Sunday, February 07, 2010

Not Worth a Pitch: The Ultimate Insult to the Sporting Press

This evening I shall watch the Super Bowl as the good Pete Rozelle intended -- on television, at a large convivial party of friends and neighbors. But 14 times in my past, I was lucky enough to attend Super Bowls in person, as a working sportswriter.

Aside from the unbridled chaos of the post-game interview sessions and the psychotic deadline pressures, which you get used to, it's a tremendous experience. Arriving in a nearly empty stadium and feeling the energy build as it fills up and kickoff approaches is thrilling. Watching how the stage is set up and taken down for the halftime show is way more interesting than any of the halftime shows could ever be, nipples and all. And the NFL throws a large, convivial and lavish buffet dinner for its own employees and the press AFTER the game -- so the social part is handled, too.

There is, however, two ways, one small, one large, in which sportswriters experience the Super Bowl which sets us (why do I still say us, doctor?) wholly apart from the community of sports fans, 100 million or so strong, who watch along with us. First, the trivial one. Since all TV monitors in press boxes (and the several auxiliary press facilities) have the sound off to avoid distraction, the NFL places a small transistor radio tuned only to the game at each press seat, along with an earpiece listening device. Any reporter who wants to can follow the action on radio.

Who listens to the Super Bowl on the radio? Domino's delivery guys? If you run out of beer in third quarter and have to drive to a packy? Also, I never saw a reporter actually USE the radio, although sometimes the broadcast is unavoidable.

At Super Bowl XXIV at the Superdome, the radio call of the 49ers 55-10 win over the Broncos was piped into the press box men's room (and I'm sure the women's room, too). This allowed me the pleasure of hearing the immortal Jack Buck declare sometime in the second quarter, "Dan Reeves can't like the way this game is unfolding, or should I say folding?"

But that marginal difference in Super Bowl viewing pales to the one that in my experience people actually don't believe when you tell them. Sportswriters at the Super Bowl don't get to see the TV commercials. The live network feed is blacked out during commercial breaks,and replaced with graphics of stats updates. This always used to bother me, because I thought the league was sending an unsubtle message about my profession's financial status. You bums are too poor to make to worth anyone's while to sell you stuff. Which was a dirty lie. A spare bag of Doritos a week was within the bounds of my disposable income -- most weeks.

The real disconnect came the next day. The sportswriter flies home, and finds his family, friends, co-workers, and the public at large in animated conversations about commercials he didn't see. He has no idea what the hell they're talking about. And should he be so foolish as to say, "pardon me, could you get me up to speed here," the reaction was swift, universal, and condemning.

"Whadaya mean you didn't see that ad? You were AT the damn Super Bowl, weren't you?"


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