PHOENIX (AP) — This is not a story about Super Bowl Media Day. Thank God. This IS a story about the story of Super Bowl Media Day.
It's a story about the media covering other media pretending to cover players and coaches for the Patriots and Seahawks, who, in turn, will pretend to shed light on the issues of the day while also taking videos with their iPhones, clowning with credentialed "reporters" dressed up as superheroes and dodging the occasional wedding proposal. (See, Tom Brady, 2008.)
Tickets for Tuesday's annual Super Bowl Media Day extravaganza are available for $28.50 — really — and have been since 2012.
All of which leads to a few journalistically significant questions: Namely, if the players and coaches don't really want to do it — yes, that's you, Bill Belichick and Marshawn Lynch — and if we're almost certain they won't say anything newsworthy beyond a few takes that might generate a was-it-or-wasn't-it-trash-talk debate, then why does the NFL insist they talk? On Media Day or any other day?
"It's not so much that anyone's really expecting any great insight," said Bob Thompson, the pop culture guru at Syracuse University. "It's not that we're expecting the athletes to deconstruct what happened in ways that will open new venues of thought for us. But there's still that desire to see them respond, to see them with the helmet off and see them doing something that looks off the cuff. I think everybody, even the most cynical people, would miss it if it went away entirely."
The history of Media Day, and mandatory player availability, actually has deep roots and has played a key role in making the NFL America's most popular sport and the Super Bowl its most-watched TV program.
The first news-making quote of Super Bowl week came in 1969 when Joe Namath guaranteed his New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts, even though the Jets were from the upstart AFL and were 18-point underdogs.
He first uttered the famous words at a Miami Touchdown Club banquet, three days before the game, then expanded on them while lounging by the pool at the Galt Ocean Mile Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale. Neither rendition was widely reported.
Only after New York's 16-7 win did the quote become legendary.
As the years passed, the NFL realized it would be better to move all these interviews — all these chances to make history — to a more official setting: And so, a media day on the Tuesday before the game was created.
By the mid-80s, media day became MEDIA DAY. These days, there are upward of 2,000 reporters, cameramen, brides and sock puppets credentialed for the interview-fest — one hour for each team, counted down on the big scoreboard above, just like the game.
It is, at best, entertainment disguised as journalism, though not all of it is worthless or totally unmemorable. Ray Buchanan wore a silver-spiked dog collar. Chris Culliver got into hot water when he dissed gay people. And there was, of course, the question asked of Doug Williams: "How long have you been a black quarterback?" though the question wasn't asked precisely that way.
Underneath all this fun and games, the NFL has spent decades honing a strict interview policy designed to keep the mikes in front of these players, virtually all season long.
Even when they don't want the attention.
Exhibit A is Lynch, the Seahawks running back, who has been fined $100,000 over the last two years for not making himself available for interviews. When he has made himself available, the sessions have turned into farce, with Lynch answering every question with some version of , "Thanks for asking," while the reporters come up with new, weird ways to bait a man they know will not respond.
Earlier this month, a Seahawks fan petitioned the NFL to leave Lynch alone, saying the league should do something to stop the media bullying.
"There's a great deal spoken in his silence, too," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll explained.
Whether Lynch shows up for Media Day — he'd be risking an almost certainly unprecedented fine — and what he says figures to pass for some of the biggest news of Media Day. And if he says anything at all of interest, it could, at least for the news cycle, bump Deflategate off the top of the ticker.
Speaking of which, Belichick called an impromptu news conference Saturday to address their role in the deflated-balls controversy once and for all. Essentially, he claimed, the Patriots knew nothing about it.
"It's the last time I plan to talk about it," he said.
Brian Billick, who coached the champion Ravens in 2000, played the same sort of game the Monday before the Super Bowl, reaming the media for its refusal to let go of murder charges against Ray Lewis that were dismissed.
"As much as you want to do this, we are not going to retry this. It's inappropriate, and you're not qualified," Billick said.
It was one of the very few times a coach used any of his five hours behind the microphone during Super Bowl week to say anything unexpected or interesting.
A calculated move, he called it. "I wanted everyone to come after my ass," he said this week, reflecting on the moment.
"As I always said, I'll fill up your notebook, I'll give you the 30-second sound bite," Billick said. "But I'm not obligated to tell you anything."
But Belichick is no Billick.
The Patriots coach almost seems to delight in being unforthcoming, cantankerous and un-entertaining. It's a sure thing he'll spend his hour at Media Day with zero intention of saying anything about anything anyone might want to know about, particularly Deflategate.
It doesn't mean the media won't try. Perhaps through a marriage proposal.
It is, after all, Media Day.
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