11 Questions: Danny Kelly: Seahawks talk

Published in the January 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine

Editor’s Note: By and large, we keep What’s Up! sports free, but when I heard Danny Kelly had moved back to the area, I knew we needed to do an interview. I love including writers in the magazine and this one just happens to write about The Seahawks… And he’s damn good at it. –Brent

Interview by Jacson Bevens

If you’re a Seahawks fan who appreciates insight and analysis that surpasses the rinse-and-repeat coverage we get from most media outlets, then there’s a good chance you already know about FieldGulls.com. For the better part of the last decade, Field Gulls has stood as the premier destination for unique voices and perspective- a place to be educated as well as entertained.

Even before I started writing for Danny five seasons ago, Field Gulls was my go-to website when I tired of listening to radio hosts and newspaper writers re-hashing the same surface-level stories and information. When Danny Kelly took over as Lead Editor, the site began transforming from a cozy niche for like-minded fans to a major force within Seahawks media, all without losing the sense of community and dialogue that made Field Gulls special in the first place.

Only 33 years old, Danny’s understanding of the game and his prioritization of accuracy and humor over contrived arguments and click-bait has already made him one of the most influential voices in Seahawks coverage. In addition to the vast content he produces himself, Danny has recruited a stable of talented writers that have written for publications such as Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Sports on Earth, and Yahoo.
Danny recently moved back to Bellingham, and agreed to sit down for an interview for What’s Up!

1) Who are you and where did you come from? Please tell us about yourself.

I’m Danny, NFL writer for SB Nation’s dot-com and the editor at their Seahawks’ blog, Field Gulls. I split my time writing for both, plus produce a few podcasts every week and do some social media stuff for SBN on Sundays. I grew up Bellingham, then after high school I went down to Tacoma for school and stayed in the Seattle-Tacoma area for the next 14 years or so. Just recently moved back up here!

2) How did you end up as the lead writer and editor-in-chief of Field Gulls?

I had a little Seahawks blog as a hobby, and when my predecessor at Field Gulls stepped down, they randomly found mine in their search for a new editor. They interviewed me as the potential replacement, and even though I had another job at the time and it was going to be a big commitment, I decided it sounded like fun. Eventually I ended up doing it full time.

3) Has covering the Seahawks on a daily basis changed the way you watch them?

Well, for one, I’ve become more hyper-focused on what’s going on in any given game. I watch different things throughout, but there’s a lot more “taking my eye off the ball” now than I’d ever done before. What are the linemen doing? Where are the receivers lining up? What’s the defense playing? What’s their personnel out there? Are they in man or zone? How is the offense attacking that? I can more easily recognize schemes and play designs, and overall I look at things from a more analytical point of view.

I’m definitely still a fan though, it’s really hard to turn that off. In sports journalism, you’ve got to walk a really fine line, obviously. For SB Nation, you don’t have to be quite as detached and impartial, though, which I think is kind of a fun way of going about it. National readers know me as a “Seahawks guy” but when I’m writing about every other team in the NFL for SB Nation’s mothership, I’m very careful about trying to remain rational and reasonable when it comes to what’s going on league wide. I think this balance in coverage — where I’m comparing other teams to the Seahawks in many ways — has given me a much greater perspective on what the Seahawks are doing well and where they struggle.

4) What are some of your favorite things about writing for Field Gulls?

It might not seem like it, but sportswriting is actually a really great creative outlet, and I think that has kept me super interested and invested in it over the years I’ve done it. In this industry, the narrative from team to team always changing, subject matter is inexhaustible, and there are so many games, plays, players, and storylines to cover you can’t even begin to scratch the surface on what’s worth writing about.

Rather than “covering a beat” like many outlets, though, my work at Field Gulls and at SB Nation is more focused on storytelling and in-depth analysis, and that’s really what I love about it. The best feedback I’ll get is that a breakdown of mine – where I turn on the game, find a play or two that tell a bigger story about the team, then explain it in an article using video and photos – has enriched someone’s fan experience or helped them have a lightbulb go on about the game of football in general.

Really that’s what it’s all about: making it more enjoyable to watch the Seahawks (or whatever team), because at the end of the day, sports should be about entertainment and fun. If I’ve given you some insight into how the team schemes up ways to beat their opponent, or how they go about building their roster, and you can see it and recognize it on the field when you’re watching it live? That’s a pretty cool value-add, I think. Football is really a chess match – it’s way more complex than a lot of sports, I think — so the ability to teach people what they’re seeing, to find some structure or design in all that chaos, it has been a lot of fun. If you’ve ever been watching a game live and recognized a scheme, strategy, or play that the Seahawks are using because of one of my articles, and suddenly understand why they’re doing that, I’ve succeeded.

5) What are the most annoying things about the gig?

One of the most annoying parts of the job is dealing with the People Of The Internet (as I call the certain subset of jerks out there that are hell-bent on ruining your day). Generally speaking, I have excellent and amazing interactions on twitter and at the sites I write for (I’ve made tons of friends through social media, honestly), but there are also a good amount of cretins out there whose sole purpose in life seems to be trolling. I don’t really understand the psychology involved with deliberately setting out to piss people off or worse, but it happens all too much. At first that was a hard adjustment, but after doing this for a while, it’s become remarkably easy to ignore that noise and just realize it comes with the territory. I do have a folder in my email entitled “WEIRDOS” where I save all the trolling attempts, just for posterity.

6) Field Gulls is considered to be a part of “new media”, aka blogs, home-produced content, etc. What are the benefits and drawbacks about FG’s platform compared to the more standardized radio/TV/newspaper coverage?

One benefit is that we can be a little more irreverent in our tone and voice. Because we don’t have to worry about getting credentials yanked, we can swear and joke and our creative bandwidth is maybe a little bit higher or broader than some conventional media. We have one guy that writes everything from the point of view of a drunk crazy-ass in a bar, for instance. Jacson’s writing — booze and tobacco-aided, simile-ridden, and full of some of the best, most vivid metaphors I’ve ever seen — is not something you’d see in a newspaper. One of our stated goals as a site (and for SB Nation as a whole) is to be the guys that you want to watch the game with. I think we do a good job of embodying that identity.

The blog format is also way more conducive to the video-aided analysis that I think has helped put us on the map. You don’t get explainer Xs and Os — certainly not with gifs and videos — in the mainstream media for the most part. That’s one of our most important niches, and it’s pretty unique. We’re teaching you about football, not just telling you what happened.

The downside is, of course, that our access to players and coaches is much more limited, so it’s hard to pick their brain on some of the stories I work on. Perhaps that will change in the future though, as media continues to evolve.

7) What is your relationship with the credentialed media that covers the Seahawks and do you feel like they are welcoming to you? Do they feel challenged or threatened by it at all?

I’ve had almost zero negative experiences with credentialed media in the Seahawks’ media-sphere. They’ve been welcoming, they interact with us, quote our analysis; I’ve been invited on to several local radio stations to discuss Seahawks topics, and have collaborated with guys on a few projects. It’s been great. We stay in our lane and augment the excellent analysis they bring to the table. I think one thing that’s made this so easy is that Seattle really is extremely lucky in the amount of high-quality reporters, beat writers, and radio hosts that cover the team. Seriously. As a fanbase, we are blessed with some great media.

8) You’ve been covering this team from a pretty close proximity for a while now. Which players or coaches have you gained a greater appreciation of during that time? 

Pete Carroll, for sure. I actually use a lot of Carroll’s philosophies and maxims in my own life. I think the way he enthusiastically attacks life is inspiring. Relentless positivity. Control what you can control. Always compete. I know that’s kind of hokey, but it’s true. I would hope that I’d recognize that even without his success with the Seahawks, but it’s obviously been pretty eye-opening covering the team and writing a series of articles about his philosophies and methods.

9) Having recently moved back to the area, what is your favorite aspect of Bellingham/Whatcom County?

I lived in Seattle/Tacoma for the past 14 years and I loved it there as well, but I definitely love Bellingham for its low-key, relaxed vibe. It still has a very vibrant social scene though, which pairs really well with that subdued atmosphere. I love that only having been back for a few months, I’ve already met people in the art scene (through my friends Logan and Kourtnei McQuaig and their shop Novato), got to experience a little bit of the music scene with the great people at The Wild Buffalo, and just in general the social scene through some bartender friends like Evan Cooper (Glow Nightclub) and Johnny Lambert (Uisce) among others. The really well-connected community is what I really like the most about Bellingham.

10) How does this season’s Seahawks team compare to the ones that have made it to the Super Bowl the last two seasons? Will the Seahawks win the Super Bowl this year?

Every team is different, and this group has certainly had its share of challenges, but I think they are still a Super Bowl caliber team in talent and ability. I have said for the past month or so that if Russell Wilson keeps balling out at the level he’s been playing, the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl again (this was written in late December, by the way). The defense is good enough to do it, but with Wilson playing at that next level, they can beat anyone.

11) When you aren’t writing about football, what are you doing?

I’m a big movie buff and I love binge-watching TV shows. I’m laid back. I like to barbecue, hang out with friends, play darts, bowl, play pool, play basketball. Whatever. I love traveling as well, when possible.

12) Any last thoughts?

I don’t live in my parents’ basement and write in my underwear like the “blogger” stereotype would tell you. I do that from the privacy of my own apartment.