NEW ORLEANS—I am at the Super Bowl — No. XV for me — and I’m pretty sure I have seen it all. Well, maybe not “all” but over the years I’ve seen Gilbert Gottfried shouting at Bill Belichick, a Brazilian woman in a wedding dress proposing to Tom Brady, Michael Strahan singing, and this guy (pictured right) who defies description.
I’m not sure what else there really is.
It’s funny. When people ask me about my Super Bowl experience, it rarely has anything to do with the game, which might just be the least important part of any Super Bowl week. This is all about hyperventilating over hype and an excess of access, and it only seems to grow bigger every year. There were more than 5,200 “journalists” at Media Day on Tuesday, for example, even though it’s fair to say that less than half of them actually knew what the word “journalist” really means.
For a writer during Super Bowl week, though, journalism doesn’t define the experience. It’s about surviving the noise, marveling at the spectacle and trying hard not to be annoyed. Yes, the games have been great over the last decade, for the most part. And yes, it is a special thing having a seat inside a party that more than 100 million people around the world would love to attend.
But what is it really like to be a writer during Super Bowl week? It’s aggravating and exhilarating, all at the same time. To survive it, though, here are eight “truths” that everyone really needs to know:
1. Real journalists don’t wear beads – They also don’t wear clown costumes, Superhero outfits, masks, wedding dresses, football uniforms, big wooly hats, crowns and robes, or anything else that would be considered a costume. OK, sportswriters don’t always dress nicely (or, in some cases, even appropriately). You’ll find many of them at fancy restaurants in ripped sweatshirts and the same jeans they wore the day before. But the idiots you see walking around Super Bowl Media Day in costumes aren't real media members. They are, in fact, idiots.
2. TV Azteca is real, but not spectacular – They get a lot of attention because they send scantily clad women to the Super Bowl so they can pretend to be reporters. There may even be a few of them who are serious about it too, but dancing with athletes and shaking their assets for the cameras probably isn’t the best way to prove it. Perhaps viewers of TV Azteca love it, but most of the media in the United States find it offensive and degrading to women, and most – not all, but most – of the athletes are uncomfortable with the spectacle, too. The NFL actually should be embarrassed by their presence. Sadly we know they’re not.
3. All Super Bowl bus drivers are from out of town – They must be, because none of them know where they are going. I can only vouch for the media buses, but I’ve heard the same horror stories from fans trying to
get to and from games. In Jacksonville, my bus driver was actually from Detroit and took us on a 10-mile ride to go one actual mile. In New Orleans last week, a ride from the Superdome to the Media Center a mere half-mile away, took nearly a half hour. The NFL is a $9 billion industry, but it apparently can’t afford maps.
4. The Media Party is all about free food (and it certainly isn’t about the media) – The NFL every year hosts a “Media Party” that is attended by several thousand people who definitely are not part of the media. It’s usually at an interesting venue and involves interesting things, such as the gymnasts suspended from the ceiling doing routines while hanging onto curtains on Tuesday night. I’m sure the NFL spends a lot of money on it, but the only reason any writer goes there is because the food and drinks are free. An open bar in the Marriott lobby would be cheaper and would definitely suffice. Maybe throw in the gymnasts on the ceiling, too.
5. The Commissioner’s Party was a monument to excess – It doesn’t exist anymore, at least in its old form, but back in “the day” it was held in every Super Bowl city, usually in a unique local venue and redefined the word “overdone.” For example, when the Super Bowl was in Houston, the party was in the Astrodome. The whole Astrodome. The entire field was covered by a floor and big black curtains separated the dome into five separate rooms. Each room had a band and mounds and mounds of food. Oh, and there were living statues everywhere. People who were paid to be painted like statues and stand there, on a podium, not moving at all. And all that was only in the part of the party that media types were invited to. I have no doubt that somewhere there was an “A list” room. It was probably solid gold.
6. Actual writers hate Media Day. Hate it. Hate. It. – Did I mention we hate it? It’s not just the clowns and comedians, it’s Deion Sanders and other former NFL players walking around and hijacking interviews. It’s the fact that it’s so crowded that you’re basically left to shout questions at players from afar, and you can forget about following up. Now the NFL has allowed fans to watch – why you’d pay money to do that, I’ll never know – which has only added to the chaos. When the clock on the scoreboard at Media Day reads “0:00”, writers on the field celebrate like they just won the Super Bowl themselves.
7. By Thursday, most writers are bored – Seriously, we’re just killing time during the Thursday interview sessions. Think about this: The 49ers arrived on Sunday night and we talked to about a half dozen of them. Then on Monday, we talked to another half dozen. Then on Tuesday we got the full team and all the coaches. Then on Wednesday we got the full team and all the coaches. And then – and only then – did they head out for their first practice. By the time they did, most of the assembled media had enough to write books on both teams. Yet on Thursday, another hour of full team access was scheduled. With both teams.
8. The game is not the thing – For anyone. At least not anyone who is actually in the Super Bowl city. It’s all about the hype, the event, the corporate sponsorships, being seen, seeing people, a week’s worth of interviews, hype and total craziness. Yeah, for the players the game seems to matter, but they revel in the experience too. It’s why most of them are constantly holding video cameras taking video of people who are probably taking pictures of them.
It’s the same for the members of the media, although no one is taking pictures of us – unless we’re wearing wedding dresses or clown makeup. Maybe more of us should, though, since most of the coverage is about the circus anyway. The game is just the thing at the end of the week.
—By RALPH VACCHIANO