He was a desperate man, roaming the packed French Quarter at 1 a.m. today, hunting yet another saga to fill a Boston Globe sports section swollen with ads from home-town Super Bowl mania.

Earlier, he'd already dashed off three stories, including one on a belly-up town way down on the bayou rumored to be housing Patriots fans in its lone cinder-block motel. The fans never showed; so he wrote about the letdown. One more story and he could sleep.

He scanned the mob of Paul Revere look-alikes in tricornered hats and smirking Bear fans in "Rozelle" headbands, cruised a shop administering laughing gas for "$2 a hit," then spied a man in a Patriots' cap clinging to a lamp pole.

"So who's gonna win?" asked Globe reporter John Powers.

"Patriots, but only if Grogan gets to play," said the man, curiously touting the magic of a lame, second-string quarterback on the underdog team. Powers bored in.

"Why's that?" he asked.

"Played ball with him in Ottawa, Kansas," said the man. "Helluva player." Powers' eyes lit up; he'd just scored a local angle on Bourbon Street: "I Was Grogan's High School Tailback."

"Good story," said an impressed Vince Doria, the Globe sports sw,-2 sk,2 ld,10 editor, hunkered down here in the Hyatt command post this morning as Powers staggered in with his latest scoop after eight days on the front lines of American sports journalism.

bat16 These were the best of times and the worst of times for a manic press mob set loose here with a week to write about a football game -- and nothing to write about. There was not one grunt, one tackle before this afternoon. So aces like Powers plumbed every angle.

Of course, Big News was the status of Jim McMahon's sore rear end, its amazing recovery from acupuncture needles and such bad-boy antics as his mooning of a TV chopper. But the best story never happened: The Bears' bad-boy quarterback never disparaged the women of New Orleans, at least not on tape, as a local TV station reported. "Typical investigative reporting by TV," quipped one New York columnist. "Talk to somebody."

Apparently too good to check, the nonstory sparked death threats; women protesters marched on the Bears' hotel with placards ("McMahon Is a Ham, Not a Man"); the press stampeded a hotel ballroom where McMahon took the stand.

"It's impossible to commit journalism at the Super Bowl," groused one columnist. "Nothing happens. It's all calisthenics. It doesn't mean anything. You get to the point where you want to scream, 'Kick the ball.' "

It was especially tough on the teams' home-town newspapers, ravenous for copy. "What paper you from?" a wino asked one reporter, midinterview.

"Chicago Tribune," he said.

"One of your guys just did me five minutes ago." Onward. Reporters stood in line on Bourbon Street to chat up a man wearing 50 flashing "Go Bears" buttons.

Among 2,100 accredited press, the Tribune boasted the largest newspaper staff, with 27 reporters, photographers and editors, almost 10 times the number dispatched to cover the Geneva summit.

"This is more important," said Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome. "Nobody dies -- we hope." The Globe enlisted 24, with Rupert Murdoch importing a legion of 50 between his two papers, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Boston Herald.

At times, it got downright ugly, a war of words, with rival columnists and broadcasters vilifying each other's towns and teams. One savory Boston pundit dismissed the Windy City as a bunch of "hog butchers" with "roller-derby" minds.

"I am the voice from a city that is called 'The Athens of America' and the hub of the universe," wrote Globe columnist Leigh Montville, 42, a hoarse scribe with a red mustache and a rough likeness to Robert Redford.

"I speak to the people of a city that is called 'The Hog Butcher to the World . . .' where contractors put three inches of cement in a pan, sprinkle a few pieces of pepperoni on top and call the result 'pizza.' "

Ooooooooo.

Countered Lincicome: "It is when New Englanders stop minding their own business that gives the rest of us fits, when they insist that something of theirs is good for the nation, such as blue laws, book burning and Doug Flutie, certainly three of the worst ideas ever to head down the Boston Post Road."

Oh, mama.

"Sports fans aren't stupid," said Michael Gee, long-haired sports editor of the Boston Phoenix. "They just like being entertained. It keeps their mind off the January weather."

Two Boston TV anchors sported Jim "McWho" sunglasses on the air -- and headbands to match. "Edward R. Murrow would have never worn a headband," scoffed Montville.

How desperate were they? Globe columnist Mike Barnicle dreamed of riding a bus named Desire to the end of the line: a tough black housing project, a spot likely untouched by the invasion of an estimated 100,000 fans, many without tickets to the game.

"You don't want to ride that bus," urged one local official. He insisted.

"You don't understand," she went on, "You don't want to ride that bus." He rode it anyway.

A computer-simulated game between the two teams, put on by a local computer company, got covered. The Bears won 27-21.

"Normally, that press release would have gone in the trash," conceded Doria, whose paper was first to report that the Bears' "goofy quarterback" aimed to sashay about the French Quarter in drag with roommate Kevin Butler to savor the sights incognito. "Sources say the dresses will be pink and blue and that each player is looking for a suitable wig," the Globe reported. "One plans to add a large bust."

What's that? Qaddafi aims to blow up the Super Bowl? Doria ordered the wild rumor checked out. It didn't pan out, but out of it came a hot tip from the FBI: A Boston man was managing a hotel full of Bears. Powers was dispatched.

"It's theater of the absurd," laughed Gee, "but I'm having an unbelievably good time."

Not so with grizzled Boston Herald columnist George Kimball, 42. "I've got to work too hard this time," he said, laboring with beer in hand.

Amidst corporate tent parties and riverboat serenades, Gee fondly remembered a bash thrown at Saks Fifth Avenue here. Beautiful women waltzed by as he leaned against the ladies' underwear counter. "They must have invited every secretary in town who was a '10,' " he said.

sw,-2 sk,2 ld,10 For brunch today, there was rare roast beef, oysters and chicken for the hype-artists, glassy-eyed from hard-boiled French Quarter reporting. And after the game, in case any stomachs were left growling, there was more food, more drink, more schmooze, all courtesy of the National Football League. The unofficial motto: "No longer than 15 minutes between meals."

sk,3 And some had yet to digest Friday night's last days of Pompeii-style feast for 3,500 press, team owners and VIPs at the cavernous civic center: stir-fried chicken and baby egg rolls, linguini (cream sauce or marinara), hand-tossed pizza, barbecue ribs, crawfish boiled or e'touffe'ed, oysters bienville or Rockefeller, poached snapper with white pepper, catfish provenc,al, fried chicken, fat rounds of rare roast beef, bananas foster over ice cream, free drinks.

sk,2 Six bands played, smiling belles in hoop skirts offered pink champagne, minstrels wandered, mimes and magicians did their tricks. "It's so understated," quipped radio talk show host Larry King. "I love it. I'm a fan of subtlety."

The National Football League always courts the Super Bowl press with a vengeance. Golf games are arranged at local clubs. Press releases are provided to anyone who sleeps through player interviews. Free drinks, coffee and warm danish are served daily in a jammed hospitality suite with a wide-screen TV. All warm up for the Hyporama Bowl.

"We know the value of the media to promote our game," says savvy Jim Heffernan, PR director of the NFL, which spent more than $1 million to coddle and cajole. "The media creates the hype. We don't cut any corners."

bat10 Desperation makes for dumb questions. One reporter asked a Chicago lineman to describe the barking sound the team makes when it gets excited. "Was that more of an 'arf' or a 'woof?' "

"It's more of a 'woof,' " said Otis Wilson.

"It really got to me," recalled Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett, who holed up in his room one Super Bowl to avoid media madness. "I couldn't go to the bathroom without hearing the cameras clicking."

"The dumbest question I ever got asked at the Super Bowl?" said Redskins' quarterback Joe Theismann, limping about the lobby with a leg brace. " 'Why did you throw that pass?' As if I had a choice."

The phone rang in the Globe press room. Doria grabbed it. It was his man at the New Orleans police station. "Only four people from Massachussetts arrested and 100 total? That's normal? Okay." Click.

Tom Callahan of Time wandered in. "Wonder if there's anyone on Death Row who's going to be executed before the game," he said. Doria said he'd check it out.

bat16 Out past the NFL hospitality suite, out past roaming packs of cocky Bear devotees, a gaggle of Patriots fans, down from Boston and fed up with abuse, crowded around a 48-year-old man shaped like an egg. "Goooo, Eddie," they shouted.

Eddie Andleman, a tart-tongued Boston radio talk show host, their defender, was about to go on the air. He hates hockey, golf, the Goodyear blimp and fans from Chicago ("upper-strata nitwits").

He's on: "Awriiight! I'm so excited. Welcome to the Saturday night edition of Sports Huddle broadcasting LIVE from New Orleans. The Patriots are in the Super Bowl. I'm still having trouble saying the words. Chicago fans are all over the place, ogling topless signs, sex orgies on Bourbon Street. You can hear them saying, 'Hey, Louise, come look at this!' "

"Yeaaaaaah, Eddie!" cheer Boston fans who crowd about his rope.

Across town, Chicago sportscaster Chuck Swirsky, 31, was hunkered down at another hotel, beaming his WGN radio show back to the den of Bears. "I imagine that covering the New England Patriots," he laughs, "is about as exciting as going to Baskin-Robbins and ordering vanilla."

He has a theory about Bostonians: "Back when they dumped the tea in the river from the Boston Tea Party, something musta got in the water and made 'em a little wacky. But Paul Revere was smart; he got on his horse and got outta town."

bat10 As McMahon tossed bombs and the Fridge and Sweetness made mincemeat of Boston, the Superdome shook with Bearmania, and hundreds of reporters pounded out their tales of the rout. Some, jammed together like sardines, enjoyed exquisite views overlooking the playing field. But the Globe's John Powers hunched over his Radio Shack computer, watching the Bearfeast on a giant TV screen set up in the dank Superdome basement to handle press overflow.

It was Siberia but there was a free bar and timely fact sheets, cranked out every quarter by NFL gophers, and a box lunch, stuffed in a sack inside a monogramed treasure chest -- just another NFL souvenir for the working press.

"Grogan getting into the game sure made it all worth while," laughed Powers, preparing to wade into the postgame crowd in search of Boston fans' obituaries.

Suddenly a Darth Vader-style voice boomed over hidden loudspeakers, instructing the press to proceed to the "interview area," where winners and losers would emote on cue. "Follow the white line to the interview area," barked the voice. "The podium area will be used for the winning coach, the Most Valuable Player and the losing coach."

The voice was most stern about the contents of the box lunch. "Please don't take any food items to the interview area," it said.

bat16

With more than 500 reporters at the Hyatt, all fighting to file their stories at the same time over 180 long-distance phone lines, there is high anxiety and cursing. Third World countries boast superior phone service. There is always something to grouse about.

Everyone wants a reservation at Brennans or Antoines or Arnauds or Commander's Palace, an impossible task. Tom Callahan was complaining that there was no way the game could live up to the hype unless the teams "played to the death."

"You hear a lot of bitching by reporters," says Lincicome. " 'Look at this zoo, look at this circus.' What they don't realize is they're in the ring."