- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Editor's note: ESPN.com pro football writer Len Pasquarelli will receive the McCann Award for distinguished service from the Pro Football Writers of America at the Hall of Fame dinner Friday night in Canton, Ohio.
Len Pasquarelli's road to Canton, Ohio, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame went through Fort Wayne, Ind., but it was based in the heart of pro football intensity in Pittsburgh.
Len's friendship with me goes back to the Steelers' Super Bowl years, when he wrote for Pittsburgh Steelers Weekly. Back then, Pasquarelli was an underground favorite.
He knew the game as well as the coaches, and he was always able to connect pro football to readers in a fun, educated way. It led to him moving to Chicago to work for Pro Football Weekly, where he was able to expand his readership nationwide.
But an unfortunate financial situation forced Pro Football Weekly into a temporary hiatus, and Len was out of football. It was like Dan Marino or John Elway sitting out a season in the prime of his career.
Through a friend at the Pittsburgh Press, I was able to help Len get a job with a Chicago-based advertising company. As a native Pittsburgher raised in the tradition of hard work, Len was an instant star at the company, but football fans were deprived.
The crossroads for a couple of careers came in Fort Wayne.
I left the Press after 11 years to cover the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Mike Kahn, a close friend covering the Colts for the Fort Wayne paper, came out to Tacoma with me, so we pushed like crazy to get Len the Colts job.
Other than Peyton Manning or Bill Polian, no individual had a bigger impact on the pro football landscape in Indianapolis than Len. He immediately established trust with the Colts players and escalated his Hall of Fame writing career.
When Chris Mortensen was looking for someone to follow him on the Atlanta Falcons beat, Len was the logical choice. Jerry Glanville might have dominated the Falcons headlines during his days as their head coach, but Len detailed one of the wildest eras in recent football memory. Len was "Too Legit to Quit" as he "Hammered" the competition.
First, he gained the trust of Deion Sanders. Len captured the beat of that team along with giving Atlanta Journal-Constitution readers the most in-depth league coverage available.
Just as the Internet was ready to explode, Len turned CBS Sportsline into an NFL readers' destination when he was hired by Kahn, who had left Tacoma to manage the Web site.
Though I competed against Len on the NFL beat, we talked every day. Friends do that. I had moved on to ESPN to work with Mort, but the two of us pined for the day we could bring Len on board.
Former Seahawks, Bills and Rams coach Chuck Knox used to have a funny catch phrase when he would see two good football players walking near him. He'd say, "Here comes a pair that could be a full house."
Well, Mort and I wanted a full house at ESPN, and that was filled when Len came aboard.
No one in the football business works sources better than Len. He's a master of getting the inside details. He gets the information first and he gets it fast.
Last year, I had the honor of winning the McCann Award and having my name in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To be honest, though, I never thought I would have a chance until after Len got in. Heck, he beat me enough times when I was competing against him.
To see a friend and colleague receive this long overdue award is almost as pleasing as the experience I had last year.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Len Pasquarelli's long road to the Pro Football Hall of Fame started in Pittsburgh.