By Craig Malisow
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By Angelica Leicht
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By Sean Pendergast
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Five miles southwest of TSU, no one's having trouble getting on TV. In the first of what will be many, many red-carpet events that test the limits of the word "celebrity," cameras and reporters are lined up to watch guests arrive at the "Salute to Houston" at Reliant Arena.
A bevy of the city's sports favorites attends. As does Yanni, who will be the evening's entertainment. All say the event is "great." CBS sports anchor Jim Nantz put together the show in an effort to boost his adopted hometown; he says he did it because "Houston is special -- it has great people, great hospitality and great spirit."
So much for objective reporting.
Tuesday: A Cliché a Minute
Tuesday is the day of every Super Bowl week that has become almost as legendary as the game itself: Media Day.
Thousands of reporters get bused out to Reliant Stadium; every member of each team is required to show up and subject themselves to whatever questions the media throws at them. At least every fifth question involves some variant of "What do you think about this crazy Media Day madness?"
Media Day involves a definite, obvious pecking order. At the very top are the players who get the pair of elevated booths complete with bleachers in front to handle the throng. Then come the ten bleacherless booths, then an assigned seat in the Reliant stands, followed by the guys who are forced to just roam around the crowd. At the bottom are the guys who roam around the crowd with a camera, filming their big adventure.
The worst part is the madcap antics of a few cwazy television shows. Nickelodeon has a guy in a superhero suit shouting questions about how helmets affect good hair days; the regular reporters just love it when he interrupts their more sophisticated grilling of what Willie McGinest thinks about all this hype.
There's also someone from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno getting players to read from a children's book; there's someone from a Spike TV show asking players to read cue cards saying things like "I think the Bud Bowl was rigged this year."
The hilarity, really -- it just never stops.
What can be learned on Media Day? Listen to Panthers QB Jake Delhomme to find that there are myriad meanings to the word "whatnot."
It can mean car trouble: "If you get a flat or whatnot" in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, someone will offer to help.
It can mean some kind of interpersonal relationship with a Miss America from Breaux Bridge: "I do know Ali [Landry]; I can't say we're that close of friends, but I do know her and whatnot."
It can mean shameless hagiography: "The Super Bowl is the greatest game and you think, 'These guys are the greatest and whatnot.' "
And it can mean electronic equipment used to disseminate information: "There's a lot more cameras, a lot more lights and whatnot."
And this was all in the space of five minutes. And whatnot.
Everyone's always wondering about the worst semi-legitimate question. One strong contender is the guy who asks Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi where he got his last name. "I got it because I was born with it," he answers.
What little Star Power there is in this year's Super Bowl matchup belongs to the Patriots.
So when the Panthers' session begins -- each hour-long session is timed by a scoreboard clock -- there's not much need to get receiver Karl Hankton's views on just how crazy Media Day is. Instead it's time to test the level of clichés.
Guidelines are clear: 12 booths line the field. Starting at the first, stay at each booth until you hear a football cliché, then move on to the next.
The clock starts counting down at 59:49, because it takes a while to get to the booth of defensive tackle Julius Peppers. Two women reporters ask him about his huge diamond earrings, so the clock's already down to 58:19 before Peppers says, "People never gave us a chance, but we believed in ourselves."
Next, Delhomme. Fifteen seconds, and it's "These days in the NFL, everyone has a chance to beat anyone else." Good enough. Defensive end Mike Rucker is on the clock at 57:37. Rucker is rambling on, unfortunately, talking about actual game plans (and whatnot, we're sure). Come on, for crissake .finally! At 57:00 we learn that he will be "trying to approach the game the way I approach any other game."
Offensive tackle Todd Steussie is next, and he's actually entertaining in his reference to the 40-yard dash. "No one who can run a 4.4 40 should ever be allowed to play defensive end," he says. Eventually he says the Super Bowl "is a chance to rise up and show yourself what you can do." Not a cliché, really, but it'll suffice.
Then it's a blur: Defensive tackle Brentson Buckner takes five seconds to get to "You have to keep all this Media Day stuff in perspective"; receiver Muhsin Muhammad mentions "a defensive struggle;" running back Stephen Davis says when he was injured he "just wanted a chance to help the team."