The first chance for average Minnesotans to glimpse Super Bowl participants occurred on Monday night at Xcel Energy Center, in an event that has ballooned over the years like a badly-sprained ankle.
They shot off fireworks indoors and lined up players on a stage as if they were weighing in for a heavyweight fight. They showed highlights of the Eagles obliterating the Vikings in front of Vikings fans whose only solace this week was paying $32 to sit in hockey seats and watch other teams being interviewed.
They called it Super Bowl LII Opening Night, fueled by Gatorade, the grandiosity of the title befitting what the occasion has tried to become.
There was a man in a shark suit, another wearing a football jersey reading “Austria’’ and lederhosen, and actor J.B. Smoove asking Patriots coach Bill Belichick whether he had watched all of the episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.’’
“I have some catching up to do,’’ Belichick said.
There were Vikings fans sitting in the not-so-cheap seats, jeering Eagles’ cheerleaders, and executing the “Skol’’ chant, which Eagles fans turned, once again, into the Nick “Foles’’ chant.
Someone identifying himself as a Concordia football player asked Patriots receiver Chris Hogan about playing Division III football. Hogan said he played in Division I-AA. Mr. Concordia cursed Wikipedia and hustled away.
Nancy Kerrigan shouted questions at Patriots players. One reporter asked Belichick what made this Super Bowl different. “It’s in Minnesota,’’ he deadpanned.
A child reporter asked Belichick whether he knew that Monday was National Curmudgeon Day. Belichick grunted “No,’’ and the child was introduced to the essence of asking probing questions of someone trying to run out the clock on a forced interview.
If you were in Tampa Stadium during the coverage of Super Bowl XXV in January of 1991, you saw this event transformed from perfunctory media availability to international spectacle.
Now it is about modern America, the intersection of sport and celebrity, the transformation of news events into spectacles and the monetization of every little thing.
In short, it’s about the legacy of Downtown Julie Brown.
In the early years of the Super Bowl, a handful of writers would gather around players by the hotel pool, or talk informally in the team’s hotel lobbies. As the game became the centerpiece of American sports, organization was required, and Media Day was created.
Players would file into the game stadium on a Tuesday morning, sit at podiums and take questions for an hour. This was ingenious. A league not known for accessibility was giving all of its players a chance to be treated like stars, and a chance for reporters to work on stories that would further popularize the league.
Then Julie Brown made her entrance. She had become famous as an MTV VJ, and Inside Edition hired her to cover the Media Day in Tampa.
She didn’t chronicle the event. She blew it up.
Someone who looks like me would be leaning toward someone like Giants running back Ottis Anderson, trying to ask a question, and the player would look over the writer’s head and say, “Hey, it’s Julie Brown!’’ Brown would ask a question having nothing to do with football, and the player would gladly answer that instead of why he fumbled so much.
The NFL had a hit. Media Day would become a spectacle, featuring the original form of fake news and faux reporters, and most productive traditional interviews would occur later in the week at team hotels.
In 2012, the NFL began selling tickets for $25 to watch Media Day, and fans began scalping them.
Monday night at Xcel Energy Center, fans paid $32 and three networks covered the event live.
Crazy? “Hey, you have to enjoy it,’’ Eagles defensive end Chris Long said. “Anything you experience during this week is a good problem to have.’’
This is the genius, or calculating evil, of the NFL. They know that anything labeled “Super Bowl’’ will sell.
Reporters and “reporters’’ who may never again get within 100 feet of Tom Brady got to ask about his Minnesota roots. Brady responded by telling of days spent on the lake, trying to catch more sunfish than anyone else in his family.
Wearing a massive winter hat and black gloves, Brady leveled a practiced smile at someone — Kerrigan, Smoove, a child reporter, does it matter? — and said, “I really wanted to catch more fish than anybody else in my family. I guess I’m a little competitive.’’
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org