SANTA MONICA, Calif. — On a late summer weeknight before the NFL regular season begins, Albert Breer has just left an all-day, off-site work meeting and is now sitting at a sports bar, enjoying a local craft beer. He’s wearing a T-shirt that reads “Bayside Tigers” and his attention is split between the iPhone chirping with text messages on the table in front of him and the wall of TVs with ESPN anchors relaying the latest sports news. A report pops up about Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick suffering a major knee injury earlier in the day at practice.
“Oooh, that’s an ACL,” Breer says. “Not good.”
Football is never far from the mind of the 35-year-old Breer, national reporter for NFL Network and former newspaper beat writer for the Cowboys and New England Patriots. It’s his job, obviously, but football also is his passion. Anyone who’s seen his Ohio State-heavy Twitter feed can attest to this. But there’s more to Breer than what is seen on screen or especially on social media. There’s a method to Breer’s madness on Twitter, and it—along with another sports-related hobby—helps him stay grounded and succeed in his career.
Perhaps Breer’s love of football is best seen in his travel schedule. When the Boston-based Breer heads to NFL cities to work Sunday games, he tries to arrive on Fridays, mainly to see the team he’s covering. Two side benefits to that: 1. He can attend a local high school game Friday night; and 2. He’s in position to spend Saturday watching college football.
Specifically, Breer spends fall Saturdays watching Ohio State football, as all of his 319,000 Twitter followers are acutely aware. If he isn’t tweeting about the NFL, the 2002 OSU alum is talking up his beloved Buckeyes to the point of annoyance. Breer loves to needle the fans of Ohio State opponents and gets more than his fair share in return.
“Twitter is for having fun, and I have fun with it,” he says. “I like messing with people, and I like when people mess with me. That’s why when somebody insults me, I’ll retweet them.”
That was Breer’s social strategy in the immediate aftermath of his Buckeyes’ stunning upset of Alabama in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff. After the 42-35 win last January, Breer didn’t gloat but instead retweeted a few dozen messages he received from taunting Bama and SEC fans when the Tide jumped out to a 21-6 lead early in the game. He followed the retweet barrage with this solitary sendoff:
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 2, 2015
“Because I bring it on myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say I found satisfaction in it when we win,” Breer says. “The night of the Alabama game, Bama gets up on us and people are tweeting Albert Breer is awfully quiet. Where’s Albert? And we end up winning. It made it fun.”
Breer’s love of the Buckeyes began when he enrolled in 1998. He grew up in Massachusetts, but always dreamed of attending a big Midwestern school because his dad graduated from … wait for it … Michigan. So did his grandfather, and several other members of the Breer family. So yes, in a beautiful bit of irony, the guy who is an oversized bucknut head away from being Brutus Buckeye himself comes from a long line of Wolverines.
“I don’t like to advertise that fact,” Breer says.
Growing up, Breer’s dad took him to Ann Arbor to watch Michigan play and he fell in love with Big Ten football. “A 40,000 student campus with a hulking football stadium, that’s what college was to me,” he says. So when it came time to apply for college, Breer sent his paperwork to three schools: Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. The relatively average student, however, only got into one.
“I remember as a kid my dad telling me that all you had to do to get into Ohio State was sign up,” Breer laments. “I’m definitely the black sheep of the family.”
Family is also what helped Breer find his other passion in life: running. His father and mother are both runners and Breer recalls them each taking long runs each morning, switching in and out like tag-team partners, while Breer and his siblings got ready for school. The habit carried over to Breer, who rarely starts a day without getting in an hour run of about 5-7 miles.
One of the things Breer loves most about running is his ability to do it anywhere. Covering the NFL requires frequent time on the road and Breer finds hotel gyms inconsistent and unreliable. Running outside is an easy solution and now he has routes in every NFL city, from New York City to Nashville.
“It’s an awesome way to see a new city and see everything at once,” Breer says, noting he avoids airport hotels because it’s hard to find running routes there. “In Philly, I’ll run by the Rocky steps. In D.C., it’s the national mall. And I love running along Lake Michigan in Chicago.”
A love of running combined with living in Boston led to Breer completing two Boston Marathons. He met his future wife Emily while training for his first in 2009. (Well actually, Emily claims they were initially introduced at a Halloween party in 2008, but Breer doesn’t remember it. Nice job, Bert.)
They married in 2013 and had their first child last October. Helping to care for a newborn in the middle of the NFL season was a busy time for Breer, who generally reports from Boston during the week and then live from NFL stadiums on NFL Network’s flagship Sunday pregame show, GameDay Morning. He turns to running to help keep things sane.
“I’m going to sound like a psychopath but I feel my performance on game day suffers if I don’t get in my run,” Breer says, noting he’ll sometimes wake up as early as 3:45 a.m. on Sundays to run before heading to the stadium. “It’s a good time to clear my head.”
It’s also a good time to work, as Breer frequently tweets, texts or makes calls while running. If you think that sounds dangerous, you’re right. He ran directly into a truck in Pittsburgh the morning before the Jets-Steelers AFC title game in 2011. “I may have broken a rib. It was kinda hard to breathe for a little bit,” Breer says. And on the Saturday before Super Bowl 43 in 2009, he accidentally kicked a pipe while running along the water in Tampa and broke his toe. Breer covered the big game in a walking boot.
The road always leads back to football for Breer. He says running helps him do his job better, and he believes rooting for Ohio State does too.
“In my job, you have to stop rooting for NFL teams,” Breer explains. “And covering the business of pro sports can kind of push you away from being a fan. I like to have something that reminds me why I’m doing what I’m doing, something that explains these jobs. It’s helpful to have that reminder.
“It’s important to have something that you root for and have that connection. It makes you better at your job. That’s Ohio State for me. It’ll always be a part of who I am. Sunday I work, and Saturday I get to root and be a 13-year-old kid again.”
There’s no doubt some people find Breer’s behavior on Twitter to be childish, judging by his @-mentions. His follower count no doubt is limited because of all the Buckeye talk—Stick to the NFL, the chorus says—but Breer is unaffected. His wife works in the ICU at a children’s hospital, which helps him maintain perspective.
“We’re not curing cancer here,” Breer says. “I just try to be consistent with who I am in everything that I do. At the end of the day, life is a lot less complicated that way.”
Back at the sports bar, the waitress comes by and asks Breer if he’d like another beer. “I’ll have a water actually,” he says. He’s catching a red-eye to Washington D.C. that evening and plans to get in a run before chasing down the latest news about the quarterback controversy with the Redskins. Football never slows down, and neither does Breer.