In honor of [Door Flies Open]’s third “anniversary” (the site was here before, but… you know), the writing staff… nearly forgot about it. In a way, I feel that’s a good thing because it means we’ve been around for a little while. But once we realized the moment upon us, we reached out to one of Kissing Suzy Kolber‘s founding members, Captain Caveman himself, Matt Ufford. Matt agreed to take some time not only to answer some questions but to actually sit down for an interview with us, so I met him at a coffee shop in Brooklyn.
Page 1 of this post deals with Matt’s time in the Marines and with Kissing Suzy Kolber, while page 2 touches on his time at SB Nation, his life now, opinions on sports, and other subjects.
Parts of this interview have been edited.
DFO: So, first of all, thank you for meeting me, thank you for everything you’ve done, continue to do, the site, the old site, your service.
Matt Ufford: Ah, yeah.
What led you to the Marines after your time at Northwestern?
I was in ROTC. So, I was contracted. But the key thing for me was, I grew up in the military, which is to say that my dad was an Air Force pilot, which was a direct path to the Marine Corps. But when it came time to apply to colleges, a lot of my peer group was applying to ROTC scholarships, was applying for service academies. It was in the water.
And so, I wanted to go to Northwestern, which my family did not have that kind of money to pay for, and so I looked at ROTC as a viable option. The Naval ROTC offered the best deal; it was a full ride minus room and board. And so I was like, “I’m gonna do this for a year.” And you take one year and get the tuition paid for and if you decide you don’t want to do it you can just go, and have that first year paid for. And like, “Clearly, that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m not gonna be in the service like my dad, that sucker.”
But from the get-go, it was clear that I was, that I wanted to be a Marine. You ever see the Battlestar: Galactica remake?
Basically there was these Cylons, were humans. They thought they were humans until the Cylons, like, flicked a switch in them and then they turned on the humans.
And that was like me in the Marine Corps. Like I thought there was no way I was going to be a Marine, and then I went through a week of training and was like “Oh, I’m gonna be a Marine.”
What led you to tanks?
Chance. Strictly chance.
I wanted to be in either infantry or tanks, something that was like the—call it “direct fire,” trigger-pullers, that sort of thing. I wanted to lead Marines on the ground. For me, it was either infantry or tanks, and I got lucky. There aren’t a lot of tank slots in the Marines, because tanks are heavy and expensive to ship on ships. So it was really just luck of the draw for me.
So after your time in the military, you had a little bit of time, and then, how did Kissing Suzy Kolber start? I mean I know the basic story, a bunch of Deadspin commenters decided to make the site, but I guess who emailed who, who came up with the idea for the name, and all that?
Yeah, Drew and I—I had started a personal blog in the spring of 2006. And it had kind of—it ran its course really quickly. And at the time, I was actually looking to give up on writing. I had tried it in New York City for a year and a half, I wasn’t really making any money, I was working a bunch of crappy jobs for not enough money. So I was like, “What I’m gonna do is go to business school.” I was starting to study, take the GMAT.
And so I was writing the personal blog and y’know, not a lot of traction. And I was like, “Well what should I do with this next?” And Drew emailed me and said “Well what about like a NFL joke blog? Nobody’s making fun of the NFL.” And I was like, “That’s a really good idea.”
And so, Drew and I recruited through the Deadspin comments. We emailed Will Leitch, the editor of Deadspin at the time, and we kinda said “We want this guy and this guy and this guy,” and he was like “All right, I’ll send them an email on your behalf. Like, I can’t really give away details, but if they’re interested they’ll email you.” And that’s how we got the core group of guys.
And when Drew and I were emailing name ideas back and forth, we came across the idea of Kissing Suzy Kolber. I regret to say that it was my idea. And at the time we were like “Yeah, that’s definitely it.” We were obsessed with, you know, being edgy and letting everybody know how edgy we were going to be.
So, it takes off, and was there a moment on the site, like an article, or getting a certain number of commenters, that made you guys go “Hey, you know, maybe we’ve got something here”?
I don’t—so it’s two different things. One, when we knew that we had a little bit of a phenomenon on our hands was when Drew wrote the “F**k It, I’m Throwing It Downfield,” post by Rex Grossman, and that was kind of the introduction of Drew creating these characters. It’s really impressive the way that Drew could watch a game and from how a coach talked to his players on the sideline or how a player played on the field and then turn that into a character that felt very true to life and captured the essence of that person. That was kind of a realization, like “Oh hey, well, we’ve got traffic, people are looking at the site.”
But none of us made any money off the site until we got the deal with Uproxx, and that didn’t happen until much later. And even then, it wasn’t quite the kind of money we were like, “We’ve made it.” So, I think its cultural cache for the time definitely went beyond any lasting effects on us financially.
…What was your favorite recurring character, whether you created it or Drew created it or anybody else?
I think that early Rex Ryan, when he was first unveiled, definitely felt great. I probably laughed more at Rex Ryan over the years than anybody else. But there was also something really special about Jerry Jones and Wade, too, that was highly enjoyable. So yeah, those are my answers.
Now up to more specifically “you” stuff for the site, so we all remember the two instances of Fight Gone Bad. Obviously a noble cause, but in terms of the outfits, what made you choose the rainbow snakeskin shorts, as the goals, the never-nude?
That was—I don’t know. I think that I just wanted something that would be ridiculous and, like, if it would be unflattering on me, then it would be enticing for people to commit money to that. And at a certain point, you just don’t really care what other people thought of it. And once you realized that—once I realized that I didn’t mind what other people had to say about me, that I was happy with who I was, whatever happened, nothing anybody said in the comments really bothered me. And that allowed me to be like “All right, this is what it is.”
And I don’t know how I found the things that are weird. I think people sent it on to me, said like “Here’s this for Fight Gone Bad,” Yeah, all right, wearing these skin-tight jean shorts, or the rainbow-striped snakeskin short shorts, the other one.
Where do you even find those?
I don’t know, man. Online’s a big, weird place, and I never saw more of the big and weird spots than what was opened up to us because of KSK.
You mentioned after the deal with Uproxx, things started opening up. And you started writing for a lot of things on Uproxx. How many did you end up writing for?
With Leather was started under Fat Penguin Media, which was founded by a guy named Ryan who’s now with Popular Science, but when Uproxx bought Fat Penguin, With Leather became their sports blog. And then the guys at Uproxx said “Hey, we want to start a TV blog, you know anyone who can do that?” And I said “Yeah, me.” Because I’d been doing With Leather for about three years and I was kinda burnt out. The voice that I used for With Leather wasn’t what I felt like was an accurate representation of who I was as a writer, and so I started the TV blog, Warming Glow. And that was really mostly it. I also did some guest spots here and there and stuff, but that was mainly it, TV and sports.
Who came up with Corgi Friday?
That was me. That was all me.
How did you come up with Corgi Friday, let me rephrase that?
I think, this was before corgis were all over Buzzfield, but I kinda recognized this like, and lest this sound like “I’m the one who discovered corgis, you know, putting them on the Internet,” not at all, not at all, that’s preposterous. But I kinda realized, like, “Hey, these are cute little funny dogs with big personalities,” and by the end of the week I needed something to do that kept me entertained, as well, because TV news was notoriously late-breaking on the East Coast, because it all happens in Los Angeles. And so writing from the East Coast, I would often find that I don’t have any stories to write until 2 PM on the East Coast, because there’s no news coming out of Hollywood until, you know, 11 AM their time.
So I just kinda needed like a space-filler on Fridays, by the end of the week. The Hollywood news, as much as it’s late-breaking on a day-to-day basis, even worse on Fridays. So I had a hole to fill, and it was something that kept me entertained and I enjoyed, and, yeah, I don’t think that I’d recognized that it was something that would catch on with an audience. I think it was just something that I did that I enjoyed, and that’s really the only way to make content. It’s just to make stuff that you like.
…You left the site about five months or so—it was the end of February—so before everything happened with the end of the site. Was it just time to move on, was there anything with you starting to work at SB Nation, or other—?
No, no. My really only contribution to the site towards the end of days was the weekly mailbag, and I had done every permutation of the mailbag that was going to happen by then. And at a certain point, I was just marching time and collecting paychecks, and I wasn’t doing anything new or interesting for the site, and I was like “It’s time for me to step aside. I’m not adding anything of value here.” And it’s a valuable thing to understand about working online, websites aren’t meant to last forever. The good ones serve a purpose, but the Internet changes so constantly that… it’s like restaurants, you know? Something opens in an exciting new neighborhood, and then it has a 5-year run or a 10-year run, but then the neighborhood changes, same thing with the Internet. The audience changes, or platforms change, and writers change, and you know, you gotta move on.
Regarding the mailbag, have you ever looked back on some of them and thought “What would that day’s, or even now-Matt say or give in terms of advice?”
That was, I think the biggest thing that happened to me with that was it was growth for me. And it was the crystallization of me trying to be more empathetic. If anything has changed between me then and me now, it’s that I would try to do an even better job of putting myself in the shoes of the people who wrote it, that trying your best to understand where people are coming from is the best way to give them helpful advice. So yeah, I don’t think there’s anything specific that sticks out, but there’s a lot to be said for just listening to people’s problems and trying to help them. And maybe that would make for less interesting content, but that’s what I would try to do now.
Do you still keep in touch with the rest of the staff? When’s the last time you saw any of them in person?
The last time I saw anyone in person was when I was in DC for a single day in the spring, I ended up crashing at Drew’s place. Drew and I will try to see each other when he comes to New York, but not every time.
Is Footsteps Falco a real person?
(A long pause) Could be.