By Michael Wilbon
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
TAMPA The NFL still calls the Tuesday of Super Bowl week media day. But in the interest of full disclosure, it's a little bit reality show, a little bit freak show. Yes, the players from the Cardinals and Steelers were there, dressed in their uniforms, no less. But they, like the rest of us, always seem to have one eye peeled for the bizarre, or at least the corny.
Everybody has an agenda at media day. Some folks want to know a player's life history, to tell the readers/viewers/listeners back home. Some players want to bolt as quickly as possible; others want to get a head start on a second professional career, in media.
Others, like the goofball guy with the blond wig and the boa, presumably want to get noticed. So do the hotties from TV Azteca -- bless their barely covered curves -- who actually work in sports television, kinda, and on media day do things like measure the circumference of players' biceps. I'm serious.
Players aren't actually the biggest stars of media day very often anymore. It's not like Joe Willie Namath sitting by the pool at a Miami hotel guaranteeing reporters the Jets would beat the Colts. There aren't many men like John Riggins and Deion Sanders. Few have to answer the real-life questions Ray Lewis did back some years ago. Even fewer confront history the way Doug Williams did more than 20 years ago. And fewer yet, in this day and age, have the complete disregard for authority than Bears quarterback Jim McMahon did.
Outsize personalities populate pro basketball, not pro football. So the truth is media day has become a bit, well, contrived. Over in one corner you can see what looks like a woman in a flamenco outfit dancing with a Cardinals lineman. Sure enough, it's Renee Sapp (no kin of Warren's) from a local Arthur Murray dance studio doing the rumba with Alan Branch and Gabe Watson, each of whom is officially listed at 332 pounds.
Standing inches from all this, watching with what could be described as fascination, is Keith Olbermann, who exactly a week ago was covering the presidential inauguration. Branch, at one point, stops dancing to announce to whoever is listening, "I'm a big dude, at least 340."
All of this has been set up by "Entertainment Tonight," which is filming and recruiting players who all think they're one step from "Dancing With the Stars." Warren Sapp is judging the dancing, and trust that I use the word loosely. The Cardinals players dance the rumba with Miss Renee Sapp. The Steelers dance the pasa doble, which is considerably more difficult, though smooth cornerback Bryant McFadden seemed to have done this dance before.
Some of it appeared to be fun, or something approaching it, even if it felt scripted to a degree. Players no longer obsessively videotape one another as they did five, six years ago. What happened to that trend?
At the end of his appointed hour, Bertrand Berry, the Cardinals' veteran defensive end, stepped from the podium and said: "I've seen it all. It's pretty bizarre, all these entertainment forums. It's everything I thought it would be. So bring it on, I'm ready for it."
Well, maybe some of it. On the way to the stadium, just seconds off Interstate 75, The Odyssey parking lot appeared to be full of cars and folks celebrating the Super Bowl. There were Steelers colors and Cardinals colors out front.
Clearly, the establishment was getting ready. The Odyssey, boys and girls, is a strip club. Not to be outdone, Mons Venus, directly across the street, advertised a Webcam promotion and prepared for the Super Bowl onslaught.
And to think some NFL officials were about to freak out in the early 1990s when MTV's Downtown Julie Brown wanted a credential for media day. I can imagine Downtown now turning to look at the TV Azteca hotties and saying, "They'll let anybody into media day nowadays!"
Anyway, you could find downright naughty just outside Raymond James Stadium, and a little bit suggestive inside, which brings me back to the women of TV Azteca, particularly Inez Sainz, who has become a media day favorite of mine. She was the one (at least one) taking a tape measure and putting it around the biceps of various players.
Sainz to Matt Leinart: "Can I see your biceps, please?"
Leinart: "It's not very big."
Sainz: "It's 18 [inches]; it's big enough."
Well, well, well.
Very briefly, I felt guilty for writing about a woman from TV Azteca measuring biceps, until a fellow reporter told me that while nobody would much care about X's and O's five days before a Super Bowl, "they'll read about biceps girl, particularly if you have photos of her."
So it went, an hour for the Cardinals, an hour for the Steelers until all the questions for the day had been asked, all the dancing had been done.
Trophies were actually handed out. It dawned on me that media day had become sort of like the dunk contest. You have to have it, but it's less thrilling than it used be. Not only that, how could Super Bowl week kick off without it?