This column originally appeared in the September 24, 2007 issue of Patriots Football Weekly. 

Silver carving a new niche at Yahoo!

By Bruce Allen

If you’ve read Sports Illustrated over the last 13 years, you’ve likely read a feature by Michael Silver, the Californian sports writer who this season has found himself a weekly guest on WBCN’s “Sylvania Patriots Pregame Show.” Silver, who in conversation seems to typify everything New Englanders think about Californians, (everyone is “Dude,” he’s passionate about surf and sushi) in fact actually provides a nice national voice to the program, which at times sorely needs the perspective.

Silver himself is embarking on a new period of his career, as this summer he left Sports Illustrated, where he had worked since 1994. He is now the lead NFL writer for a little web startup that you might’ve heard of — Yahoo! The web portal has made a serious commitment to its sports section, ( luring in the recent past not only Silver, but also veteran print writers such as Jason Cole and Adrian Wojnarowski, with more high profile hires on the way.

The move from Sports Illustrated to Yahoo! this summer wasn’t an easy one for Silver, who observes: “It is definitely an adjustment, but a very cool one to make in 2007. I still go to games on Sundays and write all night, and I still write during the week, but it’s a different, more immediate, more opinion- and analysis-driven reality, and I like that.”

When asked further about the appeal of moving to the web-only format, Silver had an interesting take on it: “I had 13 great years at SI, but something hit me during this past Super Bowl,” he says, “I was up in the middle of the night writing the main story for the magazine and had some great stuff on Peyton Manning and the Colts that I couldn’t wait to get out there, and I was thinking to myself, ‘I can’t wait till this comes out … on Wednesday or Thursday, in people’s mailboxes.’ Suddenly, that didn’t seem right.”

Silver rates getting to watch his kids play soccer on Saturday mornings now as one of the biggest perks of the new job. He travels to NFL games each week, but the timing works much better now. Part of the new gig involves going up against old friend and colleague Peter King at the start of each week. While King is filing “Monday Morning Quarterback,” Silver is posting “Morning Rush” — a quickfire look around the weekend action, coupled with a ton of reader feedback, and thus far, no weekly Starbucks experiences.

Without knowing the situation, one might think that Silver left SI to perhaps get out from under the shadow of King, but he insists otherwise.

“Believe it or not, one of the coolest things about this is that I get to go head-up with Peter on Monday mornings, partly because he’s a good friend who has been so amazingly helpful in my career, and partly because he’s The King,” Silver said. “He not only has owned Monday mornings on the web for a long, long time, he created the template. It’s his fault — and part of this was our SI write-all-night ethos at work — that I’m writing eight zillion words instead of a tidy 1,500. Not only is he great at it, but give him a lot of credit for recognizing the importance of the Internet very early on and running with it.

“When I was deciding whether to stay or go, Peter understood what a great opportunity the Yahoo gig was, even though we both wanted to keep working together. He said, ‘A lot of people are going to tell you you’re crazy if you take this, but you know what? They’re completely missing the point.’ Then we got sad and said, ‘Who are we going to talk to all night on Sundays now?’ And then it hit us: We’ll still IM and talk in the middle of the night, because we’re the only idiots who’ll be awake.”

In one of his final assignments for Sports Illustrated this spring, Silver wrote about former Oklahoma University and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, portraying him in a much more favorable light than anything you had likely read before. Switzer also now finds himself in a new medium as part of the Fox “NFL Sunday Pregame Show,” teaming up to do a segment called “Grumpy Old Coaches” with someone who has been both a friend and a critic, his predecessor in Dallas, Jimmy Johnson. While critics might think that Switzer will have little to offer in the way of football commentary on the show, Silver has a different opinion, noting that he saw the first installment of the segment, and liked it, but thinks that it will get much better. He also inserts a Patriots connection into his observation: “Barry is a great, natural, unpretentious storyteller with more material than I could ever convey, and he and Jimmy go way, way back. They need to tell stories like the one where they were both in drag along with a bunch of Chuck Fairbanks’ other assistants — they hit the town thinking they were going to get fired, dressed as chicks, and got drunker and drunker, and comedy ensued.”

That might not be a mental image most of us wish to contemplate, but Silver cites the story as an example of Switzer’s strengths. He says Switzer “isn’t one of those coaches trying to hog the spotlight. He believes that great players and assistants are why games are won, for the most part, and he’ll tell you that without any hesitation. And he doesn’t take himself, or the game, so seriously, and that’ll translate well to TV.”

Silver is a guy who clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously either, and that also seems to be working out pretty well for him. Taking the chance to leap from a storied print magazine to one of those new-fangled Internet companies might seem like a risk to some, but for Silver it seems like a perfect fit.