Sam Farmer has interviewed plenty of Hall of Famers throughout his 25-year career covering the National Football League, and now the longtime Los Angeles Times writer will be honored by those distinguished coaches and players as the recipient of the 2019 Dick McCann Award.
The Professional Football Writers Association selected the La Cañada High School alumnus as the 51st McCann Award honoree. The award is given to a reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution to professional football through coverage.
The award will be presented to Farmer during the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Week that will kick off the NFL’s 100th season. The reporter will be recognized at the Gold Jacket Dinner in Canton, Ohio, on Friday, Aug. 2.
“It required us to reshuffle our summer, but I did so happily,” said Farmer, who was a finalist last year. “I was blown away and completely floored by the award. It’s an absolute honor to be included and considered for this. There are so many capable and deserving finalists out there that I would have been fine with just having been nominated. I wasn’t expecting this. It really is surreal.”
Farmer, who graduated from LCHS in 1984 and Occidental College in 1988, received a phone call from PFWA President Bob Glauber prior to the announcement on June 5. His parents, Jerry and Sue, received a congratulatory phone call from Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker.
“Sam Farmer’s reporting and writing on this great game has provided fans with a unique insight into what makes the NFL the country’s most popular sport. We look forward to celebrating Sam’s excellence during this year’s Enshrinement Week Powered by Johnson Controls,” Baker said in a statement released by the hall.
Farmer is the second L.A. Times reporter to be honored with the McCann Award. Bob Oates won it in 1974.
What makes Farmer’s situation unique is that he covered the NFL in a city without a team for most of his 19-year tenure with the L.A. Times.
“I really was the beneficiary of the situation because I was covering the No. 1 sport in the second-largest market in the country,” he said. “It was a unique job in that it wasn’t tethered to one team. I didn’t have to cover injuries and the day-to-day activities. I had the resources and travel budget to do stories that everybody was talking about.”
Farmer accumulated plenty of frequent flyer miles covering the biggest stories in the NFL. He attended every game between star quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and spent time in Massachusetts covering the New England Patriots’ 18-game win streak in 2007-08. The former Spartan even climbed Mt. Rainier with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Sam is one of the best storytellers in our business, and he has an imagination second to none among football writers,” said Peter King, the 2009 McCann Award winner who is the NFL Insider for the NBC Sports Group. “So often I read his stories and say to myself, ‘Wish I’d written that.’”
Farmer’s storytelling ability and detailed coverage of the NFL’s return to Los Angeles sparked interest in a city dominated by the Lakers and Dodgers.
“A whole generation went by without a team in Los Angeles, so at times it was an uphill battle to sort of engage a large segment of the community with so much focus on the Dodgers and Lakers,” Farmer said. “At the time, you had the Kings and Ducks winning Stanley Cups, the Angels winning the World Series and the Lakers winning titles. We had no team during the Kobe [Bryant] era. I never doubted an interest in football in Los Angeles. You look at the advent of Sunday Ticket, NFL Network and the internet. All of these things — and, really, fantasy football, which fragments the fan base and encourages it to follow individual players — all of that goes against rooting for one team.
“This is a market that liked its football but consumed it from the couch,” he added. I always wanted to tell a story that interested my mom. If I can engage my mom and not write too technical and try to engage all the bandwidth of potential fans, then I’d done my job. I was in a unique position to do that.”
Farmer also benefited from the other major sports going through work stoppages. The NFL hasn’t suffered any since 1987.
“You had hockey, the NBA and baseball going on strike,” he said. “I caught the tail of that comet and I held on. The NFL shot up. My professional career couldn’t have been in a better time or place.”
Colleague and L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke credits Farmer for keeping football “alive” in the city of Los Angeles.
“This is truly a deserving honor for a man whose name has become synonymous with the NFL in Los Angeles,” Plaschke said in a release from the PFWA. “For [almost] two decades, Sam Farmer’s incisive reporting and brilliant writing kept football alive in a city that had no pro teams. An entire generation of young fans remained invested in the absentee league through his smart and colorful prose. Through years of failed ownership groups and broken promises, Farmer continually pushed for the league’s return. Appropriately, when the Rams and Chargers finally moved here, it was Farmer’s investigative instincts that chronicled their journey and his words that paved their way. Having cemented his name in Los Angeles NFL history, Sam Farmer has truly earned his place in Canton.”
Farmer has received multiple accolades in his storied career, including the 2016 California Sportswriter of the Year honor from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Though he appreciates every honor, none comes close to the Dick McCann Award.
“I really have to credit my editors and colleagues,” he said. “They’re the ones who make us look good. I’m not downplaying what I do. I think I do a good job, but it’s definitely a group effort. This will be, professionally speaking, the first line of my bio. I’m most proud of my family, but professionally, there is nothing that matches this for me.”