COSTA MESA, Calif. — The Giants players were all in their designated seats. Only Tony Galbreath’s seat was empty. He would not be available today. He had taken the big leap, stepped off the silver screen of the Super Bowl. Like the hero in the “Purple Rose of Cairo,” he was walking through real life now.

With a movie camera.

“Oh, man, look at all these people,” Galbreath said, eyeing a mob of reporters around teammate Phil McConkey. “This is no good. Excuse me . . . Excuse me . . . “

With each “excuse me” he yanked another reporter out of the way, until he was through the crowd, then in front of the crowd, his large frame dwarfing those alongside him. Tony Galbreath, the New York Giants running back, with a movie camera on his shoulder. A Hitachi Cam-n-Corder with a microphone the size of a baby dill pickle.

“NOW THEN, MR. McCONKEY!” he said, leaving no doubt whose question would be answered next. “WITH ALL THESE PEOPLE WATCHING YOU IN THE SUPER BOWL, DID YOU EVER DREAM YOU’D BE HERE?”

Phil McConkey grinned the way he would never grin at a real reporter. He answered the way he would never answer a real reporter. He made a face.

“NYYYAAAAAGHH . . . “

Gotcha.

Things have come full circle. Once, the players were the story. Now, a player is getting the story. On film. From the inside. Tony Galbreath. The Hitachi Cam-n-Corder with the baby dill microphone.

It was a gimmick thought up by CBS. A Super Bowl diary. Pick a player on each team. Let him go all the places they cannot, tape rolling. At day’s end, he gives them the tapes, they take what they can use and give them back. Galbreath gets to keep the camera. That is his payment. The camera and the tapes. All the tapes.

“MR. JOE MORRIS! STAND ON THE TABLE! STAND UP ON THE TABLE!”

“Oh, maaaan,” Morris said.

“UP ON THE TABLE, MR. MORRIS. COME ON, NOW!”

Some players might have pooh-poohed the idea. Captured a few moments, kept the camera. Not Galbreath. He had taken it into the locker room. He had taken it into the hotel rooms. He had taken it seriously.

Almost everywhere he went during Super Bowl week, the camera went with him, resting straight on his broad shoulders. He was the soldier as war correspondent, the mirror that is held up to a mirror, held up to a mirror, held up to a mirror. . . . He was a player filming his own Super Bowl week.

“What have you captured?” he was asked on Tuesday.

“I got some guys mooning the camera in the locker room,” he said. “CBS won’t be able to use that, of course.”

“What did you capture?” he was asked Wednesday.

“I got some guys singing,” he said. “They won’t be able to use it, ’cause there was some, you know, not-so-great language.”

What will they be able to use? Who knows? Who cares? This is Tony Galbreath’s first Super Bowl. He will be 33 Thursday. He may never be here again. He was a star with New Orleans in the late ’70s, then was traded to Minnesota and eventually to the Giants. Now, he is mostly a pass-catching specialist. He is no longer one of the big names. But he has the camera. He is keeping the tapes.

“I got it all in here,” he said, tapping the Hitachi. “I am going to be like Richard Nixon. I will have all the tapes, the inside story, and everybody is gonna want to get them.

“I ain’t gonna let ’em have ’em, either. This is just for me and my teammates.”

He walked into the hallway, camera on shoulder. People stared at him in his black sweat suit and sunglasses. He saw them only through a one-inch viewfinder.

“Let’s check out the defense,” he said, entering its designated interview room. He spotted Jim Burt and stuck the camera in his face. Burt grinned. Galbreath went up to linebacker Carl Banks, who was already being interviewed. Banks spotted his teammate and started laughing in mid-sentence. Galbreath went up to cornerback Mark Collins.

“MISTER COLLINS!” Galbreath bellowed.

“HI, MOM!” Collins said.

On Tuesday, Galbreath caught several teammates in the showers. On Wednesday, he snuck in on Mark Bavaro, the silent tight end, and got him to laugh and wave at the camera, something no legitimate reporter has done. On Thursday, Galbreath lined up five players in a make-believe game show and he fired questions at them. “WHICH NEW YORK GIANT HAS THE BIGGEST NOSE?” The players slapped at make-believe buzzers, each trying to be the quickest to answer. “Bobby Johnson has the biggest nose!” “Maurice Carthon has the biggest nose!”

He has it all. What do we have? For all the hype, all the reports, the countless newspaper clippings and 10-second sound bites of the seven-day insanity known as Super Bowl week, what do we really know? Do any of us have the players mooning the camera? No. None of us do.

“MR. BOBBY JOHNSON, YOU ARE THE BEST RECEIVER ON THE GIANTS TEAM–“

“I am?”

“YES YOU ARE, AND I WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT PLAYING IN THE SUPER BOWL AND HAVING 100 MILLION PEOPLE WATCHING EVERY TIME SOME GUY KNOCKS YOUR BUTT OFF.”

“Damn, Tony! Nobody gonna knock my butt off. Damn!”

“OK. THANK YOU!”

It is crazy, yes? It makes no sense? Well. This is a week that reporters lined up like cattle outside a Southern California stadium until the gates were opened and the players made available. This was a week where someone asked John Elway: “What is your favorite opera?” On one day, Lawrence Taylor said he was threatened with a $5,000 fine, but no one knows who threatened him, and on another day Vance Johnson talked about his artwork and his earrings and his Grace Jones hair. There are big plans to dump Gatorade on a coach’s head. And this morning there are people running through hotels with their faces painted blue and orange, and they are talking about a football game that will be aired around the world, including Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Iceland, and did you know the halftime show will feature 100 years of Hollywood?

“What do you think of all this?” a reporter asked Galbreath Wednesday from behind a TV camera.

“What do you think of all this?” Galbreath answered, spinning around so that his camera pointed right back.

A mirror to a mirror. A camera talking to a camera. Super Bowl week. All is well. CUTLINE: Tony Galbreath

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