Washington Week

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Robert Costa's Notebook: What I learned from the Philadelphia Eagles

Costa’s video tapes from his coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles for PHS-TV
Costa’s video tapes from his coverage of the Philadelphia Eagles for PHS-TV

By Robert Costa

You can learn lessons anywhere as a reporter, including on the sidelines of a Philadelphia Eagles game.

As a student at Pennsbury High School, I was lucky enough to regularly cover the Eagles, who generously issued credentials to teenagers. And they let us roam everywhere with our clunky, early 2000s cameras — the field, the locker room and the press box.

The Eagles, then coached by Andy Reid, were a strong team, but a strong team that struggled to win the big game. Driving down to Lincoln Financial Field on Sundays, our PHS-TV crew would discuss everything about the Birds and debate Reid’s play calling. We’d talk about the veteran reporters we met and how they were tough and skeptical.

We’d be hushed, out of respect, whenever we passed by Reuben Frank or Sal Paolantonio, two legends of Philly sports journalism.

We’d gamely ask celebrities who attended games, like singer Patti LaBelle, to do promos for PHS-TV. One of the nice guys was WPVI-TV sportscaster Gary Papa, who unfortunately passed away in 2009. Gary would give us tips about where to stand and advise on which players were a “good quote.” Usually, that meant defensive end Hugh Douglas, who had a talent for being blunt and funny.

Watching those reporters do their jobs was an education. I noticed how they approached some players in different ways than others. Quarterback Donovan McNabb, for example, was always surrounded by television cameras and public-relations pros after the game, so many of the print reporters would corner lesser-known players like kicker David Akers, who had a firm grasp of the game, and ask them questions about specific moments, hoping to hear a story or an insight that could color their copy that evening.

I also learned how you should never judge journalism simply by the publication or the network. What matters is the integrity and skill of the person who makes it. The best reporters were often the grizzled, mostly anonymous radio hosts who had to pay attention at every moment and translate it all for their audience. The camera men for small stations made capturing touchdown passes an art. They’d fight over that perfect spot where they could crouch and shoot, even when the temperature was below freezing.

What I most appreciated was the chance to be there. My high school media teacher and mentor, Al Wilson, labored for years to get his students passes for games so we could learn the craft of journalism. It would have been easy for him to tell us to stick to covering high school games, but he went above and beyond to give us something special. I thank the Eagles, too, for not being dismissive of the idea and for welcoming young journalists into the mix.

The Eagles, finally, are Super Bowl champions. But I’ve known a lot of champs in and around the Eagles scene for nearly two decades, real-life winners.