Like a lot of us, Ian Rapoport has spent the last year working out of the home office in his basement. But that’s nothing new for Rapoport. He spent the six previous years working there, too, since that’s the way his employer wants it, so that the NFL Network’s proclaimed “Insider” can maximize his time covering America’s most popular spectator sport. Suffice it to say, Rapoport is a busy man.
“I don’t know what it would be like to just sit and have a conversation without my phone buzzing, my texts pinging, and my Twitter feed lighting up,” says the sportswriter/analyst. “The guys I golf with don’t understand how I can go from concentrating on my backswing to answering a text, to taking a phone call, and posting a tweet.”
Reporting on trades, injuries, and football scuttlebutt is his gig, and it goes on around the clock. NBC’s Chuck Todd and CNN’s Anderson Cooper may know what’s going on at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but that’s just where the president lives. Rapoport has 32 teams he has to keep track of and 2.4 million Twitter followers who compulsively check their smartphones to find out what’s new in the nation’s pastime.
“It’s a cliché, but I rarely feel like I’m working. I wondered if the feeling would go away, but it has been nine years, and I still love every minute,” he says.
The Hackley School helmet you see over Rapoport’s shoulder on his broadcasts tips his hand that he’s a Westchester boy, Boston born but Chappaqua raised. He was later educated at Columbia University, where he studied history and thought he would head to law school. Before committing to that game plan, however, Rapoport gave himself a two-year window to try his hand at covering the game he loved, which, as it turned out, required almost all of that allotted time. His first full-time sportswriting gig was with the Jackson-Clarion Ledger, covering the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the gridiron-crazed South. That level of crazy went off the charts when he landed the beat job at The Birmingham News, covering the University of Alabama’s beyond-beloved Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.
“That was the most intense experience I’ve had,” says Rapoport. “The people hang on everything to do with Alabama football. When Rich Rodriguez accepted the head-coaching job there and then rescinded to stay at West Virginia, I got death threats. I didn’t leave the house for a few days,” he says.
Top 5 Sportswriters
1. Gary Smith, Sports Illustrated
2. Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated
3. Wright Thompson, ESPN.com
4. Roger Angell, The New Yorker
5. Matt Christopher, Wild Pitch,Catcher With a Glass Arm, The Kid Who Only Hit Homers
Top 5 NFL Quarterbacks
1. Tom Brady
2. Joe Montana
3. Roger Staubach
4. Aaron Rodgers
5. Dan Marino
Top 5 NFL Coaches
1. Bill Belichick
2. John Madden
3. Don Shula
4. Vince Lombardi
5. Bill Walsh
Of course, Rodriguez’s open slot was ultimately filled by that legendary warm-and-fuzzy coach Nick Saban, so Rapoport’s days for the next three years were filled with inexorable choruses of “Roll Tide!” being chanted over his shoulder. Like any sane person, of course, Rapoport sought a more tranquil, less intense post for his next career move — which is why he decided to cover the New England Patriots for the Boston Herald.
Between chronicling all those great Bill Belichick press quotes (for those who don’t follow the NFL, the Patriots’ iconic head coach is notorious for despising post-game press conferences and the reporters who attend them) and dealing with New England’s semipsychotic fanbase, he managed to befriend infamous tight end Aaron Hernandez, whose murder conviction and prison suicide shocked the nation.
“He had a rough upbringing and hung with some rough guys,” Rapoport, 40, says of Hernandez. “It was surreal, but I wouldn’t say I was shocked. He once said that if I f**ked him wrong, he’d kill me. At the time, I laughed it off. It didn’t really hit home until the charges came to light. When he said it, I was standing next to another reporter, who texted me [after Hernandez was indicted] and said, ‘Remember when Aaron said that to you? I guess he was serious,’ and I was like, ‘I guess so.’”
Rapoport likes to ratchet up the intensity; he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I had a colleague who covered a good, but not great, college team,” Rapoport says. “He had the fifth or sixth beat in the New Orleans market and loved the lack of pressure. I would hate that. I want to be in it and reach the most people possible.”
It made sense then that his next move would be to cover not just the entire NFL but to be the man responsible for breaking news and for uncovering the secrets behind the famed shield. “In high school, I was named the biggest gossip, and I guess that fits,” he quips. “It’s the same sort of thing I do now.”
Another perk of Rapoport’s high-profile NFL gig is that it enables him to return to his home county. When he and his wife, Leah, a former Starbucks manager and now the owner of a home-based craft business, looked for a home near New York City, they canvassed Dobbs Ferry, Larchmont, and Hastings but settled in Rye. Their family, including boys Jude and Max, love the small-town feel.
“It’s not Tuscaloosa,” Rapoport jokes. “We love walking around, recognizing people we know, being a member of the beach club, shopping, and all the great restaurants. I’m a big pizza guy, and we love Sunrise Pizza [in Rye], Rye Roadhouse, and Rafele Rye,” he says.
Rapoport admits his life’s spectrum is a short one, with work, family, and, when time permits, golf. They just became members at Shenorock Shore Club and Rye Golf Club. With the pandemic shutting down almost everything except golf last spring, Rapoport got to improve his game.
“Leah and the kids went to Mississippi for a month to visit, so I played every day, and my handicap dropped from a 12 to about a 9. It’s amazing how much better you can get when you play every day,” he says.
Somehow, the Rapoports manage to squeeze some giving-back time into their 30-hour days. It isn’t easy, but they made it a priority. “During the pandemic, I was sitting around, feeling bad, so I called Leah. We decided there was something we had to do for people who had it so much worse. We discovered [the collaboration between] Blessings in a Backpack and the Kids in Need Foundation, and devoted some time, money, and promotion to helping the cause,” he says.
The initiative provides school supplies for students and teachers in need, as well as weekend meals for kids faced with food insecurity, and so far has hosted events in Chicago, Louisville, and Fort Meyers, FL.
That sense of community and being a good neighbor is important to the couple, reflected, at least to some degree, by their two rescue dogs and, most recently, a rescue cat. “We talked to the boys about what rescue is and why it is needed. We try to instill in them the importance of giving back,” Rapoport says. “My life is super-busy, and my wife and I team up to make it work. We really mesh. When I’m working, I’m working,” he says, “but when it is time to be with the boys, I put my phone on vibrate, and I’m with them.”
Tom Schreck is a frequent contributor to Westchester Magazine. He’s a Notre Dame grad who would prefer to not even mention the University of Alabama at all.