Facing the Firing Squad: Norman Chad
MEET NORMAN CHAD
The first time I became aware of Norman Chad, I wanted to strangle him.
On Sunday mornings I used to open up his newspaper column and yell at the page. He’s been “MF-ed” by me more times than the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.
Twenty years ago, he wrote a weekly football handicapping column for The Washington Post. Back then, Norman did what he still does now, which is take a popular sport, toss the players into a giant blender, then hit the puree button.
I couldn’t stand his article. I didn’t want laughs. I wanted to win football picks.
Norman was so irritating that I even complained to the newspaper. I filed letters of complaint against two other Washington Post sportswriters, as well. My persuasive letters of protest must have worked wonders. Whatever happened to Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, anyway?
Well, I did find out what would become of Norman Chad.
Fast forward about ten years later — to 2003. Imagine my horror upon learning that ESPN hired Norman as their poker expert. He was even selected to do their on-air commentary. Norman Chad, that writer I couldn’t stand!
So, Norman went on and did his thing. In the poker world, he became an instant star. For millions of viewers who watched ESPN’s weekly coverage of the World Series of Poker, he even became the face of the game, along with co-host Lon McEachern.
To most readers, Norman is probably best known for his steady work in poker, as well as his genuine love for the game as a regular player. But poker encompasses only a fraction of Norman’s far more extensive background in sports as a writer, journalist, and television personality. His resume includes:
— Color commentator for ESPN’s World Series of Poker since 2003.
— Nationally-syndicated sports columnist, writing the weekly “Couch Slouch” column for The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, and a dozen other newspapers.
— Former columnist with The Washington Post, The National Sports Daily, and Sports Illustrated.
— Frequent co-host and regular guest on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” and former co-host of ESPN Classic’s sports movie presentation, “Reel Classics.”
— Author of the 1993 book, “Hold On, Honey, “I’ll Take You to the Hospital at Halftime,” a collection of his essays on sports television in America.
— Wrote television scripts for HBO’s “Arliss” and ABC’s “Coach.”
— University of Maryland graduate with B.A. in American Studies.
During the past ten years, Norman has been closely aligned with the WSOP, I’ve come to observe him in action as well as know him as a colleague and friend. Good thing for me, he obviously never found out about that nasty letter.
Norman is often spotted out on the tournament floor at any hour of the day and night, talking to players, and getting their stories firsthand. Not just pros — but anyone who appears interesting. I’ve found him not only to be a superlative voice for the game but an even better listener. Norman’s signature trademark: He carries an old-fashioned reporter’s notebook in his hand to jot down the names of people he meets and their stories, the mark of someone who does his homework.
In short, over time I’ve become a fan and even learned a thing or two. Watching Norman behind the scenes enabled me to appreciate the immense amount of work that goes into production, including the challenge each year’s coverage inevitably brings with a fresh set of new faces. It’s not like pro football, where we watch basically the same players on the same teams from year to year. Imagine a game where most of the players are completely different from one year to the next.
For every witty comment Norm makes on the air that may last ten seconds, there might have been hours of research connected to getting the story. Writing for television isn’t easy, especially as it tries to appeal to different viewers. It’s especially difficult for poker, where the action isn’t physical but rather psychological and strategic. Norm must also consistently walk a fine line — interacting with players and staying on good terms with his sources, while also having fun at their expense at a time with his own twist on things, making slower moments in the show considerably more entertaining.
They say things go full circle, which is true sometimes. And so, I’ve also become a fan of his regular articles in The Washington Post and other newspapers (which can be read online). I not longer scream and his columns. I laugh along with everyone else. Check out his “Couch Slouch” series which is easy to find. But you’re advised to have plenty of time because his writings can be addictive.
So, I guess I won’t be writing any more letters of complaint about Norman. Instead, make those letters of appreciation for America’s favorite self-described “couch potato.”
Norman was gracious enough to find time between watching ballgames from the comfort of his sofa in Los Angeles to face the firing squad.
What are some of the things you stand for?
I love public libraries, trains, and writing letters, which means I have a love-hate relationship with the post office. I stand for a world with no boundaries, though I don’t mind the English-only rule in my card room.
What are some of the things you stand against?
Technology is sometimes one step forward and two steps back; I believe smartphones have made us stupider. ‘Staying connected’ is too stressful and probably shortens all our lives.
What living person do you admire the most, and why?
Fidel Castro (though I am not a fan). Hey, you try running a tiny Communist dictatorship for half-a-century in the shadow of the world’s most powerful, militarily sophisticated, and richest country.
What historical figure do you admire the most, and why?
God. As a lifelong procrastinator, I am in awe of a figure who probably finished creating the world a day ahead of schedule.
What living person do you despise?
Sadly, I despise too many, and since I am trying to have more positive energy in my life, I will decline to name or think about any of them.
If money were not an object, what profession would you choose?
“Jeopardy” contestant who never loses.
What is it about yourself that you are most proud of?
I am sure there are skeletons in my closet – and, trust me, none of them are well-dressed, either – but, overall, I’m proud that I try to do the right thing, even when nobody is watching.
What is it about yourself that you’d like to change?
At this point, it’s too late to consider ear lobe surgery.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?
All you need to know in filling out this questionnaire is among the top 25 exciting things I’ve ever done.
What’s the most unusual time and place you’ve ever visited?
I had to send this question out to a local lab and I’ll get back to you on it as soon as it is fully explained to me.
Name a place you’ve never visited where you still want to go.
Monte Carlo, preferably on a weeknight.
Favorite book, favorite movie, and favorite musician.
Book: Tie, Camus’ “The Stranger” and Hemingway’s “A Movable Feast.”
Movie: “His Girl Friday.”
Musician: Steely Dan.
What upsets you the most?
Three-way tie: A long line at the post office, my stepdaughter texting while we’re having a conversation, and my butcher (or any butcher) carrying a gun while completing my order.
What bores you?
Do you believe in an afterlife and why do you believe it so?
I hope there’s an afterlife, but I’m not packing.