SAN DIEGO -- By now everyone who watches sports on television knows that the line of demarcation between an average, nondescript event and a Big Event is a blimp. Sorry Charlie, but if you don't rate a blimp, you just don't rate, you're basically cat food. Official certification of just how big a deal this Super Bowl is came on Tuesday when the Goodyear blimp, the Slice blimp and the Fuji blimp were all in the sky over San Diego. Three blimps! And it's not even the weekend yet. At this pace by Sunday we could see a world record for blimps. And speaking of blimps, how is it that John Madden doesn't endorse a blimp? He endorses everything else. (I know he's afraid to fly, but they could attach wires from the blimp down to the Maddencruiser, and he could drive and pretend the blimp was a kite.)
So okay, besides more blimps, what else might we see by Sunday? How about Ollie North? (Mike Downey of the Los Angeles Times suggested that North's favorite Redskins player was Jay Shredder.) Ollie's obviously a team favorite. When he gave the Redskins a pep talk, they cheered for him. Maybe the next scheme he cooks up that completely circumvents the Constitution of the United States he'll give it the code name Counter-Trey. Ollie ought to come on out here, and bring his friend Poindexter, since this is a good Navy town. If there's a trend, maybe next year G. Gordon Liddy can greet everyone at training camp. To continue the politicalization of the Redskins we probably ought to have George Bush and Dan Rather out here, too. Rather can come as Bush's trainer. A few more of these pit bull interviews, Bush's wimp factor will be gone, and the Redskins can activate him as a defensive back.
Did someone say: Where's the news?
This is Super Bowl Week. There is no news here. There are no reporters. We're all working for the NFL.
Tuesday is traditionally "Picture Day." (I need a photo opportunity. I need a shot at redemption. A whole week of this and I'll end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard.) The teams are brought out, in uniform, for an hour apiece and fed to the media. Like cells dividing before your eyes on a biology slide, ever-shifting pods of reporters gather around a player, ask questions, get answers, and move on to recombine around another player. The stars, of course, get the most attention. John Elway can't burp without it being heard live in the top 100 American TV markets and most of Western Europe.
As you might have expected, Dexter Manley attracted oncoming waves of reporters, most of whom were trying to bait him into saying something inflammatory or idiotic -- either would do. (At one point I heard him say about the Redskins, "We've been breaded real well, and we think we'll win." I'm not sure if Dexter thinks this is the Super Bowl or the Pillsbury Bake-Off.) But Dexter wasn't about to start ranting that he'd ring Elway's clock, or clean Elway's chimes, or wax Elway's car for that matter. Indeed, he praised Elway, and recapitulating his gastronomic theme, said, "If we don't get to John Elway, we'll be sucking raw eggs." My own ever-shifting pod moved away from Dexter when a reporter, probably sent here from Billboard, asked Dexter to sing the Redskins' fight song.
You hear a lot of truly thoughtful questions asked during Super Bowl Week. For example, Rich Milot was asked: If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be? He answered, "a badger," passing up the preferred WCXR Classic Rock answer: Eric Burdon. Some players, however, tire of such eclectic questions, like Vance Johnson, who prefers to refer to himself, modestly, as "The Vance." The Vance was piqued at so many people asking him about his hairstyle, which, incidentally, he also calls "The Vance," making for some very confusing conversations at the styling salon. Why, after all, should so many people care about The Vance's hair? Don't all football players wear a Boz Cut and dye the upswept hair on top and the rat-tail in the back a bright orange? The Vance probably would have preferred to be asked about beating the zone defense, and the reporters who clamored for tales about his earrings and The Three Amigos and all his self-promoting marketing plans, they were just missing the point. It's not like The Vance came here just to get famous. "I did that last year," The Vance said.
And then there are those few players who, even with all this hype going around, are ignored. Blissfully alone with his camera was Denver wide receiver Rick Massie. A replacement player now on injured reserve, Massie sat in the stands, gazing around him, trying to drink it all in. "I'm a small town kid -- Paris, Ky., 12 minutes outside Lexington. Nothing big ever came out of my town, so to some people I'm kind of a hero. I want to share this with them. I brought my camera so I could take pictures to show to everyone back home, they'll want to see everything: players, reporters, everything.
"I'm a scrapbook person anyway. I got Muhammad Ali's autograph in 1974. I've gotten John Elway's autograph for my friends, and snuck one in for me, too. I'll bring back every souvenir I can: the newspaper stories, the sheet listing our itinerary, I'm even saving the envelope my room key came in. They gave me a bag when we got to our hotel. I've got 100 bags, I'll probably never use it. But it says 'Denver Broncos/Super Bowl XXII,' and the folks back home will want to see it.
"See, you spend your whole life hearing about something like this. You never really think you'll actually be a part of it. When it comes, you want to get everything."
He ducked his head, embarrassed at the way he sounded. "You probably think that's corny," he said.
"Not at all," I said.
I asked if he'd like me to take his picture with the scoreboard in the background -- you could see him in his jersey next to the writing that said Welcome to Jack Murphy Stadium And Super Bowl XXII -- so he'd have it for a souvenir. He smiled as bright as the sun.