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Memories of Super Bowl Week

January 28th, 2019 · No Comments · Football, NFL, Rams

I’m not sure how many Super Bowls I covered. I could search it out, but let’s just say it probably was 12, over a three-decade period.

From the time I was trusted to cover a major event, which commenced around 1980, I did any Super Bowl that was within driving distance from the office (250 miles or less) … with a few others mixed in while on duty for Gannett News Service.

So, I saw four SBs at the Rose Bowl, three in San Diego, two in Arizona … and then random games in Miami and New Orleans and the I-10 roadtrip Super Bowl game in Jacksonville, in 2005. The best game to cover? New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14, in 2008. I hate the Patriots, and The Helmet Catch kept them from becoming the only team to have a 19-0 season. Ha. Ha-ha-ha.

But I digress.

What I am thinking about, on this Monday of Super Bowl week, is that this is a particularly silly, over-long process, but pretty much everyone who can get there feels obliged to do so … even when the expense of housing and flights almost certainly will be out-weighed by the banality of what happens right up till kickoff — and sometimes right through to 00:00 on the clock.

The Super Bowl is … or certainly was, during my career, the best worst event to cover in sports journalism. Marvelous in concept; too often dreary in reality.

Let me reconstruct the shtick, which I believe remains pretty much unchanged since my last SB — in 2008.

–Monday. This is the day when both teams are required to be in the Super Bowl town. Though it has been getting backed up, of late … so that teams generally have their entire parties in town on Sunday night. (Last night, that is.)

Anyway, Monday. It used to be a sort of semi-official kickoff for the week. Reporters could climb onto buses that would take them to the training sites for the two teams, and an undetermined number of players would be available to say nothing interesting. It tended to run late. It was the first new quotes for the week.

Tuesday: The worst event in football, and maybe in the whole of organized sport — Media Day at the stadium. It works like this: Team A, wearing jerseys, wanders out on the field, pursued by a thousand or two journalists and psuedo journalists and, I imagine, these days, Russian purveyors of fake news.

Everyone jostles for position around the elevated stations where the most famous players for each team are posted, or crowds around in the seats, where the lesser players laze about while waiting to see if anyone from his hometown suddenly pops up and wants to speak.

Tuesday/Media Day has turned into a parody of itself. Whoever is most ridiculous (player, coach or journalist) wins. It might be someone asking nutty questions, someone giving the same four-word answer, someone in a particularly ridiculous outfit. Fred Dryer and Lance Rentzel once showed up and played the parts of particularly dim-witted, fedora-wearing reporters. They made up silly names and asked one of the Steelers if Terry Bradshaw could spell “cat … if we spot him the c and the a.”

Like that.

Then comes buffet breakfast (for media) in the stadium. Free food; always fine with that. And after about an hour, the media crowd is ushered back to the field, where Team B has set up — and what happened earlier is repeated, except this time by guys wearing different jerseys.

Wednesday-Thursday. These two days are the same. Reporters catch buses at the media center, with stops at each team hotel. Every player from each team is supposed to be there; those who skip the proceedings can be fined. (Not sure they are.) Players sit at big, round, convention room tables, sometimes with microphones (if a big crowd is expected), and journalists sit in all the other chairs. In theory, meaningful dialog can take place. In reality, it never does. Because players are asked to not say anything remotely interesting, and usually are inclined to do so, anyway. Any table that seems to have people laughing … meaning someone is saying/doing something unusual, will quickly draw 25-50 reporters craning their necks to hear — and often failing at it. (“What did he say? Blessed are the cheese-makers?”)

Did I mention that TV guys and most radio guys are left out of this stuff? Because their organizations do not have the rights to the Super Bowl.

Friday. By now everyone is getting a little crabby, and it doesn’t get any better in the nearest auditorium, where reporters have gathered, to hear Q&A sessions with the two head coaches. It’s coaches’ day!

Bill Belichick is a cunning wit and raconteur — of course he’s NOT — but a half hour of him on stage, mumbling … priceless. I imagine Sean McVay of the Rams this week will be just as opaque. It’s required by NFL Coaches International, an organizing body I just invented.

Saturday. Commissioner Day! Neither players nor coaches can be interrupted in their final preparation, so the commissioner is send on over, and sometimes gets an actual grilling. The commish is expected to say Things of Substance, and sometimes does. But generally not.

(I see now that the commish, Roger Goodall, is skedded to meet the press on Wednesday, earlier in the week. So, hell, I don’t know what’s going on. Take all of this with a rock of salt.)

The only specific incident I can recall from a Commissioner’s Day is a columnist from the Oakland Tribune getting to the mike and demanding to know from Paul Tagliabue, I think it was, round about 1981, how he could let the Oakland Raiders leave Oakland and move to Los Angeles — which was now open territory, because the Rams had decamped to Anaheim. The writer raged. He remonstrated. He may have wept. The Raiders Could Not Leave Oakland. It would be the end of the world, or something else dire, anyway. Of course, the Raiders did move, and then 13 years later they moved on back. Only the Raiders.

Oh, another Saturday event! The Commissioners Party. That used to be a bacchanal of food and drink and over-indulgence — which I am pretty sure what a bacchanal was. All journalists wanted tickets to this event, because it was a lot of fun — and seriously upper end, in terms of food and drink. (And swag, too, as I recall.) One person I know wangled a ticket to the fete (and tickets were like gold), then spent the following 2-3-4 hours on Bourbon Street, getting ever sicker from drink, but funnier, too.

These days, my understanding is that no journalists go to this major event — but the game has spun off about a dozen “other” parties that may actually be hipper.

The last of the years of letting in the unwashed masses of journos to the Commissioners Party … probably around the year 2000.

Sunday. If you get up early enough, you can go to another buffet breakfast. Since a lot of people over-imbibed the night before, the day starts slowly. Eventually, everyone with a media pass catches a bus and hopes he or she didn’t wait too long to take one — which I believe I did, one year in San Diego. A couple of former co-workers who were waiting for me have never forgiven me. We were given death stares by more serious journalists who had shown up on time.

Here, at the end, it becomes about football again. Or finally. If the gods are smiling on us, we get an interesting game. If not, we get a version of “Cowboys 52, Bills 17”.

Monday. The winning coach does a press conference. No one goes.

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