‘The One And Only’ and ‘Career Arc: Tony Gonzalez’ Analysis

When I first clicked on the links to Greg Bishop and Robert Mays’ pieces in an email sent to us for class, I did not know what to expect. All the email said was the name of the writer and the publication of the nameless story, nothing more of major significance.

With that being said, it might come as a surprise to say that I knew almost immediately what each story was most likely about without reading a single word. Unlike in the email, a relatively small detail was all I needed. I looked at the headline photos in each – Dan Marino in Bishop’s Sports Illustrated story and Tony Gonzalez in Mays’ Grantland article – and thought what everyone with prior knowledge of the two players thinks of them:

Zero Super Bowls.

Obviously, I don’t think the two groups planned to both choose a story about a well-known NFL great who was known as much as for his on-the-field accolades as he was for what he didn’t accomplish, but that was the case, nonetheless. If anything, it was a funny coincidence because most would agree that, at least at their respective positions of quarterback (Marino) and tight end (Gonzalez), no one ever did it better without being rewarded for it with a Super Bowl title to their names. It’s harsh but that’s the reality of their situations, no matter how many records they smashed over their illustrious pro careers.

And so when you take a look back at either, even if you are trying to be as positive about them as possible, mention of the NFL’s biggest game is inevitable. It’s a little odd but I feel like their lack of championships almost adds to their legend, instead of harming it like you might think it would. You have to ask yourself: Are these rehashes of their careers ever told in the time and place that they were by Bishop and Mays if each succeeded in winning a Super Bowl? I’m not so sure.

In terms of the story itself, there was really nothing that jumped off the page to me. That’s not to say that they weren’t any good or worth reading but the sentence structure, word choice, transitions, etc. weren’t anything groundbreaking. Instead, it was the details – some I don’t believe were previously well known, even by the biggest Marino and Gonzalez fans – presented through various quotes and anecdotes that made them captivating reads.

For instance, Mays’ lede on Gonzalez recounts the backstory of how the Kansas City Chiefs basically almost stole him from Jerry Jones, Troy Aikman and the Dallas Cowboys. It was a way to essentially say that at least a few people thought that this guy was going to be something really special before his career really even began, albeit in a more descriptive manner.

Bishop’s is much of the same, though it begins with what, in hindsight, is the peak of Marino’s career. When he and the rest of the Miami Dolphins touchdown on the runway in California ahead of Super Bowl XIX in January 1985, Marino, sunglasses included despite it being nighttime, utters just a few brief words to his teammates: “The Terminator has arrived.” If there’s a category for badass ledes, this has to be at or near the top.

Still, there is at least one more striking – and again coincidental – similarity. If you look closely, you’ll notice that Gonzalez is never quoted in outside of some anecdotal quotes and Marino has only a few real-time quotes in “The One and Only.” (Bishop never actually personally spoke to Marino for his story, instead implementing an intern to do his dirty work because he was unable to do it himself. Bill Walsh’s death in 2007 and Joe Montana’s notorious reclusiveness also left him unable to speak to either for his story, when he otherwise would have offered their perspective, the San Francisco 49ers’ perspective, to the discussion.)

At least from a broad viewpoint, this seems like a difficult task to tackle. How do you write a longform story about someone when you’re speaking to them little to known? I posed this question on both writers and got essentially the same response, giving me a whole new outlook on handling a situation like this in a case of my own.

Both Bishop and Mays said it pushes you to look at new angles and pursue other sources who you may have never spoken to if you had 110 percent support from your main subject of the story. It forces you to break the potential habit of leaning too much on the Gonzalez or Marino of your piece, instead forcing you to broaden your horizons. They added that you shouldn’t give up pursuing those central figures if they are going to be of use but, at the least, it can help confirm particular anecdotes of something because you’ll be talking to several sources, more so than usual potentially.

So the way I see it, it might actually be a good thing to almost avoid the chief subject a little bit as crazy as that may sound. And perhaps that’s in your best interest anyway if one of your talking points is going to be about something (Super Bowl) they are probably sick of getting asked about already.

http://www.si.com/longform/2015/1985/marino/index.html

http://grantland.com/features/the-career-tony-gonzalez/

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