Thursday, February 4, 2010

Super Bowl week – call me when the game starts; More follow-up

If there is one thing I am thankful for as I head into my dotage it is that I am no longer under the control of an editor who can say something like, “I need you at The Super Bowl.”

That happened to me once, back in 1980, when I was happily covering college basketball for The Washington Post and George Solomon announced to me that, since I had done such a good job covering a number of Philadelphia Eagles games during the season, he was sending me to The Super Bowl.

This was the way George did things: he always wanted you to believe that he was doing YOU a favor when he gave you an assignment. All of us knew that and understood it so it wasn’t a big deal. Very early in my tenure at The Post, George walked up to me in the newsroom on a Friday afternoon and handed me a credential for that Sunday’s Redskins game.

“Listen,” he said. “You’re doing a hell of a job covering Maryland, you deserve a treat. Go to the game Sunday, sit with (Paul) Attner (the Redskins beat writer at the time) and (columnist Ken) Denlinger and have a good time.”

I was very happy that George had noticed how hard I was working. I was also exhausted. I had to cover a Maryland game at Pittsburgh the next afternoon and wouldn’t get home until late Saturday. On Sunday, I would have to write what was called, “the follow,” on the Maryland game but that meant a phone call to Coach Jerry Claiborne and maybe an hour writing. The rest of the day was mine.

So, I thanked George for the offer but said I was really looking forward to a quiet day (almost) off.

“You should go,” George said. “It’ll be fun.”

I’d gone to Redskins games before. They weren’t really my idea of fun. In the press box during Maryland games we joked and had fun throughout. The press box at a Redskins game was more like going to church or temple. The only one who ever seemed to crack a joke was Mo Siegel, the long-time Washington Star columnist.

“Maybe another time,” I said finally. “But thanks for thinking of me.”

George’s face went from friendly to all-business in about 2.4 seconds. “Look,” he said. “I need a sidebar.” He stuck the credential out. “You can park in lot 10. Easy walk from there.”

The Super Bowl assignment was pretty much the same deal. I tried—briefly—to tell George I’d really rather cover Ohio State at Virginia (Herb Williams vs. Ralph Sampson) on Super Bowl Sunday but I knew it was a done deal. So, off I went to New Orleans (which wasn’t a bad thing) to spend a week writing stories about how excited the two teams were to be there. In those days The Super Bowl was a smaller event, there was no “radio row,” as there is now and the coverage, while saturated, wasn’t around the clock.

Even so, I was glad to get home and return to college hoops. Nowadays, Super Bowl week has become little more than a corporate bazaar. The flaks walk up and down radio row pitching their products, which come in the form of athletes and coaches. Kurt Warner is pitching milk; Mark Sanchez and DeMarcus Ware are selling a soft drink and Sam Bradford, who isn’t even in the NFL yet, is pumping one of the phone companies. The list is endless. They’ll all go on anytime, anywhere as long as they get to make their corporate pitch.

On Wednesday, I happened to be in the car midday when one of the DC stations had Bradford on. It was clearly a hastily arranged interview because Bradford was somewhere on South Beach and on the phone, not on radio row. Still, the station took him because there’s been talk the Redskins might draft him.

So, one of the hosts asked him about The Big Game. “It’s going to be great,” he revealed exclusively. “It’s going to be exciting.”

Gee Sam, thanks for that.

“Who you picking?” the host asked, trying to keep some kind of conversation going.

“I think I’ll keep that to myself,” he said.

Huh? Did he think he was being asked his position on Health Care or Afghanistan? Does he honestly think anyone is going to remember or care on Monday if he said Saints or Colts? It is amazing how today’s jocks are trained in non-speak. Ask them what day it is and they’ll say, “Can’t really tell you but I’m sure it’s going to be great and you can bet my teammates and I will step up and give 110 percent.”

Bradford, who is part Native American, also refused to answer a question about whether he had any problem with the nickname of the Washington football team. The host, Kevin Sheehan, a really good guy who can go from zero to Redskins in a matter of seconds, took that as a good sign. “He has no problem with the nickname,” he concluded when the interview had mercifully ended.

Actually he had said he didn’t want to express his opinion. The only thing he had an opinion on was the great deal on the phone he was pitching.

You pick up the newspapers and while (thankfully) there’s no one pitching products, you are reading the same stories day after day. Who will make history, Manning or Brees? In Washington, which may be the most parochial alleged big city in America, today’s column was about Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Why? He was once the Redskins defensive coordinator. There will, of course, be a story on Mark Brunell, now a backup quarterback and holder for the Saints who Joe Gibbs brought to town as the savior a few years back. It didn’t exactly work out.

People ask me if I’m interested in The Super Bowl. “Sure,” I answer. “As soon as the game starts, I’ll be interested. Until then I don’t really need to hear another word or read another word because the chances are I’ve already heard or read all the words before.”

Of course this is exactly what the NFL wants. That’s why they stick the bye week in there even though no one involved in the game—players, coaches, media, fans---has any need for it. It gives the league a full week to be front and center with all of its various pitches and products. People talk about the game and all the hype surrounding it because they feel like they have to talk about it.

I understand that the guys sitting on radio row have a hard time turning down almost anyone with a name who wanders by trying to get his sales pitch on the air. After all, why be in the host city if not to get “names,” on the air. My God though it is numbing.

Someone please call me at 6:30 Sunday night and remind me the game’s starting. Once it is over (four hours later) we can all turn our attention to something important: Selection Sunday will only be five weeks away.


Two comments today on posts from yesterday. First, to the indignant Ray F. defender of all women in athletics: You’re right I DID say that the silly comments made by two women’s basketball coaches were an example of why it is SOMETIMES tough to take women’s sports seriously. I make similar comments about coaches and athletes who talk in jock-speak, about lawyers and agents never caught in a truth and about people in my profession (no doubt including me at times) who take ourselves too seriously.

Your refusal to simply admit what the coaches said was ridiculous is exactly what I’m talking about. A lot of people in women’s athletics take themselves much too seriously. Most women’s sports—tennis, gymnastics and figure skating are notable exceptions—aren’t nearly as popular as the men’s version of those sports. And yet a lot of people act as if they are or should be simply because they say it should be.

A few years ago when I still worked for ESPN I was taping, “Under the Boards,” (my name for the segment by the way, ESPN stole it after I left) at Cole Field House one day shortly after the Maryland women finished practicing. I started my first item with a reference to Massachusetts, calling the Minutemen, “the top basketball team in the country,” (they were ranked number one).

As I finished I noticed Chris Weller, then the women’s basketball coach at Maryland, whispering in the producer’s ear. Then she left.

“What was that about?” I asked.

“She said you should say the top MEN’S team in the country,” the producer said.

I was seriously tempted to shout after Weller: “Really, are there women’s teams out there BETTER than U-Mass?”

Please people, get over yourselves.

I will admit to being a wise guy about it on occasion. Years ago I was walking with my then-wife through Cameron Indoor Stadium on a Sunday afternoon. We were standing at one end of the floor. The women were practicing. A manager raced up and said, “Sir, I’m sorry, this is a closed practice.”

To which I responded: “Oh My God, does that mean I can’t get OUT?”

Second topic: The vitriol back and forth between loyalists of different military branches yesterday. Hey folks, we’re all on the same side, remember? I know there are rivalries and jealousies between branches and academies, but my goodness, let’s not get nuts here.

There were also comments that were plain stupid—which is unusual for this site. Someone claimed Marcus Curry was being protected by the academy because he was a “black football player.” Please. Ask Lamar Owens, an African American quarterback and team captain who was thrown out of the Navy for drinking and having sex with a female midshipmen (rules violations at Navy, the norm at civilian schools) if black football players are protected. Ask Nate Frazier, who was separated for an honors violation last August—and would have been BY FAR Navy’s best defensive player this season—if black STAR football players are protected.

As I said, based on the information that we have, I think Admiral Jeffrey Fowler needs to separate Marcus Curry unless there is some mitigating circumstance (besides his football ability) we don’t know about. But the bleating directed at the academy and the Navy is ridiculous. And the guy who claimed the academies have lowered their academic standards in a “pathetic,” attempt to play Division 1-A football should ask Missouri and Houston just how pathetic Navy and Air Force were in their bowl games. They could also ask Notre Dame how pathetic Navy has been in recent years. They should also get to know some of the kids who play football at the academies.

Okay, time to go back to listening to Kurt Warner sell milk.


Anonymous said...

How about the USF Bulls giving the Hoyas an ass kicking on their home court!

Kevin Kaczmarek said...

Hey, John...on a lighter note, how about this college basketball season? This year, it truly seems like anyone, can bet anyone else on any given night. What are your thoughts on the rest of the season?

Ray F said...

I'm not indignant, John. I'm just trying to get a handle on what your feeling are about women's sports. I have just recently started to read this blog, so some of what you're saying and writing is new to me. And just for the record, you said "often" and not "sometimes" in reference to why it is tough to take women's sports seriously.

khesser said...

Hey John, your mention of Ken Denlinger reminded me that he wrote a very good book on Joe Paterno in the mid 90s, mainly on the class of 1992.

Dana King said...

Kurt Warner's not just selling milk: God has chosen him to sell milk.

pt wiley said...

Unfortunately, it appears as if the NCAA - which never met a model of greed and excess it didn't choose to emulate - is determined to follow the path of the NFL and milk its popularity to the last drop by "expanding" March Madness beyond its current 65 teams.

I have been away from this site for a while, so forgive me if I am revisiting a tired subject. But the conflation of the NFL and College BB in today's post just reminded me of my frustration over the fact that - in the corporate mindset - nothing is ever enough.

Gunnar said...

Dana King, that is very funny.

John, Good to see Watson coming out against some of Tiger's on course behavior. It really bothered me that his driver went bounding into the crowd in Australia (with no apology). Of course, other events in November soon took over the news.

Ray, I really like my alma mater's soccer teams (M and W), crew teams (M and W) and softball team. But there are only two revenue sports the vast majority of alums and fans care about.

Ronald said...

John, talk about irony, ANOTHER former Redskin QB is also in the Super Bowl with the Saints. Chase Daniel was cut by the Skins and then offered a place on their practice team. Chase elected to sign with the Saints. He has been on the active roster for the last 8games and is active for the Super Bowl. So, he went from practice team and practice salary for the lowly Skins to active roster/salary AND Super Bowl in his first year!

Bill73 said...

Since Marcus Curry was retained, I feel the Superintendent at the Naval Academy must have felt there were overriding extenuating cicumstances to do so, especially in light of Lamar Owens and Nate Frazier having been separated.

Anonymous said...

If Bill73's assumption is correct, why doesn't the Super share his reasons for retaining Curry with Curry's fellow midshipmen? Could it be that the USNA had retained the services of Eldrick Wood's stellar PR firm?

Anonymous said...

I'm getting a little off topic today, but can someone explain to me why the PGA Tour cannot set their own rules, why do they have to follow the USGA? Is the PGA Tour not a member organization like the NBA, ATP, MLS, etc?

The NBA isn't beholden to any lawsuits/regulations from FIBA, and the ATP doesn't have to play by USTA regulations at all why is the PGA Tour chained to a manufacturer lawsuit vs. the USGA?

Mark said...

Can anyone remember anything newsworthy happening right before a Super Bowl? I have watched all 42 and the only thing I can remember is that Falcon getting busted for trying to solicit who he thought was a hooker.

There is so much noise before a Super Bowl that I think everyone just tunes it out.

Anonymous said...

R.I.P: Tricky Dick McGuire, ball handler supreme, and architect of the Knicks first championship team has passed onto the big court in the sky!

Anonymous said...

Stanley Wilson got busted for Coke the night before the Bengals played he 49ers after the 1988 season.

想想 said...

happy new year............................................................

Mr. X said...

I hope, if the time comes, Bradford tells DarkHeart to take his racist team name and stick it where the sun doesn't shine.