Only the Super Bowl.
Monday night, members of the media and thousands of fans descended upon San Jose’s SAP Center for the official kickoff event of Super Bowl 50. Somewhere between the dancing leprechaun, adult film star Lisa Ann, Miss Universe Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach and broadcasting ventriloquists, some actual football conversations took place.
More on that later.
Though originally billed as a sellout event by Ticketmaster—only half of the arena was in use—the 200 or so TV cameras artfully captured the ‘capacity’ crowd of roughly 7,000, who, to their credit, lined up around the block for hours before the event began. Despite a lack of numbers, the fans were heard—NFL Network and ESPN brought their live sets to the arena for broadcast, and Bay Area favorites Steve Young, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders garnered large ovations from the crowd.
One veteran football writer, perhaps unsurprisingly, was less than impressed. “I would not have paid to come,” he said. Fans shelled out a minimum of $27.50 for the opening night tickets.
For decades, Super Bowl media day has been a Tuesday-at-noonish affair, scheduled so as to not interrupt the teams’ schedules and give beat writers the rest of the week to craft their stories.
A Golden Gate Bridge stretched across the length of one side of SAP Center, serving as the stage for coach and player introductions (plus a little bit of dancing and selfie time). An equally large wide-screen jumbotron provided highlights and player profiles in the background.
Football, more often than not, comes down to which defense outplays the other, but this year’s media day narrative focused on Old vs. New: Peyton Manning vs. Cam Newton.
For Manning, the 39-year-old Denver Broncos quarterback, the topic is second-nature. Monday night was no different. He was asked time and time again if will this be his last game. He said there’s some truth to the notion that it could be, but right now he’s focused on becoming the first quarterback to start and win two Super Bowls with two separate teams.
“I haven’t made up my mind, but I don’t see myself knowing that until after the season,” said Manning, who will become the oldest quarterback in history to play in a Super Bowl.
In between football questions, Manning found some time to touch on on various topics including Taylor Swift, the Celebrity Apprentice and Donald Trump—Iowa Caucus results had yet to come in.
Cam Newton, a more polarizing figure at times this season, brushed aside any suggestions he should alter his demeanor. The Carolina Panthers QB was the focus of a Tennessee Titans’ fan letter on behalf on her 9-year-old son, protesting Newton’s “pelvic thrusts” and “arrogant struts.” Seahawks fans want him banned permanently from their city.
“It’s all in preparation, folks,” Newton told a mass of reporters, who assembled about 100 deep in front of his podium.
He said he models himself after his father, a church-going man, and as a result he dresses and acts the part. Reporters were left to wonder if Newton’s father would have exited the team’s charter plane Sunday wearing $900 tiger-print Versace jeans, as Newton did.
“My father taught me proper preparation prevents poor performances,” he said. “Those are the words that I live by, especially in big moments.”
In the spirit of his fashion sense, and embracing his image as a non-traditional superstar in the NFL’s unfettered commercialism, Newton wrapped his commemorative Super Bowl 50 towel/scarf around his head like a bandanna. He proceeded to share his opinions on reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry—a die-hard Panthers fan, who announced he will in fact attend the Big Game—he disclosed he has no particular favorite character from the Star Wars movies, and he even displayed his freestyle rapping abilities. There’s a reason he plays football.
More than 1,000 media members assembled on the SAP floor, which would normally serves as an ice rink. In total, there are 5,500 credentialed media covering this year’s Super Bowl.
Panthers cornerback Josh Norman got in on the Media Night fun as well—spending a good part of his media session donning a Mexican Luchador wrestling mask. “This is for my Spanish guys out there,” he said.
The event has been historically remembered for its bizarre attendees—in 2008, a reporter in a wedding dress proposed to Tom Brady—and this year Australian reporter Phillip Hajszan showed up for the event decked out completely in ski gear, along with a video camera attached to his helmet. He said it was all a part of his efforts to bring Australia’s favorite sport to the United States. A true patriot first and foremost, of course.
Despite being known for his extravagant wardrobe selections, Newton had a surprisingly conservative reaction to Hajszan’s choice of attire.
“Would I wear that?” Newton said. “If I was going skiing.”