Welcome to a new offseason feature, Bolts from the Blue Story Time, where I share with you some of my random San Diego Chargers-related stories that I've been a little hesitant to post on the site previously.
The reason I've always been hesitant to write this Vaughn Martin story is because I worry about people just reading the headline or not understanding the context and it making Vaughn look bad. That's not what I'm going for here. I've talked to Vaughn before and since this story, and my impression on him is that he's one of the smartest, most likable and friendliest guys on the team. However, it's a somewhat funny story and deserves to be told.
To set the stage for you, this was during the 2010 training camp for the Chargers. Reporters (a crowd that I was pretending that I belong in) are let into the locker room immediately following practice. When I say immediately, I mean that the reporters usually beat the players there and are waiting when the players make it through the door. When the players do arrive, they are tired, sweaty, smelly and their adrenaline is still running. To ask them to field questions and be level-headed at that moment is a little ridiculous.
This was my second year of flying out from Philadelphia to spend a couple of days trying to get interviews from naked players in between frenetically tweeting about everything I saw at practice. It was Vaughn's second year in the league and he was still very much a project. However, as a 330+ lb. defensive lineman with good speed that had gone to college in Canada, Martin was a player I was focused on and was intrigued by. One day I decided that after practice, he would be my first interview.
I waited by his locker as he walked off the field and lumbered through the door and towards the "defensive linemen" lockers. When I shook his hand, I noticed two things. First, this man is very big and very solid. My brain conjured up images of him taking on a Bobcat and winning, easily. I'm 5'7" and about 170 lbs, so the difference in size was startling. Second, this was my first experience shaking hands with a player before he took off his on-field gloves. My goodness those things are sticky. If you've ever touched melted rubber, to the point where some of it is actually liquid, that's what it felt like this entire glove was made out of. I heard a sickening peeling sound after shaking Vaughn's (gigantic) hand and I hoped my skin was still covering my hand instead of covering his glove.
I asked Vaughn if we could do a quick interview, he said "Absolutely" and we sat down across from each other. The second-year player (then) didn't even do the normal player thing where he undresses while talking to me. Instead, he took the time to sit down and intently listen to my questions. I noticed that right away.
You'll forgive me if I forget what the first few questions were, but I assure you they weren't entertaining. Things like "Are things coming easier to you this year?" and "How are you feeling, health-wise?" Softballs, as it were. I do remember the question that made him angry, though, and my phrasing of it wasn't great either.
The question should've been to ask Vaughn if, with his size, he could play Nose Tackle if asked to. At this point, some people were already talking about how dynamic he'd be at NT (where it seemed the Chargers desperately needed a starter before Antonio Garay came out of nowhere) and I wanted his opinion. Hell, I thought he was better suited for the NT spot, and my opinion came out in the question. It was asked like this......
"Vaughn, I would never ask you to go against what your coaches think, but do you think that you're....."
That's as far as I got. Martin gave me the "Woah, woah, woah" to stop me, then (looking me right in the eye) asked "What are you trying to do?" I immediately noticed how large his muscles were, and tried to assure him that I was not trying to get him into any trouble. "I think I phrased it wrong. What I meant was....", I said before he cut me off once more. "We're done here. I'm not playing those games. Take that thing (pointing to my digital recorder) and go talk to someone else before you get your ass kicked."
I was frustrated. This was the guy I had chosen for my first interview. I knew he was a good guy. Not only was he pissed at me, he was mad because he thought I was trying to get a bad quote from him and I wasn't. Was it a dangerous question? Phrased properly, no. He could've responded to it by saying exactly why he thought he was fit for the DE spot or something like that. Do I understand his response? Absolutely. In his position, still filled with adrenaline and with veteran p[layers in my ear about not trusting new writers because they're out to get you in trouble and make a name for themselves, I would've responded in the exact same way. However, at that moment, I needed to make sure he knew I wasn't that guy before I could walk away.
I turned the recorder off and put it in my pocket. He turned to his locker, his back to me. I called his name, he turned, I apologized and said I understood why he thought I was doing what I was doing. I said I just wanted to know if he was better suited for the NT or DE spot and that I wasn't fishing for a bad quote at all. He turned around, he shook my hand, he said "I hope that's all it was." Things were okay as I went off looking for my next interview victim.
A few days later, after landing back in Philadelphia, I noticed that my recorder was on when I was unpacking my luggage. It was right next to a note letting my know that my luggage had been searched. Apparently they pressed some buttons on the thing, and erased the handful of good interviews I got from my time at Chargers Park. And that's when I learned why it's important to have a carry-on bag.