SPORTS JANUARY 28, 2014
It is Tuesday afternoon, and my dreams are crushed. The last time this happened was many years ago. My first set of dreams involved being a professional athlete—a second baseman for the Orioles, in the semi-honorable tradition of Davey Johnson, Rick Adair, and Mark McLemore—but at some point I made peace with the fact that I would not star in professional athletics, and would instead be a writer. For me, then, I would have one moment each year, on the Tuesday before Super Bowl Sunday: Media Day.
But I have just returned from this year’s Media Day at Newark’s Prudential Center (home of hockey’s New Jersey Devils), and the chief privileges of attending turn out to be bitterness, several wasted hours, and coffee breath. Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch had the right idea. He was the only major player to refuse, apparently, his own podium (18 players from each team get their own individual podium, all of which are mobbed by reporters). Lynch did show up, presumably in order to avoid a massive fine. “Shawn’s a good guy, he just doesn’t like talking to the media,” explained Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril to me and more than a dozen other reporters huddled around him. For his part, Lynch managed this quote to NFL Network’s Deion Sanders: “I’m just ‘bout that action, boss.” Me too, man.
It wasn’t always like this. “It’s more of a circus, more press,” USA Today’s Jim Corbett told me. He estimated this was his 25th Media Day. “Less and less football, more and more showy.” The old-timers still seem to take it seriously: Chris Berman was racing from podium to podium; Rick Reilly was dressed to the nines, in a pinstripe suit, nice shirt, paisley tie, and matching pocket square. I felt bad for him—which is to say, I felt bad for the guy who wrote the worst sports column of last year. I felt worse for myself.
There was a time when Media Day made sense. The big game is in a few days. The media is already in town, and needs stuff to feed the beast. Why not just have the sources all come to one place, buffet-style, and let the writers take what they need and write what they want? But these days, we have these things called Twitter, and NFL Network, and ESPN, and even just the plain-old Internet. We have a savvy audience. We know all the angles—Peyton Manning’s legacy, Seattle’s secondary, Richard Sherman’s personality. My ace in the hole was going to be asking people about Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s kinda-endorsement of approving medicinal marijuana for injured players. Then I saw the back of today’s New York Daily News, whose headline played on the Seattle secondary’s nickname for itself—“Legion of Boom”—and read, over a picture of Carroll, “Legion of Doob.” So I guess people had heard about this.
I did not realize the futility and stupidity of Media Day until its halftime, as it were. The Denver Broncos had just had their hour-long session. I retreated to the Media Brunch. I sat down at a table whose only other occupant was legendary Boston Globe troll Dan Shaughnessy—he spent most if not all of the Broncos’ session at the podium of wide receiver Wes Welker, a former Patriot, thereby proving that, like politics, all sports are local—ate my food, pulled out my laptop, and began to type my notes up. It was then that Steve Mariucci—a former head coach who now pontificates regularly on NFL Network—sat down at my table, looking eager to talk.
Finally! I thought. Some access! I asked him about Sherman, the Seahawks cornerback who angrily denounced opposing wide receiver Michael Crabtree in a post-game interview a week and a half ago. If that hadn’t happened, what would reporters be asking their first questions about? Mariucci replied with a list of the half-dozen other major narratives, all of which I could recite like catechism. During his conversation with me—oh, and the ten other reporters who suddenly found themselves at my table, because Steve Mariucci was there—he said absolutely nothing I didn’t already know. It’s a legacy game for Peyton Manning—about “not the greatness, but the great-est—that’s a quote.” “If you were asked, ‘who on this team was a class president?’ you’d say ‘Russell Wilson’ and you’d be correct.” “The marriage between the philosophies of [general manager] John Schneider and Pete Carroll is perfect.”
I was determined to ask my marijuana question of someone. I found Avril, the Seattle defensive end. He had been asked about it already, as I knew from his reply to the inquiry, “What’s the craziest question you’ve heard today?” But I hadn’t heard his response, so I asked him. It succeeded, if nothing else, in eliciting the one spontaneous moment of the day—a sort of laugh that was three parts frustrated, two parts offended, and zero parts humored. He tried to respond, and then just repeated that all Carroll had said was that he thinks the NFL should explore medical marijuana, as it should explore anything that could help players. “Y’all take it and run with it,” Avril told me. I’m sorry, Cliff. Next time, there won’t be a next time.