July 8, 2000. My marriage ceremony.
In attendance: the usual assemblage of relations and pals, together with one rising movie star. Years earlier than John Clayton grew to become “The Professor” to NFL followers, he was captured on my marriage ceremony video in one other capability.
The Love Doctor?
“How do you think Mike can keep the romance alive in his marriage?” the 15-year-old son of my greatest man irreverently requested on the now archival wanting VHS recording.
John was then a rising star at ESPN, a number one knowledgeable on the NFL’s wage cap and a workhorse reporter within the old-school mildew of his idol, Will McDonough. He was 12 years away from taking pictures the long-lasting SportsCenter business by which he confirmed, for the primary time, that he didn’t take each little factor so critically. I used to be then two years into succeeding John because the Seattle Seahawks beat reporter on the Tacoma News Tribune, a place John had proudly constructed into one with expansive budgets for journey and no matter assets had been wanted to cowl not solely the staff, however the league.
Knowledgeable videographer wasn’t in our marriage ceremony funds, so right here was Clayton, placed on the spot for marriage recommendation by a teen-ager who thought it might be humorous. John didn’t flinch. In basic Clayton kind, he stepped into the body as if delivering an ESPN reside shot from an NFL apply subject. His reply about tips on how to hold the romance alive so completely mirrored his trademark workaholic ethos that my spouse and I joke about it to today.
“The big thing is to make sure that once the Seahawks’ season goes bad, that he pulls off the bad stories he has to write and spends enough time at home in those usual times for a writer,” John stated on the marriage video, referencing the staff’s on-field futility in these days.
And what would these normal instances be?
“After 10 o’clock, because he’s going to be on call until like 10 o’clock at night,” John stated, “and make sure from 10 o’clock on, he pays full attention to Kim and does a great job.”
John wasn’t kidding. This was his precise recommendation for conserving alive the romance. All these years later, in these situations once I’m working deeper into the night time than my spouse would favor, I’ve all the time acquired John Clayton’s 10 o’clock rule to fall again on.
No one labored more durable than John. No one revelled in how laborious he labored greater than John. If he may by some means make one remaining check-in telephone name following his death Friday at age 67, I can say with certainty and in probably the most affectionate phrases that John would say two issues. He’d level out that Saturday was his first time off in I-don’t-know-how-many years. And he’d grumble about how his personal dying had put him to date not on time, he’ll by no means catch up.
That was Clayton day-after-day, 12 months after 12 months, up till the very finish.
As the unsuspecting particular person employed to succeed John on the Seahawks beat on the News Tribune in 1998, I had zero alternative however to uphold some semblance of the not possible customary John set in constructing the paper’s beat protection right into a 24/7 obsession. John wouldn’t settle for something much less. That meant committing to the identical work schedule he saved, or at the least some facsimile. You earned John’s respect by working your ass off.
I’m not exaggerating once I say John known as three or 4 instances per day, seven days per week, twelve months per 12 months, for my complete nine-year run on the Seahawks beat. This continued deep into our overlapping years at ESPN. We spoke so continuously, I used to be fittingly on the telephone with John that darkish day in 2017 when ESPN laid off a few of its most established reporters and personalities.
John was dashing by means of the Denver airport, attempting to make his connecting flight to cowl the draft in New York, as information of looming layoffs broke. It was surreal even then. As we had been talking, John heard the beep in his ear signifying an incoming name. John seemed down at his telephone and noticed the dreaded 860 space code signifying somebody calling from Bristol, Conn., the place ESPN is headquartered.
Part of John died that day in 2017. He cherished every little thing about working for ESPN and what it represented, besides sometimes having to go to Bristol, which he hated, regardless of the possibility to build up airline miles, which he beloved. But John was sturdy. He hosted native Seattle radio exhibits, subbed as a bunch on nationwide SiriusXM exhibits, reported from the sideline throughout Seahawks radio broadcasts, appeared on a neighborhood Seahawks postgame TV present, wrote columns for The Washington Post, wrote in regards to the Broncos for a radio station in Denver, continued as a voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and saved calling me and dozens of others, dozens upon dozens of instances, whether or not or not there was something new to speak about.
Something about John wasn’t proper throughout his remaining weeks. He complained about how he felt, which wasn’t all that uncommon; John complained about a number of issues. Plenty of waiters and customer-service reps can attest to that.
John wouldn’t take heed to anybody who suggested him to hunt medical assist and even to take a break. Again, commonplace for John.
Getting him to take up golf recreationally stands as one in all my best achievements, fleeting because it wound up being. I used to be thrilled to see him lastly order a brand new automobile with energy home windows (John all the time acquired Camrys and, sure, he used to get them with the previous hand-crank home windows). If my berating of John performed any position in him lastly treating himself to a brand new home that he may have simply afforded for lots of the years he inhabited a small rental with noisy neighbors and none of life’s luxuries, add it to the listing of my proudest accomplishments.
The Professor was so old-school, he refused to put on seatbelts, presumably for concern of being trapped in a automobile throughout a collision (the identical reasoning my grandfather cited, besides he had an excuse, having been born in 1902). It was an completely ridiculous place to absorb the present century, which I informed John many instances, nevertheless it did result in some classically comical Clayton moments.
Imagine what it’s like talking on the telephone with somebody or using with them whereas the rental automobile seatbelt siren wails continuous within the background.
It was like using in a on line casino. Completely ridiculous. Completely Clayton.
My spouse remembers John ducking underneath a kind of automated sliding seatbelt harnesses because it moved into place whereas he was taking his seat behind the wheel.
That’s how far John would go to be John.
Alas, the tip-off that one thing wasn’t proper about John couldn’t be present in his many idiosyncrasies. In retrospect, the tip-off revealed itself in his a few of his latest radio appearances and telephone conversations. John didn’t sound the identical. He wasn’t pondering the identical. John stubbornly, defiantly insisted the Seahawks wouldn’t commerce Russell Wilson, one thing I consider John by no means would have gotten so improper again within the day. John known as me after the commerce and requested if I used to be stunned. He sounded horrible, virtually defeated. It was our remaining dialog — so unhappy to consider now, however in no way how I’ll keep in mind our many telephone conversations through the years.
About John and the telephone: He’d name and depart the identical voicemail in the identical hurried, urgent-sounding supply, every message lasting three or 4 seconds.
“Hey, Mike, John Clayton, give me a call, 425-xxx-xxxx.”
Yes, for years, John would go away his quantity each single time, despite the fact that everybody he known as already had his quantity, and nobody even dialed numbers any longer, and even listened to half their messages. I couldn’t inform you from reminiscence any of my pals’ telephone numbers, however I’ll always remember John’s, having heard him depart it for me unnecessarily so many freaking instances.
By by no means disclosing what he was calling about, John left the particular person on the receiving finish not sure whether or not he was calling with an pressing information tip or just to seek out out whether or not you had an correct date of beginning for the tenth receiver on the Philadelphia Eagles’ 90-man roster (which he cared about, for causes we’ll talk about under).
It was an excellent technique when John was nonetheless within the news-breaking sport, since you needed to name him again simply in case, even when it was a Saturday in April and also you had been lastly sneaking away from the beat to spend a number of hours with household. As texting grew to become mainstream, I discovered to fish for particulars that approach throughout these instances when it was hardest to reply his calls.
At John’s peak, when normal managers and brokers and coaches had been calling him continuous, John would continuously need to bail from no matter much less essential dialog was ongoing so he may take these higher-priority calls.
During his Seahawks beat reporting days, John might need one corded telephone on every ear and a 3rd extending from one other desk.
There had been dozens of instances when our conversations went precisely like this:
Me, answering the telephone: “Hey, what’s up?”
John, abruptly: “Oh, hey, gotta go, gotta take this one.” Click.
John had initiated the decision, I had dutifully answered and we spoke simply lengthy sufficient for him to mainly dangle up on me. It was so comical. So Clayton.
Those incoming calls had been typically producers from radio stations. John used to earn extra doing freelance radio across the nation than he earned because the Seahawks’ beat reporter on the News Tribune. He invested and saved as maniacally as he labored, earlier than and after he’d collected sufficient wealth to retire comfortably, which he by no means needed to do, and by no means did. I’m fairly certain he was nonetheless amassing revenue from municipal bonds he’d bought within the ’70s.
To the tip, John continued to do the grunt work that differentiated him. That included sustaining two exhaustive knowledge units that John up to date day-after-day, reflecting each NFL transaction. One knowledge set included wage data for each participant within the league. The different included heights, weights, positions, birthdates, faculties, draft info and present roster statuses for each participant on each staff, together with gamers on varied obscure reserve lists.
John pioneered granular beat degree NFL protection on the nationwide degree. Beyond his early information of the wage cap, he doggedly known as each staff on the Fridays earlier than video games to gather the newest harm info. He adopted up on Sundays to seek out out which gamers could be named inactive 90 minutes earlier than kickoff. Teams developed methods to accommodate his calls, and different reporters adopted in gathering the knowledge.
Properly indoctrinated by John, I started conserving my very own separate team-by-team rosters through the 2000s. John would procure the NFL’s inside day by day waiver report, e-mail it to me, and we each would enter the up to date info day-after-day, for each staff. At any level, John might need the Arizona Cardinals with solely 52 gamers. I might need the Minnesota Vikings with 54. We would spend nevertheless lengthy it took, typically hours, on the telephone attempting to remove discrepancies. It may very well be senseless work, nevertheless it was additionally an train that gave each of us insights into roster building that even individuals who labored for the groups won’t have.
I lastly stopped updating rosters a number of years in the past as extra sturdy knowledge grew to become obtainable and the time funding not appeared worthwhile. John saved plugging away. He by no means may relaxation, which I all the time attributed to the insecurity that makes an individual by no means really feel happy, regardless of their success.
John craved affirmation. To the extent levity is therapeutic on this second, I need to confess to joking with one in all John’s different shut pals that, had John identified the response to his passing could be so unbelievable, punctuated by a proper assertion from the NFL commissioner himself, he would have died way back.
“How’d I sound?” John would ask following what may have been his millionth radio hit, lengthy after he’d mastered his supply.
Ten years in the past, John forwarded to me an e-mail from Gerry Matalon, then a senior producer at ESPN. The e-mail contained an early script for the “SportsCenter” business that turned John from well-known reporter into cultural icon.
John initially sounded not sure whether or not to take part. He’d invested a lot work in constructing his credibility. Donning a “Slayer” shirt (the unique script known as for “Megadeth”) and a ponytail, then screaming to his mom that he was completed together with his SportsCenter section was to date outdoors John’s consolation zone. The considered John doing that business was so hilarious, I may barely include my enthusiasm. I so badly hoped John would conform to do the business that I slow-played my preliminary pleasure sufficient so John may really feel as if he had been making a reasoned determination, and never merely agreeing to some form of comedic dare.
An early @JohnClaytonNFL script for @SportsCenter business known as for John to be carrying a Megadeth shirt. Wound up carrying Slayer. I’m certain he had so many steel muscle shirts round the home, so many to select from. pic.twitter.com/XkuOK4tk1b
— Mike Sando (@SandoNFL) March 21, 2022
John was already broadly identified among the many hardcore NFL followers.
Before the Raiders performed the AFC Championship Game towards Tennessee following the 2002 season, followers outdoors the Oakland Coliseum acknowledged John and shortly enveloped our rental automobile as we tried to park it. I used to be overlaying that sport for the Tacoma paper largely as a result of John had compelled the paper to decide to such protection past the Seattle beat. As I recollect it, we didn’t have a parking cross for some motive, which was initially an issue, however as followers more and more mobbed our automobile for a shot at getting near John, the scenario appeared to magically resolve itself. A die-hard Raiders fan named “Raider Mort” gave John his card. For years, John beamed every time the story got here up. He talked about how Raider Mort and the Oakland followers had his again that day, and beloved reliving the expertise.
John saved rating in life utilizing the currencies that mirrored all of the work he’d put in: Marriott nights (within the 1000’s), United miles (about 3 million) and even his personal web value, which swelled past something John may have imagined to be doable throughout his childhood in Braddock, Pa. That is the place John grew up in a modest dwelling close to the railroad tracks, the son of a divorced nurse.
Will McDonough, who was likewise 67 when he died in 2003, grew up robust in Boston and blazed the path for the NFL newspaper info reporter to turn into a fixture on TV. John admired McDonough a lot and took delight in carving out his personal TV presence primarily based solely on his insights and knowledge, not any type of aptitude for the digicam.
The SportsCenter business took John’s fame to a different degree, past the die-hards, and he beloved it.
During a Super Bowl week a pair years after John first screamed to his mom that he was completed together with his section, the 2 of us determined to depart the media heart to seize lunch. In that atmosphere, with NFL followers in all places, I would as effectively have been strolling down Hollywood Boulevard with Madonna on one arm and Beyoncé on the opposite. We couldn’t stroll 10 toes with out three followers asking John for selfies.
When we lastly reached the sandwich store, one other stranger approached John with a request. The man launched himself and knowledgeable John that somebody within the room needed to satisfy him.
The somebody within the room was Evander Holyfield, the one four-time heavyweight boxing champion.
John and I seemed over at Holyfield after which again at one another. It was a marvel to each of us what The Love Doctor had turn into.
(Top photograph: James D. Smith / Associated Press)