Nobody reads the New York Times for its Sunday morning NFL previews. This explains why a guy like Mike Tanier is permitted to write them, in addition to the Gray Lady's Fifth Down (also the title of the aforementioned print preview column) blog.
The standard NFL preview, says Tanier, is "is almost like the writing a robot could do. I'm thrilled the Times says to go off the deep end and be ironic and weird." Still, being ironic and weird in every single capsule "can be grueling. If I'm doing 16 of them, 11 of them can be really funny, while the other five can just be interesting."
Tanier is the first to admit that he's probably got the least impressive pedigree of any NYT contributor. "I don't have a very good journalism background," he concedes, stating that he got his start writing syndicated previews before landing a gig with foxsports.com. "I get hate mail--'Where's the hard football analysis?' And I say, well, it's in about 6,000 other places."
Although Tanier claims "Bill Simmons does a much different thing" than he does, they're cut from the same cloth--that of the superfan who happens to write really well. The duo's rise, fueled largely by the Internet, is representative of a tectonic shift in the realm of sportswriting, where armchair quarterbacks have achieved equal footing with the grizzled print columnist.
"The credentialed columnist, these guys do a wonderful job, but it's a different news cycle from a different era," explains Tanier, who identifies The Onion's A/V Club as his main source of inspiration. "A lot of fans aren't looking for that reaction anymore. There's still a sense that they can comment on something that happened six days ago. The other thing is, nobody gets real access to the players anymore anyway."
As for the Seahawks, Tanier is clueless as to what path the front office is charting for the team, comparing quarterback Tarvaris Jackson's right arm to a catapult in Punkin Chunkin and backup Charlie Whitehurst's look to George Harrison's in All Things Must Pass.
Pete Carroll, it's worth noting, is among Tanier's favorite personalities to riff on, as is Redskin Coach Mike Shanahan. "Shanahan is a lot of fun, because he has no sense of humor whatsoever, like Richard Nixon."
But Tanier doesn't think he'll have Carroll to kick around much longer.
"Both his history and the history of Harry High School-type coaches--owners get very nervous when that fails," says Tanier. "They think they're too positive and player-oriented, and they pull the trigger very quickly. If [the Seahawks] draft a quarterback next year, they're going to be in a rebuilding phase, and I'm not sure if Carroll survives a rebuilding phase."