On the road with NFL reporter Peter King: Stars, stories and seeing the end of the line (2024)

“The first rule of the car,” Peter King proclaims as we buckle up, “is we keep it clean. At the end of every day, we throw away all the garbage.”

Today, the garbage will include napkins Peter uses to wipe up his vanilla Concrete Mixer, which he spilled on the floor not long after the first rule of the car was established.


Spills will happen on a 19-team training camp tour like Peter is on.

And so will stories.

We are along for the ride for three days in a Ford Expedition from Lake Forest, Ill., to Davenport, Iowa, and to St. Joseph, Mo. We will see the Chicago Bears, the Quad City River Bandits and the Kansas City Chiefs. And we will be entertained by Peter.

As he begins his 40th year of writing about the NFL, nobody in the media has more knowledge and understanding of the sport, and nobody has intersected with more people who have made its history.

To Peter, telling good stories isn’t his living as much as his way of life.

Here’s a good one. I heard when Hank Bullough was a defensive assistant, he would bring a big suitcase with him on road trips, which would be empty. The reason it was empty is he would stuff it with towels from the hotel and bring all the towels home. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

As Peter talks about things Peter talks about, bumps in the road cause clinking sounds from the trunk. Back in New Glarus, Wis., on his way from Green Bay to Chicago, Peter picked up a case of Spotted Cow beer, and several of them remain.

I started covering the Bengals in April of 1984, and my first assignment was the draft. The day before the draft, I interviewed their new coach Sam Wyche in his office. He asked me, “Do you want to know who we’re going to pick?” Of course, I do. So he tells me they want to take Ricky Hunley, Boomer Esiason, Brian Blados and Stanford Jennings. On the morning of the draft, I had their names in the paper, and the Bengals took them. After the draft, I go back to the newsroom to write and the sports editor goes, “Hello, Nostradamus.” Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

Rolling by row after row of corn stalks, Peter takes and makes calls — Steelers owner Art Rooney and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam have some things to tell him — and he starts writing his column, the widely read “Football Morning in America.” Peter’s words have appeared on NBCsports.com since 2018 when he left Sports Illustrated after 29 years.


In his column and in this car, he tells the kinds of stories only he could tell.

In the middle of John Randle’s career when he was great, he brought me to the place he grew up, a shack in the middle of Texas. It didn’t have a bathroom. You had to use an outhouse in the backyard, even in the dead of winter. The memories made him cry for 15 minutes at that shack. He really liked Whataburger. And that was the only time I went to do a story about somebody when we ate Whataburger for lunch and Whataburger for dinner. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

GO DEEPERNFL Draft 2024 Big Board: Dane Brugler's top 50 rankings for the upcoming season

This could be the last act of Peter King — retirement beckons — but he still has much to learn, much to share.

Now the 66-year-old is out of the car and on his way to meet with Andy Reid in the Chiefs coach’s dorm room.

Peter walks crookedly, right shoulder higher than left, as if he is carrying a hefty Teleram Portabubble computer, which he did as a young reporter.

Slightly hunched over, he has the curiosity of a child.

On the road with NFL reporter Peter King: Stars, stories and seeing the end of the line (2)

NFL reporter Peter King with Rascal, the mascot of the Quad Cities River Bandits minor-league baseball team. (Dan Pompei / The Athletic)

As a lad in Enfield, Conn., Peter raced to the driveway on Sunday mornings to get the Boston Globe. He wouldn’t let anyone read the sports section until he digested Peter Gammons’ baseball notes. Gosh, he loved those notes.

He met Gammons a while back and told him that when he was young, he wanted to grow up to be Gammons.

When NFL Network scoop meister Ian Rapoport recently was asked by Andrew Marchand of the New York Post what comes to mind when he hears the name Peter King, he replied, “My favorite football writer growing up.”

In 2009, Peter won the McCann Award — since renamed the Nunn Award — for long and distinguished NFL reporting. He was voted the National Sports Media Association Sportswriter of the Year three times and inducted into the NSMA’s Hall of Fame in 2019.

Over the decades, he’s been more than a writer, with pregame television roles on NBC and CNN, a halftime role on ABC, a segment on HBO’s “Inside the NFL” and his own podcast. If there were a record for most radio guest appearances, Peter might have it — he once regularly did 30 a week.


So everybody knows Peter.

While Peter prepares for interviews in Bears camp, offensive coordinator Luke Getsy stops by to say hello. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert does the same in Chiefs camp. In Davenport, Iowa, Dave Heller, who owns the Quad Cities River Bandits, is thrilled to give Peter the red-carpet treatment. Peter throws out the first pitch, which is a football.

Patrick Mahomes teaches him a handshake called “The Snail.” Jalen Hurts wants to take a selfie with him.

On Peter’s camp tour, he has spent time with Aaron Rodgers, Dan Campbell, Tua Tagovailoa, Odell Beckham Jr., Matt LaFleur, Kevin Warren, Travis Kelce, Josh Allen, who pranked him, and many more. He has been granted interviews with everyone he requested except Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who won’t do-on-on-ones since his legal troubles, and Bears quarterback Justin Fields.

GO DEEPERSteve McMichael's vision materializing? Hall of Fame induction in sight for Bears great

He also visited with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. In 2008, before giving the commencement speech at his alma mater Ohio University, Peter asked Tomlin what advice he would give the graduates. “When we’re kids, we dream wildly,” Tomlin told him. “As we grow up, we dream realistically. We shouldn’t. I got where I am today by being a ridiculous dreamer.”

Peter remains a ridiculous dreamer. How else to explain that he routinely is given access that others couldn’t imagine?

He has been inside nine draft rooms as teams have made their picks, interviewed Michael Irvin in a strip club, rode a helicopter from the team hotel to a press conference with John Elway and Mike Shanahan after the Broncos won Super Bowl XXXIII (one of 39 Super Bowls Peter has covered), driven to work with five head coaches and spent six days with quarterback Carson Palmer leading up to a 2015 game.

In 1991, he flew on a private plane with Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson and a group of assistants on a pre-draft scouting trip from Michigan State to North Carolina State to Notre Dame, and his subsequent reporting resulted in Johnson being told he no longer was welcome at North Carolina State.


He went behind the scenes with Gene Steratore’s officiating crew for a week in 2013 and was with Steratore when he saw his grades from the previous game at 10:58 on a Tuesday morning in late November. His bosses ruled he had two incorrect calls, giving him four for the season, too many for a Super Bowl assignment.

“He looks at me and goes, ‘There goes the Super Bowl,’” Peter says. “That was intense.”

On the road with NFL reporter Peter King: Stars, stories and seeing the end of the line (4)

Peter King’s trip to Iowa City included breakfast with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, left. (Dan Pompei / The Athletic)

On our way from Lake Forest to St. Joseph, we spend the night in Iowa City. The next morning, Peter breakfasts with Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whom he met in the early 1990s when Ferentz was the Browns’ offensive line coach. “I thoroughly enjoy your column and I pull things out of it and give it to the team,” Ferentz says to him.

Ferentz tells stories about Bill Belichick and Lukas Van Ness.

Peter tells stories about Reggie White and the cost of a hot dog at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning probably gave him more good information than anyone. He ranks them in a three-way tie as his best interview subjects.

In 1995, he was embedded with the Packers for one week for a Sports Illustrated story about a week in the life of a football team. The unanticipated bonus was sitting in team meetings during which Favre ripped farts. During that week, he visited Favre at his house a number of times and eventually grew so close to Favre that he took naps in his living room easy chair.

In the spring of 1996, Favre asked him to play in a golf tournament in Biloxi, Miss., to raise money for Special Olympics. The night before the outing, Peter was ready to fly when Favre called.

Favre: “Listen, I’m not going to be at the tournament because I’m going into rehab tomorrow, but I really still need you to come. I kind of promised this organization we’d raise $90,000, so I need everyone to show up.”


Peter: “Don’t worry, I’ll come.”

Favre: “Good. So you have the details, right?”

Peter: “Wait a minute. You’re going into rehab?”

Favre proceeded to tell Peter the story of his Vicodin addiction, how it nearly killed him and how he betrayed his family. Peter had a sensational exclusive interview, but the problem was it was a Wednesday and Sports Illustrated couldn’t publish the story until the following Wednesday (at the time, the magazine did not have a website).

Peter asked Favre if he had been talking to anyone else about the story. “Hell no,” Favre told him. “I didn’t think I was talking to you.”

Somehow, Peter and Sports Illustrated kept the exclusive under wraps for one week. “Can you imagine that?” Peter asks.

When Peter was a student at Ohio University, one of his professors, Roger Bennett, told him, “Peter, your job is to take people where they cannot go and teach them things they can’t know.”

Says Peter, “And I thought, ‘That was just perfect.’”

GO DEEPERIntroducing 'The Playcallers': Competition, evolution inside NFL's youngest coaching tree

Thirty-three years ago, Peter accompanied John Madden on a 77-hour trip on the Madden Cruiser from his headquarters in Pleasanton, Calif., to his apartment on the Upper West side of Manhattan.

While Madden slept his best sleep on a queen-sized mattress in a private area in the back of the bus, Peter slept — or didn’t — on a bench with a pad on it near the driver. The temperature on the bus was kept at 59 degrees. If that didn’t make Peter uncomfortable enough, he had to follow Madden’s rule about water. Anyone who wanted water had to drink a 50-ounce bottle of Mountain Valley Spring Water to the last drop.

If you opened one and didn’t finish it, as Peter did, you incurred the wrath of Madden.

“Play by the rules!” an angry Madden boomed.

“That was rough,” Peter says. “But I had the time of my life.”

Peter and Madden share an everyman quality, and their enthusiasm comes from the same place. “I just really love this job because it’s so friggin’ great,” Peter says.


What he may love most is explaining how a Super Bowl was won. After the Chiefs beat the Eagles last February, Peter had quiet time with Reid, his grandson Maverick and his agent Bob Lamonte in Reid’s office. There, Reid explained in detail the play the Chiefs could not have won without.

Peter asked what it was called.

Reid: “Corn Dog.”

Peter: “It’s not called ‘Corn Dog.’”

Reid: “That’s exactly what it is. It’s Corn Dog.”

“How can you not get excited about that?” Peter says now. “You’re at a sporting event that 112 million people watched, and you’re going to write something the next day that none of them know.”

Peter is drawn to the quirky. A section in his column is called “Factoidness.”

Recent items include:

• At Charlotte News and Gifts at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, newspapers are not sold.

Lions executive and team legend Chris Spielman spreads a mix of seed, fertilizer and green ground cover in divots on the practice field during breaks from a bucket with a taped-on sign that reads, “Chris’ Magic Mix Bucket.”

Seahawks quarterbacks coach Greg Olson has had 19 jobs in 36 years, and 10 have been in the Pacific Time Zone.

Peter has a deep appreciation for coffee (make it a Grande Caramel Macchiato with four shots please), wine (especially Italian), beer (Allagash White is his favorite), train and subway travel (he doesn’t own a car), books (he’s reading “American Dirt,” a novel about a woman forced to flee Mexico as an illegal immigrant after her journalist husband exposes a drug lord), newspapers (he spends an hour daily with The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal), watching baseball (the Red Sox are his team) and dog walks (his readers are familiar with Woody and Bailey, who were golden retrievers, and now he has Chuck, a golden mix).

On his daily walk with Peter, Chuck barks at passersby and shows his teeth to a neighborly French poodle.


Peter, on the other hand, is all tail wag. He compliments baristas and holds the door open for people who are straggling for too long.

Why does he resonate with NFL fans? He has received emails from readers who tell him he’s the type of guy they’d like to have a beer with. And the thing is, Peter would like to have a beer with them.

He tries to ask questions fans would ask. His questions, as well as his answers and statements, often have a preamble and then a pause.

Here’s what I want to know …

The question is this …

This is the thing …

Let me tell you something …

You’ll never believe who I just talked to …

On the road with NFL reporter Peter King: Stars, stories and seeing the end of the line (6)

Kelsey Bartels, left, Morgan Miller of NBC document Peter King’s interview with Bears president and CEO Kevin Warren. (Dan Pompei / The Athletic)

Beneath a summer cloudscape worthy of a frame, Morgan Miller of NBC keeps the SUV between the lines. She and co-worker Kelsey Bartels wear a few hats on this trip — navigators, videographers, producers and choosers of restaurants.

Stomachs growl, so we stop and Peter uses the automated kiosk to order a Filet O’ Fish sandwich. He hasn’t had one in a while, and it goes down easy.

We cross the state line into Missouri, and Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells is on the line.

Parcells and Peter talk like they have known each other since 1985, which they have. When Peter was a young reporter covering Parcells’ Giants and showing up every morning before sunrise, hours ahead of the 18 others assigned to the beat, the coach gave him a nickname — “Relentless.”

As Parcells talks now, Peter, sitting in the back seat, takes notes with his left hand, writing in a hard-cover notebook.

When he was on the Bengals beat, he often watched practice standing next to then-Bengals president Paul Brown, which was kind of like watching suspense movies with Alfred Hitchco*ck.

From there, he went to Newsday, where he met Parcells and Belichick. Peter used to be tight with Belichick. Then he criticized him during Spygate. They have not spoken in 17 years.


“That’s the cost of doing business sometimes,” Peter says. “He’s one of the greatest coaches of all time. I’m not sure I put him above Paul Brown, but he’s right up there with the greatest to ever coach in any sport. But I think what he did in 2007 was wrong.”

When Peter wrote an SI cover story titled “Bounty Culture” about the Saints’ transgressions 11 years ago, coach Sean Payton stopped talking to him. Four years later, they saw each other at an NFL meeting and Payton told him he was willing to move on. They have been on good terms since.

Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh wrote the forward to Peter’s 1993 book “Inside The Helmet: A Player’s Eye View of the NFL.” “Peter King is one of the few writers I know who can put football, the real thinking person’s game, into worthy words,” Walsh wrote in the book.

Walsh was known for his coaching tree. Peter has a tree of his own.

In 2013, Peter founded a website under the Sports Illustrated umbrella called mmqb.com, which stood for Monday Morning Quarterback. The company gave him a budget to hire a staff. Among the young people he discovered and still beams about are Kalyn Kahler, now an NFL writer for The Athletic, Emily Kaplan, now a hockey reporter for ESPN, Robert Klemko, now a national crime reporter for the Washington Post and Jenny Vrentas, an enterprise sports reporter for The New York Times.

To understand how Peter became a nurturer, we have to go back to the 1960s. When he was 10, he decided he wanted to be a newspaper writer. His mother, Phyllis, made a suggestion — Peter should write about the neighborhood.

Back then, she saw something that the rest of us have been seeing since — something special there.

Phyllis was raising four children and working two part-time jobs, but she made time to help. Peter wrote the stories longhand and she typed them on a sheet of paper with five pieces of carbon paper behind it. Peter had six copies of his newspapers to distribute to neighbors. He asked that they read it and return it so he could give it to others.


Those newspapers would not have happened, really none of this would have happened, if not for Phyllis.

“I think of my mother,” he says, pausing for 10, 15 seconds, turning away, looking out the car window, gathering himself. “She was so important in my life.”

So was his father, Ken, known to many as “Lefty.” An ironworker who showed his family what commitment and sacrifice looked like, he gave Peter advice that still echoes.

“You’re going to make mistakes,” father told son. “Admit them. And move on.”

The advice was helpful about eight years ago when Peter reported inaccurate information on Deflategate and the Ray Rice domestic violence story. Peter owned up to the mistakes but took them hard.

He still takes them hard.

“You want to remember what it felt like and that sick feeling for three or four days when you almost couldn’t eat,” he says. “I felt awful about it. I still feel awful to this day, but you’ve got to go on.”

GO DEEPERNFL stadium rankings: All 30 NFL venues from best to worst

Nothing is off limits with Peter.

He has opened his personal life to his readers, sometimes telling them more than they want to know.

Out of respect for his wife Ann’s wish for privacy, he doesn’t write much about her, even though it was her idea to name his latest column “Football Morning in America.” In deference, he sometimes refers to her without using her name.

“I am just ridiculously blessed that she married me,” he says. “Sometimes I’m just shocked that she said yes because I’m a nerd. I have a weird sense of humor. I like sports too much, which she doesn’t really love.”

Over time, readers have become familiar with their 37-year-old daughter, Mary Beth, her husband, Nick, and their son, Peter.

In May 2003, Mary Beth, then a junior at Montclair High School in New Jersey, pitched 13 innings in a softball playoff game. Determined not to pitch a 14th, she tripled in the bottom of the 13th and scored the winning run on the subsequent base hit.


Thinking it may have been the best sporting event he ever saw, Peter led his column with more than 2,000 words about his daughter’s game. In 40 years, he never received more reactions to a story — many were enthralled; many were appalled.

Peter has also written about his other daughter, including revealing that Laura is gay. His words were a public embrace of her lifestyle, as well as her wife, Kim, whom Peter adores.

“The most important thing for me and Ann is to have happy children who feel like they’re living a rewarding life,” Peter says. “And I just can’t believe that there are so many people in the United States who, instead of just saying, ‘Live and let live,’ say, ‘You can’t be gay.’ I mean, what the hell is wrong with people?”

Peter cherishes being a grandfather to his namesake and to Freddy and Hazel, who belong to Laura and Kim. It’s one of the reasons he thinks retirement is going to be just fine.

He and Ann live in Brooklyn, N.Y., and their daughters and grandchildren are on the West Coast. They’d like to be closer. And they want to go places — the fjords in Norway, Auschwitz, Spain, Portugal and more.

When Peter took off for 11 weeks in the offseason, he was supremely content. In fact, he discovered he enjoys doing the laundry and washing dishes.

The thought of no longer writing an NFL column is conflicting. He loves everything about his job except one thing.

To get the column published by 3:00 on Monday morning, Peter works on it all day Saturday. Then on Sunday during the season, he watches the early games, the late games and the night game, assuming he’s not in an NFL stadium. He does phone interviews and writes until about 2 a.m.

“Between 12:30 and 2, I get so miserable,” says Peter, who likes to be in bed by 9. “I say, ‘Why are you killing yourself right now?’ I don’t want to work at 2 in the morning anymore.”


His bosses at NBC told him he could shorten the column this year and try to finish earlier, but he knows he won’t be done much earlier. He can’t be. Part of the reason he’s so good is he’s driven. He is not wired for shortcuts.

Peter’s two best writer friends were Paul Zimmerman, who had a stroke when he was still working and ended up dying from complications, and Don Banks, who was found dead in his hotel room in Canton, Ohio, where he was covering Hall of Fame festivities.

Peter’s brother Bob died of a heart issue on a bike ride in 2010 at 55. His other brother, Ken, died from a liver tumor four years later at 64. His father died of lung cancer at 63.

Peter has lived longer than every male in his immediate family.

“I don’t want to die on the job,” he says.

Ann worries about his health. But he doesn’t have to make a decision on retirement now. Peter’s contract with NBC runs until the end of the season.

If the past is a predictor, he will find contentment.

It’s late in the day now on the drive to the hotel. Many miles are behind him, and tomorrow is gaining fast.

With his chin in hand, leaning against the window, he closes his eyes.

And the setting sun shines a golden light on Peter King.

(Top photo of Peter King with Bears receivers Darnell Mooney and DJ Moore: Dan Pompei / The Athletic)

“The Football 100,” the definitive ranking of theNFL’s best 100 players of all time, goes on sale this fall. Pre-order ithere.

On the road with NFL reporter Peter King: Stars, stories and seeing the end of the line (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Moshe Kshlerin

Last Updated:

Views: 5579

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (57 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Moshe Kshlerin

Birthday: 1994-01-25

Address: Suite 609 315 Lupita Unions, Ronnieburgh, MI 62697

Phone: +2424755286529

Job: District Education Designer

Hobby: Yoga, Gunsmithing, Singing, 3D printing, Nordic skating, Soapmaking, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Moshe Kshlerin, I am a gleaming, attractive, outstanding, pleasant, delightful, outstanding, famous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.