Weave through the throngs, test your patience and endurance, and you might get to ask one question. Don’t freeze, or you’ll get a nice football instead of a Red Ryder BB Gun or an insightful answer about legacy, race, retirement or dabbing. Then you are whooshed away by the football media equivalent of a surly elf: a photographer who wants to get six inches closer to his subject.
If you wanted a spot close to the quarterback podiums at the Event Formerly Known as Media Day before it was moved to East Coast television prime time and made openly hostile to 90 percent of the media, it was best to stake a spot on the ice during a San Jose Sharks preseason game and just wait. At one point, Miss Universe set up camp between Manning’s podium and Gary Kubiak’s, because nothing attracts a crowd like a quarterback AND a beauty queen.
Luckily, Super Bowl quarterbacks have something else in common with department store Santas: they repeat the same things over and over again.
“I haven’t made my mind up and I don’t see myself knowing about that until after the season,” Peyton Manning said about retirement, probably for the fourth or fifth time in the 20 minutes or so before I finally reached him.
Before that, Manning could be heard muttering something about Bruno Mars and Robert Redford. Someone was asking him about his favorite movies and musical performers. Manning’s choices, like his game film, peg him as 25 years old at times and 65 years old at other times.
Manning retirement talk was, predictably, a theme of the Broncos session. John Elway, Manning’s boss and the world’s leading expert on quarterbacks retiring after Super Bowls, echoed Manning’s sentiments about calling it quits.
“The season isn’t over. He doesn’t have to worry about thinking about retirement now,” Elway said. “He’s worked too hard to get where he is now. He’s got plenty of time in the offseason.”
So, Elway plans to give Manning "plenty of time" in the offseason to make his decision! That's a scoop, I guess.
Manning was Opening Night's undercard. Cam Newton was the main event. When Newton arrived at the podium, Deion Sanders was waiting for him with an NFL Network microphone. Sanders commandeered Newton for well over two minutes of questioning into the television microphone, which was not connected to the podium microphone, the one that made it possible for the dozens of reporters surrounding Newton to hear a word anyone was saying.
Newton's ability to attract attention-seekers made matters worse. The costumed crazies performed many of their video stunts from the fringe of the Newton throng. It was like trying to interview one of the members of Anthrax from a mosh pit. So if Newton uttered the definitive statement on race in America to Sanders, you heard it on television and I missed it from 20 feet away.
Entertainment reporters resorted to standing on chairs and waving red handkerchiefs. In an event when several people dressed like rodeo clowns, anything goes.
And what questions they asked. We now know who Newton would like as backup dancers. "Beyonce? That wouldn't be bad. Beyonce, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez. She's a pretty good dancer." Scoop: Manning likes his singers young, but Newton likes his dancers slightly closer to the Manning demographic.
We also learned why Newton is such a dapper dresser.
"I was fly at church," he said. "My father was a preacher, and I would always try to mimic him, the things that he wore. For him to be dressed to the nines, the apple didn't fall far."
I checked back on Newton 15 minutes later, and the likely NFL MVP was failing to answer trivia questions handed to him on cards. "Who is the host of Celebrity Apprentice? ... I don't know," he said. "Who is Taylor Swift dating?" Newton waited for an answer. "Calvin Harris the DJ?" he said with genuine interest and astonishment. "For real? I love his music."
Newton then began singing, in no particular key, what was probably a Calvin Harris song. He did reveal that his favorite Coldplay song was "Clocks." Based on their music choices, there will be no MVP quarterback in this year's Super Bowl.
When asked what he would tell the 10-year old Cam about his experiences, Newton simply said "dreams can come true." Whether it's called Media Day or Opening Night, this event is never about hard-hitting journalism. It's about celebrating the achievement of reaching the Super Bowl, having a little fun, maybe singing a song or two. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the few players lucky enough to get this far.
It's not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Manning, who is starting in his fourth Super Bowl and refuses to rule out the possibility that there might be a fifth. "Maybe I'll play in 10 more AFC Championship Games," Manning said in response to the umpteenth variation on a retirement/legacy question. "And if I do, eight of them will be against the Patriots."
So...Manning thinks that he will reach two more Super Bowls than Tom Brady in the decade to come! Bulletin-board material for the Patriots! It's the kind of scoop you can only get at Opening Night, because it's silly, out-of-context and a little more ridiculous than rational.
Meeting Peyton Manning
Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall shared about the first time he met Peyton Manning.
"When I first got to Denver, on the practice squad. Coach [John] Fox introduced me. He said, we have a new practice squad player. After the meeting, Peyton came up to me. He shook my hand. He said, ‘How you doing, I’m Peyton Manning.' He introduced himself.
"To me, that was big, because everybody knows who Peyton Manning is. It let me know the guy’s a humble individual. He works hard. He’s a good guy. I have always been a Peyton fan, but that just did it for me."
Chuckle if you want, but superstars of Manning’s class—or even a notch or two below—don’t always go out of their way to introduce themselves to practice squad players who are more likely to be gone in three weeks than later starting in the Super Bowl.
Sights and Sounds of Opening Night.
- Brock Osweiler doesn’t sound disappointed about relinquishing the starting job back to Peyton Manning at the end of the regular season. In fact, he sounds a little like Lou Gehrig. “I get to wake up on a daily basis and live my lifelong dream, live the life that I have worked for, for so many years. I feel like the most fortunate man on this planet. It’s been a very special year.”
- Cornerback Josh Norman wore a Panthers-themed lucha libre wrestling mask (it sometimes happens after speaking with the Spanish-language media) while saying what his great Super Bowl moment would be. “Getting an interception,” Norman said. “That would be everything I ever worked for. Just to get an interception off a player like that, who’s an all-time great … I would just have to try to contain myself and do my best to not get a personal foul, because I would probably be so excited that I might do something stupid.”
- One comedian/performance artist/journalist made the rounds dressed as either a bad Swedish Chef impersonator or an even worse Super Mario impersonator. He asked Brandon Marshall a question that ended: “Will you be gurgling with your doodily in the end zonen?”
“I don’t know what you said, but the answer’s no,” Marshall replied.
- The Broncos have lots of players with glasses. Injured offensive tackle Ryan Clady was making the rounds wearing fashionable frames, so I asked him who has the coolest glasses on the team. (You have to ask one really stupid question at Opening Night; it’s like overeating at Thanksgiving.)
“Oh, Von [Miller],” Clady said. “He has a lot more than me.”
Clady then provided a health-related scoop. “These are my last pair. I’m getting Lasik. They keep breaking.”
Clady will be back next year, with better vision.Watch out, pass-rushers!
- Chris Harris, on getting to play in the Super Bowl after missing Super Bowl XLVIII with an ACL injury: “It was definitely very hard just to be at the game, not being able to make an impact in that game. Seeing plays that you think you could be able to make, and not being able to do it. I just feel so honored to be able to come back and play. A lot of guys don’t even make it to the Super Bowl twice in their careers, so be able to have a second chance, I definitely relish the opportunity.
- Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman spoke at length about his relationship with Ron Rivera and the patience and continuity that kept the Panthers on track for this Super Bowl season. “We haven’t had a cross word with each other yet. The biggest thing is: it’s professional. We listen to each other. He says something, I listen. I say something, he’s listening. We respect each other’s ability to do our individual jobs. We have a lot of the same philosophy, and we just get along. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Whoever’s married knows: You have to work at that relationship.”
- “People think that firing people is always the answer,” Gettleman said when asked about his philosophy of giving coaches an extra chance. “When you fire a head coach, you’re gonna fire 20 families. You’re firing 20 men, probably close to 20 wives, you’re firing the kids, you’re firing everybody. I’m sorry, I just think people should have an opportunity to do their job.”
- The loudest applause of the night was not for Newton, Manning or any other Super Bowl 50 players. When Jerry Rice began making the rounds, the 49ers fans in the crowd made it impossible to hear just about anything being said on the podiums.
Meeting Cam Newton
Prior to Opening Night, CBS analyst and former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason shared this story about his first encounter with a young Cam Newton with a handful of reporters. It's more interesting than 99.7 percent of what was said at Opening Night itself:
"I met him when he was a ninth grader, and I’ll tell you a little story. I run an all-star game in New York: it’s the Long Island kids versus the New York City kids. Cam was part of a program that the NFL was doing through flag football. So the NFL brought his team from Atlanta up for my all-star game …
"Before that started, we were throwing pat-‘n’-gos down the sideline. I am throwing pat-‘n’-gos, he’s throwing back. He’s like, ‘Man, you can throw! You should play quarterback in the NFL!’ I’m like, ‘Cam, I’m out of the NFL. I’m done.’
"I said, ‘Wow, this kid has a great smile, this great look,’ he was already a physical specimen. I thought, ‘Well kid, I’ll see you in 10 years at the Super Bowl.’ But really, who knew?
"I don’t know if he was playing with me. But if he were playing with me, at that age, that would be a hell of a thing that he pulled off!"
Opening Night has grown a little predictable. The same actor has been dressing up in a superhero costume for years. He now has grey in his hair and a little paunch, like George Reeves in later episodes of the 1950s Superman series. Some of the extreme novelty has worn off, but it has been replaced with more made-for-television events: players walking down a catwalk to their interviews like fashion models, exclusive interview sessions by major networks and so forth.
Here's something I did not expect: an incredibly low incidence of dabbing. I expected everyone capable of moving their arms to dab for the camera at some point tonight. Back when Victor Cruz was in the Super Bowl, you couldn't walk three feet without bumping into someone salsa dancing, often beneath a disco ball hanging from a fishing pole. Whatever dabbing happened on Monday night was relatively contained.
Maybe we're making progress. Maybe we are just burned out. Either way, less is more when it comes to Opening Night silliness.
Or as my father used to say, "A little dab will do ya'."