The NFL has a peculiar ability to fashion “events” from nothing. Super Bowl Media Day fits that mold. Outside, there are TV trucks, police cordons and ticket scalpers. Inside, there are lights, cameras, artificial turf and cheerleaders. Fans, by the hundreds, file in for $28.50 a piece. Media by the thousands cover every nuance. There’s no football on display, only the faintest of tangible connections to those that play it. For many, even those partial to eliminated teams, that is enough.
9:38 AM… The layout is a hockey arena, with the hockey hollowed out and green carpet softening the cold concrete. Five main podia, for quarterbacks, head coaches and other big names, fill the center. Smaller booths for ancillary contributors, named and anonymous, line the perimeter.
NFL Network has a full desk set up near the entrance. FOX Sports and ESPN have smaller allotments on the far side. The former has an enclosed huddle of directors chairs for ex-athletes. The latter has a small stage just big enough to fit Mark Schlereth and Hannah Storm with minimal awkwardness.
Food and beverages are forbidden beyond a certain point, unless provided from coolers placed by official event fueler Gatorade.
9:50 AM… Ines Sainz arrived just before me. I learn this overhearing a Jersey-accented volunteer informing his friend that was “the Mexican chick from TV who wears the dresses.” She’s not wearing one of “the dresses” today, just a styled black jacket and form-fitting jeans. This does not abate the fawning.
Sainz spends far more time being interviewed than interviewing others. Radio guys badger her for pictures. Television crews get her on camera. An Aussie film crew frames shots of her being filmed by other outlets. A fan from the peanut gallery bellows for everyone to “look at that booty!” The advice was probably redundant.
10:05 AM… Zaniness self-destructs when it becomes a cliché. Like the commercials on Sunday, Media Day eccentricity has become trite. The “characters” begin making their rounds. One European reporter is dressed as Mozart. Another largish man from Denmark walks around as Waldo. They seek attention. Pavlovian TV outlets, desperate for color, descend upon them.
10:18 AM… Dan Shaughnessy waits for Wes Welker. He’s camped up front, with paper editions of the New York Times and USA Today draped over the railing. He peruses them with permanent marker in hand and an unconscious scowl. I note this may be the perfect old media portrait. That in fact comes about 40 minutes later, when Chris Berman sidles up beside him, holding a microphone.
10:30 AM… Peyton arrives, whisked through the throng by a security escort. He’s the one anticipated Bronco. A sweltering horde already rings his podium. He’s only partially visible from my angle (forehead and hairline), amidst the television cameras, boom mics, and outstretched smart phone arms. The air becomes damp and aftershavey. Cameras from different directions shutter with every opportune head tilt.
I spy my first skullet. Along with the Santa beard, it seems to be a hot look among cameramen and photographers this season. An Uncle Leo doppelganger knocks me to the side to get closer to the front. He has journalism to perform.
10:47 AM… Movement is treacherous in the confined space. So is not moving, as thousands scurry in tunnel-visioned work mode. Cords on the ground. Swinging camera equipment. People everywhere lining up photographs. I walk with elbows tucked in, ever conscious I’m about to bump into someone. After the first score of inadvertent jostles, I stop apologizing.
The dress code provides a neat microcosm of sports media gender inequity. Men predominate. Relaxed fit jeans. Plaid shirts. The odd shapeless leather jacket. Not a lot of fitness enthusiasts to be found.
The smaller female contingent is mostly there to be on camera, made up and done up with hair often bleached and extended. Form-hugging dresses or tight pants. Heels that can’t feel good after four hours of standing (my feet hurt afterward in sneakers). Flats appear to be acceptable, if they are leather boots that come up to the knee.
Many draw unconscious head turns, absent-minded stares and speculation. “I think she’s the one from FOX.”
10:54 AM… We’re delving into weightier matters at the Welker podium. He prefers to shave a day or two before the game to avoid “the itching.” An idle cameraman a short distance away adjusts his focus. The camera is pointed slightly downward, at the ass of a blonde reporter who need not be named.
11:49 AM… The halftime show is raging. “Motown: The Musical” cast members perform on a small, central stage. They give way to Tramps Like US, a Bruce Springsteen tribute band, live from a forlorn arena corner. The singer asks, pleadingly, “is anyone alive out there?” The response is non-committal.
The rush on Richard Sherman places has begun. Forty-five minutes before hand, the crowd is substantial and growing. A few male media members use the lull to take pictures with the Jets’ Flight Crew.
Random, non-media notables appear. Olympian Gabby Douglas corresponds for “Inside Edition.” Miss New Jersey is milling about with a sash and a tiara. Hank Azaria conducts interviews in a loud, plaid jacket. Jay Paterno is present, carrying a full pad of paper. The biggest hit is the inimitable Cousin Terio, escorted by DeSean Jackson.
12:45 PM… Richard Sherman arrives. Last week’s biggest story, he is today’s prime target. He is invisible behind an impenetrable thicket of cameras, microphones, and people on stools craning over with more cameras and microphones. This picture captures only a small portion of the arsenal facing him. It spreads for 180 degrees.
“Pardon Me! Pardon Me!” belts a security guard, as he parts a path to the rear of the stage. Behind him is Deion Sanders, who takes a place within earshot to Sherman’s left.
Over at Russell Wilson’s podium, he is, you guessed it, talking about Sherman. “It wasn’t a factor at all” and “he’s a great teammate” if you are curious. The next reporter interrogates him about Macklemore’s Grammy Award. Wilson then obliges a Bears writer, who must know about his relationship with Marc Trestman, who recruited but did not coach him at N.C. State. Wilson “has a lot of respect for him.”
1:20 PM… Despite noticing a tweet that “Beast Mode was in the Building,” I cannot find Marshawn Lynch’s podium. I found out why later on the Internet. Other notable misses on my part include Regis and this question to Richard Sherman.
1:35 PM… Seasoned by past PATH train experience, I duck out a few minutes early. A volunteer hands me a dense media gifts bag with a shoulder strap. The NFL wants my enduring impression to be Ruffles, McDonalds, Tide, Head and Shoulders, Gillette, Gatorade, Pepsi, Old Spice, Puffs, Panini cards, Quaker Oats and Courtyard Marriott hotels. Was hoping for Pilot Flying J gift card.
[Photos via USA Today Sports]