Super Bowl press conferences stink
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

I know it looks zany and unpredictable from the outside, but the sad truth is a Super Bowl press conference is a highly-scripted event. Reporters must stick to a narrow range of questions or suffer the silent treatment of the players and the scorn of media relations directors, followed by the wrath of editors who want to know where the hell their Super Bowl copy is.

Thems the rules.

Sure, once upon a time, when television was young and "scandal" was a word reserved for stuff like Teapot Dome, the SB Q-and-A flowed unpredictably free and refreshingly easy. But, sadly, nowadays even the so-called candid questions are canned.

So pity the poor journalists you see in Houston these next 10 or 11 days, playing their petty parts in a charade. Know they want more. Understand that the questions you hear aren't the questions they have. Trust that, like the old muckrakers, they long to dig beneath the surface.

Jake Delhomme
Jake Delhomme would get grilled if reporters could ask what they'd really like to in Houston.
Try, if you can, to listen to their intonations and cadences. And spy, if you can, the certain bend in their necks and the certain arch in their eyebrows, for they reveal their true intent.

Because when they ask Tom Brady, "Do you expect to see a lot of Cover-2 from Carolina?" what they really want to know is, "So Tom, dude, do you like pay Adam Vinatieri homage, the way folks do with the Pope, you know, kisses to the knuckles and all? Or is it more of a tribute-to-the-Godfather kind of thing, where you promise to do him a 'favor' when he calls on you? Just curious, just asking, because you know the guy carries you and your Big-Game Quarterback rep around in his wallet, right?"

And when they ask John Fox whether he's playing up the underdog angle with his guys, what they're actually wondering is more along the lines of, "Yeah, but seriously, do you expect to win a Super Bowl with those uniforms on? They may favor teal over there in Baseball Land, but here in the Hell's Kitchen that is the National Football League, Homie don't play teal, you know what I'm saying? Blue, black, red, these are the colors of Super Bowl Champions. You planning any kind of secret uni switch, a la Notre Dame's green jerseys against SC? You might want to be thinking that way. Seriously."

Yeah, they ask Teddy Bruschi, "Do you guys expect Carolina to come out throwing, maybe as an element of surprise?"

But what they actually want to know is: "Is there any chance at all that this thing won't be a replay of the 9-0 Rams-vs.-Bucs snoozer in the 1979 NFC Championship game, only without anyone as good as Ricky Bell or Wendell Tyler on the field?"

What they ask Jake Delhomme: "Are you concerned about making reads against the varying looks the Pats' secondary will give you?"

What they're getting at: "You threw just 14 passes against Philly and only 43 total in your three playoff games, who you kidding? You're in way, way over your head aren't you, Jakey-Boy? You're waking up nights sweating, am I right? Hell, you're sweating right now. If I ask you another question you might just cry like a baby, isn't that right? Isn't it?!"

And the other thing they want to ask Jake? "Delhomme? That's what, French? You think the football gods are granting any French Super Bowl wishes? Don't you think maybe they'll figure the way they hooked up Zidane and his boys in the '98 World Cup was plenty of French futbol wish-granting for a while?"

A standard question for both teams: Do you think you've gotten the respect you deserve?

The real question for both teams: "Don't you think the we-don't-get-no-respect angle is the rustiest, most worn-out, squeaky hinge of an angle the sports world has ever seen? Don't you think maybe, just maybe, it's time to work it the other way and go with the totally unprecedented we-are-inspired-and-energized-by-all-the-love-and-respect-we've-been-given angle? Just for kicks?"

And so it goes.

Questions for Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel about rookie jitters mask unspoken ones about whether they feel any shame over holding, jamming, scratching, and generally uglifying the hell out of the game against Indy.

Questions about Ricky Manning's technique take the place of, "5-foot-9?! Come on. What, in platforms? With a wig on?"

For the first couple of days, folks manage to keep their minds on football; but as the tedium settles in and the hype takes off, the subterranean questions they're pondering have less and less to do with the game.

A guy asks, "What would winning the Super Bowl mean to your franchise?" But what he's thinking is, "Did you happen to see if there were any more cannolis left on the buffet?"

Somebody approaches Ted Washington with "How is the D-Line's challenge different with DeShaun Foster in the backfield, as opposed to Stephen Davis?" while all the while the question running through his head is more like, "Hey Ted, my wife says I look fat in these pants. Do I look fat in these pants? I'm not saying, 'Do I look good to you,' I'm just saying, you know, 'Do I look good to you?'"

Someone else asks, "Do you think the 13-day layoff will affect your timing?" But what he's really wondering is, "Do you think there's any chance I could get in on a round or two of XBox with you guys when we get back to the hotel ... my pay-per-view's on the fritz and I've read all my magazines and, good-god, we're here for another, what, nine days?!"

For the mics and cameras it's all, "How's the knee?," "Any trick plays in store?," and "Did you ever think you'd make it back to the Super Bowl?"

But on the soundtrack in reporters' heads, it's all, "Paris or Anna?," and "Do you think Catherine Zeta Jones would go out with me? I mean, I know she wouldn't go out with me. She's married. And I'm married. But if neither of us was married, if we were just two people who met on the ferry coming over from Staten Island, let's say, and the ferry was taking on water, maybe, and it looked like we were all gonna die, and she couldn't swim but I could, because I swam a lot in high school, back before I had this gut, and so I carried her on my back 400 yards to safety ... do you think she'd go out with me then?"

Bill Belichick
Eventually, Bill Belichick could get testy with reporters at the Super Bowl.
And, "What's your take on New Hampshire? It's got to be Kerry, right? What do you think, has Dean lost his ever-lovin' mind? Is he hopped up on bennies, or what? Did you hear that howling screed the other night in Iowa? You ever hear anything like that, even in the trenches? Me neither. Scared the bejeebus out of me."

And then along about media day or soon thereafter, the pressure gets to be too much for a handful of the guys in the press corps. They struggle to keep their outside and inside voices separated.

There are little signs at first. Guys ask, "Who does your hair?" or "What did you eat for lunch?" Some might whisper, half out loud, half to themselves, "I don't even like football; I wanted the Daytona 500 gig but nooooooooo ..."

Their colleagues tend to ignore these blips. The players are usually too distracted and apathetic to notice them at all.

But eventually, there's a blowout. With his hair all mussed and his eyes glazed over, some poor mug with a pencil and a pad comes charging up to Belichick and says something like, "You think you're so smart, eh Bill? Mr. Mastermind, right? All right then, I ask you this: In the name of the rover, in the name of Ziggy Stardust, is there life on Mars? Huh? Is there? Settle this thing. I need to know. The people need to know. They deserve to know, Bill! Bill!"

Security closes in quickly. Within minutes, the guy is out of the building. By morning, he's out of a job. More often than not his wife and kids are packing up the Passat by the time he drags his sorry butt home.

You never hear about this guy. He's erased from the books. His column's picked up by some eager young punk who asks football-only questions in earnest and with alacrity.

You never hear about him.

But next time you tune in to some pre-game Super Bowl press conference, I hope you'll pause and think of him, feel for him, understand what he went through in those last desperate days before kickoff.

Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.





A SUPER WASTE

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