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News Former Review editor writes 'craziest' book yet

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Alum Jeff Pearlman takes readers on a road trip with short-lived USFL
Former Review editor Jeff Pearlman

​Jeff Pearlman says  that being a good writer 'doesn’t make a difference if you don’t know how to report, how do develop sources, how to be respectful of people, how to be appreciative and empathetic.'

By Katherine Nails
Journalism Program writer

A normal father-son road trip might culminate in fishing, hiking or a professional sports match - unless your father is UD alum Jeff Pearlman. Last year, Pearlman and his son took a road trip across  California to Sacramento - a seemingly usual bonding event until one considers the trip’s circumstances.

Pearlman and his 9-year-old son were on a quest to speak with Greg Fields, a former United States Football League defensive player. Their search was dicey, based solely on two addresses and a tale involving Liberace’s bodyguard.

The trip  culminated at a mall food court in Sacramento, where over ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery, the pair spent their afternoon with Fields.

At the time of the quest, Pearlman was in the midst of working on his eighth book, Football for a Buck. Released earlier this month, it’s his self-proclaimed “craziest” book yet.  

“It’s not really a football book,” he said. “It’s about a football league, but it’s really about a bunch of insane people who always dreamed of playing professional football, getting their chance to do it and road stories of three years of absolute insanity.”

The story is set with the short-lived USFL as the backdrop. From 1983 through 1985, the defunct spring football league attempted to rival the NFL by drafting future football greats like Reggie White, introducing innovative rules like the two-point conversion, and attracting investors like Donald Trump, who Pearlman thinks was ultimately responsible for the league’s demise.

The league also produced unusual stories, like Fields’. After being let go from the Los Angeles Express, a USFL team, Fields punched his coach in the face. According to Pearlman, he also called in death threats to the team. In response, the Express’ coach hired Liberace’s bodyguard to protect him and keep tabs on Fields. Despite the drama, Fields ended up getting signed by another USFL team, whose owner he promptly threatened with a baseball bat.  

UD alum Jeff Pearlman

​Jeff Pearlman's 'Football for a Buck' is his eighth book. 

Since a young age, Pearlman had a strong interest in the USFL. When assigned a 20-page thesis for his AP English class, he turned in 40 pages on the league.

He tried for years to garner interest from book publishers while he worked as a journalist. It wasn’t until he began to make his name as a sportswriter, and Donald Trump announced his bid for the presidency, that Pearlman was able to generate enough enthusiasm to cut a deal. 

With about one year to produce the book, he spent the majority of his time researching and conducting over 400 interviews like the one with Fields. Pearlman said that, while he had a basic outline in mind, he never had a specific plan. Instead, he allowed the story to form itself based on what he learned.

Though Pearlman is a busy podcaster, blogger and writer contributing to publications such as Sports Illustrated, The Athletic, Bleacher Report and The Wall Street Journal, he explained that his passion for writing allows him to balance his various endeavors.

“I just love doing it,” Pearlman said. “I never think to myself ‘Oh, this is really too much’ because I just really enjoy it.”  

While at Delaware, Pearlman was “hardcore into The Review.” Some of his best friends today were staffers with him.

“It was one of my favorite time periods of my life,” he said of his time on the staff, including a year as editor in chief of the independent student paper. “That whole experience really gave me a love of newspapers.”

As editor, Pearlman said, he was “cocky” and “intolerable,” often going after the administration and Greek life. Still, he said his time at The Review was necessary for his development as a journalist.

“Through the years, I really learned a lot of hard, hard lessons that you can be really good writer and it doesn’t make a difference if you don’t know how to report, how do develop sources, how to be respectful of people, how to be appreciative and empathetic,” he said.

Though Pearlman prefers “the immediacy” of newspapers, writing books allows Pearlman to delve more deeply into his subject. Because writing a book allows for the topic to be explored in great detail, giving him a certain expertise, he is often asked about USFL’s legacy.

The league’s impact, he says, lies mainly in the great players it groomed, the innovative rules it introduced and Trump’s involvement. But legacy isn’t the only reason for his interest. He thinks the league’s stories are fun to tell.

“Sometimes it’s just cool to tell a story,” he said. “You don’t always need a legacy in this world. Sometimes it’s just born out of fun.”

Story published on 9/20/2018 ; last modified on
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​UD alum Jeff Pearlman's latest book, "Football for a Buck," takes readers on a road trip with "insane people" who dreamed of pro football careers: Players with the short-lived USFL. 

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Former Review editor writes 'craziest' book yet
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