SAN JOSE, Calif. – What happens when you put Peyton Manning, Miss Universe, an orange-and-blue leprechaun and 200 TV cameras into the same room?
Answer: Super Bowl Opening Night.
The NFL took a good idea gone surreal – what used to be known as “Media Day” – gave it a new name, added a live cover band and moved the whole thing to prime time Monday to kick off Super Bowl week between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers.
This new and amped-up interview-fest came complete with a guy walking around inside an inflatable football and a newly choreographed players’ introduction that involved all 60 players from each team walking out onto a four-story-high catwalk.
“I had no idea that was a bridge we were standing on,” said Manning, getting ready for his fourth Super Bowl.
And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“Will you kiss my wife?” one questioner shouted to Panthers QB Cam Newton, who answered his hour’s worth of questions with a sports-drink-themed towel wrapped around his head.
“I don’t think I can do that,” Newton said.
Suffice to say, Manning and Newton – one a five-time MVP, the other a strong favorite to win his first later this week – couldn’t have seen a lot of this coming, no matter how hard they prepared.
Who would play you in a movie? “Maybe a young Robert Redford,” Manning said.
Another reporter – or make that, person with a credential – asked Manning to look into the camera and wish a Happy Chinese New Year to all his friends in that part of the world.
At one point, a reporter from a Spanish-language station cranked up some bass-heavy music and pleaded with Newton to dance.
He passed. “Got to be feeling it,” he explained.
All of this thoughtfully brought to prime time by the NFL for the first time in the 50-year history of the Super Bowl.
For decades, Media Day was a Tuesday-at-noonish affair – scheduled so as not to interrupt the teams’ schedules and to give writers the rest of the week to craft their stories.
But this year, the NFL moved it to Monday night, where minor details like dress code, off-color banter and 8-year-olds asking football players questions after bedtime barely raise an eyebrow.
NFL spokesman Michael Signora described the scheduling change as one that allows “more fans (to) experience what has grown to become a very unique, popular Super Bowl event.”
Conveniently, the NFL-owned NFL Network captured all the action live.
Surprising they didn’t do this earlier. It’s a nod to the reality that “Media Day” has long been a “journalism-free zone” – one in which fans have willingly, for the last five years, paid money for tickets that allow them to sit in the stands and watch the madness unfold.
Speaking of which …
Late in the Broncos session, Rocky the Leprechaun – a regular at Broncos games over the years – laid a dollar bill out on the blue carpeting of SAP Center and waited to see if someone would pick it up. Several minutes passed. Nobody did.
“Crazy to see that,” he said.
What makes this week so great?
“There’s a lot of happiness,” said the gnome-turned-sociologist. “This world needs all the happiness it can get.”
Only one team will be happy come Sunday night. The Panthers are favored. Manning is a sentimental favorite; at 39, many people expect he’ll retire after this one.
That was one of the few actual news angles being worked on during Denver’s hour of fun behind the mic.
“I haven’t made up my mind and I don’t see myself knowing until the season’s over,” Manning said.
Also, the Broncos were involved in a minor bus crash after practice. There were no injuries. “Just adds to the intrigue of what we’ve had all year,” Manning said.
Back to the important stuff.
Miss Universe, one of the 5,500 “reporters” with credentials for Super Bowl-week festivities, answered more questions than she asked. Most had to do with Steve Harvey. “Yes, I am the real Miss Universe,” she said, referencing Harvey’s embarrassing gaffe a few weeks back.
Harvey was a no-show at this one.
No one missed him.
From the costumes, to the beauty queens, to the guys dressed up like the Muppet Show’s Swedish Chef, this prime-time special had pretty much everything – except for Donald Trump, who was waiting on caucus results in Iowa.
Manning was asked to recollect a meeting with Trump a few years back. Maybe someday, Newton will meet The Donald, too.
“I tell kids, that oval-shaped pigskin can take you a lot of places,” said the Panthers quarterback, who won the national college championship with Auburn a few years back. “It’s taken me to the White House.”
And to this place. Kickoff is less than a week away.
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