by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

NEW ORLEANS — A-hem. If we can have your attention, please. We are about to begin the slide show entitled “Our Week At The Super Bowl” or “Get That Cigar Out Of My Face You Ugly Denver Mutant.” This is a close-up view of the life of a sports writer, and should not be confused with the TV show “Wild Kingdom,” although parts may look the same.

Chik-chik. Ah. Here we are Monday morning, arriving at the New Orleans airport. And here we are Monday evening, still waiting at baggage claim. Here is the airline worker who promises our bags will be found by the end of the month, if not later. And here we are boarding the bus to our Official Super Bowl hotel, where, unless we want to walk around naked all week, we will go to the gift shop and buy two T-shirts and a pair of sweat pants for $837.56 or, with socks, a flat $2,000, which the newspaper will pay for. Next month the newspaper will announce no raises this year.

Chik-chik. Here we are checking into the hotel. “What,” says the bellman,
“no luggage?” Chik-chik. Here we are, passing ex-NFL star Walter Payton in the lobby. “Hey, Walter,” we say. He looks at us as if we had dripped on his carpet.

Here we are picking up press credentials and IMPORTANT MEDIA INFORMATION. This is an envelope that weighs 34 pounds and contains brochures on the countless parties being thrown this week by people who still live on plantations. A good sports writer, of course, will attend every one of these parties, not because he knows these people, but because he is bound by Super Bowl Rule No. 1: NEVER PAY FOR YOUR OWN FOOD.

Latest line: 49ers by an ocean liner.

Chik-chik. Tuesday Here we are at the First Official Media-Player Interview Session, where this question will actually be asked: “Bubba, if you could be any tree in the world, what would it be?” By the way — chik-chik — the players are the 40 tall, muscular men who have no necks. The journalists are the 900 other lunatics, bumming cigarettes.

U.S. media: crowded around the quarterback.

International media: crowded around the place kickers.

We are all looking for A HOT STORY. Luckily, we have plenty of time to make one up. Were this a normal NFL game, we might arrive an hour before kickoff. But because this is the Super Bowl, we arrive six days before kickoff, to cover the really important news events, such as Jerry Rice coming out of a restaurant.

Normally, NFL players can look forward to three days a week without reporters, during which time, it is believed, they walk around smoking pipes and reading Nietzsche. When the press shows up, they hide the books and say things such as, “I kick that sumwhat upside the head, bo, ye-say?”

But during Super Bowl week, alas, the players must actually be in the same room as the press for a whole hour a day! This is why, the NFL explains, we should understand when a player occasionally loses his temper and impales a sports writer on a tripod. This is merely “pre-game jitters,” and probably means the player will score two touchdowns on Sunday.

There is, however, another problem. Many writers at the Super Bowl come from magazines such as Sleek Weekly, which has pulled them off the Paris fashion piece for a cutesy feature on America’s Biggest Sporting Event. These writers wouldn’t know Roger Craig from Lillian Gish and so — chik-chik — as you see, the NFL makes the players stand under signs bearing their names.
“RONNIE LOTT.” “BOBBY HUMPHREY.” Sometimes, just for fun, three players will stand under the same sign and say things such as: “My name is Keena Turner. My name is Keena Turner. My name is Keena Turner.”

We could solve this problem if we just found Ike Turner. But who knows where he is?

Oops. Here we are on Bourbon Street, with those little drink umbrellas stuck up our noses. How did that get in there?

Chik-chik. Wednesday By now, we are in the thick of Super Bowl week, which means we begin asking the really tough questions, like what the players had for breakfast.

Speaking of breakfast, perhaps you would like to hear the typical sports writer’s schedule:

7:15 a.m. Wake-up call.

7:16 a.m. Go back to sleep.

2:30 p.m. Wake up.

4 p.m. Meet other sports writers in lobby and ask them what happened.

7 p.m. File story.

It is a terribly grueling routine and that is why one day, someone came up with the completely insane idea of a big room with couches where they actually

serve beer for free. It is called — chik-chik — the press lounge.

Chik-chik. Here we are in the press lounge talking about how overpaid Vance Johnson is. Chik-chik. Here we are in the press lounge talking about how overpaid Brent Musburger is. Chik-chik. Here we are sleeping on the couch, next to a bowl of cheeseballs.

But enough work. Did we show you the French Quarter? Chik- chik. The French Quarter is the colorful section of New Orleans where thousands of happy fans gather for a festive night of public vomiting. Here is a picture of The Old N’Awlins Cafe and Trough. Here is The Old N’Awlins Shot Glass And Punch Out The Bartender Saloon. Here is The Old N’Awlins Dance On Your Table Semi-Naked Family Style Grill. Chik-chik.

Oooh. Here is Bourbon Street, a famous New Orleans landmark where some saloons are loud, screaming, fall-down drunk places, but others are really wild. Bourbon Street has great Super Bowl tradition. It is where legendary carousers such as John Matuszak and Jim McMahon came every night to urinate.

Chik-chik. And here’s a picture of a typical Super Bowl fan. Note the half-closed eyes and the silly smile. Also note the official sweatshirt of his favorite team ($57.95) and — chik-chik — the official belt of his favorite team ($39.95) and — chik-chik — the official fluorescent sunglasses that blink the colors of his favorite team ($28.95). All this so that, just in case he runs into one of his favorite players on Bourbon Street, the guy will look at him fondly and say: “Get lost.”

Latest line: 49ers by a shopping mall and two condos.

Chik-chik. Thursday Well, it has been a quiet week so naturally it is time for A MAJOR CONTROVERSY in which SEVERAL KEY PLAYERS will be embroiled in A REALLY IMPORTANT ISSUE. A few years ago, the issue was whether Jim McMahon mooned a helicopter. We never did get a straight answer on that.

This week, suddenly, it is a drug scandal, which is about as new to sports as ace bandages. The buzz is that three white quarterbacks failed their drug tests. At least that’s the rumor. Actually, someone in the lobby might have been telling a friend, “I have these three white quarter horses, and their tails were in a bug nest,” and a reporter, who just got up at 3 p.m. and therefore missed the IMPORTANT PRESS CONFERENCES, stumbles past and says
“What? Three white quarterbacks failed their drug tests?” And another reporter says “What? Joe Montana is going to prison?”

This is what we call a hot tip.

So now everyone is racing around the room, sticking microphones into faces

and saying “Are you a white quarterback? And if so, when will you be paroled?” The players, who by this point in the week, don’t forget, have spent two whole hours with the media, and therefore are ready to do something truly desperate, like watch PBS, can sense that something is up. The interviews have changed.

Pre-controversy: “Joe, what type of dental floss do you use?”

Controversy: “Joe, what will you miss most about the outside world? And what type of dental floss do you use?”

Joe thinks for a minute, then gives a thoughtful answer. “I believe if we can split their cornerbacks, we can win this ball game.”

We rush to the telephones.

Chik-chik. Friday By now the MAJOR CONTROVERSY has swelled to HUGE proportions, and for all we know, half the NFL could be in a Turkish prison by kickoff. Unfortunately, we can’t be bothered with such details because Friday is THE NIGHT OF THE BIG PARTY. This is the party for which sports writers wait all year, because it usually features at least 4,000 pounds of shrimp, 3,000 cases of vodka, 2,000 chocolate creme pies and 1,500 really pretty women in low-cut dresses who are hoping to meet Bubba or Skipper or one of those football player types.

THE BIG PARTY was invented by former commissioner Pete Rozelle, who figured if he got all the journalists blotter- faced drunk, they might not notice that NFL ticket prices had gone up to $875, for bleacher seats.

Chik-chik. Ooh, look. Here we are on the lobster line. Chik- chik. Here we are on the conga line. Chik-chik. Here we are, kissing the bartender. Chik-chik. Here we are sleeping on the couches in the press lounge, next to a bowl of cheeseballs. What a party! (By the way, the commissioner and his VIP guests — including your Owners, your Corporate Sponsors and your occasional Diana Ross or Bruce Willis — do actually attend the party, but are sectioned off from the rest of the 2,700 riff-raff guests, so that they don’t have to touch the dreaded REGULAR PEOPLE and catch God knows what.)

By Saturday morning, the CONTROVERSY has been forgotten.

And room service is out of aspirin.

Chik-chik. Saturday We are now down to SERIOUS BUSINESS. The players no longer meet with the media, because, with just 24 hours to kickoff, they have to do some really important things, such as giving those women in low-cut dresses back to their husbands.

Meanwhile, as you can see — chik-chik — no one in the press hotel is going anywhere because the lobby is now stuffed with cigar-smoking, aftershave-soaked, beer-bellied creatures from another planet, many of whom need tickets. No one knows where these creatures come from. But if you try to squeeze through them, you will surely be found dead by morning, and these will be the last words you hear: “Anybody got two, I need two–YO! BOBBY! YOU NO GOO–buses leaving at–Mendez! Donde esta el stanzo–EEEYOOOHEE!!–need two, got two–so he’ll take 10 percent off the gross, but only–NINERS! AWWRIGHT! WHOO!–don’t have the credit cards, so how can I –Texi?–WHLZLMYP!–need two, got two . . .”

The smart person finds shelter from this until game time, or, failing that
— chik-chik — a sports writer’s room. Here you see the 23 room service trays. Normally the cleaning people pick these up, but the cleaning people have stopped coming since we put that note on the door: “The next person who knocks before 2 p.m. will be killed by my rottweiler.” This also explains why the sheets are now the color of chili sauce. Notice the feet sticking out from under that pile of newspapers? Heh-heh. Hee. Yeah. We have no idea who that is.


This is the night before the Super Bowl on Bourbon Street, which, as you can see, looks like a revolution in Bogota. And here — chik-chik — is Sunday morning on Bourbon Street, where a big truck scoops up all the bodies and drops them at the Marriott lost-and-found.

Which brings us to the present, with the BIG GAME just hours away. Wow. How about that? And while it was truly a whirlwind week, it was certainly worthwhile, because we can now honestly say this: We have no idea who will win this game. We only hope we didn’t leave our press pass on the barbecue grill.

By the way, there is strong sentiment to make New Orleans the permanent home of the Super Bowl. Good idea. By the time we come back, they may have found our luggage.



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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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