A Super Game

Chances are, unless you live in an area that has absolutely no access to newspapers, television, radio or the internet (at which case you would most likely not be reading this) you know that this Sunday, February 3, 2013, marks a special occasion for sports fans across the globe.  This Sunday will mark the 47th, or for you Latin speakers and tiny Roman pizza mascots out there the  XLVII, edition of the big showdown pitting the best of the American Football Conference against the best of the National Football Conference in a little game called the Super Bowl.  This year the Super Bowl is in New Orleans and will pit the Baltimore Ravens, coached by John Harbaugh, against the San Fransisco 49ers, coached by Jim Harbaugh, in the battle for the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy.  From its humble beginnings in 1967 to the juggernaut it has become today, the Super Bowl is one of, if not the, most watched sporting events of the calendar year and captures the interest of both hardcore and casual fan alike.

While I am primarily a baseball fan, I do enjoy football as well and have watched every Super Bowl for as long as I can remember.  While most of those games were viewed in one form or another from a couch and involved eating lots of little smokies, cheese and other assorted snacks, there was one game that occurred nine years ago today where I was fortunate enough to go from being a Super Bowl fan to a Super Bowl reporter. In 2004 I was given the opportunity to go behind the curtain as it were to see what makes the big game tick.  I was the sports editor for a small daily newspaper in the suburbs of Houston at the time and just for fun I decided to apply for media credentials when I heard that the Super Bowl would be in town that year.  Much to my surprise a few weeks after applying I was awarded full access credentials for the game and all of the surrounding festivities.  Thus begin a week I will not soon forget.

While I had always guessed that covering the big game would be special I had no idea how special of a time it would be.  For starters the game on Sunday is merely the culmination and finale of a week of festivities that features players and coaches from the past and present mingling with reporters in a variety of situations.  Covering Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston included several I can’t believe I just did that moments including interviewing Bret Farve and seeing several of the players from the Washington Redskins that I grew up watching as a youngster.  Even if that were all the Super Week excitement, it would have been plenty but there was much more to behold.  Each day included question and answer sessions as well as a media work room stocked full of all of the essentials that the working reporter needed to file their stories; from media guides to free Power Ade and more.  I had covered many sporting events up until that point but this was the grand daddy of them all and the NFL definitely knew how to treat reporters on its biggest stage.  If you were a reporter and could think of it, chances are it was somewhere within arms length in the building.

Photo R. Anderson

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum home of the first AFC vs. NFC Championship game in 1967. In later years the game would come to be known as the Super Bowl.
Photo R. Anderson

I doubt very much that those players in the first AFC vs. NFC Championship game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum back in 1967 had any idea how big the game would become.   In addition to the game on the field billions upon billions of dollars are spent each year in advertising during the game and the ever increasing hours of pregame coverage leading up to it.  I minored in advertising in college and am probably one of the few people who actually enjoys commercial breaks almost as much as the normal show I am watching.  So, the Super Bowl, where advertisers put their best foot forward to one up each other and try to introduce that one advertisement that will be the talk of the water cooler on Monday, provides an extra thrill for the most seasoned as well as the most novice of advertising consumers.

Speaking of extra thrills, the NFL does not leave the reporters out when it comes to ensuring that their game day experience is ideal.  In addition to a free game day breakfast, food is provided throughout the day for reporters working the game.  What’s that you say, you are a reporter who has been at the stadium several hours before kickoff and you are afraid that the rigid plastic stadium seat will lead to health problems including numbness in the posterior region if you sit on it any longer;  don’t worry the NFL has that covered as well with a reporter game day survival kit or “goodie bag.” I can only speak for the game I covered but I am sure there are similar goodie bags each year.  My goodie bag at the game included an attache case, a mini radio, a seat cushion, a note pad, a hat, and a pin that was a model of Reliant Stadium complete with retractable roof.  And of course, each of these items was emblazoned with the logo for the game lest anyone get confused about where they came from.  Having worked in both public relations and sports information I know that the goodie bags are a way for the NFL to try to ensure that the reporters are happy and in turn write more positive things about them.  The reporters know this and the NFL knows that the reporters know this.  The good reporters are not swayed by the goodie bags and free baubles that the NFL provides them but don’t get me wrong free baubles are always nice.  Plus, after awhile that seat cushion really comes in handy for even the most seasoned of reporter rumps that are used to sitting in bleachers and stadium seats for hours at a time.

A selection of some of the "freebies" ended out to reporters covering the Super Bowl. Photo R. Anderson

A selection of some of the “freebies” handed out to reporters covering the Super Bowl.
Photo R. Anderson

So it is Super Bowl time again and reporters have descended upon New Orleans a week early to try and get every angle they can about the players as well as the fans.  This year the pregame coverage will no doubt focus on the fact that there are brothers coaching against each other for the first time in the big game. Other story lines will include the retirement of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and the fact that the Saints failed in their bid to be the first team to play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium.  Sure, there will be other stories as well as the network tries to squeeze six hours or more of interesting stories on the air ahead of the game but those will probably be the big ones.  After all, the longer the pregame, the more ads, and in turn the more money the network makes.  This is big business after all.

So on Sunday when you curl up on the couch, or other viewing venue, to catch the big game think of the reporters who have labored tirelessly all week to cover it. And also think that at that very moment many of them are sitting high up in the rafters of the Superdome on a comfy seat cushion listening to the coverage on a little radio and jotting things down in a notepad that the NFL gave them.  Covering Super Bowls is certainly good work if you can get it and for one magical week back in 2004 I lived the dream of every sports reporter.  A year after my Super Bowl experience I almost hit the daily double of big ticket sports reporting but I missed my chance to cover the Major League Baseball All-Star game due to a reduction in the work force at the newspaper I was working at.  I would have loved to cover the All Star Game and compare how Major League Baseball and the NFL differ in handling their showcase events but I really have no regrets and can’t complain about missing that opportunity.  Who knows, maybe I will yet get to cover an All-Star Game.  But, for one whole week I was a Super Bowl reporter and I have the press badge and various freebies to prove it. Even nine years later I still consider that pretty cool.  Now if you’ll excuse me I think I will dust off that Super Bowl XXXVIII seat cushion for old times sake since all of this typing and sitting really has my lower back a little sore.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson