions in life was writing and reporting, which is why I wanted to take a stab at a sports journalism career.
It's funny how things work out in life sometimes. While majoring in broadcast journalism at the University of South Florida, I pursued an internship with Chris Elias and Rock Riley in Bay News 9's sports department, but had that opportunity nixed because I didn't have enough credits in my major to receive the school's approval for the internship at that time.
It just so happened that I first learned of Pewter Report (then-Buccaneer Magazine) by watching the Bay News 9 Sports Connection one night when Scott Reynolds was a guest on the program. I subscribed to the magazine and registered on the website's message boards as soon as his appearance was over, and it wasn't long after that that I pursued an internship with former Buccaneer Magazine owner Jeffrey Neil Fox and Scott, whom I thought was going to file a restraining order against me for being so persistent.
Scott was kind enough to allow me to intern with him for two years. It was during that time that my initiation as an intern/rookie reporter took place. Former Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp and defensive end Simeon Rice helped carry it out. Sapp verbally attacked me in the locker room because I thanked him for his time during an interview session in which I didn't ask a question. I guess he took offense to that. In Rice's case, he decided to show up for a one-on-one interview session I had requested with his mouth full of a sandwich he was eating. He purposely kept his mouth full while I asked questions, and after a few minutes of chew-filled answers I ended the interview for his sake and mine.
One of the best things that ever happened to me during my internship was getting in trouble with former Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly, who put out everything but a hit on me after I wrote in a Game Grades article that Kelly had been responsible for some blown plays in coverage vs. the Chicago Bears. Kelly took issue with what I wrote and had the Bucs public relations staff members let me know about it by calling me and then telling me about it in person.
After taking a deep breath, I went into the locker room at the old One Buc Place in search of Kelly, whom I wanted to apologize to for what I had wrote. I finally found him in the hallway, introduced myself and apologized, stating, "You know your assignments and football more than I ever will, so if you say I was wrong then I believe you, and I'm sorry for writing that." Kelly looked shocked that I was actually apologizing and simply said, "No problem, man. We're just trying to stay on top of it." It was a good lesson to a young reporter and person for that matter; you never know as much as you think you know.
Despite those challenges or any of the others we've faced together over the past 10 years, Scott and I have always attempted to be the best reporters/messengers we could be. We knew we weren't going to win a Pulitzer Prize, but we refused to allow anyone to outwork us because we were determined to bring Bucs fans the analysis and news that we craved as subscribers back in the day.
Ascertaining information and/or breaking news through sources other than One Buccaneer Place proved to be a significant challenge because we weren't ESPN or a newspaper. I realized this early when I called one agent out West and introduced myself as Jim Flynn with Pewter Report, and the secretary for the agent replied, "Okay, Jim Flynn with Computer what?" Pewter Report's hard work has paid off as it has grown to the point where NFL Network kindly invites the PewterReport.com editorial staff onto its broadcast to gain insight on the Bucs, and ESPN.com (Pat Yasinskas' NFC South blog) and other websites like Mike Florio's ProFootballTalk.com generously link many of PewterReport.com's Bucs-related stories.
One of the biggest news stories I ever helped cover took place during my internship with Buccaneer Magazine. It was Tony Dungy's dismissal as Tampa Bay's head coach, which officially took place on Jan. 14, 2002, but was the worst kept secret in the NFL for several days. In fact, Scott and I were so sure that Dungy was going to get fired after the Bucs' playoff loss to the Eagles that we had a story pre-written in our website administration just hours after Philadelphia knocked Tampa Bay out of the post-season for the second straight year.
Like so many others, Scott and I were convinced Dungy's successor was going to be two-time Super Bowl winner Bill Parcells, so we spent days reading up on him in an effort to become more familiar with the subject we were going to be reporting on for the foreseeable future. Of course, that turned out to be a waste of time as Parcells left the Glazers at the altar. That strange story led to a series of others, including former general manager Rich McKay attempting to hire Marvin Lewis, just to be denied by the Glazers, who had conducted one of the worst press conferences ever seen at One Buc Place just a week earlier after they had fired Dungy.
The story ended happily for the Glazers and the Bucs, though, as ownership pulled the trigger on the blockbuster trade for Jon Gruden over one month later. Gruden's first press conference in Tampa Bay was held on Feb. 20, 2002. No matter what profession you're in, everyone could use a little help along the way, and I was no exception. One of my USF professors allowed me to cut class so I could help cover Gruden's press conference that day. I suppose it helped that he was a huge Bucs fan, but he also understood the value of an aspiring reporter covering such a major news conference.
The two most awkward press conferences I ever attended were Dungy's last as a head coach with the Bucs and the Glazers' first post-Dungy press conference. The latter was the worst as ownership was grilled by the media for claiming they hadn't contacted Parcells even though reports suggested otherwise. Four hours after that press conference ended, Tampa Bay's public relations department issued a press release to the media stating that the Glazers had officially contacted Parcells, which many believed had taken place well before Dungy was even fired.
It's things like this that sometimes make it difficult for a reporter to be completely accurate even when he or she has that goal in mind. With a lot of hard work and luck, Pewter Report has been fortunate enough to develop a solid reputation amongst the media, agent community and fan base. The days of "Computer what?" are long gone, but not forgotten as remembering where you came from is a good way to stay humble and motivated.
You never know where you're going to get your stories or information from. A lot of legwork is involved, but today agents are sometimes kind enough to call Pewter Report with information. Information comes from other sources, too. I still remember being in Scott's office when he fielded a phone call from a Delta Airlines agent that tipped him off that quarterback Rob Johnson was coming in for a visit back in 2002. As I wrote, there is a lot of hard work - and luck - involved in reporting.
My first year as a full-time Pewter Reporter was in 2002, which was the same year Tampa Bay won Super Bowl XXXVII. While watching the Bucs defeat the Raiders 48-21 was historic, I still believe the most exciting moment the Bucs had in the time I have covered the team professionally took place one week earlier when Tampa Bay upset Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. I remember being absolutely stunned that the Bucs had actually beaten the Eagles after three straight losses to Philadelphia (one regular season game, two playoff contests). Apparently Scott and I weren't the only ones shocked by the Bucs' win in Philly, evidenced by the fact that Scott and I tried calling each other regarding our post-game work for hours after the game, but couldn't reach each other because the circuits in the Tampa Bay area were busy due to so many people trying to call out. That had happened a about a year and a half earlier on Sept. 11, 2001.
Being a reporter is definitely a unique job, but one of the downsides to being a reporter is you can't report half of what you know because so many of the conversations with sources are off the record. Pewter Report tries to incorporate the information learned in these types of conversations into columns and stories in an effort to relay as much information as possible to the readers while protecting the source(s).
Scott and I caught a lot of grief from Bucs fans, our own readers and subscribers included, for suggesting there was a brewing feud between Gruden and McKay, and Gruden and former Bucs wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. We were accused by some of "trying to stir the pot" and "sell subscriptions." We heard a lot behind the scenes, but could report very little, but eventually the truth came out, and we all know how those relationships and situations ended. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I really felt like that was a turning point for Pewter Report, and that our readers and subscribers came to give our reporting more credibility and the benefit of the doubt as long as the information was presented in a fair manner.
What readers have to understand is that reporters won't get far in this business if they don't have credibility. You can't just make things up. Your credibility is really all you have in this business. You can't reveal your unnamed sources, but you should be able to trust them. If you trust that the info they've given you is accurate, and it turns out to be wrong, the reporter has to be willing to take the egg on the face, correct the record and move on to the next story. We've all taken the egg on the face, but you can sleep at night knowing that you do everything you could to get it right because at the end of the day getting the fans accurate information is all that really matters.
The job of a journalist is to gather the most amount of accurate information possible and relay it to anyone interested in reading it. After that, it should be up to the reader to form his or her own opinion. Unfortunately, many news outlets are steering away from that and becoming more like tabloids. Thankfully, Pewter Report has refused to go down this road, and I am confident that won't change when I'm gone.
You don't have to be liked in this profession. In fact, it's difficult to be liked when you're a reporter, but that's the nature of the job. Respect is what's important, and it should be mutual (the reporter respecting the subject and the subject respecting the reporter). Bruce Allen and Gruden didn't do the media many favors, but they respected Pewter Report for watching practices each time the opportunity presented itself and working hard and wanting to be accurate. If we made a mistake in our reporting it was an honest one, and the people at One Buc Place know that, which is important to Pewter Report.
Allen was a tough nut to crack, and I'm not sure we ever did crack him completely. On the same day Allen was introduced as Tampa Bay's new G.M. in January of 2004, I asked him when we could meet up with him at the Senior Bowl later that month to ask him about some of the players in the draft. His response was, "I don't talk about players." Some reporters were insulted by Allen's approach/philosophy, but Pewter Report accepted it as a challenge. Allen didn't hand-feed Pewter Report anything, but he respected our reporting. I have to admit that Allen's approach was frustrating at times, like the time he nixed a film study session we had set up with former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Rather than complain about it, we took a page out of Allen's playbook, which included drawing up contracts on napkins at sports bars. So, during the offseason Pewter Report sometimes meets with coaches and tells them to be ready to draw up some plays on napkins and paper to help the editorial staff better understand the game of football.
The jury still is out on Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris. Last year was ugly. Then again, I don't know of a head coach and G.M. that could have made it look pretty under the circumstances (rebuilding, frugal approach to free agency, blown draft picks, etc.). Dominik and Morris are passionate and hard-working, and they know a lot more football than I ever will, so I wish them well in their effort to make the Bucs a playoff-caliber team again.
There is a misconception shared by some that suggests when you report on a professional sports team you are friends with the players, coaches and personnel. That's not true. It's actually a conflict of interest because your first priority has to be to maintain objectivity. That's where the mutual respect comes in. I can proudly say that I gave Pewter Report and Buccaneers fans everything I had in the 10 years I was fortunate enough to cover the team, but one of the biggest regrets I have was not giving Dungy the card I had purchased for him to pass along my condolences after his mother died in January of 2002. I wasn't friends with Dungy, but I respected him and wanted him to know I was sorry for his loss. As a young reporter, I thought other media members would frown upon this, so I decided not to hand him the card. If I had it to do over again I would do things differently on that particular day.
In addition to learning of the death of James Dungy in December of 2005, there were other sad moments during my time covering the Buccaneers, including former Tampa Bay wide receiver Joe Jurevicius' press conference, hearing of Marquis Cooper and Gaines Adams' tragic deaths, and learning of the the passing of Matt Bryant's son Tryson and watching him courageously make three field goals to help the Bucs beat the Packers just one day after Tryson's funeral.
The Jurevicious press conference was the most emotional press conference I've ever attended. It took place in 2003 a few months after Joe and his wife Meagan lost their infant son Michael to a rare condition. Joe, who had shown great strength while Michael was fighting for his life in a hospital by coming up so big for the Bucs in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl, was in tears just a few words into his press conference. Meagan cried with him, but she wasn't the only one. I remember glancing around the room as Joe and Meagan reached for tissues and attempted to answer questions, and witnessed several reporters in tears. It was so sad, but yet a refreshing reminder that reporters aren't always the heartless people that they're portrayed to be.
Pewter Report has always prided itself on not being "typical reporters." Covering the Bucs can be a glamorous job, but no one could possibly appreciate or understand the long and unpredictable hours involved in it. Hopefully this will make Pewter Report's readers and subscribers appreciate Scott and Charlie Campbell a little more than they did before. When an agent calls you back at 11:00 p.m. you take the call and write however many stories come out of the conversation after that. Being a reporter means dropping everything at a moment's notice, including your spouse, friends and/or family.
Thankfully, I have had a very supportive and understanding wife for many years. Jodi truly deserves a trophy, as do Charlie and Scott's significant others, and everyone else we ever had to put on hold in order to remain dedicated and focused to bring Bucs fans news. The best example I could give you was when Allen and Gruden were fired on Jan. 16, 2009, which was a Friday night. My wife called me and said, "I guess we're not going to that birthday party." She already knew what to expect when the news flashed across her television screen. It was tough because as a reporter you live for breaking news stories like that, but oftentimes you don't control when the news breaks.
Allen and the Washington Redskins announcing that they had traded for Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb on Easter Sunday is a perfect example of this. Training camps, night games and the long grind of each regular season are not easy, but the love for football and passion for reporting on the Bucs are what helps get Pewter Report through it.
By no means am I looking for sympathy. I still have a passion for reporting and will miss being part of the Pewter Report team. I was truly blessed to cover a NFL team for a living, and if another great opportunity hadn't come along I would still be doing it.
Hang in there, Bucs fans. I grew up watching the Bucs in mediocrity during the creamsicle era. Things can turn around in a hurry in today's NFL, just like Tampa Bay came out of nowhere in ‘97. Unfortunately, games could be blacked out this year for the first time since I was in high school. Like you, I'm hoping to watch the Bucs closely in 2010.
There is no doubt in my mind that Scott and Charlie are going to continue to do a tremendous job covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Pewter Report. Scott is very passionate about covering the Bucs, and his SR's Fab Five column still is the best column devoted to the Bucs. Charlie's PI Quick Hits column has gained in popularity, and he's ready to take the next step in his reporting career. Many of the challenges reporting present pale in comparison to the interview process I put Charlie through before he was eventually hired in April of 2008. The goal was to find out if Charlie was a "player" or a "playa," as Gruden used to say. I had to know if Charlie was cut out for the hard work that comes with the job, or if he was in it for the glamor. That process wasn't easy for him, but Charlie proved to be a real trooper en route to becoming a great teammate.
Pewter Report president Hugh MacArthur put Scott and I through a similar process when he flew us up to Boston in 2005 and grilled us on the current state of the magazine and website, and what we envisioned for Pewter Report going forward. Hugh grew up a huge Bucs fan and told us, "I'll never have enough money to buy the Bucs, so owning Pewter Report is the next best thing." Scott and I were flattered and knew he was serious about owning Pewter Report, especially when his interest didn't change after all three of us witnessed Tampa Bay lose in New England, 28-0, on a cold December day. In June of 2006 Hugh purchased Pewter Report from Fox, and his interest hasn't wavered. Hugh has invested heavily in Pewter Report and continues to demonstrate his commitment to excellence and Bucs fans.
It's tough to leave Pewter Report after 10 years, but I am proud of the fact that one of the last projects we tackled together as a team was the blueprint for the new PewterReport.com website, which will launch this summer. Like you, I'm just as anxious to see it when it goes live.
We hired business/subscriptions manager Kim Roper out of college and she has been promoted several times since then. Kim's job is sort of thankless because a lot of her work takes place behind the scenes, but she is a valuable member of a great team and someone that is appreciated for everything she does. The subscribers that have interacted with Kim on the phone, via e-mail or at Pewter Report Get2Gethers already know how great she is to work with.
A special thanks goes out to Pewter Report photographer Cliff Welch for helping our stories come to life, and to graphics director Mike Custer and website designer Malcolm Bowen for all of their contributions and hard work.
There are a lot of people to thank, and they know who they are if they haven't been mentioned in this column. I sincerely appreciate and thank every person that ever supported and/or contributed to Buccaneer Magazine/Pewter Report.
But the people I want to thank most for their support are Pewter Report's readers, subscribers and message board members. Without you, Pewter Report wouldn't exist. I have read each of your comments and sincerely appreciate the well wishes in my new career path.
With this being my last Flynn's Focus column, I thought long and hard about what topic to write about. Rather than write about a random topic regarding the Bucs, I decided to use this column to share some perspective on being a Pewter Reporter, and take a trip down memory lane in my 10 years of covering the Buccaneers. Every article and column Pewter Report has ever written has been for Bucs fans (readers, subscribers and message board members included), so why change that now? It's been a great ride, Bucs fans. Thanks for all your support.