Category Archives: Trivial Anecdotes

Stories, tangents, or otherwise experienced.

Media Lessons From The King

Today, Thierry Henry announced he would not be returning to the New York Red Bulls following the expiration of his contract. The move was not a surprise, but still has left many that surround the team a bit down.

So much ink has already been spilled about the legacy of the last four years: his talent on the field, his role with the club, his impact on MLS. He’s been an anchor since I returned to caring about the league in 2010, someone that I couldn’t believe I got to watch perform week in and week out.

But as I’m writing this on my personal site, I want to reflect on the other lasting mark Henry has left on me: he was the rare player that demanded more out of everyone involved with the team, including the media.

If you follow league beat reporters, particularly those who deal with RBNY routinely, you’re aware of his reputation when dealing with the media in the locker room. Some would label him “cranky”. Some declared him “rude”. An incident where he declined media availability after a 1-1 draw against Chivas USA in 2012 sparked a brief dust-up between media and supporters about whether or not beats had any right to speak to players at all.

Obligatory Picture Of My Stupid Face In Henry's Scrum

I won’t claim to “know” Henry from my three years of sticking a microphone towards his face, but I at least grew to have an understanding of him.

Thierry didn’t relish dealing with the media hovering around his locker, but he accepted it. (European locker rooms aren’t open to media, but MLS mandates the doors open 15 minutes after the match ends.) He was typically the last player to speak after a match, sometimes waiting a solid hour after the final whistle, which triggered its fair share of pissed off “You’re waiting HOW LONG?” text messages from soccer media widows. But Henry always seemed to have a level of professional respect for those of us who did stick around.

Thierry had his cliches – “as I said to you before”, “I don’t know if you remember”, and “not having a go at any one” being the three go-to for any Henry impersonation – but he genuinely considered every question. I can’t remember him being on auto-pilot or content with performances – he always latched on to something the team could improve on. If the team did badly, he was open about it. If the team won 4-1, he would complain about the conceded goal. If the team won 4-0, he would caution about celebrating too much, because he knew it wouldn’t be long before the team regressed.

His knowledge of the game was impossibly deep. He would run down talent on opposing rosters not that they had just faced, but that were coming up. He would commend systems and coaches elsewhere in MLS. He would frequently drop analogies involving NBA teams, the other sport he truly loved.

Following a recent home game, as he was getting ready at his locker, I watched him look up at the closed circuit TV, that was showing the annual NYPD vs. FDNY match. And he watched it just long enough, and gestured at the TV, that I could’ve swore he was analyzing the match.

Nearly as much as he loved challenging defenders on the field, he took a deep pleasure in challenging dumb or trite questions.

Thoughts on the match? “It was 90 minutes.”

Have you ever played in a game as crazy as that one? “I’ve played in a lot of games.”

Do you enjoy the new away jersey the club just released? “I don’t know, I haven’t worn it yet.”

An intricate question about his position moving wide left as he used to at Arsenal? Gets swatted down because he insists he didn’t play there at Arsenal.

My own personal dressing down (which I was surprised to find I still had the audio for) came after a softball about what he had seen from the reserves during a friendly he didn’t play in. He had often loved talking up the younger players who didn’t get a lot of field time, but apparently not as much as he loved giving me crap about trying to gain insight from a friendly:

What Thierry taught me, more than anyone else in the RBNY locker room, is the value of asking a question with a non-obvious answer. You can’t lose the germane questions entirely to get an interview rolling, but unless there’s something I can’t answer in my head, I’ve learned to just listen.

Perhaps the most noticeable thing in his final year with the club was how focused he was on the team, and not himself. As the “What are you doing next year?” questions came up nearly every week, his answer was always the same: “We’ll talk about that after the season ends.” Even in the announcement today, the thought was the same: he didn’t want to take the focus off the team’s performance. He didn’t want a farewell tour, teams bringing him gifts, endless fawning media tributes. He wanted to put his head down and be one of the eleven guys on the field.

There was an article in the club’s corporate magazine that had perhaps my favorite quote that wrapped up how he saw himself:

I keep on reiterating to everybody, I didn’t save anyone’s life, I’m not a hero, I’m none of those things. I was just out there to play the game and while I understand I gave some people joy and I ended up loving the club I played for most of my career, I didn’t go to war to protect my country. That’s worthy of elevation to the status of ‘hero’, you know? I just want people to remember me for playing some soccer and that’s all. Another player will come along and erase all those records but as long as people can recall me in some way it means that I’ve done something right.

Thanks, Thierry. It’s been a pleasure.

Moments With Mike

It’s a brisk day in March 2011, and I’m in Harrison. And I am terrified.

It was my first ever team event for the Red Bulls – and not merely a team event, but Media Day. I didn’t know what Media Day was when I accepted the invite from my friends at Gothamist, but I had figured it out early that morning and it sent me into colon lock. I thought it was a press conference; instead, it was a free for all where you walk up to whoever and ask whatever.

There’s Thierry Henry, world football legend. There’s Rafa Marquez, who at the time wasn’t a complete villain. There’s Juan Agudelo, just back from scoring with the national team. Here’s me, barely six months into following the team, trying to look like a sports journalist. I was a disaster.

I head toward the coaches – and after weighing my options, I went to Mike Petke. Petke, the local boy. Petke, who had just retired from the club he loved. Petke, who had been given the (seemingly honorary) title of “Individual Development Coach” in the front office like so many retired MLS players do.

I threw him a softball question – the only kind I had, having never interviewed anyone before – about the Parks Department donation announcement. (I thought this was the main focus of the event; it certainly wasn’t.) As I flubbed my way through my first ever team interview, Mike didn’t look at me funny, didn’t put me down – just answered the questions kindly.

Quickly running out of material, I recall the two videos about him trying to adjust to front office life, and asked if we should expect him to show up in any other team videos. This time, he laughed – and gave me an answer that was more prescient than either of us knew at the time:

“Hey, you never know where I’ll pop up.”


It’s a warm wet day in June 2011, and I’m in Portland.

It’s the weekend of the first RBNY-Portland match. I’ve written about this trip before, but there’s one story I left off.

At one point, feeling rather emboldened by being in the team hotel as a fan (I hasn’t yet fully crossed to media), I figure – maybe I can take advantage of this a little bit more than just random collisions. I try to think of who on the team is on Twitter – and there aren’t many at that point.

But there was, of course, Mike, now an Assistant Coach with the team. So I tweet at Petke, offering to buy him a drink in the hotel bar. But I never hear back, and it didn’t really cross my mind again. We did see him after the game, and he gave Katie a big hug and me a handshake.

Two weeks later, I’m digging around on Twitter, and click over to Petke’s timeline. And then I realize why I never heard back from him: because he mangled the tweet and the mention never hit my timeline:

Petke joked this year that he didn’t know how to get his phone to stop beeping when he got mentioned on Twitter. Social media isn’t his thing.


jeldwen_2013

It’s a rainy evening in March 2013, and I’m in Portland. It’s the weekend of First Kick, and New York is again away at Portland.

Not two months earlier, Petke was named head coach – a surprise, given that the typical set of also-ran European names had been thrown around. And on the eve of his first match running the franchise, I am again in the team hotel, waiting for Mike with Matt Doyle and Jeff Carlisle. He’s running a little late.

Finally, he steps out of the elevator – and as he’s getting introduced to us, he gives me what seems like a smile of recognition. It throws me a little. “Why would he remember me?” I wonder.

This time, the questions come a little more naturally to me, having been doing these sorts of interviews for a year and having a much better knowledge of the team. I ask about continued crazy matches between RBNY and Portland. I try to catch him with a question about Tyler Ruthven, who had seemingly won back his contract after being terminated at the end of 2012, but then was suddenly on the outside looking in.

Mike just smiled. He nearly always smiles when taking media questions, whether he likes the question or he doesn’t. He handled them well enough (especially the Ruthven question), but I could tell he was a little nervous going into his first match. A little wound up.

I head back up to our room to find Katie so we can have dinner, but she’s not there. I switch my phone back on, and there’s a text from her, from just before Petke appeared, to the effect of:

“Just ran into Petke. He’s on his way up to see you now.”

Of course, of course, Katie would find him before I would.


It’s a lukewarm morning in October 2013, and I’m in Harrison.

It’s this past Saturday, the final weekend of the regular season. The Red Bulls have one game left on Sunday against Chicago – win, and they bring home their first championship in their 18 year history. Lose or draw, and unless other results went their way, it would be the same old story for the club.

It’s the final regular season practice, at Red Bull Arena, and I’m the only member of the media in attendance. (Full media availability was the day before, so there’s less appeal for media attendance.) But I’m not there primarily for interviews – I’m mostly there to get a sense for how the team felt rolling into their last game of the season, the one that might deliver them a trophy.

They were relaxed. They were joking and having fun. They were working, but it was a different air than I had ever seen the team in.

I ask for Mike for an interview, and then there I am, again alone, putting my microphone in his face. Mike had refused to talk for weeks about the chance of winning a trophy until they got into the playoffs – and even after locking a playoff spot, he was nervous to talk about it. So I tried for a different angle:

“When you look back over your career, in terms of anticipation, where does tomorrow night rank for you?”

He laughs. He gives Brian Tsao, the team communications director, a look that pretty clearly reads “Can you believe this guy?”

I try, poorly, to clarify: “Not asking about jinxing it, just – how much are you anticipating it?”

“Listen,” Mike says. “I anticipate – I’ve anticipated – I anticipated every game. I get wound up for every game. That’s exactly how I’ll answer that. This is 90 minutes, three points, that’s what we need.”

I don’t push further. He’s said more than enough.


It’s a cool evening in October 2013, and I’m in Harrison.

If you read my coverage, you know how this ends. The Red Bulls give up a goal to a former player, sending a wave of familiar dread through the stadium. Then Thierry Henry scores a golazo. Ibrahim Sekagya scores a goal-line scramble. Lloyd Sam scores a beauty. Eric Alexander goes one-on-one and wins.. Jonny Steele scores with ease. Five unanswered goals from five different players. The margin is so big, Chicago scores a consolation goal and the crowd barely notices.

The final whistle blows. The stadium doesn’t so much roar as it lets out an excited sigh of relief, that the team has finally ripped off the label of Never Won Anything. A few seats down from me, Dan Ryazansky – who runs Metrofanatic.com, which has meticulously chronicled 18 years of club futility – is beside himself, half in tears, half smiling. The Supporters Shield, snuck into Red Bull Arena secretly by a group of supporters just in case, appears near the South Ward, and it is hoisted again and again. Petke dedicates the win to the crowd, apologizes to his wife, and promises his kids the best off-season ever if they can give him just five more games – he’s already focused on the playoffs.

This moment obviously wasn’t mine alone. I shared it with everyone else in the stadium that night. But it was certainly the moment, so far.

I’m not a “96er”, like Mark or Miguel. I was there in 1996, missing the Curse of Caricola by a single game, but then I wouldn’t return for 14 years. I spent a year and a half as a fan, and then the last two years as a member of the media that was (perhaps not so secretly) hoping this team would finally win. And now they have, under Mike’s wound-up heart-on-his-sleeve leadership.

When I considered my trajectory with the team – from casual fan, to season ticket holder, to media noob, to occasionally being the only beat reporter at practice – I realized this week that Mike has pretty much been there for each and every step I took. More than any player, he’s the one that’s most represents the connection I have to the club. And that’s even after I missed most of his playing days.

It’s great to see the Red Bulls finally put something in the trophy case. But to have Mike be the one that lead them to it means so much more: to the club, to the players, to the supporters, and yes, to me.

So congrats, Mike. To be honest with you? You’ve earned this.

Coming Up: “NYC After 10”

I do love me any excuse to celebrate a good ten year anniversary. And another big one approaches – September 27th will mark 10 years since Katie and I moved to NYC.

To celebrate such an occasion – and to once again give myself a fixed writing target so that my blog is not stagnant – I’m planning a month-long writing exercise of posts about New York, about how it’s changed, and about how it’s changed me. The intention is one post a day, in the style of my Games Of 20XX yearly things.

But, of course, I want it to be interesting and relevant to those who might read it, so – if there’s something in particular you’d like me to make sure I cover, please leave a comment or ping me on a social network and I’ll add it into my planned post list.

The Bearded Face Of A Media Villain

If it’s not already painfully clear to my friends, I love anecdotes. I love minutiae and trivia and obscure statistics. And I think that’s a big part of why I’ve taken to this whole sports journalism thing as a hobby: soccer is full of metrics (that are often meaningless), and every game I cover gives you a moment or two to hang on to longer term.

Take Thierry Henry. Thierry has won practically everything there is to win in the sport: Premier League, Champions League, World Cup. He is an intense competitor, and more than a little prickly in the locker room. So much so that I’ve only ever asked him two questions in the 18 months I’ve been “on the beat”, the last of which earned me a mild bollocking which included the phrase “I don’t know if you know what it’s like to play in a pre-season friendly”. (No, Titi, I don’t, but thanks for asking.) Even getting sassed at by Thierry is a fun memory, not a point of shame.

Sometimes, though, you don’t know an anecdote is happening until 9 months later. And that happened to me recently thanks to one Tim Cahill, although it wasn’t intentional on his part.

Continue reading The Bearded Face Of A Media Villain

Thanks, Ryan

Yesterday, I was heartbroken (as were a hell of a lot of folks) to learn that Ryan Davis, co-founder of Giant Bomb, lover of SUMMER JAMZ and New Balance sneakers, passed away suddenly last week. He was 34 and had gotten married four days prior.

It’s hard to explain what a good, passionate guy Ryan was. I became a huge fan of his largely because of his tireless video project, This Ain’t No Game, where he forced himself to endure every video game-based movie. (If you’ve never watched TANG, now is an excellent time to do so.) His voice and sense of humor pervaded Giant Bomb’s podcast and video work, which became staples of my gaming world over the last five years.

So many people have written about the spot Ryan held in their lives, and it speaks volumes to how beloved he was in a community that largely thrives off snark and bitterness. And while I didn’t know him personally (my only interaction being mumbling something at him at PAX East a few years back about being a big fan), I do have one small fairly dumb story. It’s not dissimilar from my one Steve Jobs anecdote, although it’s not nearly as good.

April 1st is, of course, April Fools Day and/or Internet Asshole Day, full of terrible “pranks” around the internet. (I don’t do April Fools jokes after the prank to end all pranks in 2004.) The gaming community ends up particularly burdened with site owners trying really hard to do something witty and wacky, and it drives most of us up the wall. Including Ryan.

Having just finished Bioshock Infinite, I decided to try my luck at cracking a timely joke, which will (of course) only make sense if you’ve finished Infinite.

It may have been exhaustion from other bad jokes or the fact that Bioshock Infinite jokes hadn’t yet gotten obnoxious (we’d hit that milestone maybe an hour or two later), but it apparently amused Ryan enough to get a retweet out of him. And the subsequent back and forth of further Infinite/April-Fools-Is-Terrible jokes with my compatriot Benjamin Birdie also got retweets from him.

That initial retweet has been stuck at the top of my ThinkUp dashboard since April – something with the recent betas broke the insights from updating, and I’ve been too busy to really sort out fixing it. But perhaps it’s not broken; maybe the accomplishment of making Ryan chuckle on the worst day on the Internet for jokes is an achievement worth holding on to.

Anyway.

Dumb personal Twitter-based anecdotes aside – I’m not sure what the gaming industry will be like without Ryan in it, but I hope he inspires more people in it to be more honest, funny, and actually have a good time. More folks like Ryan, and less Dorito Popes, please.

My One Good Steve Jobs Anecdote

A few hours ago, [Apple announced that Steve Jobs had passed away](http://www.apple.com/stevejobs/).

While I had the opportunity to see Steve present seven keynotes – two MWNY, five WWDC – the one anecdote I have is about what didn’t happen at one of those keynotes. (It’s admittedly second-hand information and I never personally verified it, but I subscribe to the Tony Wilson/24 Hour Party People notion of choosing between the truth and the legend.)

People who have been reading this blog for ages will remember that in January of 2004, I traveled to Macworld San Francisco to work the Freeverse booth; the main title we were pushing was ToySight, our somewhat-ahead-of-its-time camera controlled minigame collection. It won Best Of Show, and many hours were spent flapping my arms to show the game off to people.

Despite the long-standing belief that Apple has never given a damn about games on the platform, they did – slightly. To that end, there was an Apple Games team, focused on developer relations, and at the time run by Rich Hernandez. (Rich was a great guy, and has since moved on to Microsoft.) Rich really liked ToySight, and wanted to see what he could do to see if it could be included in the keynote that year.

So Rich started trying to get it up the chain, showing it to his bosses, and their bosses, and their bosses still. Everyone loved it. It eventually reached the top tier – being reviewed by Steve for inclusion.

After being shown the game, or at least told about it, Steve’s reaction was apparently one of full interest, on one condition: that Phil Schiller be the one to demo it on stage. Long time Apple fans may recall Phil having to jump off a ledge holding an iBook to demonstrate the build quality, so I suppose this was part of Steve’s general love of making Phil look silly on stage.

Phil, regrettably, refused. The demo slot instead went to Aspyr for a Tony Hawk port. And so we grumbled and silently cursed Phil under our breath for denying us our brief shining moment at the keynote. But I love that thought of Steve: so ready to find ways to rib his team and push them out of their comfort zone.

(Thanks to Bruce Morrison for reminding me of this story.)

In all the rush to label him with titles like “this generation’s Edison”, I think people have missed half of Steve’s worth. He certainly brought innovation after innovation to the marketplace, showed the world that the conventional wisdom for how the tech industry “had” to run was flawed, and rebuilt a company on the verge of bankruptcy into the biggest technology company in the world. But just as importantly, he has served as a hero, a role model, and inspiration to a tremendous portion of the technology sector (myself included). It’s not just the products Apple brought to market under Steve’s leadership that will be felt for generations to come, but the products of the people he inspired.

It goes without saying that I will miss him greatly.

Some other reactions worth reading: [Walt Mossberg](http://allthingsd.com/20111005/the-steve-jobs-i-knew/), [Pat Kiernan](http://www.patspapers.com/blog/item/remembering_steve_jobs_my_first_apple/), [Brian Lam](http://thewirecutter.com/2011/10/steve-jobs-was-always-kind-to-me-or-regrets-of-an-asshole/).

Game Over Media Interviewed Me

Back in November, I got an email from a friend-of-a-friend named Alan Flaten, a grad student at University of Florida. One of his projects was related to beatmania IIDX, and he felt that an interview with me would really help bring the project together.

The interview went live on his site back in April, and I realized just now that I neglected to link to it. So if you’re deeply interested in my answers to questions like “When and why did you decide to start-up VJ Army?” and “Do you still play IIDX today?”, now you can know! (Not much has changed answer-wise since November.)

Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

The Lead Story On A Slow News Day

So yesterday, there was a big snow storm. Most of the East Coast freaked out, which is somewhat reasonable for getting over a foot of snow in about 12 hours.
Today, there was word going around that there was going to be some sort of geek snowball fight. At first glance, I was a little put off – one VC emailing a tech mailing list does not a snowball fight make. I was strong armed by (close friend) Alexandra Klasinski to show up, and so we trudged out of our warm apartment into the very snowy world.

Tech Snowball Fight

Continue reading The Lead Story On A Slow News Day

A Love Letter To Freeverse

Touch Arcade and Techcrunch have details on ngmoco:)‘s acquisition of Freeverse Software. This has a lot of implications for the iPhone software market, but I’ll let the business wonks talk about that.

Freeverse is entwined in the last 15 years of my life in ways that few things can compare. Their games and software toys helped keep me sane during high school. When my life went into a slight free-fall during college, I became anchored with an internship with them.

Continue reading A Love Letter To Freeverse