There was Deion Sanders, CBS sports analyst, sidling up to Cam Newton with the first question of the night for the Carolina Panthers quarterback.
Twenty feet away, some maniac named Rocky The Colorado Leprechaun danced a jig in a Denver Broncos-colored costume.
Off in another section of the floor at the SAP Center, ESPN’s Chris Berman was part of a pack of journalists crowded around Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis.
Drawing an even bigger crowd just a short slant pass away was Miss Universe, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach of the Philippines, who was “reporting” for Inside Edition but looked more like a deer in the headlights.
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Yes, ladies and gentlemen: This was Super Bowl 50 Opening Night. The official beginning of a week featuring some tremendous athletes, a tremendous amount of hype, and several tremendously bizarre sideshows – all leading up to one very big football game next Sunday.
It all took place on the same floor where the ice goes when the NHL’s San Jose Sharks play, with about 7,500 fans who paid 30 bucks a pop sitting in the stands watching big herds of, ahem, accredited media (I dare not call them all journalists) float around the 11 interview stations. First 11 Broncos, then 11 Panthers.
Quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Cam Newton were the stars, but the biggest cheer of the night actually went up for former San Francisco 49ers receiver Jerry Rice, the Bay Area hero recently named to the Super Bowl 50 “Golden Team.”
Here are a handful of the more-noteworthy things I saw and heard Monday night that had absolutely nothing to do with the Super Bowl (but trust me, I missed plenty, since it was impossible to be everywhere at once during this twenty-five-ring circus):
A funny exchange: JB Smoove, perhaps best known for his stint as Leon on Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” showed up on behalf of “The Rich Eisen Show” to ask players questions like: “Be honest: Which of you guys has at least one Beyonce song on his playlist?” It took just a few minutes for the non-celebrity journalists to start turning their tape recorders on Smoove, prompting him to cry, “Hey man, I’m working! Why is everybody asking me questions??” Truth be told, though, he didn’t seem to mind the attention at all. When asked about Cam Newton, he said: “He is the Superman of the NFL. He’s the dab king. I love that dab, bro. I’m thinking about doing more dabbing in my own life.” Then, gracefully, he dabbed.
A disappointing exchange: Wurtzbach looked stunning in a navy pantsuit, her Miss Universe sash, the crown and those five-inch heels. But what she had to say was a bit less-than-stunning. So, who are you rooting for on Sunday? “I don’t know...” Well, how are you going to make your decision? “I don’t know...” Spicing things up: I nearly got clotheslined by a cable belonging to an Entertainment Tonight crew that rushed in to speak with her after I was done.
An awkward exchange: A reporter I won’t name, doing a one-on-one interview with Broncos tight end Virgil Green, asks out of the blue, “You a peanut butter guy?” Green nodded. “This is a good question for you then: Crunchy or creamy?” Green: “I guess I’ll go with creamy.” I’m hung up on the “This is a good question for you then” part. Um, no! It’s not! It’s a good question for no professional football player six days before the Super Bowl!
But that’s just one of many examples. One guy asked Panthers tight end Greg Olsen to say, “Hey America, let’s count it down.” Olsen said, “Hey America, let’s count it down.” One guy asked Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to say, “Happy New Year” to all his fans in China. Manning said, “Happy New Year to all my fans in China. Go Broncos.”
On the one hand... huh?? On the other, business as usual. I mean, this is what happens when you put multi-million-dollar athletes in the same place at the same time with a Leprechaun, a puppeteer, a guy in a Morphsuit, a guy dressed as a downhill skier, a guy dressed in a gold superhero costume, and a guy dressed as the Swedish chef from “The Muppets.”
Speaking of chefs, another funny exchange: A reporter asked Cam Newton to talk about some of his other passions, outside of football. Newton’s reply: “I’m an unbelievable chef. I make from scratch right out the box – Lucky Charms.”
At the interview table to the right of Newton’s, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was asked to do his best Cam Newton impression. Without hesitation, Kuechly raised a towel from his lap, draped it over his head, and grinned widely.
And what started as kind of a stupid question yielded what was kind of the highlight of Super Bowl 50’s Opening Night.