For a columnist, there's nothing like covering a Super Bowl.
As I watch TV reports that show the hundreds of hacks there trying to cover this year's event in New Orleans, the memories of covering seven or eight of them myself come flooding back. Some good memories and some bad ones.
The first one I covered was XVII in Pasadena in 1983, matching Washington and Miami. I wasn't a columnist then, just a guy covering an NFL beat who wore himself out with all the angles the Redskins brought, from the Hogs to John Riggins in combat fatigues to Joe Gibbs. And there was the local angle with Washington tight end Clint Didier, a former Portland State star, who I made sure to note, threw a great block to help spring Riggins on the game-winning TD run. I was just trying to look professional on that first Super Bowl trip. And I think I pulled it off.
But man, it's a lonely feeling being in that big interview room and not knowing a soul. And in those days, players and coaches would still get a little wacky. They'd still surprise you with some great quotes or funny stunts. You had to be on your toes.
Several Super Bowls later, as teams become more buttoned down and nothing much ever happened of note throughout the week, it got a whole lot more boring but easier to cover. I kept my eyes open and learned, well, how quickly it all could be done.
The NFL makes players and coaches available early in the week in giant news conferences. If you are diligent on that day, in an hour you can get everything you need to get you through the week. So you fill your notebook (or recorder) with stuff, adjourn to your room and go to work. And churn out a week's worth of stuff in a few hours.
My crowning achievement was a Super Bowl in Miami where I stayed in a hotel outside of the city (the media hotel was full). It was relaxed and away from all the noise of the game. I picked up all I needed on the first two days of media interviews then spent the rest of the week with a columnist from another city exploring the Florida Keys and south Florida nightspots. There's no rush quite like being a few feet away from a guy wrestling an alligator in the Everglades, by the way. My colleague from The Oregonian, who must remain nameless, opted for an offshore gambling cruise out of Key Largo late in the week. My recollection is that he won big, too.
Now THAT was some Super Bowl.
By then I had it figured out. All I remember about the 1997 game in New Orleans (XXXI) is a pre-Mardi Gras parade with some very large blowup representations of human body parts and a halftime show that featured the Blues Brothers, James Brown and ZZ Top -- and yes, that halftime show was sensational. The game, not so much. I had the formula down for the writing part of Super Bowls by then and the rest was easy.
I haven't been to a Super Bowl since the late 1990s and don't miss them much. Like all football games, you see them much better on TV than in person. But nowdays, the NFL Network and the Internet cover the news conferences perfectly. I believe it would be possible to cover a Super Bowl without ever leaving your hotel room to do it. And challenges like that make sports writing a whole lot of fun.
Sometimes the games are OK, too. Usually, though, not so much.