By Michael Lewis
About a month prior to the start of a men’s World Cup, particularly when there is a U.S. team participating, life can get crazy for a sportswriter.
Press conferences and conference calls. International friendlies in the area. TV and radio stations wanting to interview you.
And organizations you have never heard of come out of the woodwork trying to sell their products and wanting you to interview their spokesperson.
I have said the World Cup has begun because the pressure has been ratchetted up on many people.
As a media member, you must put together a list of priorities — aka — what is news and what is BS.
Anything about the team proper is on the A list — press conferences and conference calls. Next comes friendlies in the area – the Mexican national team played Ecuador in the first professional sporting event at the New Meadowlands Stadium (now MetLife Stadium) as it was named at the time, on May 7, 2010 – and then any interviews. That World Cup warm-up wasn’t much to write home about, a scoreless draw in front of 77,507 spectators. No doubt the hype was much greater than the match.
John Oliver has won eight Emmys and two Peabody Awards. (Photo courtesy of HBO)
There were exceptions when I refused to do any interviews. When I was the editor of Soccer Magazine in 1994, one radio station wanted to interview me 20 minutes into a match. What! Are they crazy? What are they thinking? Don’t get in the way of my work, please. Of course, I said there was no way.
In 2010, there also was another responsibility. The U.S. team trained at Princeton University, where then U.S. head coach Bob Bradley once guided the men’s squad. It was a perfect place to train – on the east coast, close to international airports (Newark and JFK) to depart for South Africa went the time came.
So, naturally, I ventured down to Princeton to cover several days of training. On May 19, 2010, 10 years ago today, I got to the media room before anyone else to get a claim a top spot to put my computer and backpack. While unpacking I could not help but notice the gentleman who was talking to the USMNT press officer Mike Kammarman – John Oliver of The Daily Show. Wow! What did the U.S. team do to get this kind of coverage, I thought to myself?
The first thing I did was get my phone out to take a photo of Oliver without looking like an a-hole paparazzi. In the middle of taking a picture, Kammarman invited me over and introduced me to Oliver.
We talked for several minutes about soccer, the U.S. team and the club close to his heart, Liverpool. He bemoaned the possible future of the team, which finished a disappointing seventh in the recently completed English Premier League season.
I felt fortunate, having met Jon Stewart, the host of The Daily Show in 2006 and now John Oliver (who would go on to greater fame on his weekly HBO show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver).
Oliver was at Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium to do a few features with his crew on the team. The media got a front row seat (well, we were all standing on the other side of a rope, to be truthful), watching the interviews, even though we were told we could not write about what was said or we would be in deep trouble.
Defenders Jay DeMerit and Jonathan Spector and goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann played along with Oliver, who asked some, ahem, absurd, but also entertaining questions. There is also a U.S. Soccer video in which Oliver interviewed other players, including Tim Howard and Stu Holden.
Here is a behind-the-scenes look at John Oliver and the USMNT in 2010. (Video courtesy of U.S. Soccer’s YouTube page)
At the time, I wrote about Oliver’s USMNT appearance for The Beautiful Blog (what a great name!) in the New York Daily News that “perhaps the witty and funny Mr. Stewart or the hilarious Mr. Oliver will give the Beautiful Blog an exclusive interview about the World Cup since we have given them a gratuitous mention in this particular piece. We’ll do anything for an exclusive interview. Well, just about anything that is legal and without a paper trail.”
Unfortunately, never got that exclusive interview.
And, you were wondering where my award-winning photo of John Oliver was?
So I am.
I sent one to the Daily News, which was used with the piece, although The Beautiful Blog cannot be found on the website.
Well, that was like two or three or four cellphones ago. I tried tracking it down on my sent emails, but to no avail. It could be lost in cyberspace forever.
Not the end of the world. You can’t have everything in life, but meeting and talking soccer with John Oliver was pretty cool.