Remembering NBC Sports Washington's Rich Tandler
BY BRIAN MCNALLY | OCT. 19, 2018
REDSKINS PARK — Wednesday was devastating for all of us who work at Redskins Park.
NBC Sports Washington’s Rich Tandler died. Just typing that makes my head spin. It’s been a few days now and there still aren’t really any words for something like that. We just saw Tandler in the press box at FedEx Field on Sunday. He was just walking Bourbon Street with us the week before in New Orleans. I sat next to him in a minivan last month on an impromptu, ridiculous, entertaining-as-hell six-hour round-trip drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon during the Redskins’ season-opening visit to Phoenix to play the Arizona Cardinals.
Rich knew more Redskins history than almost anyone. He was often the first person in the press box at FedEx Field or whatever road city we were in. He and Tarik El-Bashir were the first faces you saw when you walked into the media trailer at Redskins Park, like greeters at a demented Wal-Mart. You couldn’t step inside that front door and not immediately smile. A head nod or a simple hello, maybe followed by a wisecrack or a zing and you were ready to attack the day.
Rich could go an hour without talking, grinding out content in quantities that put the rest of us to shame. But then someone in the room inevitably would say something crazy, a hot take that couldn’t go unanswered, and Rich would turn his chair and look at you like you were out of your god damned mind.
He was reluctant guardian of the silverware drawer. He was the adult in a room full of well-meaning, but rambunctious children. ESPN’s John Keim has been on the Redskins beat the longest, but he is also not above pretending to make phone calls with a banana.
Tandler, at 63, was bemused by it all. He took his work seriously, but never himself. Our old colleague Zac Boyer, who covered the Redskins for the Free Lance-Star and the Washington Times before moving to London in 2016, remembers Tandler’s habit of abruptly stopping in doorways when someone was walking behind just so they’d run into him. Rich would fight you for the mic at a press conference and taunt you when he won or nudge you out of the way during group interviews just to be an ass. He wasn’t above the shenanigans.
In fact, Rich Tandler was a huge part of making the whole experience of covering the Redskins fun, which he knew was the whole damn point. Maybe that perspective came from his mid-career switch, leaving the restaurant business behind for a blogging hobby that became a labor of love and finally a full-time job. He always had an innate sense of what would resonate with fans.
The Redskins media crew is tight. It’s been that way for a long time now. Reporters work at competing outlets, they scrap and fight for stories and insight and information no one else has. But cramped together in a trailer for months on end they also become a work family, closer in some ways than the actual co-workers back in an office you rarely see.
I don’t know if it’s like that in other NFL markets. I suspect not. The idea of reporters from four different outlets renting a minivan together and cruising to the Grand Canyon seems far fetched in, say, New York or Boston. Some would see that fraternizing as a negative. It sure makes things a hell of a lot more enjoyable, though.
Tandler epitomized that culture. He’d help new reporters who maybe didn’t know where they were going yet or how things were done. He had an institutional knowledge of Redskins Park and the team that can’t be replaced.
That camaraderie Rich helped foster made the long days enjoyable, the tedium tolerable. People like Rich Campbell (Washington Times) and Grant Paulsen (106.7 The Fan) and Mike Jones and Jason Reid (Washington Post) could yell and shout and clown each other on just about any topic. We once had a yearlong running argument over whether it was acceptable to wear a polo shirt with a t-shirt underneath. It never ended. Not sure where Tandler fell on that one other than probably wishing we would all shut up. We rarely did.
Reporters come and go on any pro beat, but somehow that sense of togetherness never eroded and Rich’s steady presence was a big reason for that.
There would be times when the back-and-forth between the NBC Sports Washington crew – Tarik and Gary Carter, Rob Carlin and Chick Hernandez, Mitch Tischler and J.P Finlay – would get so out of hand that you’d laugh until you cried. Tandler enjoyed the slings and arrows as much as anyone – his belly laugh was a thing to behold when it got going – though he could be stubborn, sometimes, too.
On that same Grand Canyon trip last month, Rich dozed for a few minutes. No big deal. But later in the week when called on it he got defensive and insisted he was awake the entire time. The room turned on him. Everyone in that car knew he’d fallen asleep, but he wouldn’t back down. Nope. Never happened. Secretly, Tandler kind of liked playing the aggrieved elder in a workplace where almost everyone was 20-to-30 years younger. I wish just one more time we could jab him for it.
Tandler and Tarik, now of The Athletic, often did a good approximation of Statler and Waldorf, the old Muppets on the balcony, when they were together at NBC Sports Washington.
J.P., Mitch and Pete Hailey were like Rich’s rogue sons, but their chemistry on The Redskins Talk podcast was undeniable. We had a blast taping a pod on the car ride to the Canyon, though me and Tandler — sitting in the middle seats like kids on a family vacation — had to share a mic and I kept forgetting to hand it to him. He…wasn’t pleased.
Almost anyone who has covered the Redskins over the past decade will have a story about Rich: Jones and Reid, Barry Svrluga, Rick Maese and Jerry Brewer, Liz Clark and Kimberley Martin, Les Carpenter and Mark Maske, Kareem Copeland and Master Tesfatsion, all of the Post; Keim and Boyer, Campbell, now with the Chicago Tribune, and Ryan O’Halloran, now with the Denver Post; Paulsen, beloved radio reporter and giant salad maker Chris Russell and Craig Hoffman of 106.7 The Fan, George Wallace of WTOP; Joe White, Howard Fendrich and Steve Whyno of the Associated Press; My Sports Capitol partners Ben Standig, who also worked with Tandler at NBC Sports Washington, and Todd Dybas; Ex-Washington Times reporters Anthony Gulizia and Tom Schad and current Times writer Matt Paras; Paul Woody and Michael Phillips of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, who put together that minivan trip; Rick Snider, one of the few on the beat who predated Tandler. There are so many more who were part of Rich’s work family over the years.
One of my favorite moments of training camp this year was at a Redskins Talk podcast party thrown by NBC Sports Washington and hosted by J.P., Mitch, Tandler and the crew. At some point, well after midnight, I realized Tandler and I had been talking Skins for 45 minutes or so. The history of the team, memorable moments, crazy times on the beat. His depth of knowledge was incredible. But Rich was also known for his 5 a.m. wake up call so he could get his Need to Know post up on the station web site for the early risers. There are few lower feelings in life than heading to bed and seeing Tandler tweet his first link of the day before you’ve even turned in.
“Rich,” I said, “You actually going to sleep in tomorrow?”
It had been a long day at camp and a fun night hanging with fans, 300 or so who came out to celebrate the Redskins and chat with the people who cover the team. Tandler pondered the idea and I thought he was about to make a concession this one time. He didn’t miss a beat.
“I’ll probably sleep in,” he said before a long pause. “I can wake up at 6.”
We’ll miss you, Tandler. RIP, pal.
Brian McNally is a senior staff writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. He is also an award-winning multi-media journalist, who has covered the Redskins, Capitals and Nationals for the Washington Examiner, Washington Times and 106.7 The Fan and major events like the Super Bowl, NCAA basketball tournament, Stanley Cup playoffs, NBA playoffs, NFL Combine and NFL Draft.