Adam Caplan knew he had the skills and versatility to make it. He just wasn’t sure how — or worse — if he ever would.
Adam Caplan was approaching 30 and not at all pleased with how his career was going.
The kid from Cheltenham with an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge (could anyone else tell you how many teams NBA journeyman Alex Stivrins played for?) couldn’t seem to crack that market and was selling women’s shoes to make ends meet.
He knew he had the skills and versatility to make it. He just wasn’t sure how — or worse — if he ever would.
“I knew I could write,” said Caplan, one of ESPN’s NFL Insiders since 2013, the culmination of his 20-year rise from obscurity. “The internet just had started. The key was to figure out where it was going, which is kind of what I did.”
It hardly happened overnight, but gradually Caplan combined a relentless work ethic, the knack of developing sources and the ability to communicate information through any medium — print, radio, TV, internet — to establish him as one of the top authorities in the industry.
That hasn’t gone unnoticed among his peers.
“I’ve always respected his work and work ethic,” said ESPN’s better-known Insider, Adam Schefter, who broke the story that the Eagles were trading quarterback Sam Bradford to the Vikings. “I told my bosses when they came up with the idea for the Insiders, this is a guy they should strongly consider bringing aboard.
“They looked into it and made the assessment he was worth bringing in. Since he’s come to ESPN, he’s done a very nice job, which nothing I didn’t expect. All the things that led me to recommend him are still evident today. I like people who put in the time, make the calls and put in the extra mile. His job matters to him. That’s helped him be the reporter he is today.”
But some 20 years ago, things were different.
Ironically, working at Lord & Taylor may have been the turning point for Caplan. For one thing, it gave him a fuller appreciation of hard work. For another, that’s where he met his wife of 14 years, Laurie, who was working in human resources.
“It was a commission job, which is what retail is,” recalled Caplan during the long trip from ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., to his Malvern home, a trek he makes some 15 times during the season, “but the business of retail is way harder than what I do now. It’s a challenge picking up sources but not the physical challenge retail was.”
Determined to break through, Caplan applied his work ethic to the thing he knew best: sports, specifically pro football and, more specifically, injuries. Creating footballinjuries.com
gave him entry into an area few had pursued.
“I became the injuries expert,” said Caplan, 50, who just signed a new two-year contract with ESPN that will take him through 2018. “Because I had an expertise in injuries, I was wanted for interviews. I started to get my name out there.
“The thing I learned through all this is you’ve got to have versatility in your career. You have to be able to speak as well as write. One of the smartest things I ever did was understand the marketplace.
“In the media business, things change and you have to change with time. If you don’t, you’re going to be left out.
“Believe me, I made my share of mistakes. But I learned television, radio, Internet—whatever I had to do. I was able to network so that people would give me the chance and get better enough to get work.”
Over the ensuing decade plus, Caplan did it all. He hosted a football show on SiriusXM radio and was a regular guest on Comcast SportsNet’s Daily News Live and CN8’s Sports Connection.
All that was in addition to his “regular” work as a partner with footballinjuries.com
, which led to him joining scout.com
in 2002. One of his partners there, Jay Glazer, would go on to become a mainstay at Fox Sports.
That’s where Caplan ultimately surfaced when Fox bought out scout.com.
“In 2010, I got called up from the minors,” said Caplan, who grew up attending Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, where his father, Leonard, served on the men’s club for years. “Scout.com was Triple A. Fox was the majors and brought me up to the big leagues.
“I was with Fox for a year, but then they didn’t pick up my option.”
By now, Caplan had come too far to let one setback deter him. He said that’s a trait he picked up from his father, who died in 2013 after a long battle with cancer, right before Caplan got his big break with ESPN. While admittedly not the most observant, Caplan does subscribe to many basic Jewish tenets, particularly the Fifth Commandment.
“The way I look at it, I have a drive to succeed that came from my father,” said Caplan, whose 87-year-old mother, Florence, lives in Huntingdon Valley. “We all go through times in our lives when we start to doubt ourselves.
“But I never gave up. I had an incredible will to succeed, which I got from my father. He taught me you can’t accept complacency. That’s why I’ve never felt I’ve made it. The day you get complacent is the day you get beat. I worry about my performance every day I wake up. I have a duty to perform and put out information.”
“I’ve come a long way, but I don’t pinch myself. What makes me feel proud is I stuck it out and never worried about what people thought.”
The result has seen him become one of ESPN’s weekday go-to guys, who accumulates information through personal contact with agents, players and front office personnel, giving him insights from all corners.
So with the NFL season getting underway, how does Caplan view the NFC East and particularly the Eagles — whom he used to often watch as a kid from the private box of his uncle, minority owner Herb Barness — but now observes from a professional standpoint?
“Trading Bradford in theory should make them a weaker team because they don’t have a veteran quarterback and are going with a rookie, providing he’s healthy,” said Caplan, who was the first to tweet the news rookie Carson Wentz—if cleared medically—would start the Sept. 11 opener vs. the Browns over veteran Chase Daniel. “There’s an unknown with a rookie quarterback. You just don’t know what you’re getting.
“They were happy with Bradford and not looking to move him. This came up by chance. It’s just circumstances. How could the Eagles turn down a first- and fourth-round picks? It’s a no-brainer.
“But I’m picking the Redskins to win the division.”
You can get those and plenty of other insights regularly from Adam Caplan, whose Twitter page really says it all. “There are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going,”
Having paid his dues for so long before becoming an “overnight sensation,” he should know.