Take the biggest, most watched, most covered sporting event in America. Make it an especially great match-up featuring the nation’s most beloved athlete. Place it for the first time in the Media Capital of the World.
Is your head exploding yet? Give it a few days.
The event that knows only bombast and excess is about to set records for both.
Two things are clear in the buildup to this Super Bowl. First, no matter how much the NFL tweaks it or slaps fresh paint on it, we’d still rather swim with piranha than watch the Pro Bowl. And second, here come our Top 10 Super Bowl Week Story Lines. It’s an annual primer cataloging topics fans can most expect to become sick of, also serving as a cheat-sheet for my media brethren who’ll be descending like a great plague of Biblical locusts upon New York/New Jersey for the Feb. 2 Broncos-Seahawks game.
Ready … set … snow!
1. Our love affair with Peyton Manning: There is not a higher current pedestal in American team sports than the one on which we place Manning, the respected, revered, beloved leader of Denver and quarterback of our hearts. He needs only say the word “Omaha” and an entire state swoons. The national media will have no greater task than to avidly decipher his “legacy” and whether he needs a second Super Bowl ring here to cement it. Remember how a year ago the focal point approaching the SB was that it would be retiring Ray Lewis’ last game? Well, there’s a possibility Peyton could retire afterward, too — all the more reason for the collective worship to come — and he’s just, well, cuddlier. Plus Peyton has never, to our knowledge, used deer-antler spray.
2. Pitching a perfect game: The Denver-Seattle match-up would sell itself even if there weren’t thousands of media salesmen queuing for the job. It is the first Super Bowl of the 48 (I don’t do Roman numerals, except when in Rome) to feature the offense that ranked No. 1 in points and yards against the defense that ranked No. 1 in points and yards allowed. It is Peyton’s record-shattering attack against a “Legion of Boom” Seahawks defense aiming to prove that old-school brute force can still reign in the NFL’s high-scoring Age of Air. Another reliable sub-theme in the tale of starkly contrasting teams will be that 16-year veteran Manning and second-year man Russell Wilson will be the greatest QB-experience disparity in SB history. (Not all Super Bowls are heavyweight match-ups, by the way. Anybody outside of Phoenix remember the Arizona Cardinals sneaked past security and got in the game five years ago?)
3. Super Brrr. Weather! Snow! It’s cold! You might not have heard, but this is the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl awarded by the NFL. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Check that. No it didn’t, and still doesn’t. Game day will be bitterly cold, subfreezing, and it might snow, but commissioner Roger Goodell announced in a show of support that he would sit outside just like regular miserable fans. This might be the first SB to issue more credentials to meteorologists than sports writers. The latter will chronicle in detail what participating players think of being in a Super Frigid Bowl, as if every player in the NFL hasn’t played in freezing temps before and will be scrambling to the nearest Newark, N.J., Wal-Mart to buy long underwear.
4. The host city, I mean region: This is the first Super Bowl held in Greater New York, which means it’s, like, the first Super Bowl ever, or at least the first one to matter. New York is the media capital and also The City That Never Sleeps Because Taxis Are Always Honking Their Horns. Of course, the actual game will be across the river in East Rutherford, N.J., which will foment a thousand media jokes referencing Jersey’s bully-governor Chris Christie and how, for spite, he plans to order all lanes and bridges closed so New Yorkers can’t attend the game. Hosting the Super Bowl is expected to incite a headline war among the city’s rival tabloids trying to one-up each other. New York Daily News: EXCLUSIVE! ELI’S ADVICE TO PEYTON! New York Post: WHEW! COPS RULE OUT PEYTON AS HEADLESS BODY FOUND IN TOPLESS BAR!
5. Richard Sherman is not a thug: The moment he uttered that incendiary postgame diatribe against 49er Michael Crabtree after the NFC Championship Game, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman raised his hand to be the It Guy (Non-Peyton Division) of this Super Bowl. Short of an open bar at the media hotel, you won’t find sports writers moving faster all week than in their mad dash to Sherman at his first media availability. Stock theme: “Sherman might look like a thug to some and sure sounded like one that night, but he’s also a complicated, well-spoken man who rose from the hard streets of Compton to graduate from Stanford.” Stock theme of older, white columnists: “He’s a thug! Why can’t everybody be like Peyton!?”
6. Media Day (Circus Atmosphere): This is the annual Tuesday event where all players and coaches from both teams are made available. Fans may now buy tickets to attend and observe as thousands of media including Zany Foreign Journalists dressed as superheroes and Adorable Kid Reporters from Nickelodeon jockey for position. Bit players who nobody wants to talk to typically walk around videotaping the Circus Atmosphere. Reporters not flocking like lemmings to Manning and Sherman will search out “offbeat” stories such as how good-guy Broncos guard Zane Beadles appeared this week on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” Thoughtful reporters seeking heartstrings to tug will veer instead to Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman, the league’s first legally deaf player. Should the crowd around Coleman be too great, shut-out reporters will be relegated to jerking a dramatic tear over the midseason heart surgery of Broncos coach John Fox.
7. John Elway, Star QB to Master Architect: Here is somebody’s entree to the story, first come first served: “John Elway might as well be called John Denver for all he’s meant to the city.” (You’re welcome.) Elway leads Denver to its last and only Super Bowl wins in 1997 and ’98, retires triumphantly, returns 15 years later to shepherd Broncos back to SB as team executive. (This tale will neatly pair with how Seattle, bereft of a championship in 38 franchise years, aches to finally get off the schneid. A synopsis of star-crossed Seahawks history will be a must. Could be a busy week, Jim Zorn.)
8. Football vs. real life: This is where journalists too high-minded to be called sports writers lurch off the beaten path, venture to a Hoboken, N.J., soup kitchen and lament on the sad juxtaposition of Super Bowl parties and extravagance going on so close to real-life squalor — only to find a dozen other high-minded journalists there for the same thing. “Let me eat my minestrone in peace!” complains a surrounded homeless man. Two sports columnists are having a discussion — First columnist: “What are you writing today?” Second columnist: “I thought I’d try to imagine what Aaron Hernandez is thinking right now, or maybe talk to doctors about what a concussion really does to the brain. You?” First columnist: “I want something people might actually read, so I’m writing Peyton.”
9. Localizing the thing: New York media will be plumbing Giants/Jets angles until dry, but this SB does not offer a stocked cupboard from a Miami perspective. Most prominent Broncos with South Florida ties are receiver Wes Welker (Dolphins, 2004-06); starting right tackle Orlando Franklin (UM) and reserve cornerback Kayvon Webster (Miami Pace High). For the Seahawks, it’s reserve tackle Caylin Hauptmann (FIU) and receivers coach Kippy Brown (Dolphins assistant, 1996-99). You’ll know somebody is desperate if you read the headline, “Hauptmann Having Super Time.”
10. The game within the game: So much that makes up the Super Bowl phenomenon is what surrounds the actual football game. It’s the millions of at-home Super Bowl parties, the highly anticipated TV commercials, the elaborate halftime show, stadium security in the terrorism age, and also the millions bet on the game, legally and illegally. Did you know there are almost 500 “prop bets,” or side bets, available? For example, you can bet the over/under on the temperature at kickoff (34 degrees), the length of the national anthem (2 minutes 30 seconds) or the number of times Manning shouts “Omaha!” during the game (27 1/2).
I’m not big on gambling, but I just bet $100 that, sometime during Super Bowl Week, Jets coach Rex Ryan would be arrested, while dressed in drag, for selling fake Louis Vuitton purses in Times Square. That might have been wishful thinking. But I did get great odds.