By Paul E Gable
(Editor’s note: This post was submitted by a Horry County native who now writes for a daily newspaper in the Indianapolis, Indiana suburban market. As he is also my son, I asked him to share his thoughts on covering his first Super Bowl Week with Grand Strand Daily.)
As a young sports fan in middle and high school, I rooted for Deion Sanders at Florida State and Michael Irvin with the Cowboys. Tuesday I got to meet both up close and personal as we all now share the tag “media” at the events in and around Lucas Oil Stadium this week in the run up to Super Bowl XLVI Sunday.
Sanders and Irvin were both great athletes, but they are even better as human beings – funny, witty, down to earth and more than willing to share a little time talking with those of us covering our first Super Bowl Week.
Another former NFL great who is now working in the media and who I had the opportunity to be around was former University of South Carolina and Green Bay Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe. I also had an interesting interview with former Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson, now a coach with the Patriots.
Media Day was by far one of the greatest events I have ever had the opportunity to cover. It was also one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. To say it was a crush of humanity is to understate the event.
Media representatives from all over the world are here. I never heard so many languages at one news event. This was the first Super Bowl Media Day where fans were actually allowed inside the facility and those in Indianapolis wasted little time buying tickets. An estimated 8,000 fans shelled out $25 each for an opportunity to hear what their favorite players had to say, only adding to the confusion.
But, it’s hard to consider it to be a true “media” event, when you have South American super models, pretending to be journalists, asking New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady what the weirdest thing was he got in the mail. Then, you had the likes of “Access Hollywood” and “Inside Edition” asking the three-time Super Bowl champ what his favorite Madonna song is.
Brady handled it well, however, answering serious football questions with a lot of insight and providing humor in his answers to the less serious questions.
And all this came after a full body pat down, an introduction to a bomb-sniffing dog and a walk through a metal detector because Lord knows suicide bombers look a lot like overweight journalists.
Just don’t tell any members of the security staff this, as the general response was, “We’re not in the mood for jokes or getting on a plane references.”
The guy you really had to feel sorry for on media day was New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. He spent more time answering questions about the future of his brother Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and whether or not he thought his brother’s neck could hold up to the hits defenders will look to lower on him if Peyton returns to the field.
Eli has the opportunity to become the more accomplished Manning in the family and claim his second Super Bowl ring this week, but only about 10 minutes of his hour with the media was spent on questions about Sunday’s upcoming game. Eli was almost too polite, generously taking time to answer the questions about Peyton while, probably, wishing much more to talk about the Patriots and Giants.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, not wearing a walking boot on his injured ankle, was subjected to numerous questions about his ankle injury. He offered the media 40 minutes to interview his ankle directly if all the focus was going to be on it.
Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, a Notre Dame alum, provided an interesting interview as I was concentrating on players with an Indiana background.
The famous “Radio Row” was a little disappointing as it was nothing more than a ballroom set up with a series of tables packed with equipment as the various show hosts did their daily broadcast. I guess I expected something more showy. I did, however, get to meet Jim Rome who I have personally liked for a long time.
One other event I want to talk about is the NFL Experience, housed at the Indiana Convention Center this week. The “Experience” provides many opportunities to run, pass and kick a football while rubbing shoulders with current and former NFL players as well as members of the NFL Network.
More tickets were purchased in advance for the event this week, its 20th year, than at any other previous Super Bowl.
“It’s phenomenal,” NFL director of special events Christine Mills said of the ticket sales.
The NFL’s “interactive theme park,” spans more than 850,000 square feet and includes more than 75 exhibits, including ones that allow fans the opportunity to run on a full-sized field and hang out in a replica locker room, which features the lockers of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
There is also an opportunity for children to spend time on the field learning lessons from NFL players, including Indianapolis Colts star Antoine Bethea.
“This is a good experience. This allows kids to experience something they may never experience again,” Bethea said.
In addition to getting on the field, fans also have an opportunity to be the overall top pick in the draft, along with getting a photo taken with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, which will be awarded Feb. 5 to either the New York Giants or New England Patriots.
Ever wonder how a football is made?
Those in attendance have an opportunity to not only see the process, but also can purchase a football, along with other items.
“What we really are striving for is to bring fans closer to the game,” Mills said.
Covering Super Bowl Week is a dream come true for a journalist who grew up in Loris, S.C. It may be a once in a lifetime experience for me, but it is certainly a dream come true.
(Paul E. Gable is the son of Grand Strand Daily editor Paul Gable. He is a graduate of Loris High School (2000) and Newberry College (2004), now plying his trade as a sports reporter for the Shelbyville (IN) News.