LAS VEGAS — The circus was in town Monday night.
No, not Cirque du Soleil. Not the traditional circus we all know and love. No lions, tigers, elephants or bears. But clowns? Oh yeah, we got clowns.
Under the big top of Allegiant Stadium they arrived. Some 4,000 of them. Armed and ready to ask some of the most preposterous questions you could imagine. Several of the attendees dressed to draw attention to themselves. Like the guy who thinks he’s Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid and dresses the part, headset and play chart included.
Welcome to the NFL’s Super Bowl Opening Night. They wanted everyone to know this was the first time they held the event inside the actual Super Bowl stadium rather than some basketball or hockey arena as in years past. Why that matters, I’m not quite sure, but the NFL has already had an inflated opinion of itself so I shouldn’t be surprised.
Once upon a time, this gathering used to be called “Media Day” where reporters could ask players questions about the game and other things pertinent to football.
Then the roles began to become reversed. You had “reporters,” and I used that word very, very loosely, dress up in wedding gowns hoping to elicit marriage proposals from Tom Brady. More buffoonery ensued and the NFL finally said, “Wait a second, this isn’t really about football” or the media for that matter. So the NFL decided to sell tickets to the circus while weeding out some of the so-called media types. Hey, what did P.T. Barnum once say about there’s a sucker being born every minute?
For $30, including fees (Now that’s a bargain!), you were able to come inside and watch people like myself try to gain insight from players from the Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. Nearly 24,000 decided to get out of the rain for a few hours.
Incidentally, I gained few insights. I wasn’t interested in rehashing the whole Travis Kelce-Taylor Swift relationship so I didn’t partake in the scrum by the Kelce podium. I did manage to get Reid — the real one — to answer a football question for a column I’ll be writing later this week. And I also got a 1-on-1 interview with Raiders owner Mark Davis who was standing by himself in the end zone taking in the scene so the evening wasn’t a total loss.
You’ll be shocked to know it hasn’t always been like this. Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, way back in 1969, the year man landed and walked on the moon and the Mets won the World Series, the quarterback of the New York Jets was out by the pool of the Galt Ocean Mile, a hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Joe Namath, the QB, was holding court with a gaggle of reporters. Maybe seven or eight of them. Could’ve been nine if you count the person behind the woman who had caught Namath’s eye.
There’s photographic evidence that this took place. The legendary photographer Walter Iooss Jr. snapped the famous shot of a bare-chested, sun-tanned Namath talking to reporters days before the Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts at the Orange Bowl in Miami in Super Bowl III.
My friends Jerry Izenberg and Brent Musberger were both in the media audience by the pool hanging out with Broadway Joe, shooting the breeze and talking about how the Jets were going to find a way to beat the Colts despite being 17-point underdogs (Yes, you could bet on the Super Bowl even back then!).
Izenberg, who covered every Super Bowl up until 54, which ironically was the Chiefs and the 49ers, said that was the norm back in those days.
“At the first Super Bowl in Los Angeles, I interviewed (Chiefs center) E.J. Holub in his hotel room,” Izenberg said. “In those days, you had great access to everyone.”
Izenberg, who is 93 and lives in Lake Las Vegas, just a couple of miles from where the Chiefs and 49ers are being headquartered this week, doesn’t miss covering the game in person at the stadium. He’s still writing a column for the Newark Star-Ledger where he has been the columnist emeritus for quite a while. He has so many memories that he really doesn’t need to be in person at the daily scrums.
So that leaves it to the rest of us to carry the ball, curse out the frauds underneath our breath, feel bad for the Travis Kelces of the world, even though he’ll say not to feel sorry for him, and shake my head in amazement of what I’m experiencing.
And it wasn’t going to be a great night for Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes who had to answer questions over his father’s DUI arrest Saturday in Texas. As if he has any control over his old man.
Oh, and if you think the 49ers were going to get off scot-free, guess again. They apparently don’t like the playing accommodations set up for them over at UNLV, practicing outdoors in the rain Monday on what would politely be called a bog of a field as the grass the NFL placed over the Rebels’ normal synthetic practice surface is less than par. So naturally, everyone was asking about that.
But if there wasn’t something to complain about, it wouldn’t be the Super Bowl, now would it?
Eventually, everyone had their fun, got back on the shuttle busses for the short schlep back to Mandalay Bay and got on with their evening. The NFL has everything scripted out to where there’s no ad libbing allowed. You want something to write about or talk about on the air? You look at the schedule, you plot your course and off you go. There’s no E.J. Holub hotel moments or Joe Namath pool appearances.
Tuesday, we get back to football. Sort of.