By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
A Media Day game ball to receiver Steve Smith, who is saying "I'm just happy to be here" as his booth is approached. And with that the Run to Inanity is finished, in a record 10:23.
Wednesday: What Passes for News
This is the day devoted to Ditka's dick.
The NFL has a lot of "corporate partners," and all of them use the Super Bowl to drag in players or coaches to plug their products. There's plenty of talk about "winning teams" and how companies like FedEx "have a lot in common with these great athletes: reliability, precision and speed."
Things can get pretty damn dorky. Kraft brings in retired quarterbacks Joe Montana and Dan Marino for a "cook-off" with some chefs to see who can come up with the best game-watching snack using healthy, nutritious and delicious Kraft products. At least Montana has the grace to look embarrassed.
Campbell's Soup's press conference features Donovan McNabb, John Lynch and Michael Strahan -- and their real-life moms -- rolling around in covered wagons, trying to rope steers. What this has to do with Chunky Soup is not made especially clear.
And then there's Ditka. Who actually turns out to be a pretty good pitchman for the product -- he's forthright and utterly unembarrassed. "You just have to decide whether you want to live a normal life or not," he says of his erectile dysfunction. "I chose to live a normal life."
Colin Foster, president and CEO of Bayer Pharmaceuticals Corporation, is one of the guys who picked Ditka as a spokesman. Unfortunately, asking Foster about the process involves waiting while one of the sportswriters endlessly chats with him -- the president of a Fortune 500 company -- about the dosage he needs to be using, because apparently the scribe's not getting Ditka-like results.
The consultation over, Foster says the company feels lucky to land Ditka. "He'll say what he feels, and he's just thrilled with the product," Foster says.
The ability to entice a captive media is irresistible to corporations. Open bars and free food are sometimes part of the equation, as they are at the swanky Hotel Icon this night. But even that can't explain the sheer numbers of camera people tightly bunched on bleachers, straining to capture every last thrilling moment of two guys playing a video game.
It's not any video game, of course, it's "The Game Before the Game," where a player from each team takes to the PlayStation 2 to pre-enact the Super Bowl. And as everyone present knows, the winner of this video game has gone on to win the Super Bowl eight straight times.
Which means the Sony people were no doubt rooting very, very hard for Carolina Sunday. PR gifts like that streak are not given by the gods very often, and you can be sure that every report on the video game included the factoid.
After the Hotel Icon event, an intrepid reporter really has no other option than to visit a strip joint. There have been approximately 1.2 million strip-joint references in print or on the radio since the Super Bowl hit town, because that is apparently the first thing the members of the media think of when they think of Houston. (Pollution is a close second.)
So it's off to The Men's Club, and if there's a more depressing place in town, you can have it. No "Bada-Bing Club" sleaziness here, this is an upscale place. An upscale place that's thoroughly depressing, as the comfortable chairs are filled with media-looking guys pretending this girl they're giving money to wants nothing more in the world than to rub their loins with her butt.
One dancer, who we're absolutely sure is named Candy because that's what she told us, says business had been a little slower than expected. "But the weekend should really be busy," she said.
Paging Mike Ditka Paging Mike Ditka
Thursday: Steroids, Rain and Blimps
Thursday features a press conference by Gene Upshaw, president of the NFL players' union, who expresses shock and dismay that President Bush didn't single out the league for having a terrific policy about steroids in his State of the Union address.
"I was very upset we were painted with the same brush as baseball when it comes to steroids," he said. It's true the NFL has a stricter and more effective policy than baseball, but that's kinda like saying the U.S. is better at finding weapons of mass destruction than Bermuda is.
Armen Keteyian is best known as a CBS sideline reporter, but he's actually a respected journalist who was among the first to write about steroid abuse, at Sports Illustrated 20 years ago.
"Some of the stuff now is so good, like growth hormone -- you can't test for it. There is no test for it," he says. "I'm not saying the NFL [specifically] or anything, but you can walk into certain gyms, see certain players and there are the telltale signs: There's the acne, the certain attitude, the rage."
He endorses Bush's mention of the problem in the address, even if no programs were offered as solutions. "To me, steroid abuse is one of the most serious problems facing sports today," he says. "And I don't care so much about the professional athlete as I do care about the junior high school and high school athlete who follows the lead of the professional in ways that are extraordinarily, at times, dangerous."