I stood outside of Raymond James Stadium on Tuesday morning with an NFL credential around my neck, half asleep and half trying to prepare myself for what awaited me at the end of the line I was in.
I was standing with the top media outlets on the planet — I was at the central point of the football world. It was Super Bowl media day and I, with only a pen, notepad and recorder in my hand, was ready for just about anything.
This is my account of the day.
FBI, Secret Service, Homeland Security — they all were there. It took nearly 15 minutes just to get through security. However, two pat jobs, a metal detector and a dog sniff or two later, I was walking up the ramp of the stadium.
Leave it to the NFL to greet thousands of media members at the gates with a beautiful breakfast spread — muffins, scones and other pastry assortments were just the touch I needed. One cup of coffee later, the crowd was allowed to make its way to field level, where the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals awaited us.
One of the first things I noticed was the process of this whole thing. Basically, the media are allowed a one-hour session with each team and a lunch buffet in between.
After I stepped on the field, there it was, a pedestal of power: The Vince Lombardi Trophy sat on a table, with a guard posted for its protection.
ESPN personality Chris Berman struck up a conversation with an Australian reporter, probably about Cardinals punter and Aussie native Ben Graham, and got to talking about holidays somehow.
“Is the Super Bowl a holiday in Australia?” Berman asked. “Like Groundhog Day — well, you probably don’t celebrate Groundhog Day, but Feb. 2 should be a holiday in Australia. Do we have time to make it one?”
Sorry, Mr. Berman, I doubt the Australians celebrate a holiday based on Western Hemispheric weather patterns.
Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, who was sitting at the press podium, really caught my attention with something. Warner, who won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams in 2000, is one of the feel-good stories of the league. After being benched for former USC star Matt Leinart, he took over the offense this season and led the Cardinals to Tampa.
Warner attributed his success to his Christian faith.
“My faith helps me with everything I do,” he said. “That’s really the most important thing in my life.”
I stumbled across one of the most peculiar things I’d seen all day: Dancing with the Stars, Super Bowl-style. Entertainment Tonight host Kevin Frazier encouraged the Cardinals to participate in a dance competition. Renee Sapp, a professional dancer at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio, was their partner.
Needless to say, it was pretty ridiculous, and Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s Countdown, reeled off what was probably the best quote of the day when asked if he’d be participating.
“That could have been a minuet for all I know, but I got kicked out of dance class in 1978,” he said.
Ross Matthews, a flamboyant Tonight Show with Jay Leno correspondent, was out and about, hassling players for interviews. Awkward as it was, he stuck a microphone in front of 6-foot-5, 332-pound Arizona offensive lineman Elton Brown.
“Your name is Elton?” Matthews asked. “Like Elton John!”
Matthews then sang a rousing rendition of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”
The morning session ended, and amid the frenzy of reporters and media personalities, I somehow made my way into the club level of the stadium for lunch.
Some tables had reserved seating for important attendees. For instance, NFL Network crew members Rich Eisen, Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk all had reserved places.
I, however, took a seat in the back.
As I piled eggs, bacon, turkey wraps, potato salad and pasta onto my plate, I couldn’t help but feel like I was at a media Epcot, sitting in the same place as reporters from all reaches of the earth. I must say, it was a cool feeling.
The AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers were there to greet the press at field level after our lunch break. I was searching for a way to tie things back to USF, so I set out to see if any of the players had been on campus yet.
I found starting defensive end Brett Keisel sitting in the first row of seats, and he said he had gotten a “light workout” in Monday.
“I got a pump in, and the (USF football) team was in there getting big as well,” he said. “It’s a nice facility and we’re excited they let us use it.”
He then told me that he benched 800 pounds. Yeah, and I’m the king of England.
Rookie Donovan Woods was impressed with USF’s facilities.
“Man, to be honest, I think USF has a better weight room than we do,” he said. “It’s a lot bigger, and there are more platforms to lift (weights) on.”
Chalk one up for Athletics Director Doug Woolard.
I’m pretty sure I know why Steelers tight end Dezmond Sherrod is only on the practice squad — it could be because he spends too much time singing Rasta songs and wearing a dreadlocks wig on his head. Dezmond went on camera with Spanish network Telemundo — which had one of its male reporters dressed as a drag queen — and sang a Super Bowl song.
Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward gave a shout-out to all his fans in Austria.
“Hey to everyone over there in Austria, I just want to say what’s up, I love you and peace,” he told an Austrian television reporter.
The announcements rang loud and clear through the stadium: “Attention: Media day has ended. Please exit the stadium.”
I had battled the swarm of worldwide media and kept myself physically intact — I was still working on the mental portion. Media day 2009 was without a doubt a frenzy, but it was a good one, and I walked out of Raymond James Stadium with a smile on my face.