Monday, February 4, 2008
Three hours before kickoff, Super Giant -- a New York fan in storm trooper helmet -- and Method Man -- a blinged-out Pats fan with grill and jeweled "Brady to Moss" brooch -- were attempting to pose for dueling fan photos outside University of Phoenix Stadium. A friend stood nearby, offering advice for how best they might display their animosity. They began with crossed arms, staring at each other. Then they moved on to posed punches.
"I should be a movie director," the friend said happily.
The scene outside the stadium, in other words, was tailgating-gone-Disney, rival fans playing for the cameras when they weren't theatrically booing each other. Outside FedEx Field, Redskins fans smash megaphones over the heads of visiting fans; here, a man in colonial Patriot garb was putting his arms around Giants and Patriots fans alike and smiling for the cameras.
"It's unbelievable, it's brilliant," said James Philip, a 38-year-old Giants fan from outside London who was draped in a British flag. "It's just really civilized, unlike a British soccer game where there'd be sort of tribal gangs wandering around. If you went to the FA Cup final you couldn't stay in the same hotel with the other fans, couldn't take the same courtesy bus together."
Indeed, for better or worse, this was the most civilized pregame NFL scene I've seen this season, from the wood-fired pizza stands to the manicured walkways to the VIP-only official tailgate featuring the Desert Oasis and Native dancers.
Giants and Pats fans stood together in long lines seeking entrance to the memorabilia store and to the booths where water cost $5 and beer $10; they sat together in the tent listening to a cover band perform Outkast and Justin Timberlake songs; and they stood together and waved frantically at the cameras hovering over the NFL Network set.
That set was a magnet for the costumed, such as Ontario native Orlando Cassavia, face painted with a maple leaf, head covered with a Canada winter hat and torso covered with a Canadian national hockey jersey. His sign read, "Need better seats, can't see the puck from here, eh?"
"I'm a confused Canuck," he said, before changing his story. "It's a shameless Canadian ploy to get on television, how's that?"
When the camera pivoted over the crowd there was mayhem. Super Giant Keith Arbeeny -- who normally wears $1,000 worth of full body armor that he left at home because of security concerns -- glared at the camera through his self-described futuristic football super hero helmet. A group of Giants fans carrying two sets of letters to spell their team name lost their minds at the sight of the camera: "GNIAIGS," they quickly spelled.
Patriots fans were equally weird, from the two "Maroney Brothers" wearing dreadlocked wigs to the Spider-Man and Gorilla Suit Man with "Smerlas" written on his back, in honor of the famously hairy nose tackle.
And while the costumes were primarily the domain of the diehards, there were also fans supporting virtually every NFL team. Witness the jerseys of Carson Palmer and Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo, Tony Dorsett and Fred Smoot, Peyton Manning and Anquan Boldin, Jim Zorn and Fred Biletnikoff, further dissipating any sense of pregame antipathy.
Even the hecklers were conciliatory; Jeff Antalic, a native of Lynnfield, Mass., held a "19-0" sign and screamed about how the '72 Dolphins and the Giants both had trouble sleeping last night, but he backed down when asked whether he might be inviting bad karma and insisted he had maximum respect for the Giants.
Why such friendliness? Why such perspective? What happened to that typical pregame NFL hatred? Unclear. Maybe everyone was still too tired from watching Snoop Dogg endorse drunkenness and recreational drug use at the Penthouse party on Saturday night.
"It's not life-threatening," explained Method Man, the Pats fan with the bling, real name Ron Rogers, from Providence. "It's not the end of the world. It's a game, right? It's a game."You're Invited
What: Saturday evening's Leigh Steinberg "Green" Party.
Where: Desert Botanical Garden.
Entertainment: Massage Cabana, Oxygen Bar, the release of an endangered owl, E-waste bins to dispose of used laptops or cellphones.
Celebrities: John Salley, Terrell Suggs, Jerry Jones, actor John Slattery, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Steve Young.
Food Options: Various small bites, including cornbread and chili topped with diced onions.
Highlight: Former Redskin Ray Brown posing for photos with fans, while introducing himself as Darrell Green.
Lowlight: Making small-talk with patrons who had just eaten chili topped with diced onions.
Moment Never to be Forgotten: The friendly farewell offered by Cirque du Soleil-like performers on stilts, representing solar and wind power, who stood a few steps away from the parked fleet of limousines, Maybach luxury cars and tour buses.
Spotted: Cal Ripken, lounging in the same downtown Phoenix restaurant where the Redskins were hosting a casual reception Saturday evening.
Spotted: A street preacher near the maelstrom of Scottsdale's social hub, attempting to warn Super Bowl partiers of the dangers of fornication, adultery, drunkenness and potty mouths. He was being heckled by Patriots and Giants fans. "Jesus can wait until Monday," one fan shouted.
Spotted: Antonio Pierce's mother, Mary, socializing with fans outside the stadium, helpfully identified by a jersey that read "Mom Pierce." "I don't like the booths; I like to be out where it's rowdy, with fans, screaming 'Go Big Blue,' " she said. Meanwhile, Richard Seymour's mother, wearing a "Mama Seymour" jersey, was one of the first fans seated inside the stadium.
Washingtonpost.com correspondent Jon Forsythe contributed to this report.