MINNEAPOLIS — Dan Orlovsky recently woke up to find a surprising Twitter Direct Message from veteran sportscaster and NBC host Mike Tirico.
The kind remarks from Tirico about Orlovsky’s NFL critiques and breakdowns via Twitter and Periscope “blew my freaking mind,” the retired quarterback said to Sports Business Chronicle.
Added Orlovsky: “Tirico said, ‘Hey, the stuff you’re doing is amazing’. I took a picture of the message and sent it to my wife and was like, ‘Well, this just happened’.”
The NFL journeyman retired this past October following a 12-year career playing with four teams, including two stints with the Detroit Lions.
Last week in Minneapolis, which included numerous hits on Radio Row, meetings with ESPN and FOX executives and exploratory sit downs with media agents, he discussed what’s next, which currently revolves around building a career in sports media.
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Orlovsky explained that over the past five years, he’s thought about broadcasting as possibly his next career move, but it wasn’t an idea he pursued since he was still earning an NFL paycheck and concentrating his attention toward the gridiron versus the booth or studio.
When he officially retired on Oct. 11, he said he took a two-week hiatus from even thinking about the game.
“I needed a break. I had been doing it since I was eight, 26-plus years,” he added.
“It was really weird, sort of scary and unsettling. But there’s a massive part of a relief aspect. It was such a big part of my life. I had never played golf in the Fall. This was the first Thanksgiving I had where I didn’t have a game or practice since I was nine. I needed that break.”
The father of four said he told his wife, Tiffany, that he didn’t need to do football and could get into business, although the idea of what ‘business’ would entail is still unclear even to him.
Said Orlovsky: “She would just laugh at me and say, ‘You’re going to waste your unique talent. You see football so differently than everyone else. You can’t throw that away’. I’m super thankful that she would say that to me.”
So,when the duo was watching a Monday Night Football game on Nov. 13 between the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins, Orlovsky — a former cynic of social media three years ago — saw its power in a single post.
During the third quarter, quarterback Cam Newton made a check at the line of scrimmage around an all-out Dolphins blitz and delivered a screen pass to wide receiver Devin Funchess for an easy six points.
As Orlovsky reminisced about the 28-yard play, he said that no one on Monday Night Football mentioned how Newton executed the score. He couldn’t believe it.
“I was like, ‘People need to know how cool that was’. It turned into a math game. Cam cut the center in half, five people on this side, six people on that side’. You dream of plays like that as a quarterback,” he said. “My wife was like, ‘You should do a video right now’.”
And so he listened.
Orlovsky shot an Instagram video, with the camera pointed at his television, and verbally highlighted the Dolphins’ defensive makeup, the Panthers’ offensive scheme, what Newton saw at the line of scrimmage and how he completed the touchdown throw.
“To me, that’s freaking poetry,” Orlovsky said of Newton’s ability to read and react. “I posted it, and it freaking hit.”
Still, nearly 6,600 views and 20-plus comments later, that eye-opening video wasn’t what made everything real for Orlovsky. The notion that he could carry his playing experience, together with his expansive football knowledge, and package it into easily-digestible color commentary became apparent when the likes of Tirico reached out.
In past months, NFL Insider Adam Caplan and Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, among others, have also expressed their positive sentiments to Orlovsky about his quarterback breakdowns on Twitter, Periscope and Instagram.
“(Sam) told me, ‘I’ve been watching the NFL for 25 years, and I learn something new from you every time’,” said Orlovsky, who added that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers also dropped him a favorable review.
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) December 22, 2017
When Orlovsky started leveraging social media in the Fall to illustrate his football IQ and analyze game footage for social, he had a measly 3,000 Twitters. Now, his account is approaching 19,000, thanks in large part to embracing the different platforms after thinking that “Twitter was stupid.”
“For the guy who thought social media was weird three years ago, if you use it correctly, it’s the coolest thing in the world,” said Orlovsky, who’s writing weekly original football content for venture-backed sports media startup The Athletic.
“The social media aspect of it all has blown my mind because I feel like I understood how big of a deal football was to our country and how much it meant to people. But I guess I didn’t on a seven-day-a-week deal. When you wake up at six o’clock in the morning and see people saying, ‘This is some of the best stuff I’ve seen all day. I need more of this’, it’s given me a small glimpse into how much people in this country crave football, and they crave hearing and learning about football.”
Last week, Orlovsky candidly admitted to Sports Business Chronicle that when he was in the day-to-day grind of being a NFL backup, “it sucked.”
He added: “You prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare, and you never get the chance to execute. If you’re the starter and I’m the backup, I do the same thing as you but go get to have fun, and I don’t. I just prepare, prepare, prepare. I’m like the guy at Chipotle.”
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Orlovsky’s situation wasn’t necessarily ideal, but he said he benefitted from the communication and preparation elements of being a backup quarterback and having to find a way to relay information to teammates, regardless of their own football intelligence. Acknowledging that it sounded braggadocios, Orlovsky said he can view football differently than “99.9 percent of the world.”
“I didn’t play for 12 years because I was super talented,” he said. “I played for 12 years because I figured out how to take all of that information and get it to a guy like Matthew Stafford and then get it to a guy like Theo Riddick or Calvin Johnson and Mike Glennon and Matt Schaub, all of those guys I’ve played with.”
He’s wielded that knowledge and skill set for social as dives head-first into the content game. With social media as a whole, Orlovsky discussed a few key learnings, one being how quickly a Tweet or Instagram post can spread and two, if leveraged, how a user can “control the narrative” a little bit.
In 2008, Orlovsky experienced the wrath of the Internet as he ran out of the end zone for a safety while being chased by then-Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. Google ‘Dan Orlovsky’ and Page 1 and 2 are scattered with highlights of the play. Instead of running from it, the former UConn standout has embraced the mishap, especially on social. His Twitter bio even reads ‘Endzones should be 11 yards’.
“I want to laugh at that just as much as everybody else,” he said. “I get it. If I was another quarterback, I’d be laughing at him, too. That’s one cool mechanism of social media, is that people have been able to get a different side of me.”
That other side — which has included Orlovsky shedding some personality — has centered on the football content he’s been providing, with even some admirers lobbying early for his Career 2.0 to take flight (see Exhibits A, B, C, D and E) . He’s focused on delivering consistent educational nuggets, answering “whys and hows” and “keeping it real,” he said.
Hey, a lot of people give love to Tony Romo for stuff like this… and Romo deserves it! But perhaps someone broadcasting games should be taking a look at Dan Orlovsky too. This is the high-quality, next-level analysis that the game needs. https://t.co/NSAbRcNNvd
— Paul Gerke (@PaulGerke) December 17, 2017
Orlovsky’s utilized the suite of platforms and tinkered with how to engage his audience through raw, unedited video. In recent weeks, he went ‘live’ on Periscope to provide pre-game commentary while he’s broken down plays on a white board and also analyzed Super Bowl LII mid-game.
“If I’m the quarterback coach and you’re the quarterback, I want followers to feel like they’re the quarterback. So, they can feel like ‘Wow, I just got taught how to go do that’. The more you learn about stuff, the more you love it,” he said.
When asked about a timeline for both selecting a media agent and also beginning the next chapter of his life, Orlovsky said he’s still in the exploratory phase but ready to “go be a worker.” In addition, he remarked that he’s not entering media for next year but for the next 10 years.
“In a way, I want to flip the game upside down a little bit,” said Orlovsky, who also has an early-stage podcast with a close friend called Backup Plan Pod. “(CBS color analyst) Tony Romo has already done that. I kind of want to piggyback off of that.
“This is the time to go do it. I’m very self-aware. I know I’m not Tony Romo or Jay Cutler. But on the flip side, I feel like I can get really good at it.”