“You Were One Of A Kind, Professor.”

March 26th, 2022

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Before Adam Schefter, there was John Clayton. Before the Internet, there was John Clayton. Before NFL Network, there was John Clayton.

If the name doesn’t sound familiar, shame on you. That means you’re not a true pro football fan because Clayton had been omnipresent on the NFL scene for the past four decades as an impactful reporter for both print and ESPN.

“The Professor” consistently brought his A-game, explains Ira Kaufman.

Clayton passed away this week in his hometown of Seattle at the age of 67. Tributes have been flowing from every corner of the NFL, where owners, executives, coaches and players have gone out of their way to pay their respects to the man affectionately known as The Professor.

“Anytime I dealt with John, it was a pleasure,” says Bucs GM Jason Licht. “He had a great sense of humor and he put you at ease. You could trust him, you could be candid with him — just a very trustworthy guy.”

In my business, trust trumps every other quality. You can make up for pedestrian writing by being an elite reporter, and that means developing relationships with key sources.

Nobody did that better than Clayton, who never burned a source. He knew what to report and, equally as important, what NOT to report because it was privileged information.

A Pennsylvania native, Clayton started out covering the Steelers as a young newspaper beat man, then moved on to Seattle before landing with ESPN in 1995. That proved to be a masterstroke because ESPN gave Clayton a national platform to display his mastery of the latest NFL information — injuries, roster moves, salary details and likely free-agent movement.

Bucs GM Jason Licht weighs in.

“He was a pioneer,” Licht says. “His information was always solid and he had that personality … everyone trusted him and liked him. It’s amazing that he was able to get all that information.”

Clayton served as a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for three decades and I’ve seen him work the room since I became Tampa Bay’s representative in 2005. Although I can never remember him speaking up for the candidacy of Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Tony Dungy, John Lynch or Ronde Barber, he always kept an open mind.

Along with fellow selectors Rick Gosselin, Clark Judge and Ron Borges, Clayton was a passionate advocate for worthy senior nominees who had been annually bypassed. He carried around a notebook listing dozens of senior candidates and their credentials, wondering why they hadn’t been discussed by selectors.

Covering the Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune, Clayton took delight in routinely scooping the bigger Seattle newspapers.

Former Seahawks public relations director Gary Wright said Clayton had a stark message for his Seattle counterparts: “If you work 10 hours a day, I’m gonna work 12. If you work 12 hours a day, I’m gonna work 14.”

For Wright, it was simply Clayton’s way of setting the ground rules.

“It wasn’t about intimidation,” Wright said. “It was just about this is my turf.”

Before the advent of Twitter and Google, Clayton was on the phone constantly with agents and NFL personnel. He was an insider before it became chic to have that label. He also became America’s guest on sports talk radio from Boston to Oakland, breaking news at every NFL outpost.

Clayton’s death is a big loss for the industry and a reminder of a day gone by when national reporters had to dig for information rather than serve as lap dogs for manipulative agents pushing an agenda.

Clayton was both meticulous and fair. There were many times he knew more about a particular organization than key employees.

“When John reported something, it was accurate,” Licht says. “Was he wrong? Rarely. He always seemed to have very good intel.”

That was no accident. He worked harder for information than any of his peers.

You were one of a kind, Professor.

Yes, that warranty includes USED vehicles!
Ira drives a 2020 Ford Escape (cherry red).

16 Responses to ““You Were One Of A Kind, Professor.””

  1. Rob In Land O Lakes Says:

    He was the absolute gold standard.

  2. 2022 The Year of The GOAT Says:

    Rest in peace

  3. Buczilla Says:

    RIP. Clayton was fun to watch/listen to.

  4. 1#bucsfan Says:

    Wish more reporters were like him.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Yeah he was always one of my favorites.RIP

  6. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    67…..too young….RIP John….

  7. Ed Says:

    Professional in every sense. Loved listening to his reporting.

  8. Razor Ramone Says:

    Always enjoyed Clayton’s work. Loved the head banger commercial.

  9. Biff Barker Says:

    One of the great ones. He set the standard for professionalism. 67 is too young.

  10. Mike28277 Says:

    RIP John. The best BSPN commercial from his mom’s basement.

  11. Miller5252 Says:

    Joe, what’s the rule when it comes to outside links/videos? That video of him was one of the best they did. Just want to make sure I know. Thanks

  12. unbelievable Says:

    RIP Professor. Always enjoyed him.

    And yes he had a few espn commercials that were fantastic.

  13. Walter Says:

    I’ve always respected John Clayton, he seemed like the type that wouldn’t burn someone’s trust just to get a scoop like a lot of these bozo “insider” stooges nowadays

  14. OrlandoBucFan Says:

    Wow! What a loss. John Clayton was one of those reporters I looked to for sincere, factual, and balanced reporting. He’ll be missed.

  15. Joe Says:

    Joe, what’s the rule when it comes to outside links/videos? That video of him was one of the best they did. Just want to make sure I know. Thanks

    No links, sorry. Google doesn’t like that.

  16. Miller5252 Says:

    Sounds good Joe. Thanks