On the bus taking the throngs from the New York Sheraton to Newark’s Prudential Center for Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday, I sat next to a couple of guys from Norway.
That’s all you need to know about Super Bowl hype. The Norwegians care about it.
Think about that. Yeah, sports fandom crosses a variety of ponds. America had some interest in the World Cup even before we got serious about soccer, and we still cast an eye toward the Australian Open even though our last good tennis player seems 20 years ago. And everybody on the planet, apparently, is fascinated with LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
But I’m reasonably certain that no one beyond some rambunctious teens is playing football in Norway.
And yet here were the Norwegians, with a camera crew for the Super Bowl. That’s why the press corps for the Super Bowl is around 5,000.
On the bus ride back to New York after Media Day, I sat by Paul Catalina of Waco radio station KRZI. We had never met, but he recognized me because I had been on his show in the past. Paul and partner David Smoak are doing their show all week from the Sheraton. Radio row is a monster ballroom at the Sheraton, with as many as 80 stations broadcasting. Here is KRZI’s lineup on Wednesday:
3:10 p.m.-Lem Barney, Pro Football Hall of Fame Cornerback
3:25 p.m.-Jennifer Engel, FoxSports.com
3:36 p.m.-Mike Ditka, Pro Football Hall of Fame Tight End
3:47p.m.-Garo Yepremian and Mike Bass, Super Bowl VII memories
4:02 p.m.-Nicholas Dawidoff, NFL Concussions
4:10 p.m.-Kevin Mathis, Ahmad Dixon’s NFL Combine Trainer
4:45 p.m.-Rocky Bleier, Former Pittsburgh Steelers Fullback
5:10 p.m.-Darryl Strawberry, Former MLB Outfielder
5:30 p.m.-Joe Klecko, Former New York Jets Defensive Tackle
Sports celebrities galore are everywhere, eager to chat. It’s wild.
Paul and the Waco crew aren’t even staying for the game. They’re going home Saturday. Like everyone always says, the Super Bowl is much more than just a game.
As for the Norwegians, I don’t know. Norway’s a long way to come without actually seeing some football.
I always like to see cities at different times of the day. For instance, my flight out of Will Rogers on Monday morning was at 7:05 a.m., so I left the house about 5:20. Driving up I-35 gave me an appreciation for how many people rise early. It’s not a ghost town. Maybe I-35 is clear at 4 a.m., but it’s not at 5:30.
And Tuesday, I rose at 6 a.m. Tuesday is the longest day of Super Bowl week. Even though the Broncos weren’t scheduled to arrive until 10:30 a.m. at the Prudential Center, the buses were scheduled to depart the Sheraton at 7:30 a.m. You can’t go messing with New York traffic.
Remember, I’m staying uptown, on the Upper East Side. It’s about a 15-minute walk to the nearest subway station, then two or three train rides into the Midtown Manhattan. I wanted to give myself plenty of time.
So I left the hotel at 6:30 a.m. It was 10 degrees. Man, it was cold. But if you keep moving, it’s not nearly as bad. And I wasn’t the only person out.
All the people who work downtown or elsewhere on the island? They’ve got to get to work on time, too. So while not necessarily bustling, the streets were active in the darkness of pre-dawn.
I am always curious at urban planning. In Oklahoma, we have distinct divisions of residential and commercial. In New York, it’s all mixed in. Cleaners, restaurants, grocers, public schools, all bandied together, usually with apartment buildings on top.
The main drags — First Avenue, Second Avenue, Third Avenue, Lexington Avenue — are primarily commercial, but once you get on the cross streets, all bets are off.
And I assume apartments near subway stations are gold. I really didn’t know you could find a place almost a mile from a subway station, but our hotel is. It’s three long blocks and four short blocks away. New York’s street blocks are about three times as long as the avenue blocks. So it’s a hike when it’s 10 degrees outside.
But the subway are heated, so you feel better immediately. I just missed the 6 train downtown, so I had about a seven-minute wait for the next one, and by the time it arrived, tons of commuters were waiting. And we got onto a fairly-crowded train.
At Grand Central, I switched over to the S train to Times Square, and that was really crowded, but a very short ride. There’s another train you could take back up towards the Sheraton, but I didn’t know the number and didn’t want to risk it. So I decided to walk the 11 (short) blocks back to the Sheraton.
It’s a strange feeling to walk the streets before sunrise, go into a subway and finally emerge after the sun has risen. And that’s not even accounting for emerging at Times Square, where all the lights and billboards are going, even at 7 a.m.
I once stayed near Times Square and for some reason got the impression the city that never sleeps does in fact get some shut-eye, and it’s in the morning, just after sunrise. But I was wrong. Times Square was bustling already, not with tourists, didn’t seem, but with people like me, hurried trying to get somewhere.
I scooted up 7th Avenue, catching some lights green and running a couple of reds, and got to the Sheraton in time to walk in step with Norwegians and Wacoians, right onto a bus. It was 7:20 a.m.
My commute was 50 minutes. Very interesting. Exciting in some ways. But I’ll take the 25-minute drive (30 with traffic) from northeast Norman to Britton Road for a regular commute.
LAW & ORDER
They are serious about the Super Bowl in New York and New Jersey. We had a caravan of I don’t know how many buses. A bunch. I was on Bus No. 4, and we weren’t close to the back.
They were all lined up on 54th Street (a long block, remember) and pulled out together. With police escorts and traffic cops waiting to clear the path.
We headed for the Lincoln Tunnel, which connects New York and New Jersey. Got through the Manhattan traffic rather easily — the Lincoln Tunnel is nearby — but at the tunnel, cops had commuters stopped, waiting for us.
I was just hoping nothing on the buses proclaimed Super Bowl media. We easily draw the ire of people anyway. If some guy trying to get to Hoboken knew he was being delayed by a bunch of reporters from Norman and Norway, it wouldn’t go over too well.
And once we cleared into New Jersey, the escort was no less oppressive. We were on an expressway, and a couple of times when infidels got into our caravan, here came one of New Jersey’s finest to direct them out of the way.
We made it over to Newark rather quickly. An army of peace officers really helps to clear the way.
But I have no idea what the big hurry was. I walked into the arena, through security and everything, at 8:30 a.m. With two hours to kill.
The Super Bowl in New Jersey seemed like a good idea to some. But if you were sitting in traffic, trying to get through the Lincoln Tunnel, only to be delayed by a caravan of buses, you’d probably vote for Phoenix.
I wrote about the lax security at the Sheraton. Let me assure you, security was not lax at the Prudential Center.
Here is the standard way media is checked through security, both in Jersey and elsewhere.
You walk into holding area — in this case the Prudential lobby — and are instructed to set down your bag at a certain area. If there is no room, you have to wait.
Then you go through a metal detector. All the bags lined up, I don’t know how many, 50 or 60, are then sniffed by a bomb dog. When the all clear is given, after several minutes, everyone goes over and retrieves their bag.
You know my position on security. If you’re going to have it, have it right. This seemed right.
The Prudential Center is the home of hockey’s New Jersey Devils, in downtown Newark. The Devils and the NBA Nets and Seton Hall basketball used to play at the Meadowlands Arena, where Bryant Reeves and John Lucas led OSU basketball teams to Final Fours. But the Nets moved to Brooklyn and the Devils and Seton Hall moved to downtown Newark.
College football fans will feel an affinity for the Prudential Center because of the name. In ancient times, college football scores were attainable two ways. The Sunday newspapers the next day, or the Prudential College Football Scoreboard Show, which followed the singular game televised.
I remember Dave Diles and Bill Fleming hosting. They would give you the scores, which you hadn’t heard all day. Oh, occasionally, ABC would update a big game. If you were watching Ohio State-Michigan, you might get an Alabama-Auburn score. But Iowa State-Missouri? Good luck.
So the Prudential show was gold.
Turns out, Prudential, a life insurance/financial planning company, is headquartered in Newark.
And they’ve got a nice building. Just a modern coliseum, much like everyone else’s, but this one had a nice touch. On one end, at the top, you can see through outside windows onto the Newark skyline. Even from the arena floor. I thought that was cool. A little like the windows at KU’s Allen Fieldhouse. I like a little reminder that there’s an outside world.
The Devils’ practice facility is connected to the Prudential Center. In fact, that’s where the NFL staged a media brunch — they fed us between sessions for the Broncos and Seahawks.
I would rather have had a workroom. Thousands of reporters at the arena, almost all with computers or equipment, and no work space. No place to charge up laptops — I wrote on the bus and zapped my battery — or phones. The NFL doesn’t make too many missteps, but this was. I needed electricity more than I need scrambled eggs.
But the people at the Prudential Center were incredibly nice. I swear, they’re going to give New Jersey a bad name. Just dozens of volunteers, all over, outside the building, inside the building, being friendly and trying to help. It’s like they’re trying to make up for the weather.
CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN
I guess it’s time to address media day itself. Here’s what I wrote for the Wednesday Oklahoman:
Interviewers dressed up as superheroes and Vulcans and Founding Fathers. Hank Azaria, of “The Simpsons” voice fame and who once was married to Helen Hunt, asking goofy questions.
Representatives from Bloomberg asking about finances and Entertainment Tonight asking about pop culture and the Howard Stern Show asking who knows what.
Super Bowl Media Day is misnamed. It’s actually Super Bowl Media Show. And the media are bit players in the spectacle.
Super Bowl 48 Media Day was staged Tuesday at the Prudential Center, and for the third straight year, the NFL wised up, inviting fans to see the show. Several thousand fans filled the seats of the New Jersey Devils’ home arena, watching the slapstick play out on the arena floor.
The fans even had radios that would tune in to the interview of their choice.
Before the Broncos arrived at 10:30 a.m. Jersey time, the NFL provided musical entertainment. Lip-syncing dancers early, then a variety of school bands (including Rutgers’), the New York Jets’ cheerleaders and a variety of interviews with non-Super Bowl NFL players.
No wonder the media feels the need to compete.
Which explains why two anchors from Denver’s ABC affiliate showed up in garish orange and blue blazers — once striped, one checked. Why players get asked “Do fishes get thirsty?” and “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” On the latter, Seattle’s Russell Okung, who played at OSU, said, “which one lives to be 1,000 years? Olive. I think an olive tree.”
It’s a show. It’s not a series of interviews, though I gave it a try, sticking with Wes Welker for almost an hour and chatting with Okung and his fellow Seahawk linemen Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey, both Oklahomans.
So I played along with the charade. Which was my job and the job of most every other mainstream reporter.
But this was not a day of mainstream. This was a day for show. And we were the pawns.
For your reading pleasure, here are the reactions of various players to Media Day:
Bronco guard Zane Beadles: “It’s crazy. This is quite the spectacle. I have never been a part of anything like this before with all these people, but it is very fun and a very exciting time.”
Seahawk defensive end Chris Clemons: “I don’t think I’ve ever talked for an hour straight about football. This is a great thing with the fans and everyone enjoying it. We get a chance to interact with people, and they get a chance to finally be a part of this whole week.”
Seahawk fullback Michael Robinson: “It’s a lot of people that don’t have much to do. I don’t know. All the attention over one game, sometimes it can be overwhelming. I’m just excited to be here enjoying the process and I just can’t wait until Sunday.”
More from Robinson: “This is pretty crazy. Everybody has a job to do. The media have jobs to do and we have a job to do (and that is) to sit here and answer the questions. I’m excited about it. Just being here, you can always sit and try to imagine what it would be like, but actually physically being here and seeing everybody and the different types of questions. There’s a bunch of different questions. There’s lifestyle questions and things like that and I think that’s funny.”
Seahawk offensive tackle Russell Okung: “Yeah, this is amazing. It’s surreal and it’s an amazing experience. You guys are all here for one of the greatest games, if not the greatest game, in sports and we’re glad to be a part of it.”
Bronco offensive tackle Orlando Franklin: “I didn’t think there would be this many people here. It’s definitely great to see the turnout and answer all these questions. I’m not really a media person. I have my weekly radio show in Denver, but that’s all I really do. You kind of go about it on your own. You know Peyton (Manning) is going to do a good job with it because he so use to doing it. I should be over there taking notes.”
Seahawk defensive tackle Brandon Mebane: “I’ve seen it on TV a lot. I had a vision one day that hopefully I was on a team that could be there. I’m just trying to take it all in, soak it all in. It’s a lot of media here. Seattle has media, but it’s not really as big. We have media there, but this is like another level.”
LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT
Tuesday was a long day. You’ll never hear me complain about my job. So this isn’t a complaint. Just a fact. Tuesday was a long day.
We got back to the Sheraton about 3 p.m. The Dish had been shopping and met me there. We stopped and grabbed her a sidewalk gyros to take back to our hotel room, then we headed back. This time we took a crosstown train over to Lexington, then the 6 train back to 95th street. Got back to the room about 4 p.m. and I started working.
I finished up around 8:15 p.m. So that was about a 14-hour day, counting the commute and the milling around the Prudential Center, wishing I had a place to work.
We asked the hotel people for a dinner recommendation, something close, and they told us to go down to the corner, hang a left, walk a block and a half, and we’d have our choice between a Thai place, an Italian place and a Peruivian place.
I let the Dish pick, and she chose Pinocchio’s, the Italian. It was completely charming. A shotgun storefront. The whole place couldn’t have been 12 feet wide. It seated 37 (I counted). With a charming proprietor with a cool accent. Said he made the meatballs himself, so that’s what I had, meatballs with whole wheat spaghetti. The Dish had chicken carbonara. It was quite good, too. We topped it off with a canoli.
When we walked in, only two other tables were occupied, and when we left, only two tables were occupied, though not the same tables.
Funny thing, a couple of guys came in, one of them an obvious regular, and they ordered salads or appetizers or something. And for their entrees, of which there were dozens of choices, one ordered meatballs with whole wheat spaghetti and the other ordered chicken carbonara.
That’s the kind of place I love to try in New York. No one told us about it, except the hotel. Don’t know if we’ll ever go back. Don’t know if we’ll ever be back in this part of New York. But there are probably 800 Italian joints in the NakedCity. And we experienced one of them. It was a good night.