18 Questions with John Oehser

In just a matter of months, the Indy Football Report (IFR) has burst on the blogging scene and become a favorite of Colts fans.  The man behind the new blog, John Oehser, not only has a last name that is counter-intuitive when it comes time to spell it, but also has extensive experience writing for Colts.com.  He is still freelancing for them, as well as writing for the Examiner.  With near record speed, his blog has instantly become unquestionably one of the must read Colts blogs, and is frequently linked to by ESPN. He has a unique insider’s voice and was good enough to give us 18 answers to our questions this week.

1.  Sell me on the Examiner.  Give me a few reasons to make it a part of my regular internet rounds. 

Two answers. One is non-Colts related and by that I mean this: NFL and sports fans should take a look at the Examiner and see what’s there. There are some pretty good writers with some pretty good analysis — the Indianapolis Colts Examiner excluded, of course :). But seriously, the Examiner is a work in progress, and some writers there are better than others, but the Raiders and 49ers Examiners, for example, take it seriously and offer a slant that local newspapers don’t quite offer.

I’ll answer the second on a more personal level. Why should Colts fans read me at Examiner? As honest an answer I can give is it’s a work-in-progress. The Examiner is an interesting idea that I want to explore, and I think it might be becoming a real good way to reach readers. For example, if you search “Colts” on Google’s news page, my stories come up all over the first page and that’s exposure to a national audience that we’re still working toward achieving on Indy Football Report.

But that doesn’t answer your question: Why Should You Read it for Colts? I’ll go back to the work-in-progress answer. I’m still exploring exactly what I’m doing with Examiner. Sometimes, I’ll post a few stories a week that are almost identical to something I’ve written for Indy Football Report, and other times I’ll writ e a Draft Series or a Peyton Manning series that’s unique to Examiner and that I’ll link to off of IFR.

One thing that I would like fans to know is whatever I write, I’ll let them know immediately on IFR and soon on my twitter page. I’m still trying to figure the most efficient way to keep readers informed about what I’m doing as quickly as possible and reach as many people as possible. But then again, I think most people on the web are tackling that issue one way or the other.

I’d respectfully ask the readers to give Examiner a chance. I try to have something unique and thought-out there far more often than not, and I’d like the chance to explore where that goes. And if I’m going to do that, I’d like to have the hardcore Colts fans there with me.

2.  You used to write for Colts.com.  What was team’s goal for the site?  What do they envision Colts.com to be?
 

Honestly, I can’t speak for what the team’s goal is for the site now. I’m still writing for them on a freelance, as-needed basis and I have a good relationship with the team. When I write for the Colts, I slip back into the writing style I used for Colts.com and write to the fans in what I came to think of as the voice of the team. Then, because it’s a freelance deal, I put that away upon completion and go back to my other projects. The idea when I write for them is to get their message across, and to my knowledge, people there thought I did that well.
 
Their vision? When I left, Jim Irsay told me the team would remain committed to having a first-class site for the fans, and I believe they’ll do their best to do that. If I am sure of anything about Jim it’s that he wants the best possible experience for Colts fans. He truly does care about them. That’s not an act.

3.  Newspapers are failing left and right.  In years past, someone with your skills might be trying to work for a daily, but in today’s climate, you are striking out on your own on line.  What do see the role of a ‘local news source’ being in the future?

Had I been born 25 years earlier, I have little doubt I would have spent my career in newspapers. I miss a lot about it, particularly the camaraderie of the sports department. Working for a paper and growing old doing it is certainly what I envisioned when I went to work at the Florida Times-Union in 1988.

The Indy Football Report started rather organically. Upon leaving the Colts, I had many conversations with many people about many possible avenues, and the thing that people responded to most warmly was the idea of a Colts-oriented website. At first, it wasn’t the obvious avenue, but once it got going, it has sort of felt right. I hope fans agree.

The role of a local news source?  Honestly, that’s the question newspapers are spending millions trying to answer. There will be a local news source, but I think it will be smaller-scaled stuff. Maybe Indy Football Report is a model on some level, or maybe there’s something else. I know there’s always a need for information on a local level, and I think in the coming years, how people get their information is going to be a much more frayed situation than I ever would have dreamed of 20 years ago.

4.  Ask Vic is a wildly popular feature largely because of Vic’s candor.  Have the Colts ever considered imitating such a feature?

Different teams have different philosophies. I’m an Ask Vic fan, although I understand many Colts fans are not. I’d be surprised if the Colts went down that road, and while I see the value in such a column, I also see why a team would have concerns.

5.  Who was your favorite person to interview with the club?

Reggie Wayne and Bob Sanders. If I had to pick one, I’d say Reggie, although there were many, many players to whom I was closer. Reggie never fails to be be interesting interview. I had a chance to speak with Reggie’s parents in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl in February 2008. You can see why Reggie’s as classy as he is. Great people.

6.  The Indy Football Report is quickly becoming a favorite with serious Colts fans.  Tell our readers what they will find there that they can’t get anywhere else.

Right now, my goal for IFR is several-fold. I want it to a place where Colts fans can quickly know what’s going on with the team and what people are saying about it. It’s got a little bit of a Pro Football Talk feel, I think, in that I see the value in providing links to other news sources, but I think I have the advantage of being able to take a news story, or a Colts-related analysis from somewhere else and give readers a local slant from someone with perhaps a little insight into the situation. That’s the gist of what I’m trying to do now. As IFR grows, I’d like it to become more dynamic and include multimedia and perhaps provide insight in terms of interviews with players, game coverage, analysis, etc. That’s a goal. We’ll see where it heads.

7.  When you worked for the Colts did you consider yourself a journalist?  If so, how does one balance the instincts of a reporter with the demands of a team based site that will seek to control information?
 

I could write pages on that, and perhaps someday I will. The best answer is that I considered myself a hybrid of a journalist as a PR guy. I don’t think you would define it as a hard-core reporter, certainly, but I did feel an obligation to get as much information to the fans as I possible could given the obvious parameters of working for a team that wanted certain things written and other things left alone. I actually think the role I played there is going to be one more and more journalists go to and in a real way, it’s going to become more prominent. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know, but that’s how I see it going.

8.  The Colts are notoriously closed to bloggers.  Can you offer us any hope
for the future?  Do you have any chance of gaining access to the team as blogger?  Even getting one in the door would be a welcome change!

I don’t think the Colts are alone among NFL teams in being closed to bloggers. From what I understand, the NFL as a whole is pretty closed. My gut is that league wide, the wall will slowly erode and eventually, there will be some sort of system by which to gauge the legitimacy of a blog or website. As far as my own status, I’m only two months removed from being an employee and a little more than a month into IFR. There are many questions such as that I haven’t explored.


9.
  On a scale of 1-10 how confident should Colts fans be in Jim Caldwell and why?

I can’t predict the Colts’ record and obviously, it’s not realistic to think Caldwell can match Tony Dungy’s success. The Colts won 12 games six consecutive seasons and no team ever has done that. How confident am I that Caldwell will get as much out of this team as anyone? On that scale, I’d put him at an 8, but only because I rarely give 10s in anything and if Tony Dungy was a 9, it’s not fair to put Jim at that level. Yet. He knows he has much to prove, but I’ve never been a guy as prepared for and focused on the job, and that would include Dungy.

I’m a big, big Jim Caldwell fan. It’s understandable people are unsure, because they don’t know him, but he’s one of the more impressive people I’ve met covering the NFL. I have many Caldwell stories, and I look forward to getting a chance to share them with the readers.

10.  How useful can blogs be not to the fan base, but to the team itself?  What would be an ideal level of symbiosis between bloggers and teams?
 

Honestly, I’m still getting my head around the blogosphere and what it all means. Not avoiding the question. Ask again in a year, and I’ll probably have some long-winded, pontificating answer no one really cares to read.

11.  What was it like to cover the Super Bowl up close, specifically the winning team?

Something you’ll never forget, obviously, mainly because of the energy in the building during that time. That was my seventh Super Bowl, so the general hoopla of the game wasn’t something that overwhelmed me. And although I wasn’t a journalist when I worked with the Colts, I didn’t feel my role was to be a fan, so I didn’t feel the thrill perhaps some fans and even many employees did. Although don’t get me wrong, I was happy when they won, as everyone in the building was. What was neatest to me was to be up close to Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning and a bunch of people throughout the building who had waited their whole lives for that moment. You don’t forget moments like the Super Bowl and AFC Championship post-game celebrations. 

12.  Is Peyton a real genius or just a brilliant football mind or both?  Is he Dr. Manhattan as some have suggested?

Peyton’s one of those guys you could write pages and pages on. What’s striking about Peyton is the phenomenal level of preparation with which he approaches the game. I wouldn’t comment on his overall brilliance. He might be brilliant or he might not, but I don’t know him on that level. I know he plays quarterback brilliantly because of an unbelievable focus and dedication to doing so.

13.  You used to live in Jacksonville, correct?  Why would you do something like that?

My family moved to Jacksonville when I was seven. I went to high school there, graduated from the University of Florida, and worked there from 1988-2001. Many of my best friends and memories are there. When a town is your home, it’s in your blood. Note: I said, “The town,” not, “The team.” When I cover and write about a team, I try to be informative, not passionate, so I have no love or hate of the Jaguars, although I covered them for six seasons.

14.  We heard you had something in the works with the guys from XL 950?
 

I’m appearing on the Zone on Wednesdays in the 4 o’clock hour through the draft. Radio is something I’d like to explore, but that’s the extent of it for now. (Obviously, if any radio executives want to pay me a lot of money to prattle on their air, I can be reached at home or my cell or my email address . . .They’re also free to come to my home pretty much any time of day or night.)
 
15.  If you ran Canton who from this Colts era gets into the Hall?
 

Peyton Manning first. Tony Dungy second. Bill Polian third. Marvin Harrison fourth, although I don’t disagree with those who think it may take longer for Marvin than many think. I think he’ll get in, but receiver is a weird position for the Hall of Fame. A player can seem like a lock upon retiring and seem very marginal to voters later. See: Art Monk.

16.  Who is a better quarterback: Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?

Manning, although I’ll take the coward’s way out and say it’s very, very close. I imagine I’ll have many, many opportunities to explain why. Biggest reason is the stunning consistency. Brady has the three Super Bowls, but I’ve always said this about Manning when people bring up the fact that he’s “only” won one Super Bowl. I always challenge them to show me the year they should have won and didn’t. OK, 2005. I’ll give you that one, but in that argument, don’t you have to give Manning credit for 2006, when the Colts overachieved to win. The other years Manning’s teams made the playoffs and lost — 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 and this past season — they weren’t the best team. And don’t tell me 2003 and 2004. They were close to the Patriots, yes, but they lost to New England four times in those seasons. If you’re the best team, you don’t lose to the other team four times. The other thing about the Manning-Brady argument? Brady’s huge statistical season of 2007? Was it really so much more impressive than Manning’s 2004 season. I’d say they were pretty much the same. Obviously any Brady backer could make a darned good argument that a lot of people would agree with, but those are my points for Manning.

17.  There was much debate among Colts fans about the run game last year.  Some (like us) blamed the line that was banged up and never gelled.  Some blamed the running backs, specifically Joseph Addai.  Where do you fall?  Break down Joe Addai as a player and what do you expect out of his career moving forward?

 
I always look at the line when breaking down a running game. With rare exceptions — Adrian Peterson, LT in his prime — a back can’t do it on his own and I think most backs in the NFL are relatively interchangeable. I honestly don’t think you need an elite-level back to win a Super Bowl. Addai did fine in 2006 and 2007, but I generally believe backs in the Colts’ offense go as the rest of the offense goes.

In the years I covered Edgerrin James, I thought he was a good back — this was the post-injury Edge who was a smart, productive player but not necessarily an elite-level one — who did good things within the Colts’ system. I think Joseph is the same. I don’t know if that breaks down Joseph as a player. I’d like to see more breakaway runs, but I think the lack of long runs in the Colts’ offense over the years predates him and has much to do with defenses typically playing back to defend against the pass. Joseph’s a good, starting level back. Is he a Hall of Famer? Probably not. But he was fine when the offensive line was healthy in 2006 and 2007, and I believe he can play at that level the next couple of years.

18.  We’ve concluded that Bob Sanders’ ability to ‘rise from the dead’ to wreak havoc on teams is due to the fact that he’s actually a zombie.  Have you seen any evidence around the complex to support our theory?  Players carrying sawed off shotguns, boarded up windows, skulls ripped open with half eaten brains…anything at all.

It’s funny. People perceive Bob as an incredibly mean guy, most likely because of how he plays on the field. He actually is a strikingly intelligent, thoughtful guy and I’ve never interviewed him when I didn’t come away more impressed than i did before. Is he intimidating? Sure, but he’s a good guy and near as I can tell, has a big heart.


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