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A Fitting Stage for My Geek Tragedy

Tony Kornheiser
By Tony Kornheiser
Washington Post Columnist
Sunday, Jan. 30, 2000; Page D1

ATLANTA – By now you are familiar with the Geek Swarm. It refers to the crowd in the lobby of the media hotel at the Super Bowl, which doubles and redoubles continuously – like some ghastly genetic cell division – as Super Bowl Week slogs on. On Thursday there might be 50 people milling around. By Friday it's up to 250. By Saturday 1,000 people are hanging in the lobby hoping to catch a glimpse of somebody famous, maybe an ex-player walking by. By Sunday the crowd is jammed wall to wall, like fruit flies around a rotting peach.

The Geek Swarm is divided between 50-year-old fat, bald white men in silly leather jackets decorated with NFL team logos holding beers and trying not to look quite so pathetic, and 25-year-old black men in equally silly leather jackets decorated with NFL team logos holding cell phones and calling their friends to ask, "Whaaasssupppp?"

It is a woman-free zone. Women take one look at this mass of runaway testosterone in full lounge lizard attire and wisely walk on.

With the catastrophic weather in Atlanta, it is possible that the Geek Swarm will be the biggest crowd in the city on Sunday. Delta canceled half of its 650 flights in and out of Atlanta on Friday, making it impossible for thousands of out-of-town ticket-holders to get here. An ice storm on Saturday canceled additional flights, and caused so many traffic accidents that six interstates were shut down. The NFL's great fear is that when the Super Bowl kicks off there will be so many empty seats it will look like a Wizards game. (Speaking of the Wizards, team savior Michael Jordan was here this week instead of in Washington. Jordan is spending about as much time with the Wizards as a guy with a partial season-ticket plan.)

The funniest line all week came when NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said this woeful weather wouldn't prevent Atlanta from hosting the Super Bowl again. Hahaha. Afghanistan will get the Super Bowl before Atlanta.

(I've got to stop coming to Atlanta for big events. The last time I was here, for the Summer Olympics in 1996, a bomb went off 100 yards from my room in the glorious Comfort Inn, waking everybody in Georgia except me. I slept through the biggest news story of the Games! The other day I took a walk to Centennial Park, the centerpiece of the Olympics, and I swear the same vendors who were selling Olympic T-shirts four years ago are selling Super Bowl T-shirts now. Silly me, I hadn't thought of vending as a long-term career opportunity.)

Though the weather has kept some folks away, there was no shortage of self-promoters parading themselves through Radio Row, the lower-lobby sardine can where the nation's sports radio hosts lay in ambush for anybody with a pulse.

It was there that I met my first porn star, a 24-year-old blond who was wearing skimpy leather pants and what appeared to be a Band-Aid for a top. I don't want to say she was underdressed, but if she'd stepped outside she'd have immediately died of hypothermia.

She introduced herself as "Sky." I asked if that was her name or her forwarding address.

"Do I have to give you my real name?" Sky asked.

"Yes," I said. "That's the newspaper's rule with porn stars."

"Okay, it's Corrie Floris," she said.

I trust her family is very proud.

"I have a Web site," she said.

"I have two children," I countered.

She asked me if I was familiar with her work: "Do you remember 'Debbie Does Dallas'?"

I remember Debbie Reynolds. Does that help?

"I'm the new Debbie," Sky said. "I did 'Debbie Does New Orleans.' And 'Debbie Does Iowa.'"

Debbie Does Iowa? What is that about?

"You want me to give away the plot?" Sky asked.

Perish the thought. I'm sure it's amazingly complex and subtle.

From there I ran into a wondrously endowed woman wearing a short, revealing, lacy pink dress with a sash that said: Miss Millennium.

I mean no offense, but the millennium in question didn't appear to be either the current one, or the one recently concluded – but the one before that. Her name was Sondra. She's the host of a cable show in New Jersey and a big New York Giants fan. She handed me a sheaf of papers listing her credits (Miss Super Bowl Queen 1982, Miss World Series, Miss Opening Day – Miss Opening Day?) and showing photos of her with Frank Gifford, Chris Berman and somebody who looked like my Uncle Murray. "Last night Mean Joe Greene got me in a headlock," she said.

I didn't know how to respond.

"I have a Web site," she said.

"You'll excuse me," I said. "I have an appointment for a hair transplant."

From there I went to the "E-Trade Super Bowl XXXIV Halftime Show" news conference with Phil Collins, Enrique Iglesias, Edward James Olmos and Toni Braxton. The gasbag director brayed that the halftime show was "truly miraculous. I think people will be talking about it for the next millennium." Really? I had no idea that 12 minutes worth of puppets, fireworks, kids with balloons and a few pop tunes would stand the test of 1,000 years. But, hey, I thought Gutenberg's movable type was a one-shot.

During a brief Q&A with the stars Braxton said she was really looking forward to performing, because "I like Spandex." Braxton also said, "It's great to reintroduce myself to people." The fellow next to me explained that Braxton "had been gone for a while." Since she looks to be about 25, I wondered how long she could have been gone? Certainly not as long as Dick Vermeil.

Someone asked Iglesias how he felt performing at halftime of the Super Bowl, and he gushed, "It's amazing. There are no words to describe it."

How about: "The end of your career"?

From there I went to the "Gridiron Greats of Madison Avenue" news conference, where a panel of judges (three ad writers and quarterbacks Jim Kelly, Warren Moon and Bernie Kosar) decided that the Visa commercial with the pregnant woman and her husband searching out a precise color orange paint – presumably for the baby's room, but actually to paint their faces for a Broncos game – was the best football commercial of the season. A worthy choice. But I was surprised it won, because Terrell Davis was in the room, and I thought for sure the scrawny writers would vote for Terrell's Chunky soup ad, for fear he'd beat them to a pulp the consistency of that soup if he lost.

After a taxing day like that I was happy to kick back at the annual NFL Commissioner's Party, an intimate affair held in a warehouse for 3,500 of Paul Tagliabue's closest friends, many of whom I thought I'd seen in the Geek Swarm. The theme was: "Art Of The Ages." In keeping with the famed excess of the party, the room was filled with gigantic pieces – for example, a 20-foot-high replica of Michelangelo's statue of David, and a similar-sized attempt at da Vinci's "Mona Lisa," whose smile this time looked eerily like ABC's Lesley Visser's. There was large bad art from every historical era: faux canvases of Andy Warhol's soup cans, Jackson Pollack's abstractions, Grant Wood's "American Gothic," Picasso, Monet, Mondrian. But the strangest touch of all was the army of monks who greeted the guests at the door. Hundreds of them in brown cassocks handing out menus and lapel buttons that lit up. They represented the art of the Dark Ages.

The monks put me in a religious mood.

So I'm picking Saint Louis. By 10.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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