PHOENIX — We regret that Marshawn Lynch was unavailable at this time, but there were plenty of other diverting and amusing characters available for interview, starting with the normally humor-disabled Bill Belichick, whose shocking monkey-puppet admission may have been the highlight of the digital swarm that was Super Bowl media day. Which, by the way, the media itself wandered through needlessly, looking lost and obsolete among the thriving nonprofessionals, the hustling songstresses, the cable television stunt people who embody the phrase artificial intelligence, and the walking anthropoid advertisements such as the man wearing nothing but suspenders and a barrel. No, it wasn’t Tom Brady.
On this annual cyber brawl of an occasion, people stretched themselves into cartoon shapes, both willingly and unwillingly. Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski did the Heisman pose, and made it seem like something in fishnet. The Nickelodeon superhero Pick Boy was there in his tights, orange cape, black mask, and those lime green shorties over his leggings. “Underwear on the outside, fashion forward, years from now they’ll say it started here,” he said. Asked to reveal his real name, he said, “If that info falls into the wrong hands, we’re all in trouble.”
Nothing truthful could happen in these circumstances — no man from the New England Patriots or the Seattle Seahawks was going to suddenly lean over the microphone and murmur into it confessionally about some long concealed distress, “My father was an alcoholic and I think that’s why I. . . . ” No. Marshawn Lynch would not choose this day for his long-awaited cathartic outpouring. “I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” the Seahawks’ most famous introvert intoned.
Yet, there was still something revealing in this yearly ritual. Super Bowl week is partly an assessment of the team with the most balanced collective temperament, and media day is a part of that test. Qualities emerged. Just when you started looking at your watch and trying to calculate the time and distance from this weirdness back to Normal Land, things happened that were interesting enough to make you stay and listen. You discovered who had real self-possession in the face of the most absurd requests. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson danced a courtly little salsa with a reporter from Televisa on command, and even gave her a twirl.
Rob Gronkowski initially demurred when he was asked to sing with the flirtatious semi-star Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child. “Awwww, I’m bad at singing,” he said, but finally relented and did a croaking falsetto line about kissing a girl and liking it. Next, Williams had him cawing “Eye of the Tigerrrr” from Katy Perry’s “Roar.”
Julian Edelman sat protected by his lush facial growth, twirling his moustache sly as a carney barker as he fielded questions. No one could humiliate him behind that thicket. “Man, I have a beard on my face looks like a squirrel,” he said.
Who handled gracefully the bonhomie of retired players now wielding microphones, asking questions with one hand while bro-slapping their backs with the other? Who cantered briskly through the most stupid queries, like, “What’s your favorite gas station snack?!”
Who was beyond embarrassment? There was Gronk, obligingly reading a line from that notorious classic of erotica, “A Gronking to Remember,” finishing the sentence with perfect diction and sibilant emphasis on his T’s.
Who had enough internal ballast to choose wit over testiness in the face of so many slap-silly questions? Especially the ones about beards, from Gronk’s stubbly little chinstrap to Michael Bennett’s growth the size and shape of a veal chop. “Great guys have beards man,” Bennett said. “Moses had a beard, Genghis Khan had one. Even Jesus had one.”
Is hair going to be a factor, someone asked Patriots quarterback Brady, whose cowlicks stuck up like a cockatoo’s?
“Not mine,” he said.
Who was nice to kids, and who made a little fun of themselves? Belichick, that’s who. He shuffled into the room like a kindly grandpa, in his hoodie, jeans, and flip flops, and answered questions with, if not expansiveness, patience. Which approached kindliness when Jerod Mayo’s little daughter was hoisted up so she could ask him what kind of stuffed animals he likes.
“A puppet you can kind of put your fingers in,” he replied. Only he didn’t stop there. “A little monkey,” he said. “So he can talk and move his fingers and nod his head.”
No sooner had you recovered from your slack jawed giggling than here came a voice from the back of the crowd braying at Belichick if he remembered “going to dinner with me in Nantucket?” Belichick kind of ha-hahed at the guy in vague recognition. But then the braying voice asked if Belichick wanted to put a hit out on anyone. Belichick’s ha-haing trailed off.
“Moving forward, if you need anybody murdered in this next week, I’m your guy,” the brayer yelled. “You just tell me and I’ll take ‘em out, no questions asked!”
“Well,” Belichick said. And then he delivered the line of the day.
“Right now I’m just thinking about Seattle,” he said.
Back behind Belichick, Edelman was still answering questions about the beard thing. “Man have you seen what’s happening back east?” he said. “Weather. Got to keep the face warm.”
As things wound down, as the costumers and cable hosts drifted out of the room, a little bit of space opened up. Enough for one or two straightforward questions that elicited actual human answers. “Yeah,” Edelman said in response to a murmured query about the quality of his sleep during the long nights until Sunday, “you do dream about the Super Bowl.” Off in another corner, the 37-year-old Brady was talking about getting his head right for what could be his last one of these things. What was he thinking of?
“Winning,” he said. “If you have some doubt this week,” he added, “you just close your eyes and imagine yourself winning.”
Photos: Scenes from the circus