I would describe Super Bowl Week — not the game itself, but the buildup to it — thusly: Thousands of journalists bound by custom and formula all writing and saying basically the same things while trying unsuccessfully to repackage them for an audience that not only has already heard these stories, but is sick enough of them to scream.
In other words, pretty much what I am doing right here with my Super Bowl Week primer, a list of top 10 story lines, a national cheat sheet for my media brethren set to descend locust-like upon New Orleans for the upcoming 49ers-Ravens game.
1. Ray Lewis: Baltimore’s great linebacker (and ex-Hurricane) will be at the emotional epicenter of this game, a role for which he is insanely well suited. Ray is a baller. I don’t just mean once the game starts. He’s bawling during the national anthem, pulling muscles with his squirrel dance and giving pregame speeches so fiery the field under his feet is left charred and smoldering.
Your Friend the Media will plumb the soul of the Canton-bound Lewis and wonder aloud if he is the greatest defensive player ever. Coverage of him mostly will be breathlessly rosy, although some — the Serious Journalists Who Know It Isn’t All Fun and Games — will be unable to resist the temptation to revisit the 2000 murder indictment, later dismissed in exchange for Ray’s testimony against two other men. (These same Serious Journalists also will be writing densely this week about the league’s concussion crisis, a story no less important because nobody cares to read about it.)
My hope? After a million floral retrospectives and odes to Lewis’ swan song have been reverently crafted, Ray casually mentions the day after the game that he has changed his mind and isn’t retiring, after all.
2. The Harbaughs: Bro Bowl! Har-Bowl! Super Baugh! This has not been reported anywhere else, to my knowledge, but apparently Jim and John Harbaugh will be the first head coach brothers ever to duel in a Super Bowl. And oh how the media swoons with enchantment! Father and former longtime college coach Jack Harbaugh, 73, will be more popular in New Orleans next week than beignets at Café Du Monde. Mom Jackie will need a phalanx of bodyguards to fend off the rush of reporters all seeking warm memories of a Harbaugh childhood, and tears, if she wouldn’t mind.
For an offshoot, there also will be much contrasting and comparing of the Harbaughs with the N’Awlins-based Mannings: Peyton, Eli and patriarch Archie. (It’s why I have bought stock in media use of the phrase “first family of football.”)
My hope? A major news outlet (thinking Yahoo!) will have the exclusive, intriguing interview with heretofore unknown third brother Jasper Harbaugh, but it will turn out Jasper never existed and was the work of the same guy who duped Manti Te’o.
3. Bountygate: A Super Bowl held in New Orleans the season of the Saints’ crippling Bountygate scandal and resulting penalties will spawn a thousand reheated analyses. (Not to mention vicious postgame booing of Roger Goodell as he presents the Vince Lombardi Trophy.)
4. Media Day: This is the one day during Super Bowl Week when both teams appear in the stadium and thousands of media members swarm upon them. The occasion is such that an investment in media references to “circus atmosphere” might be prudent. This event is renowned for the Wacky Foreign Journalist, typically a Mexican radio bombshell in a low-cut wedding dress asking the quarterbacks to marry her, and also for the Adorable Kid Reporter, typically a 12-year-old there for Nickelodeon who gets ushered to the front of the line by handlers rudely elbowing through the crowd of legitimate journalists.
This also is where hundreds of columnists looking for an easy day on account of a tee time lament the “media excess” and “circus atmosphere” of Media Day, unbothered by the irony that they are contributing to that excess by writing about it.
5. Kaepernick/Flacco: It is mandatory a Super Bowl’s quarterbacks be the focus of the perspective-laden piece placing each man in an historical context, a formula challenging this time because neither one has been in a Super Bowl before. (Or, as we in the media love to write and say: “On this stage before.”)
The peg for Raven Joe Flacco: Is he “elite”? This will be the game that anoints or denies him. Unless perhaps the Ravens win even though Joe had a really crappy game, in which case a reevaluation of the word elite might be necessary.
The peg for San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick: The Breath of Fresh Air. Nine games ago, this guy was most known for his tattoos, but now he’s a pass/run wunderkind. Watch an enterprising columnist visit a New Orleans tattoo parlor (say, Tats ’R Us) to discuss Kaepernick’s body art with an eclectic local ink god — only to discover that 14 other enterprising columnists are there doing the same thing.
6. Football vs. real life: This is the staple annual theme piece for the beyond-sports, big-picture journalist (thinking Mitch Albom, or perhaps Jeremy Schaap) who delights to juxtapose the extravagance and partying that surround a Super Bowl with the poverty being endured by real folks just blocks away.
Any host city offers this contrast, dare say New Orleans more than most. This is where the serious writer notes that champagne, lobster and shrimp the size of kittens are being served at the Commissioner’s Party while, six blocks away, a family of 11 displaced by Hurricane Katrina lives in squalor battling over a can of tuna. (If the actual conditions are not quite squalor, well, this is why God invented embellishment!)
7. O.J. Brigance: Most of the tear-jerk stories will center on Lewis’ farewell and on the Har-Bros, but here is the real deal. Brigance, 43, is a former Ravens linebacker who now works in the club’s front office. He suffers from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), is wheelchair-bound and speaks through a computerized voice. Lewis calls him his and the team’s biggest inspiration.
Bonus: Brigance played four seasons for the Dolphins (1996-99), so he qualifies to fill the coveted Hometown Angle role for South Florida reporters trying to “localize” the Super Bowl for their readers.
8. The “other” Canes: Here’s another Hometown Angle for the Miami guys to plumb. Stock premise: “Ray Lewis is getting all the attention, but ” Baltimore safety Ed Reed and tackle Bryant McKinnie are other prominent ex-Miami Hurricanes for the Ravens, along with injured running back Damien Berry and receiver Tommy Streeter. For the 49ers, running back Frank Gore is a major player, and linebacker Tavares Gooden is a reserve. Oh, and of course Ted Ginn Jr., former Dolphins No. 1 draft pick, is a return guy for the Niners, so we’ll be looking for local reporters to invite a gloating Ginn to complain how he never got a fair shot here.
9. Randy Moss: A thousand stories and sound bites all will portray the Niners backup receiver and once-controversial figure as the “forgotten superstar” of this Super Bowl. Even though he obviously isn’t forgotten at all if so many people are writing and talking about him.
10. Local flavor: These is where media folks sent to New Orleans on the company dime justify the expenditure and prove to their bosses they aren’t covering the game from their hotel bar by venturing into the city and filing descriptive “color pieces.” These would include the aromatic Cajun cuisine of Bourbon Street, the buoyant brass of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, casual use of the words “gris-gris” or “hoodoo,” and (almost certainly) a requisite tarot-card reading.
A journalist’s research would likely also include three or four Hurricane cocktails at Pat O’Brien’s, a fact that would be omitted from one’s “color piece” but be deftly hidden on one’s expense report.
That last thing is pure speculation, of course. I’m not speaking from experience or anything.