Full disclosure: I have never covered a Super Bowl Media Day.
Fuller disclosure: I hope I never have to cover a Super Bowl Media Day.
What was once an actual opportunity for working media to learn something about the players preparing to compete in the NFL’s championship game/entertainment spectacle is now an actual circus, complete with clowns, freaks and assorted crazies. All that’s missing is the human cannonball. No, wait, wasn’t that he asking Tom Brady whether he wears boxers or briefs?
Tuesday, more than 2,000 credentialed “media” descended on Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium for the chance to hear someone ask Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez if he would salsa and listen as Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck inform the assembled masses that he was tired of answering the “same stupid questions.” New York wideout Victor Cruz responded to some questions in English and others in Spanish, while Patriots’ receiver Tiquan Underwood unveiled his new hairstyle, which featured the team’s logo shaved into the back of his head. Now, that’s team spirit!
For the first time, the NFL decided to sell tickets to the event, hoping that some people would straggle in from the cold to view the madness. More than 7,000 complied, which proves that either the Super Bowl is growing bigger every year or that the Indy 500 can’t come too soon. And, just to make the day perfect, someone tossed a bra onto the field from the stands. You can’t make this stuff up.
Someone from the TV show “Extra” was quizzing Giants players on Madonna lyrics. Actress/media personality Maria Menounos was interviewing New York team members while wearing a jersey autographed by Patriots QB Tom Brady. One media member was wearing a faux-leather football helmet, sans facemask. Another guy was dressed as a pirate. Yet another wore a superhero costume.
Of course, there was a modicum of real news. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski did not sport the walking boot he had worn since suffering a severely sprained ankle in the NFC title game Jan. 22, giving hope to New England fans that he will be close to full strength on Sunday. Defensive back Antrel Rolle said his Giants “expect to win” the game and “know” how to stop Gronkowski. And in perhaps the biggest shocker of the day, notoriously grouchy New England coach Bill Belichick was actually in a good mood.
Media Day is a necessary evil, but its growing excess demonstrates what happens when a spectacle like the Super Bowl meets a 24/7 news cycle with an offensive lineman’s appetite. Everything in sports now gets too much attention, but the Super Bowl is a completely different animal. It’s one thing for ESPN to hype its programming incessantly and quite another for practically every media outlet in the U.S. and many around the world to descend on a city for a week-plus of mayhem. The overflow of press creates a need for a continuous flood of information, and since it’s possible to ask about this year’s participants’ rematch only so many times and ways, the media is forced to concoct other storylines.
Sometimes, that results in real news, such as Gronkowski’s walking without the boot. But most of the time, it’s a collection of pap designed to fill the space and often just a repackaging of the same stuff you heard the day before. Such is the power of the NFL. It not only attracts every type of coverage imaginable; it also forces the networks that broadcast its games to churn the topics thoroughly, the better to heighten anticipation, create greater demand and squeeze every available dollar out of advertisers, fans and corporate partners. That nitwit in the superhero costume may not know it, but his mere presence feeds the beast and guarantees that the NFL’s biggest event appeals to every sliver of the audience spectrum, from disinterested party to maniacal fan.
That’s the beauty of this mayhem. The NFL cares not one bit whether every person who shows up for Media Day dresses like Scooby Doo or wears a tuxedo. It will get publicity across such a large collection of outlets that the benefits outweigh any criticism that arises from the craziness. By allowing such a variety of media to take part, the league is able to maximize the event, knowing full well that come Sunday night, the action on the field will satisfy hard-core fans. Meanwhile, the halftime show and the interest generated by advertisements will appeal to the rest of the universe. As an event designed to finish off the season by leaving everybody wanting more, the Super Bowl rarely disappoints – even if the game is dull. The whole show takes care of the rest.
So, expect future media days to get more and more wild. It’s not unreasonable to think that, in a few years, fans will pack the stadium and have access to live feeds from each player’s interview sessions, not to mention analysis of the entire event and social media options through their phones, tablets or computers. The goal is complete saturation, and the NFL is getting ever closer to providing it. It’s going to be huge.
And pity those media members who are there to cover a football game, and not a sporting version of Cirque du Soleil. They have no idea what’s going on.
Michael Bradley is a writer, broadcaster and teacher headquartered in suburban Philadelphia. His written work has appeared in Sporting News, ESPN the Magazine, Athlon Sports, Hoop and Slam, among others. He is a host on 97.5 the Fanatic in Philadelphia and contributes analysis for Yahoo! Sports Radio and Sirius Mad Dog Radio. He appears on CSNPhilly.com, writes a weekly column on Philadelphia Magazine’s “Philly Post” and has authored 26 books. He teaches sports journalism at Saint Joseph’s, Villanova and Neumann Universities.