New Jersey's Prudential Sprawl
It began calmly. Sheraton hotel assistants handed out thermoses of coffee to media members. Every coach bus seat held a delicious pastry boxed up neatly. At 7:30am, with the sun beginning to bathe Manhattan, police escorted these buses into Newark, NJ. No traffic. No noise. That quickly changed.
This is Super Bowl XLVIII Media Day: Shaquille O’Neal starring in a short promotional tourism video for Newark, NJ; A woman bus greeter who felt it necessary to point out her office building and her favorite hot spots to disinterested football reporters; Russell Wilson getting commanded to say “Good Morning, America” into a camera; Wes Welker explaining why he likes Kings of Leon; “Fans” paying money to sit in the 400 section of the Prudential Center to watch people ask questions.
Not a lot of it makes much sense and it probably shouldn’t. It’s the same amount of sense in having a Super Bowl in New York (sorry, New Jersey!!!) during February. I will say, New Jersey is trying really hard here. Newark has an inferiority complex and this week it’s trying to dispel that notion hard. When our makeshift tour guide Tuesday morning points out to everyone where the NJ Transit station is, it’s clear the tourism board's guns are out blazing. In the brunch room, filled with over fifty round tables, letters from elementary students thanked everyone for visiting Newark. One of mine told me to “go visit Branch Brook Park and have a lot of fun.”
Unfortunately, I was here to ask some professional football players questions, just like the rest of the thousands of media members. I appreciate the hotspot suggestions, but that was the last thing on anyone’s mind Tuesday. Poor Newark. Metlife Stadium isn’t even in the city; it’s out near the swamp and that multi-colored vacant failed mall. But, I get it. For one day, everyone was huddled, crammed, and hassled into the Prudential Center. It was the only day New Jersey could shove New Jersey down everyone’s throats.
It continued inside the cramped quarters of a hockey arena, now the makeshift interview exhibition room. Typically, this event takes place on the actual football field, but it was under twenty degrees outside. The Pride of New Jersey Rutgers Pep Band began to provide some atmosphere, as did three other marching bands and a Jets and Giants drum line battle. Apparently Nick Cannon was in the building, but I don’t believe that because he would have been attacking someone’s snare drum before the bands finished.
It’s still somewhat early in the week and media from over the country are still recalling their travels. It’s impossible to not hear someone talking about their cross-country flight and subsequent shock of cold weather they felt stepping off the plane. I’m pretty sure I smelled a plane Tuesday, too. It was a guy’s pea coat that I became acquainted with, nudged between some reporters trying to plug-in for some sound. I figured he must have flown in last night. That’s what most reporters probably smelled like.
But it’s not just the scent that begins to unify everybody. It’s the mere space you’re sharing. When you have these kinds of events, it becomes very difficult to know who’s a respected, intelligent writer, and who’s a fluff reporter. Everyone’s just thrown in to the ring together and they’re all throwing punches, not intentionally at least. It’s like eating lunch and realizing Steeler Brett Keisel was behind you the whole time. It’s like leaving the restroom and passing former head coach Brian Billick waiting in line. The guy has a Super Bowl ring and he’s waiting in a line out the door to use the toilet behind nobodies. It’s a funny image to me. As is the fact that only on Super Bowl Media Day does the men’s room have a substantial bathroom line while the women’s room is empty. I could get into a gender commentary about sports media here-also including how every female reporter I saw had long blonde hair- but I won’t.
Media Day is also unfortunately not endemic to just the sports community. My “favorite” E! reporters were superficially on the scene and Queen Latifah had three old ladies dressed in Denver and Seattle jerseys roaming around to ask questions. You get an hour to ask as many things to as many players as you can. Some people take advantage in poor ways. By the remaining 15 minutes I feel awkward asking players football questions. If you haven’t asked about Peyton Manning’s legacy yet, it’s probably not the best idea to do it then. But let me just say this now: Asking Wes Welker if he has any superstitions is not a funny, clever question. It’s boring. Ask baseball players that question if you must. Don’t read a haiku to Wes either. He doesn’t understand Japanese poetry. Trust me.
But in the chaotic mess that is Media Day, there is the eternal joy of pure observation. Regis Philbin talking to a Spanish reporter, three thousand cameras simultaneously clicking at podiums, and Michael Irvin getting shaved with voice recorders over a plate of ham and eggs. For once, Newark became Times Square. It punched its big brother. The underdog had won.
Jake Kring-Schreifels covers sports, movies, and pop culture for WFUV, follow him on Twitter @jakeks19