Ed Bouchette - An Exclusive Interview
By Brian L. Baldwin aka Steelers70
December 31, 2008
Most of us know Ed Bouchette as the Steelers Beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and we're big fans of his columns. Often out spoken and to the point, Ed's style was, and is one of my overall favorites in journalism. I honestly believe that if more current-event journalists reported in the manner he does, people would tend to believe more of what they're telling them. You never have to wonder about Mr. Bouchette's standing and accuracy. So, about a week ago I decided it would be quite a feather in my cap if I could get an interview with him for a bit of insight into Steelers football, coupled with a bit of his own life history. Not to mention I knew everyone here at the Steelers Addicts web site would enjoy reading about the man who's columns we often refer to when writing our own stuff. Most of my articles to date have been my own ever evolving, and sometimes overbearing opinions on the game, along with the occaisional biography of an individual that I thought would bring some color to the site. I wasn't sure at first if Mr. Bouchette would even go beyond reading my email since he's an extemely busy man that produces a volume of writing that would likely burn out most sports enthusiasts. So when he agreed to do this interview I quickly sat down and wrote out about a dozen questions I thought fans of his might like to know. Then I rewrote them, and rewrote them yet again. Finally I got together a group of questions I thought would be intelligent, (or at least not overly stupid), and still allow room for his answers to reflect his own views and styles. I emailed these off to him and waited. After he returned them with the answers supplied, I sat down and wrote out this article. I hope everyone enjoys it, and takes the time to thank Ed for the time he spared for our site. I know that I for one am very thankful he went out of his way to help me on this even though I'm not a professional writer by any stretch of the imagination.
Ed Bouchette was born in Lynn, Massachusetts on the outskirts of Boston to the Northeast. He moved to Eagles and Phillies territory in the small burgh of Cornwall, Pennsylvania in Lebanon County when he was 7. As a kid he played just about every sport, both formally and informally. In his High School years he played Baseball and Football, including for two national runnerup baseball teams in the Teener League between the ages of 13 and 15. In June of 1966, Mr. Bouchette attended a summer football camp ran by the Coach of the Penn State's Nittany Lions football team, Joe Paterno. There the boys stayed in cabins somewhere in the northwestern woods of Pennsylvania. Coach Joe Paterno and his whole staff were there for the whole week and for many kids, it must have been a dream come true. After Highschool Ed attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania as a business major. He started working for a handful of newspapers before covering the Steelers home games for the Indiana Gazette in 1974. He also traveled some in the 1970's for the Greensburgh Tribune-Review and covered the away and home games of the University of Pittsburgh and their Panthers from 1976 through 1982. That includes the National Championship team with football legend and Hall of Fame inductee Tony Dorsett who often rushed for over 200 yards a game that season. He joined the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1983 covering the sports beat for the now defunct USFL Pittsburgh Maulers. After one year the league folded. Ed covered Pitt Basketball for one season in 1984 and became the Beat Writer for the Pittsburgh Steelers in August of 1985 where he is still to this day. Through his career as a writer, Ed wrote two books, won numerous national and local awards for his work, and is one of 44 selectors for the Pro-Football Hall of Fame. He also has a vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame. According to his short biography at the Post-Gazette, He has covered nearly every sport except for Chess, Poker, and Cricket. He also worked for such papers as the McKeesport Daily News, the York Dispatch and the Doylestown Daily Intelligencer beyond what was already mentioned above. Ed Bouchette is as much an icon of Pittsburgh's football history as any player or staff member of the team ever was. In my opinion, he's right up there with Myron Cope.
I'd like to say that Ed and I met for the question and answer segment on a blustery day in downtown Pittsburgh, sipping spiced cider with our feet propped up on Punter Ernster's back in front of a roaring fireplace - But nothing could be further from the truth. Living at least a thousand miles from each other mixed with my wife's unwillingness to part with air travel and hotel expenses because of some bogus "christmas presents" for the kids excuse, I emailed the following questions in to Mr. Bouchette, who in return emailed the answers back. None-the-less... I think it worked out fine, and I'm sure Ernster's back was already sore after his meeting with Coach Tomlin the day after the Cincinatti game. So let us begin.
1.) In following football; Have you always been a Steelers fan?
EB: I’m not a Steelers fan now. I became a Steelers fan when I went to college in Western Pennsylvania, IUP, and was surrounded by them. I stopped being one, though, the day I started covering them. I don’t think you can be a true fan and cover that team objectively. Not to say I dislike them by any means, because you also don’t cover a team without forming relationships among players, front office, ownership and others who work for them.
2.) Were you always interested in being a sports writer? Or did you have other aspirations?
EB: I went to school to become an accountant. My sophomore year, I decided it wasn’t for me, so I stayed in the general business management program and started writing for the college paper, then worked in the PR office and took every journalism course I could. I covered h.s. games on Friday night for the local paper, the Indiana Evening Gazette. I always loved newspapers – delivered them and devoured them as a kid. I took a journalism course as a h.s. senior and enjoyed it.
3.) Who would you say is one of your favorite Steelers players throughout the team's history and why?
EB: There have been many. Joe Greene, because not only was he a great player, he was a thoughtful interview and a decent man – and still is, as one of their scouts. QB Bubby Brister was a great quote – he’d say almost anything – and the starting QB, and always interesting; when I was low on ideas, I’d just go interview him. Hines Ward – again, great player, great interview, extremely cooperative and a good overall story in himself. Others who stand out were Frank Pollard, Jerome Bettis, Aaron Smith, Dermontti Dawson -- so many Steelers, so little time.
4.) Most of us here at the Steelers Addicts web site read your Tuesday Chat transcripts every week they're available; What's the weirdest question you have ever received in one of those sessions? What about the most interesting; One that got you to really thinking?
EB: I try to forget the chat sessions 30 seconds after it ends. I do it because the bosses want me to do it. I like to put on a front that I don't enjoy the chats, but I actually have come to find them beneficial -- not all the questions, of course, but then you ought to hear some of the questions asked by some of the media in the locker room.
5.) In 1994 you wrote a book about all the history and trivia of the Steelers from their inception, it also included puzzles and other interesting tidbits, and was titled "The Pittsburgh Steelers". I really enjoyed reading that book, and personally I think it's a book every fan should own. Will you be writing another book in the future? If so, what would you like to make the next one about?
EB: I actually wrote a real book the year before, Dawn of a New Steel Age. It was about the end of the Noll era, the first year of the Cowher era and a look at the Rooneys and what might happen down the road. Fifteen years later, what I wrote about the Rooneys in that one chapter is coming true about ownership. No, I don’t think I’ll write another book. To do it right, it takes a lot of work, including selling it once it’s written, and does not return enough money. I’d rather do chats.
6.) I'm sure you've noticed during your time with the Post-Gazette that Steelers fans don't take criticism of their team very well unless they're the ones offering it up, which is fairly often usually, even when the team is winning. Has this ever impacted you negatively when you've had to report on the less than fuzzy warm stories, such as a ton of hate emails? Or have the fans been pretty realistic about those stories?
EB: Fans, realistic? You must be kidding. There’s a reason for the word “fanatic,’’ you know. And we all love them, or should, because they keep us in our jobs – players, owners, coaches and, yes, writers. I also have covered sports that not as many people cared about and that often can be no fun. We’re not just here to write, we want to be read. I cannot recall a specific story that you’re looking for in which fans got all over me. I get tons of emails daily and they are all over the place – some don’t like what I write, some do, some want to argue, some just want to comment on the story and the news in it. I react more when I get reaction from those who I cover.
7.) Speaking of team criticism from fans... Even though Pittsburgh is having a winning season at this time, something seems amiss. The defense is outstanding, but the offense is struggling sometimes, while at other times it appears to be hitting all cylinders. Do you know what's going on? Is it something that can be fixed this season?
EB: That would cover about 90 percent of the teams with winning records in the NFL. The league is watered down by the salary cap and free agency. We’ve been spoiled, at least those of us who lived through the 70s, and now we expect perfection. I thought that 2005 team was going nowhere; when they were 7-5 I’d joke with people that all they needed to do was win 8 straight and they’d be Super Bowl champs. Ha, ha on me.
8.) This past draft of 2008 was a bit strange during the first few rounds to many fans, myself included. I think most fans expected the Steelers to address the needs of guards, tackles, and a center considering the troubles the O-Line has had protecting the quarterback. How would you have drafted the first few rounds if you had been in charge of it?
EB: I don’t have nearly the information nor the expertise those guys have. I actually liked this draft when I first heard it – a great RB, a great WR and a guy with 24.5 sacks in his previous two seasons at UCLA? What was not to like. At least they did not give up two picks for a punter and a third-rounder on a backup tight end. I learned a long time ago, you cannot reach for a draft pick. Just because you need a tackle does not mean you take one with your first or second or third pick if the value is not there. That would be like saying you want to get married, and go find a fiancé over the next week.
9.) The Steelers are #1 overall in Defense across the league, and also in Pass Defense, and Rush Defense. A fair part of that success is due to two key players. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. They are both having a stellar season thus far. What have you noticed in particular about this pair, in their games, or outside them, that has led to this level of success?
EB: Harrison has matured after being, well, immature as a young player. He’s a late bloomer and we all saw what he could do last season. Woodley is just a talented OLB who maybe should have started as a rookie. Both are extremely confident in their ability.
10.) During the first half of this season the NFL handed out fines to an unusually high number of players around the league. Most for hits that didn't even draw a flag. Troy Polamalu suggested that they were turning the league into a "Pansy" league with these fines, while the league's Ray Anderson said it was to protect "Marquee Players". What is your take on all of it?
EB: If anyone has read me regularly, especially my Sunday column that I call Ed On The Steelers, know my feelings about that. I agree with Troy and if they don’t watch it, they’ll turn it into basketball on cleats. But then, maybe that’s what they want.
11.) Comparing Noll to Cowher to Tomlin; What's the major differences in their styles in your opinion?
EB: Noll was intelligent and you always felt a little off because whenever you talked to him, you knew he knew more than you knew – about everything -- and it was at times uncomfortable. I’ve talked to players who felt the same way. However, he is an extremely interesting man, loyal, but did not suffer fools. I enjoyed talking to him much more, though, after he left coaching. Cowher is the kind who just imposes his will on people and I think that’s how he won. There was nothing warm nor cuddly about him and he was quick to jump on people – refs, players, writers. An extremely interesting man to cover because of that. We had our blowups, but I can get him on the phone anytime I want. I’m still reading Mike Tomlin. He’s smart, speaks well and let’s those around him know how he feels. He does not sugarcoat anything. You can hold an intelligent conversation with him, and disagree with him without him getting angry. I think he’s a good coach, and I would be surprised if he does not turn out to be successful.
12.) And finally... What are your hobbies when you're not working tirelessly to bring us fans all the news that's black and gold?
EB: Hobbies? You mean sports writers have hobbies? I have a relatively new house, so I’m working on it – painting inside, yardwork, etc. I enjoy reading. I go to the gym regularly. I don’t watch a lot of TV – especially sports except football, Penguins when they’re in the playoffs and baseball post-season if the Red Sox or Pirates are in it.
And there you have it... I will say this, Ed was nothing if not friendly and accomodating. His knowledge of sports is second to none, and he brings us an insight into the minds of the coaches and players on a daily basis. I really hope that after he retires he can go back to being Steelers fan. There is nothing, in my opinion, quite like the adrenaline rush you get from watching players like Jack Lambert and James Harrison - Or Lynn Swann and Hines Ward - As only a fan can see them. The major difference I suppose, is that Ed can truely appreciate the other players like Tony Romo, Maurice jones-Drew, and Ray Lewis, from a pure sports enthusiast viewpoint.
Thank you Ed. I am very appreciative of your taking time out of your busy day to answer these questions. I look forward to reading your next article.