Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Tuesday, January 23, 2001
Updated: September 13, 6:24 PM ET

Flippin' out at the circus


By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

I knew it. I'm one of these flipper-flippers! These are my people! This is where, when I come here, they have to take me in. I am a flipper-flipping sportswriter again. I ran screaming from that accusation for a long time, but I am getting tired of running now, and it is catching back up to me. I blame ESPN.com's Page 2.

So here I am, caught up in the undertow of Super Bowl Media Day Circus, also known as:

Kissamus Maximus Buttimus.

Super Bowl Media Day. Oh, it is held on the Tuesday before the Super Bowl. And it is a real cattle call, pilgrims. Everything but the stun guns and the mooing.

It has been 12 long years since I entered the Twilight Zone episode called Super Bowl Week. And now here I am again, and again, and again, 12 years, same Super Bowl, again, and again, same thousand sons-and-daughters-of-flipswitches, older, fatter, thinner, new ones netted, but always the same, headed for the Stadium, Raymond James Stadium this time, always on the buses. One after the other. One after the other.

Submitted for your approval: Super Bowl Media Day. The one day of the pro football season when there is absolutely nothing to write about becomes the day "They" decree Media must come out and get busy!

They ("They," the amorphous "they" that we all blame everything on, is actually the NFL; that's my little exclu for Media Day) line up all the players -- first the Giants, then the Ravens -- around microphones, at little lecterns, where they look like chatty little lifeguards, which they certainly are not. All this painstaking set design is for the football players to better lecture to the media, in uniform, without shoulder pads and helmets. The players, that is. The media uniform is -- whatever, worn as slouchily as possible. It is in my case, anyway.

  If someone like, say, Jason Sehorn, suddenly declared himself King of the Gypsies, or if Michael Strahan talked about how the gap between his front teeth led to rejection from a teenaged lover which fueled the rage that burns inside him, that might be worth mentioning.  
 

Listening to a football player, just about any football player, lecturing from a lectern is such a moving experience that I cannot begin to tell you how moving it is. So I will pass on trying.

George W. Bush has yet to have a press conference as large as the one Ray Lewis held Tuesday afternoon. President Lewis was introduced the day before by his press secretary, Brian Billick, a man who loves to hear himself talk more than your average football coach. It's not true that the Baltimore Ravens have taken to calling Billick "The Mack," although if it were true then we'd have ourselves an exclusive. Amazingly simple job, getting news during Super Bowl Media Day Circus, once you get the hang of how it's done.

Not much in the way of questions is asked. At this point, what's to flipper-flipping ask? What the flip is a player going to tell you at this point that you don't already know? And if someone like, say, Jason Sehorn, suddenly declared himself King of the Gypsies, or if Michael Strahan talked about how the gap between his front teeth led to rejection from a teenaged lover which fueled the rage that burns inside him, that might be worth mentioning. But even if that happened, there are ten dozen flipper-flippers around each flipper-flipping player, so even if you got your exclu, where are you going with it? Start running? Where to?

Being creative does no good. It's actually frowned upon. There was what would've been an exclu a couple of Super Bowls ago, in Miami, before the Atlanta Falcons were the wildebeest against the Denver Broncos. On Tuesday Media Day Circus, some dude with one of those cute media badges "They" make up for you, asked Falcons safety Eugene Robinson, "Say Eugene, ever think what it would be like to go out the night before a Super Bowl game and, you know, buy a woman?" This gentleman was quickly hustled away from the Media Day site and his credential was stripped, even though he turned out to be something of a prophet later on, although some do say that if he had been barred from Media Day then the seed would never have been planted in Eugene Robinson's mind, and Gene would have had a lot less explaining to do to his wife.

All these things bring me to the real reason why I don't like being one of the flipper-flippers who board all the flipper-flipping buses to Media Day Circus, also known as Kissamus Maximus Buttimus.

You see, what we are being called upon to do here is not what you would call journalism. It is not even what you would call creative writing. It is not even what you would call remotely funny. What it is, pure and simple, is p.r. Public relations. It's a living, if that's what you do. It's certainly needed where the NFL is concerned these days, what with accused murderers being acquitted and convicted at about a 50-50 percentage.

"They" do a great job of public relations, always have, that was Pete's genius, Pete being Pete Rozelle. I used to watch Pete light up and get a craving myself. Pete was great at p.r. Well, the lawyers are running "They" now. But they keep the p.r. function in place. They just brought in a lot of sub-contractors. Those would be us. Public relations is a specific kind of work, specific kind of work that I am not good at, myself. It's not me. So, I am sort of out of place.

I'm sure that many others -- I'll bet Armen Keteyian of CBS and HBO is one of them -- feel this way.

The good thing about being stuck in this Twilight Zone episode is there are many others stuck in the same episode who seem to have made peace with it. And, like "They" say, we could be working for a living.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."