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Jim Wexell

October 13, 2011

Jim Wexell Interview (January 29,  2011):

Where can fans find you  – online, in print and elsewhere?

I’m at SteelCityInsider.net.
 
Tell us about the books you’ve written – what have been your biggest takeaways from the books you wrote – what are some of the biggest things you learned and/or realized because you wrote these books?

I’ve written three books: Tales From Behind the Steel Curtain, Men of Steel, and Steeler Nation. The first two were for a publishing house that has since gone bankrupt and left a trail of I.O.U.s. Someone told me he bought one of them at Amazon for $70. Are you kidding me? Anyway, another publishing house is buying them and yhey’ll be made available at regular rates again.

I did Steeler Nation myself and it worked out. I had all the control and, frankly, made more money. I’m not telling you this to brag, I’m just taking a long time getting to the most important thing I’ve learned: If you think you can market it yourself on the Net, do it.

A photographer and I thought we had an agreement with Hines Ward to do his biography. Later, we found out Hines hired a writer from New York to do it. I heard Hines talking about it on the radio and so I asked him about it the next day. He said his agent hired the writer, that he thought it would be best for Hines to go with the people who did Bettis’s book, and that they’d be able to find a publishing house easier with this writer. I told Hines that sounds fine, but now he’ll be paying his agent, his writer, and his publishing house and to watch that he’s not left with a trail of IOUs some day.

I told him to watch out for this and that, told him he could’ve marketed it himself on the Net just as easily, and he said, “Man, we should sit down some day and go over this.” I told him he didn’t need to be adding me to his growing payroll. But my point is that I’ve learned this: Don’t let people steal your money!

As far as what I’ve learned about the Steelers, from my road trip book, I’ve learned about their families. I’ve become interested in them as people. Now when they see me coming in the locker room they don’t say, “Oh, what does this guy want from me now?” Because a lot of times we’re just shooting the breeze, whether it’s their brother, mother, or how their college football team did over the weekend. So that’s a tip for aspiring reporters to go along with the previous tip for aspiring authors. I feel bad for the 99 percent reading this who just want to know something about the dang team.

What would surprise fans most about this Steelers team?

And here’s where I don’t have anything for you. I would be surprised if Steelers fans can still be surprised. Since this is a Net interview, I’m sure these readers are the most-informed fans of this team. I’m sure they know everything that I do. I’ll hope to provide something in the coming questions.

What are some of the most memorable players and coaches you experienced covering the Steelers – and what made them so? Any experiences you can relate about those players?

I’ve covered them since 1995 and since 1998 I’ve been sharing my experiences every day. I really wouldn’t know where to begin to answer those questions.

To me, Anthony Madison is just as memorable as Greg Lloyd. I still think I see Corey Holliday in the cafeteria every day. Um, one image just flashed into my mind, was the way rookie Aaron Smith used to watch the media and team interact. He sat there alone, a mid-round rookie without any attention, and he was an eagle-eye. He’s since become a team spokesman with whom I have a great relationship.

I think about him when I see people like Jonathan Dwyer doing the same thing as a mid-round rookie these days. You have to be nice to begin relationships with even the most uninteresting rookie, because you never know who they’ll grow up to become. 
 
What are some of the most memorable experiences you had covering the Steelers – and what made them so?

I feel like James Harrison trying to dodge these questions because I don’t have the quick-twitch memory that so many of today’s best sportswriters have. Man, I could sit down with Vic Ketchman and listen to his detailed memories of the 70s Steelers for hours. Ed Bouchette’s the same way. Gerry Dulac. Dale Lolley. These are sharp people.

I’m not nearly in that realm, and that’s why I’m glad I’ve kept all my daily notes and quotes. My first day with Harrison was memorable. I asked him about Jack Lambert and the Kent State connection and Harrison, on his first day of spring camp as a rookie, blasted Lambert for never having come around. “You’re supposed to be this all-time great, but you never came around and blah, blah, blah …” Anyway, I asked James recently if he’s ever heard from, or met, any of the 70s linebackers. He told me he received a letter from Lambert after Harrison’s wrecked the Ravens in his great 2007 game, and he told me the letter meant a lot ot him. I was happy for James and for Lambert, who remains a literary idol of mine because of his prolific letter writing. It’s so old school and very cool and courteous and smart. I’ve got to write more letters to people when they do great things. I’ve got to be more like Jack Lambert.

We heard Tomlin speak out recently about media members revealing “in house” information. How do you draw the line between what you report on and what you decide not to report on?

My readers have been good about this. They understand I can’t report tactical information gleaned from practice, whether it be position changes, injury replacements, interesting plays, whatever. You know something can help the opposition when you see it. That I don’t — even in message board interaction — exploit this in order to get more subscribers, I think, is appreciated by the readers I already have. They appreciate that I’m not going to become sensationalistic to make sales; and I appreciate that they re-subscribe year after year so that I have a base that I can count on to eat. And I really don’t need to eat steak. I’m happy with salami sandwiches and the best office in the world — the press box.

Getting to the Green Bay game – how does this defense attack that explosive Green Bay offense – especially one that performs so well in a dome?

Hmmm. You think I’m smart, do you?

First, stop the run. I like what James Starks has brought to GB, but I believe he’s got a fumble in him with that large strike zone. He hasn’t done it yet, so that means he’s due. But don’t believe this team will Brady you with 40 consecutive passes. Play that run and look for blitz opportunities when they’re “behind the chains.” And keep sprinkling in that press man that seems to have become so useful since the Brady disaster at mid-season. Just keep doing what they’ve been doing.

On offense, what do you see as the biggest vulnerability of the Green Bay defense and how do you think the Steelers attack it?

I may have watched them twice this year. I usually ask these questions. By the numbers, they’re average against the run, but with Raji coming on strong (vs. a backup) and the Steelers having been so average with their run game, and their lack of patience with it, that won’t be the edge. I think it could be the short underneath stuff to all of those speed guys, and I’m including Heath Miller, an athletic TE. The Packers’ WRs may have the better reputation and numbers, but these Steelers WR are coming on, and they are fast — Mendenhall included.

How important is the fact that many of the Steelers players and coaches have been to the SB before – is that a decidedly large advantage or overplayed? And why?

Absolutely. Here’s another long, bore-ass story about myself: On Monday morning, before I even knew whether my wife and daughter would get tickets, I bought them airfare. I saved about $400 by doing that right away. On Tuesday, I e-mailed the league to confirm my media credential. They did not have it, so we began a 2-day process to get the paperwork done on that. On Wednesday, I called the hotel to confirm my reservation. They did not have that, so we began what’s now been a 4-day process to slash through that mound of paperwork. On Thursday, my 2 tickets were confirmed, so the airfare didn’t go for naught. Now, had I not covered 3 Super Bowls previously, I would’ve assumed all would’ve been taken care of. And next week I’d be living on some street in Forth Worth, and a couple grand to the bad. That’s just my story.

Think of that and add game preparations to the list. Experience is huge.

Who or what do you see being the “surprise” difference-maker in this game – for both teams – and why?

I’m worried about Andrew Quarless, the rookie TE from Penn State. I thought he was such a good player at PSU but knew he had too much baggage for the Steelers to draft this year.

And that gets me into another topic: It’s really pissing me off how lousy journalists are shaping the facts and ripping the Steelers as some kind of hypocrites because they project themselves as “a paragon of virtue” but yet are as dirty as the rest, and these hacks are shaping the myths surrounding Ben, Harrison, Hines etc. to their liking.

Well, the draft is the lifeblood of this team. And all of your readers know they’ve hurt themselves by consistently down-grading prospects who’ve been in trouble. At the Senior Bowl, Phil Taylor was the best player on the field. He was a man amongst boys.

Do you think the Steelers will get him? Not a chance. He was kicked out of Penn State and may as well have been kicked off the Steelers’ draft board. But the point is the draft is their lifeline and they do their best to draft good people (and it’s not for some altruistic aim that will surely please their owner; it’s because good people make for good teams, as evidenced). But anyway, because of Andrew Quarless, I can prove that the Steelers are indeed a paragon of virtue and screw anyone who has an agenda coming into their story or talk show and uses these myths as vindication

Whew. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. As for your question, I see no surprises from the Steelers. I think it’s Ben’s MVP trophy to win or lose. 
 
A recent ESPN report says LeBeau could go to AZ next season when his contract expires – any accuracy there? What are your thoughts?

No. Arizona’s waiting on Keith Butler. The Steelers, intelligently, want to make sure LeBeau re-ups before giving Butler the OK to head west.

Its early, but still, what are the main priorities for this team in the offseason?

Forget about free agency because of the lockout. In the draft, it’s value, value, value. Any idiot like me can say they need another O-lineman or another cornerback, but as long as either position presents value they will remain the annual contender they’ve become. 
 
Pittsburgh has a new football team in the Pittsburgh Power – what do they have to do to win over Pittsburgh fans? What are your thoughts about this new team?

We who live in Pittsburgh will give our pocketbooks a rest until next September. Any new league needs to serve as some type of minor-league team for the Steelers for the discerning fan in these parts.

Any last thoughts for Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin readers?

Sorry for going so long on some of these. As I said, there’s really not much more that can be known about the Steelers. Hope I didn’t bore you by talking so much about myself. Take care.

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