"I’ll share a little juicy scoop with you here,” Jay Glazer says, a devilish glint in his eye. It’s 9:30 a.m., and he’s already had a cigar. He turns, his shaved dome tilting toward a wary Dean Blandino. “Dean will probably ‘no-comment’ me here. I understand the NFL’s officiating department gave certain officials a virtual-reality camera [for training] on their glasses—and a certain official accidentally left his camera on when he got naked in his hotel room.”
Blandino, who spent 18 years with the NFL, isn’t biting. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
With a satisfied cackle, Glazer says, “That’s why I’m the Insider. It’s a true story. I’m not going to name the guy. I was dying when I heard this.” The powerfully built Glazer won’t let this go. “I think it was Dean,” he says. “Yes or no? Was it you?”
Blandino, who was once the final word on all instant replays reviewed by the NFL, levels his dark eyes on Glazer before rendering judgment. “No,” he says. Then he breaks into a laugh.
The exchange is par for the friendship between Glazer, 47, the scoop-hunting “NFL Insider” for “Fox NFL Sunday,” and Blandino, 45, who resigned earlier this year as the National Football League’s senior vice president for officiating to become an on-air analyst for Fox’s NFL broadcasts. The pair met a few years ago when Glazer did a story about Blandino’s officiating department. As a practical joke, Glazer showed them a fake version in which he quoted Blandino and colleagues bragging about making officiating calls based on what would most benefit their own fantasy-football teams.
“Everyone else believed it,” Glazer says, still laughing. “Dean was the only one who didn’t fall for it.” [For the record, Blandino notes, the NFL officiating staff is forbidden from participating in the ubiquitous fantasy game.]
Glazer, once a sportswriter for the New York Post, parlayed his hustle into both a broadcasting career and as a trainer for pro athletes. Blandino started at the NFL as an intern out of college in 1994 and worked his way up over the next 20 years, developing today’s modern officiating techniques as well as launching the highly successful instant-replay review program. The two are sitting in a back room at Unbreakable Performance Center, which Glazer owns. Outside in the mixed-martial-arts gym, elite clientele (including rapper Wiz Khalifa and Denver Nuggets center Roy Hibbert) are working out in the facility, which sits just above a Pink Taco restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
But in this back room, the voluble Glazer and the more strait-laced Blandino are focused on the future—of the NFL.
Q: What is it that sets professional football apart from other sports for you, personally and professionally?
GLAZER: I think the NFL has become the greatest reality show in America. If you try to script this stuff, you couldn’t. Sports, for me, is supposed to be escapism. We’re not doctors, we’re not saving children. We’re in sports: nothing more, nothing less.
BLANDINO: I love the game itself. You have the athleticism, the physicality, the sophistication and some of the intricacies of the strategy. It’s a simple game when you break it down: catching, blocking, running, passing. But then there’s all this strategy that goes into it, these intricate play calls and everything else. I think it’s the best game in the world.
GLAZER: One time, Tiki Barber was showing me his playbook and he said, “Let’s see how smart you are, Glaze. I’m just going to have you study these formations.” I think there were eight formations to a page and I did three pages. I studied them for an hour and came back the next day. Of the 24 formations, I remembered five. That wasn’t the play, that wasn’t run or pass—just how they lined up to block. And there’s 1,000 formations. He only showed me 24 and I could only remember five. Football is not a game for dummies.
Q: The first Super Bowl was a curiosity. Now it’s the biggest sporting event in the United States. What changed in the 50 years that turned it into the annual two-week extravaganza it’s become?
BLANDINO: I think the NFL took such big strides in America and became so popular. I always go back to some officiating thing: In the late ’70s, the illegal contact rule was put in and it changed the passing game. And the game became more popular in the ’80s. Everybody fell in love with it. It’s become this brand that the NFL is today. Which is why the Super Bowl is the most-watched TV program every year in the history of American television.
GLAZER: I don’t know why we don’t have the Monday after the Super Bowl as a national holiday. We should. It’s such a nonproductive workday for everyone.
BLANDINO: Except for the league office. It’s a very productive day there.
GLAZER: I think dynasties obviously help. The Steelers’ dynasty, the 49ers’ dynasty, Cowboys, Patriots. People like dynasties. Those really helped the popularity of the league and the Super Bowl.
Q: So the NFL’s popularity has grown beyond hometown loyalties?
BLANDINO: When I was growing up in New York, you had Jets and Giants fans. But then you had these large groups of Cowboy fans and Raider fans and Steeler fans. They didn’t have a geographical connection to their team. But because in the ’70s, the Steelers were so good—with Bradshaw, Stallworth and Lynn Swann and the defenses—and the Cowboys and the Raiders—people identified with that. It became a national obsession, where before it was just regional, where you followed the team in your area.
Q: How does fantasy football affect that?
GLAZER: Fantasy football has really opened things up; people don’t just root for their team anymore. They root for players.
BLANDINO: At the officiating level, fantasy football is seen as a conflict of interest. But my brother plays fantasy football and there were people in his league that accused him of colluding with me on calls to help his fantasy team. That’s the level of passion and intensity that the fans have.
GLAZER: One time I emceed a fantasy football draft-order party—just to set their draft order. In order to be in this league, you had to have a net worth of over $1 billion. I asked what they got if they won and they said, “We get a trophy.”
BLANDINO: It’s gone from a team affiliation to individual players, which is good and bad. For overall popularity, it’s good.
GLAZER: My mother and her 78-year-old Jewish friends will call me up and say, “Is Odell Beckham going to play this week?”
“Mom, are you kidding me?”
“Can you call your friend and ask how many carries—?”
“No, I’m not going to call and ask how many carries just so you and your mah-jong friends can have an edge.”
Q: Let’s talk about the pace of the game. What can be done about the TV timeouts and everything else that seems to lengthen the games for people watching on TV and
BLANDINO: It’s a little unreasonable to think you can get a whole football game with all the TV timeouts and everything else into three hours. Last year we were at 3:07.25. I was part of a group that looked at in-game downtime and how we can streamline some of that. You’ll see there’ll be fewer TV breaks per quarter next year; there were five per quarter and I think they’re going to four. They’re also speeding up some of the time between the touchdown and the extra point, the time between the extra point and the kickoff. They want to make a better in-stadium experience and for the fans at home.
Q: It’s probably heresy asking this of two guys in television, but are there too many commercials?
GLAZER: No, no, fuck that. That’s how we get paid.
BLANDINO: There’s the financial reality that the networks pay a lot of money. But the league is going to look at ways, like a box-in-box thing, where you have the coach talking about the quarterback but you have the ad in another box. They’re going to look at more ways to keep fans engaged but also keep the advertisers happy.
Q: Why is the NFL the lowest-paying sport among the major sports—baseball, basketball, even hockey?
GLAZER: Because they have 53 players on a team.
BLANDINO: There’s the salary cap and having more players to pay. You look at basketball and there’s 12, maybe 15 guys on the roster—versus 53 [for NFL teams] with the practice squad. There’s just more people to pay.
Q: The last collective-bargaining agreement meant there would be less practice time. What’s the impact of that?
BLANDINO: That’s something I’ve talked to a lot of coaches about. It’s definitely a point of contention with them; it’s supposed to be about protecting these guys and keeping them healthy.
GLAZER: I disagree that less practice time is healthier. I come from a fight background and mentality, where I think you need to spar and drill and drill and drill. The way they have it now, it’s like you’re maybe sparring once before you go to fight on Sunday. When you’re getting ready for a fight, that first week you spar, you want to throw up everyday. You feel horrible. You get the shakes. It’s awful. And then the second week, you feel less nauseous, your joints don’t hurt as much, your back doesn’t hurt as much. Third week, you’re ok. Fourth week, you could hit me in the head with a crowbar, I’m good to go. The rest of my body is, too. By not preparing your body for that, I think it leads to more injuries. A lot of people disagree, thinking that, no, we’re preventing wear-and-tear during practice. There’s got to be a happy medium; you don’t just shadowbox for a month and then go fight.
Q: There’s been a significant drop in the past 10 years in the number of kids and high school students playing football. Why do you think that is?
GLAZER: Obviously, head trauma. You know, concussions. People are getting scared off by it. A lot more attention and money are going into head trauma with the NFL. They’ve got to do stuff to make it safer—a million percent. You definitely should have the information going in: You’re going to have head trauma and this is what happens. I’m probably the worst guy to ask because I’ve got a fight background. The job in that sport is to remove you from your consciousness. But no one’s complaining about that. In fact, parents are more apt to put their kids in mixed martial arts than football right now. Think about that.
Q: When you have Mike Ditka and Joe Montana saying that they wouldn’t let their kids play football, where are the football players of the future going to come from?
BLANDINO: Going back seven or eight years, there was this concern among parents about kids, playing at a young age and potential for head injuries. I think the league’s approach was feeding into that a little bit, talking about the amount of concussions and that we had to make the game a little safer. It’s shifted to: The science is better; we know more about head injuries. We understand that this is a collision sport, that there are going to be these opportunities for these injuries. The more we know, the more we can diagnose these head injuries and treat them. That will trickle down to the lower levels. I think it will be better for everyone. As for kids playing, you look at Texas, you look at Pennsylvania, you look at Florida, there are still places where the participation in high school football is high.
Q: What’s the impact of the NFL playing games in London?
BLANDINO: Certainly it impacts teams when they have to go to London. You look at the time difference, the distance they’re traveling. Football teams and coaches are creatures of habit and that does take them out of their routine. But teams are going over once a year, twice a year at the most. The biggest challenge to growing the game internationally is that it’s hard to grow the game when it’s not happening at a grassroots level. It’s hard for them to identify with American football because you don’t have people in Europe and places outside America who are playing the game from a young age. I’ve been to the London games; I still feel it’s more of a novelty right now versus really making inroads.
GLAZER: Business-wise it’s smart because obviously, global expansion, you want to try and do that. With the Raiders going to Las Vegas, it’s a great way for them to get more international attention. Think of all the people coming to Vegas from all over the world, high rollers who will get exposed to the NFL. The Raiders’ global marketing? Oh my gosh, that’s going to go through the ceiling.
Q: That brings up the whole issue of franchise mobility, with the Raiders as Exhibit A. What does it do to the fan base when a team says, ‘If you don’t cough up for a new stadium, we’re going to leave’?
GLAZER: I feel bad every time a city loses a team. No doubt. I feel terrible for them. Fans get caught up in big business and it is still a business. But I feel terrible for those fans.
Q: Technologically, what are you doing now that you couldn’t have imagined five years ago, and what’s the next step in terms of how we watch football on TV?
BLANDINO: From my perspective, you look at how the game is produced and instant replay and what that’s meant to the game. It’s become such an integral part of the game. With high-definition and multiple angles and now these 360-degree views, where you can see a play from one perspective and they can rotate it around so you can see what’s happening on every side of the play, that’s been a tremendous benefit, not only to us in officiating but it’s made it more entertaining for the fans. Technology never ceases. The quality is going to get better.
Q: What’s the next big technological advance in the way TV presents football?
BLANDINO: I think VR.
GLAZER: Oh yeah, virtual reality. Oh my God, we did one at Fox. They put the virtual-reality goggles on us and we were inside the Pro Bowl locker room. Guys were walking past you and you were getting out of the way so you didn’t bump into Russell Wilson. It’s unbelievable.
BLANDINO: That’s technology that will take people where they’ve never been before.
GLAZER: Right in the middle of the field. It’s crazy. I know Fox is working on it.
Q: Will we be able to watch a game at home in real-time VR?
BLANDINO: I don’t know if they’re there yet. What teams are doing is, you stand in an official position or the quarterback’s place and put on the goggles. You can read the defense or you can see what the receivers are doing. It’s like you’re there. That’s the next step in how we immerse our fans in this game. We’re already doing it.
Q: What about the kind of analytics they use in baseball, like in Moneyball?
GLAZER: I don’t think that works at this level, because Moneyball is just stats. It doesn’t equate for violence. It doesn’t equate for pace. Pace and violence, in my opinion, beat skill an awful lot in this game. The league doesn’t like the word ‘violence,’ but it’s still a violent game. You’re still fighting someone out there. That’s the bottom line. And analytics doesn’t equate to it. You can’t just interchange people because this shortstop has more walks. It doesn’t work.
BLANDINO: The league has these tracking devices on the players and it tracks distance, speed, all of these things. They have all of this data but the teams are trying to figure out: What can we do with it? Information is great, but is this really going to make us better?
GLAZER: That’s exactly what I’m saying about this being an inexact science. Certain teams will use those trackers and say, “OK, they can only take X amount of steps. And then they max out on their 100 percent.” And another team will say, “We want to see what their max is so we can push the breaking point past that, so they can go further.” That’s two different ends of the spectrum. Information is power, but it’s how you use that information.
Q: At this point, there is a year-round news cycle about the NFL. The Combine and the Draft are now huge media and public events. How did that happen?
BLANDINO: The NFL has smart marketing people. They basically said, “Let’s take each month in the off-season and create an event and let’s make that the NFL event.” You have the Combine in February and then you have free agency in March and then you have the Draft in April. Then there are minicamps and other things as you build up to training camp. So it isn’t that the Super Bowl ends and we don’t start talking football again until August or September.
Q: How did Deflategate hurt the league?
GLAZER: I hate that word. Not everything needs to be a congressional hearing. It needs to go back to, Hey, they did it—knock it off. It just added to the reality show. But oh my God, I hate that word so much.
BLANDINO: It was definitely an interesting exercise. The league won some battles, and the Patriots won some battles—
GLAZER: The Patriots won the ultimate battle.
BLANDINO: Ultimately it wasn’t great for that to drag on so long. It just wasn’t a positive for the league. But hindsight is 20/20.
Q: What’s the best play you’ve ever seen?
GLAZER: Probably the David Tyree play with Eli Manning in the Super Bowl against the Patriots in 2011. Nothing of that made sense—it just shouldn’t have happened.
BLANDINO: James Harrison’s interception return against the Cardinals in the Super Bowl when he went 100 yards. And Larry Fitzgerald—with James Harrison, it was unbelievable for a guy that big to go 100 yards. But watching Larry Fitzgerald not give up on that play and actually have to run in the bench area, around people to tackle him at the goal line and make it so close that we in replay couldn’t tell if he broke the plane of the goal line or not—that one stands out for me.
Q: Who’s your favorite all-time player?
GLAZER: For me, it’s Lawrence Taylor. Lawrence is different. If a Martian walked in the room and there were a million people here and Lawrence was in that room, he would know something’s different about Lawrence.
BLANDINO: For me, it was Lawrence Taylor, too. He was the guy who changed the game. He changed the way offenses blocked.
GLAZER: They would have four different game plans to stop him and he would beat all four. And there was a good chance he was out at a club two hours earlier.
Q: Which team will surprise everybody this season?
GLAZER: The Patriots won’t surprise anybody.
BLANDINO: I like the Titans.
GLAZER: I think the Rams have a shot at going above .500.
BLANDINO: You take the Rams. I’ll take the Titans.
Q: And who’s going to be in the Super Bowl?
GLAZER: Patriots and Packers. The Patriots went through the off-season as if they went 0-16 last year. They attacked this off-season like they’d never won a thing. That’s part of their brilliance. The Packers were really banged up last year at every skill position. They have a healthy Aaron Rogers and they’re going to get healthier.
BLANDINO: I can’t pick the same ones. But it’s tough to pick against the Patriots. The dream scenario would be the Cowboys and the Patriots.
Q: Are the Cowboys still America’s team?
GLAZER: Yes. Ratings-wise, when we have them on, it’s ridiculous.
BLANDINO: The Cowboys, whether they are 10-2 or 2-10, they draw the most audience.
Q: You both enjoy cigars. What are your favorites?
GLAZER: Montecristo No. 2s and Cohibas.
BLANDINO: Cuban Cohibas.
Q: Describe your personal favorite football moment.
GLAZER: Our show, “Fox NFL Sunday,” we’re family. That’s how close we all are. Howie Long—that’s my brother. To sit there with him the moment he realized his son [Chris, a Patriots’ defensive end] just won a Super Bowl—I feel like I’m going to start crying right now. He started going, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” It wasn’t tough-guy Howie Long anymore or Hall-of-Famer Howie Long anymore. It was a father. It was one of the most special things I’ve ever seen in my life. You can hear how choked up I’m getting talking about it. That’s what football does. I’m so blessed to be around that.
BLANDINO: For me, the power of the NFL and the power of football is when my dad was dying from cancer. He didn’t have long to go and he was in the hospital, on a lot of pain medication. We grew up Giants fans in New York and it was the Patriots-Giants Super Bowl at the end of the 2011 season. He stopped the nurse: “I don’t want to take any medication. I just want to be able to watch the game and not be in this hazy state.” That was so meaningful to him. And the last sporting event he watched was the Giants winning the Super Bowl in this amazing game. He passed away a month later. Just thinking about what it meant to him, that’s what football and the NFL is all about.
Contributing editor Marshall Fine is critic-in-residence at The Picture House Regional Film Center in Pelham, NY.