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 by Elvis
2 years ago
 Total posts:   21377  
 Joined:  Mar 28 2015
United States of America   Los Angeles
Administrator

Rich Hammond, @Rich_Hammond , was nice enough to answer some questions for RFU. I really wanted to know what it's like to cover the Rams more than ask about the latest with Aaron Donald's contract or that sort of thing since no doubt that's what he's working on. Anyway, here it is:

Hi Rich, thanks for doing this. Following the Rams wouldn’t be the same without your humor and love of Japanese poetry, not to mention your reporting.

So, a few questions:


1. Tell us about your background, what were you covering before you got the Rams gig? Any personal Rams history from their time in Anaheim or before?

I was born and raised in Southern California, and started in daily journalism when I was a freshman at USC in 1995. Between then and 2016, I covered pretty much every team/sport in Southern California at one time or another, from the Dodgers and Lakers down to high school sports. Most recently, I spent three years working for the L.A. Kings as their website beat reporter, and then in 2012, I returned to the Register for a second stint, first with coverage USC and the Kings, and then I jumped on the Rams in Jan. 2016. I wouldn't necessarily say I have any personal Rams history. Obviously I grew up watching some of those 1980s teams, with Jim Everett and Henry Ellard and Flipper Anderson, but the first Rams game I attended in person was the preseason opener last year.

2. How strong is the Rams fan base in Orange County today? How does it compare to the Chargers and/or the Raiders?

I'd say it's still pretty strong, which I why I think holding training camp in UC Irvine is a good idea (and even more so now, with the Chargers taking up shop nearby). I've been explaining the market this way... I think football fans in Southern California (not just Orange County) can be divided into two camps, by age. I was in high school when the Rams and Raiders left town. I think, for fans my age or older -- so, let's say mid-30s or up -- the return of the Rams is/was meaningful. Those people have memories of the Rams playing in Southern California. They grew up cheering for those teams of the 80s, 70s, 60s, etc. Among those people, I think the fan base is strong. Those folks are just thrilled to have the Rams back in town, and while they're hoping for much better than a 4-12 record, in some ways it's been a dream come true just to have the team back in town. Now, I think it's very different for fans who are in the mid-30s or younger. Those people have little or no memory of the Rams being here. They have no prior emotional investment in the Rams. They grew up cheering for the Cowboys or the Patriots, or maybe the Raiders or Chargers based on proximity. Those are the fans the Rams need to win over, and the best way they can do it is by winning games. With the Chargers in town and the Raiders on their way to Vegas, there's definitely going to be a battle for the hearts of younger fans, and history tells us that they likely will gravitate toward the team that has more on-field success.

3. I know this is a broad question but what’s it like to cover the Rams? Do you spend a lot of time at CLU? What do you do when you’re not physically covering the Rams? Do you spend all your time as a reporter on the Rams and Rams related stories?

Working in sports journalism is very different than most jobs. I've told young people that if a 9-5, weekends-off lifestyle is attractive to you, absolutely do not go into sports journalism. And that's not a complaint. I love what I do and I'm grateful, every day, that I get a chance to do it. But it's certainly a different lifestyle. You always need to stay on top of news, and news doesn't have a schedule. The morning Fisher got fired, I was at Disneyland, so I stopped and typed out an initial story on my phone and sent it in. You're always a little on edge and never too far from your phone. But you know what? Every day is different. You never know what is going to happen. It's fun and exciting and, at the end of the day, you're getting paid to cover football. I can't imagine doing anything else. The normal week at CLU would be a press conference with the coach on Monday, and then three days of practice. Under Fisher, it was Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, but under McVay it likely will be Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. So, each of those practice days would include approximately two hours of practice, one hour of interviews and approximately two hours of writing. I'll also spend one of the "off" days writing preview stuff that will be in Sunday's paper. Other than that, I take advantage of free time when I can. If you have a traditional Monday-Friday, 9-5 job, the things that you typically do on Saturday and Sunday -- run errands, spend time with loved ones, etc. -- I try to fit that stuff in during weekdays, because every Sunday is a 10-hour work day and many Fridays or Saturdays are travel days. From July until January, I'm exclusively on the Rams. If there are times, during the offseason, when I'm not busy, the office sometimes will ask me to cover a random baseball or basketball game, and I'll jump in on coverage there.

4. What kind of access do you have? Is there generally stuff you see/know that you’re not allowed to report or do the Rams pretty much only show you what they want you to report on? Do you have to work hard to develop relationships and sources?

Under Fisher, we were allowed to watch the normal practices. The policy under McVay has not yet been publicly announced. The Rams are upfront about the fact that they restrict what reporters are allowed to report, in terms of what they see in practice. We are not allowed to discuss/print particulars of what we see in practice. For instance, if I reported, "Oh, the Rams are working on a fake punt that involves Johnny Hekker throwing a post route," or "Tavon Austin has been running a double reverse with Brian Quick," practice would be closed the very next day. So I understand that to a point. There's a reason why teams practice in private. I think the Rams, like every NFL team, are overly sensitive when it comes to having some information distributed, but that's how it is everywhere. Essentially, watching practice helps me write more informed stories, so I consider it valuable for myself and for my readers, even though I fundamentally dislike some of the restrictions. From watching what the team is doing, I get a better sense of what they're trying to accomplish and whether or not it is translating to games. And yes, you certainly have to work to develop relationships and sources. I try to be real with people, and not just use them to get information. It takes time. I do my best to show people that I care most about accuracy and fairness, and not being sensational about stories/angles.

5. By all accounts things are going great with McVay so far: Players are buying into their new very young head coach. Snead and McVay are in love. Everyone is saying all the right things. Is that hype? Is it real? Can you tell?

I don't think it's hype, but I also think it's the same with every new coach. I'm sure, if we went back to St. Louis coverage in 2012, there would be a bunch of stuff about the excitement around Fisher and Snead and how it's a new era, etc., etc. There's always tremendous optimism and excitement when you're undefeated in June. As we all know, the proof will be delivered on the field starting in September. For now, I think there are reasons for legitimate optimism. McVay has brought an urgency to the team that seemed to be lacking under Fisher. I think he did a nice job with his coaching staff, particularly in bringing in some veteran coaches. They filled some positions of need in the draft and free agency. That said, if the Rams start 0-3, none of us are going to look back fondly at June. So we'll see. But from everything I've seen/heard so far, the players have reacted well to McVay, and his relationship with Snead seems to be strong. In my mind, there haven't been any major red flags to date.

6. Does anyone really know what kind of team they have, what kind of season it will be? Can you tell as a reporter covering the Rams what kind of season they’re likely to have? Do you think the players, coaches and organization can? For example: Was last year’s disaster apparent early on or did it genuinely play out in real time?

I think people are kidding themselves if they think they can predict how a season will go. I mean, just look at the first two weeks of 2016. Was there one single person who predicted that the Rams would lose to the 49ers, then turn around and beat the Seahawks? As I sit here now, I wouldn't be shocked if the Rams went 9-7 in 2017 and I wouldn't be surprised if they went 4-12 again. There are so many factors, both internal and external, that can go into success or failure, and almost none of them can be predicted. For instance, I know we're going to talk about All Or Nothing, and while I won't spoil it, there's one scene in which the coaches are surprised, because they legitimately felt like the Rams had a great week of practice, and then they just flopped in the game. Football is such a crazy sport, with so many momentum turns, that it's impossible to predict. I think, out of everyone, the players themselves have the best idea. They know if they're feeling good, if they're confident, if they're in sync, if they believe in the coaches and the game plan, all of that. As for last year, I don't think the collapse was apparent early, but I have to be honest and say that when the Rams were 3-1, I wasn't sitting there thinking, "Oh, they're going to the Super Bowl (or even the playoffs)." I considered them to be a bit of a paper tiger at that point, but even so, I was surprised that things went downhill so quickly.

7. What’s your take on the upcoming All or Nothing from Amazon? I know you said there were some liberties with the editing. If you get an advance preview of something like that and think it’s terrible, what’s the policy on that? Would you say so or just not comment?

I thought it was fantastic. I wasn't a huge fan of Hard Knocks because I thought it manufactured some drama just for the sake of drama. All Or Nothing is a real football show, with real football drama, and it tells the story of the season the way it really happened. The "liberties" I mentioned are pretty minor. They're not things that alter the story. They're just little things I noticed, small scenes and moments. I'll mention them in detail after the show is released and people have had a chance to see it. Honestly, I thought I'd be bored with the show, since I already lived through most of it when it happened, but I was captivated and basically binge-watched it. I would never feel pressured to give a positive review to something just because I got an advance copy. If I had received an advance copy of Hard Knocks, I would have given my (much less positive) opinion about it. But I can say with total honesty that I really think Rams fans (and all football fans) will enjoy this series.

8. When is your book of sports haiku coming out?

Ha! It's fun. It kind of started because one day last year, I was transcribing a Fisher interview and I told someone that it sounded like he was talking in haiku. So I just went with it. I kind of feel bad, because much of the humor is at Fisher's expense. He treated me just fine and, on a personal level, I don't have a single thing bad to say about him. But, I mean, he has provided some pretty good content, right? We'll see if McVay can continue the entertainment.

 by RamsFanSince82
2 years ago
 Total posts:   5852  
 Joined:  Aug 20 2015
United States of America   So. Cal.
Hall of Fame

Until recently, I thought Hammond was at least in his mid 40's.

For obvious reasons (a lot less games, and a more regular home life schedule), it's a lot easier being an NFL beat reporter compared to being a beat reporter for a MLB, NBA, or NHL team.

 by BobCarl
2 years ago
 Total posts:   2648  
 Joined:  Mar 08 2017
United States of America   LA Coliseum
Superstar

Thanks for posting!

It takes a lot for a sports writer to win me over, not many can... but Rich Hammond is on the right track .. I'm looking forward to reading his articles.

 by RedAlice
2 years ago
 Total posts:   4701  
 Joined:  Aug 07 2015
United States of America   San Diego
Superstar

Great read! Thanks Elvis.

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5 posts Jul 18 2019