The Phoenix Convention Center: Home of Radio Row and really bad directions. (Photo by Jerry Thornton)
PHOENIX – Random observations from Day One of Super Bowl week:
–I was one of the lucky ones who got away from Snowmageddon early. And while a region of people clawing their way out of snow coffins doesn’t want to hear a guy sitting under a palm tree bellyache about anything, even leaving on Sunday was no magic carpet ride. We got stuck at the gate for a good two hours while the crew did the airplane mechanics’ equivalent of the guys at Jiffy Lube looking under your hood and shaking their heads while you look through the glass in the waiting room wondering how much each head shake will cost you. Personally, when it comes to people fixing planes I’m about to get on, I’m less of the ‘What’s Taking So Long???’ type of passenger and much more of the ‘Take You Sweet Time and Get it Right’ school. To my undying credit, I held out a good, solid hour before sending out a ‘They’re checking the air pressure’ Tweet. And it’s possible the pilot saw the Tweet because they eventually booted us off to make our own arrangements.
–Fortunately for us those arrangements wound up being a direct flight. Unfortunately they meant going from an empty plane where I had a row to myself to being crammed into the hold of a prison ship bound for Van Dieman’s Land. My fellow dotcommie Ryan Hannable got stuck next to a nervous meth tweaker. I got Steve Buckley. Ryan’s tweaker sat up on the arm of the window seat the whole flight and one time randomly popped his head up like a prairie dog, looked at the back of the plane in a panic, jumped over Ryan and the old guy next to him and sprinted down the aisle. When he came back he said he did so because it looked to him like someone was about to punch the stewardess. Buck said he thought Ryan got a better deal than he did.
–My first impression of Phoenix is that it has no reason for being here. Every city has some explanation for why it is where it is. A deep water port. The junction of a couple of rivers where goods flow. Something. But Phoenix just… is. It kind of pops up in the middle of the desert like a family was traipsing across the beach looking for a spot and mom just randomly dropped the cooler and blanket and said ‘We’ll park it here.’ Picture Wile E. Coyote chasing Road Runner past that same cactus-mesa-boulder combination over and over and suddenly they find themselves at Phoenix Convention Center and you get the idea.
–They say Massholes are way ruder than everyone else in the country and I won’t argue the point. I’ve found all the people around here are unfailingly nice. Especially the people working the Super Bowl. They always smile when they tell you the wrong entrance to pick up your media credentials and tell you to have a nice day when they’re pointing you in the opposite direction from where you need to go.
The Adult Boutique is conveniently located across from our hotel. I didn’t ask what the “Parking in the Rear” is all about. (Photo by Jerry Thornton)
–If you’re into absorbing local culture as much as I am, there is much to choose from. For instance, right next to the convention center is an old Catholic Diocese mission, which is significant in so far as it has an old Catholic Diocese underground parking garage. And next to that is a Hooters. Also the hotel is right across from the Adult Boutique shop, featuring videos and and arcade. What kind of games they have in an adult arcade staggers the imagination. But if they don’t have Donkey Schlong I’ll be crushed. And I think the owners knew damn well what they were doing with that “Parking in the Rear” sign.
–The famed Radio Row is in some subterranean lower level of the Convention Center and it’s hard to describe. But try to imagine the auto show, except instead of Mustangs, Rolls Royces and SUVs being presented by models, they’ve got fat guys from sports radio in Houston wearing free t-shirts they got from some car dealer promotion their station did blathering on about what a cheater Bill Belichick is.
–After doing Dale & Holley I hopped the shuttle for the Patriots hotel, which is somewhere about 30 minutes straight into the desert past strip malls, U-Store It facilities and billboards for OUI lawyers, Human Trafficking (I assume the sign was agin’ it, not fer it), and Christian Rock stations. There is a golf links on the premises, so Christopher Price said the place looked like a course you’d see on Golden Tee. But I’m sticking with my theory it looks like an old nuclear test site.
–This was not only my first Super Bowl press conference, it was my first witch hunt as well. So it was no surprise to see the glitterati of the sports press on hand, national and local. Everybody who’s nobody was there. I couldn’t help think that if there was a roof collapse, there’d be no one left to cover the Super Bowl. Which I’m sure would be just fine by Bill Belichick.
–I learned two very important things. One is that being in the media means you get free snacks. The other is that John Clayton looks and dresses like he does in that ESPN ad where he’s listening to Slayer and screaming for his mom to make him meatloaf.
–The NFL spreads people out into different sections of the ballroom based on importance. So for instance, Mr. Kraft, Belichick and Tom Brady get the big room with so many TV cameras and news babes this could’ve been the launch of Apollo 11, only with digital technology and much better boob implants.
–The other players divvied up the smaller room. I won’t embarrass any of them by saying who got the most coverage. But let’s just say that if you’re all about attracting attention, offensive line and special teams are not the careers for you. The whole scene is the grown up version of the high school cafeteria, and the owner, coach and quarterback are the Plastics.
–A lot of the media had come out on the team charter so they were dressed up, whereas I was dressed like I’d just come from four hours of sitting on Radio Row besides ‘The Sports Locker with Buster & The Dude’ or whomever. So I hung out in the back with all the behind-the-camera people, most of whom reminded me of Chris Elliot in ‘Groundhog Day.’ (‘This an art-form! Most people just think that I hold a camera and point at stuff…’ )
–This being my first press conference, I’m ruined for them forever because it was such a great one. I’m that kid who goes to Fenway for the first time and gets a foul ball and is spoiled for life because he thinks it’ll happen every time. When Mr. Kraft game out, pulled his white glove off, slapped the NFL across the face and dared them to a Duel of Honor over Deflategate, the tension hung in the room like the camera guys’ BO. It was electric. Then Belichick spoke. I waited through three questions to see if after the third time he was asked about ball boys and air pressure he’d use the Force to choke the reporter out. He didn’t. So I went out for some more freebie Diet Coke and mini bags of pretzels. And there was a line. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who knows that when Bill isn’t in a killing mood his pressers aren’t really worth watching.
–Everyone was covering this thing from print to TV to regular news. I kid you not there were even these guys in Army fatigues whom I assume were covering it for some Armed Forces network. At one point I overheard them talking to a massively built civilian who was probably retired military who was telling them ‘I hate house fires…’ I assume he’s either a firefighter or the most uncaring claims adjuster in the world.
–After the pressers were done, the tables fill up with laptops; reporters filing reports, tech guys editing photos, cameramen uploading videos. Just a massive sprawl of people peering into screens. It’s like my 8th grader and his buddies playing Minecraft, but without as much bandwidth. I’m not sure I wouldn’t prefer the way it was 50 years ago, when they wore hats with cards in them that said ‘PRESS’, asked questions like ‘Say, Slugger, that’s quite a shot you put into that bullpen. What kind of pitch did that southpaw throw you?’ then phone in the report and go drink scotch all night. But I’ve got to do business as business is being done.
–I was scribbling down a few notes when ESPN Desportes set up a live shot next to me with two reporters chatting up what took place. In my limited middle school Spanish I was able to pick up, ‘Something something Julian Edelman, blah blah Tom Brady, yadda yadda Kraft…’ And still they made a lot more sense than Cris Collinsworth.
–Still, for my first ever live Super Bowl press conference it was a hell of an experience. One where there was some actual news and drama. And free snacks.
–We’re onto Media Day.