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I covered the Super Bowl eight times, and I can honestly say there is nothing in journalism quite like it, especially the cattle call experience of the media days leading up to the game. You and several thousand of your closest friends are stuffed into buses that take you to the stadium or the hotel ballroom for hourlong interview sessions with the teams. I remember many of us making mooing sounds as we herded off those crowded buses.
You could forget about conducting one-on-one interviews, unless, of course, you were hankering to write a story about the team’s long snapper. I remember hordes of media members 10 rows deep surrounding the likes of Joe Montana, Walter Payton, John Elway, Jim Kelly and Lawrence Taylor. At times, you definitely felt as if you were jockeying for position on a basketball court beneath a crowded basket. This was pack journalism on steroids.
As you jumped from player to player in an attempt to fill your notepad and tape recorder, you invariably asked questions that had been asked before. It’s virtually impossible not to—particularly if you are dealing with teams you didn’t cover during the regular season. Most players were good about handling the repetition, but some guys gave you dirty looks, acted annoyed.
And, yes, there were plenty of stupid questions. Some lunkhead was sure to ask a player, if he were a tree, what kind he would be. I remember at one of the Bills’ four Super Bowls, Downtown Julie Brown from MTV asked Buffalo center Kent Hull if she could have a pair of his football pants. At the first Super Bowl I covered, in New Orleans in 1986, there was quite a stir when a local sportscaster reported that outspoken Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon had said the Big Easy’s women were, well, easy. It turned out the report was fictitious, and the sportscaster wound up being suspended for a month.
In all honesty, real news rarely comes out during Super Bowl hype week. It’s all pretty superfluous.
Benjamin Franklin clearly would not have been a fan of the big game. The 18th-century American statesman and inventor preached all things in moderation. The Super Bowl, of course, is about all things in excess. It’s about overeating, overdrinking and overanalyzing. By the time this matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos kicks off Sunday evening, heads will be as bloated with information as guts are with chips and guacamole. By Monday morning, many will feel as if they’ve been run over by a team of Budweiser Clydesdales.
And many will find their wallets lighter. Several billion dollars is expected to be wagered on Super Bowl 48 (that’s XLVIII for those of you who, like the haughty NFL bosses, believe Roman numerals somehow make the event more important). Not all of the bets will be made on the game. Sure, you can put down money on whether the Broncos will cover the two points they’re favored by or how many touchdown passes or interceptions you think Peyton Manning will throw.
But you also can wager on whether Renee Fleming will flub singing the national anthem (and let’s hope not, especially because the celebrated soprano is one of the Rochester area’s gifts to the world). Or whether there will be a power outage like last year’s in New Orleans. Or whether halftime performer Bruno Mars will have a wardrobe malfunction, like Janet Jackson at the 2004 Super Bowl. Or how many inches of snow will fall during the game. Or whether vociferous Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman will have another postgame meltdown. Or how many times Manning will yell, “Omaha!”
For many years, the game failed to live up to the hype. The commercials were far more entertaining than the action, or lack thereof, on the field. But we’ve been fortunate lately to have witnessed some classic performances with down-to-the-wire finishes. In fact, the last 10 Super Bowls have been decided by an average of 6.3 points. Compelling, dramatic stuff.
I expect that trend to continue. Unless there are a slew of turnovers, I think this will be a close affair, pitting the high-octane offense of the Manning-led Broncos against the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom, the NFL’s best defense. A few weeks ago, in this space, I prophesied a 30-20 victory by Seattle, but I’m wavering. I like Manning a lot, and I would love to see him silence the fools who don’t believe he’s among the top quarterbacks of all time because he has won just one Lombardi Trophy.
Upon further review, I still believe Seattle will prevail, but by a closer margin, say 23-20. I just think the frigid elements may conspire against Manning and that timing-based passing attack. This might just be a day more conducive for defense and the beastly running of former Bills bruiser Marshawn Lynch. I know Bills fans probably don’t want to see Lynch win a ring, especially after his off-field shenanigans while in Buffalo. But look at it this way: If the Broncos lose, it will be their fifth Super Bowl defeat, meaning the Bills, four-time losers, no longer will be the answer to an embarrassing trivia question about which team has lost the most Roman numeral games.
I’m ready for the hype to end and the game to begin. So with all due respect to ol’ Ben Franklin, please pass me the chips and guacamole—and have that Pepto-Bismol ready, just in case, for Monday morning.
Award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak’s 16th book, a collaboration with rock ’n’ roll legend Lou Gramm titled “Juke Box Hero,” is available at amazon.com and in bookstores.
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