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ProFootballTalk's Florio the ultimate NFL insider

| Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
NBC insider Mike Florio scans the Internet in his Clarksburg, W.Va., home this week. 
(Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)
Philip G. Pavely
NBC insider Mike Florio scans the Internet in his Clarksburg, W.Va., home this week. (Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review)

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Mike Florio has two engineering degrees from Carnegie Mellon but realized after a few summertime weeks in a California refinery that crude oil wasn't the life for him.

He also has a law degree from West Virginia yet stopped practicing in Pittsburgh not long after defending former Penguins coach Ivan Hlinka in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

The Wheeling, W.Va., native gave up a six-figure legal career for a reporting-editing job that initially paid him nothing, in part, because of the Immaculate Reception — fittingly, given Florio's route to NFL insider is no less circuitous than the path Franco Harris took to the end zone 40 years ago.

As he worked 16 hours a day at two jobs, his lawyer/wife Jill plaintively asked him, “Do you really want to be doing this?” only to get the answer he wanted from a Kiss concert he attended at Civic Arena 35 years ago.

Once the ultimate outsider — he began reporting on the NFL despite never stepping inside a locker room or working for a newspaper — Florio has become such a must-read insider with his ProFootballTalk.com website and NBC Sports appearances that the league responds to any query from him within minutes.

And when the Steelers play the Colts on Sunday night at Heinz Field, he'll be providing news, just as he does each week during the top-rated NBC “Sunday Night Football” telecast. The viewership is in the tens of millions, just as it is each week for his website, which disseminates and analyzes NFL news in breakneck fashion.

“If I had ever planned for any of this to happen, it wouldn't have happened,” said Florio, 47, who runs a Time magazine top-50 website from his home office near Clarksburg, W.Va., about two hours south of Pittsburgh.

Florio was the front-runner of the new breed of NFL reporters who rely on blogs, websites and 140-character Twitter messages to disseminate news; among the other well-known names are Adam Schefter of ESPN, Jay Glazer of Fox Sports and Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. All compete to be the first to break news, big or small.

“There are times when I'm putting my kids to bed, and I'm peeking in on (my smartphone),” La Canfora said. “Our 9-month-old son knows the sound of my phone. In a way, it's a little sad because there is no separation. Your job is your life. But it's also the greatest thing in the world.”

Finding his niche

Florio agrees. As he was shifting his labor law practice from Pittsburgh to north-central West Virginia in the early 2000s, he began writing about pro football as a hobby for the former NFLtalk.com website. His work was well-received and, after the website folded, it led to a six-month stint with ESPN.

“As a lawyer, you generate so much paper that maybe only five people care about,” Florio said. “This was a way to write for a larger audience.”

Unhappy that an editor was required to clear every story — “The novelty of working for ESPN wears off very quickly,” he said — he started his own website and began splitting his workdays between generating NFL news and representing clients.

“I was blogging before the term was widely used,” he said.

Florio's news briefs are injected with opinion and analysis and, after several years, developed such a wide audience that Sprint made a large ad buy in 2006. At that moment, Florio said, “I knew I wasn't going to keep practicing law.”

Once ProFootballTalk.com moved under NBC Sports' umbrella in 2009, with Florio retaining all editorial control, it became one of the most visited sports websites in the world. There have been few missteps — reporting that Terry Bradshaw had died was one — yet it keeps growing in influence and visibility.

Local news outlets in NFL cities benefit, too, because Pro Football Talk links their stories to a national audience.

“To become what he has, it's startling,” La Canfora said. “He is dogged, forward thinking and ahead of the curve. He understood the power of the Internet very early on. … People sitting there, hitting their refresh button, who could have thought of this 15 years ago?”

Florio has added four writers who help produce news nugget after news nugget around the clock, providing him enough time to take an occasional swim in his backyard pool or watch son Alex's football practices at Clarksburg Notre Dame High School. And to appear on a planned new NBC Sports Network nightly show that is expected to feature Hines Ward.

“I remember after that Kiss concert — the greatest night of my life — seeing an interview where they said they created something they would pay to go see,” Florio said. “I remembered that concept, and it never left me. I created what I want to spend my time doing. I never want to get away from that.”

Being part of the moment

The Immaculate Reception deserves some credit, too. Florio, at age 7, marveled at the noise level inside his Wheeling home when Harris caught the touchdown pass that changed the course of a previously ne'er-do-well franchise.

“I was busy playing with my toys, and everybody's going crazy because a guy caught a ball and ran it in for a touchdown,” Florio said. “You realize that's a special moment, and you want to be more vested in it the next time it happens.”

By the following season, he was a big fan — of the Vikings.

As long as Florio still enjoys writing, reporting, hosting a daily website radio show and appearing on TV, he plans to keep at it. The hours are killers; he's up by 5 a.m. and sometimes works until after midnight, but he said, “It's not work.”

“He has a remarkable ability to synthesize complicated issues and deliver them to the audience quickly and efficiently,” NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said in an email.

Even if it isn't the work Florio or the other so-called NFL super insiders ever expected to do.

“The demand for NFL information is insatiable,” La Canfora said.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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