The reporter behind Yahoo! Sports' sensational expose of alleged improper benefits violations at the University of Miami says endless mountains of cell phone records, canceled checks, and other paperwork in the case kept him working to the point of total exhaustion.
At one point, Charles Robinson told the Miami Herald, he found himself muttering, "I am sick of my life," followed by, "I am losing my mind."
Robinson's account of his saga in producing the report proves what many Canes fans have doubtless privately admitted to themselves: they can question the credibility and motives of convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro, but Robinson's reporting was thorough.
As Robinson put it, the claims made by Shapiro when the two first spoke to each other were potentially "staggering," but the man who says he gave football players cash and gifts and prostitutes "had no credibility. He was a crook. He had lied. He had stolen. He was in jail."
"A lot of people assume we just printed whatever Shapiro told us," Robinson told the Herald. "That's not true at all. We were pretty intense about what names were going to be in this story. We had to have something besides his word."
Robinson's solution for Shapiro's credibility problem came in the form of over "500 pounds of Shapiro-related documents."
Robinson said reviewed every canceled check and page of phone records he received from Shapiro and his lawyer.
But beyond the stacks of paper records sifted by Robinson were the hours upon hours of cell phone conversations between him and Shapiro. Robinson spent so many hours on the phone with Shapiro that he acquired a second work phone used only for calls with Shapiro. The bright red phone was Robinson's first priority; he stopped everything he was doing whenever it rang.
Shapiro named "well over 100" former UM players who had received benefits from him, though Robinson has said he was only able to gather enough circumstantial and other evidence to link 73 of those players to Shapiro.
According to Robinson, this is partly because phone companies' policy of discarding older call and text message data to save storage space, but also because many players used prepaid cell phones.
As anyone who has watched the popular HBO crime drama The Wire can tell you, there is no record of who owns prepaid phones, making them highly conducive to activity meant to be kept under the table.
But the only thing Shapiro's story is missing are on-the-record quotes from anyone besides Shapiro. Only one player implicated in the scandal, former UM running back Tyrone Moss, was quoted on the record by Robinson.
Now, Moss is backtracking furiously. He claimed Sunday that he never talked to Robinson, telling the Herald yesterday, "I've never taken no phone call from anyone. I have not talked to anyone directly."
Yahoo! responded to Moss' denial by stating they had tape of Robinson's phone conversation with Moss, and would have it verified but not released. The tape was played for Herald reporter Susan Miller Dignan, who said she believes the voice does indeed belong to Moss.
That does little to make up for the absence of any other on-the-record confirmations in Robinson's story, but with the NCAA pouring all the resources at their disposal into an ongoing investigation at Miami, that may not matter in the end.
Past investigations by Robinson at Yahoo! have forced USC to vacate a national championship, former Trojan Reggie Bush to return his Heisman trophy, and Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel to resign in shame. By the time the NCAA completes its investigation of UM, Robinson might have another large trophy to hang on his wall.