Here’s an example of how vital the hype machine is to Super Bowl 50: On Wednesday, for the third straight day, shuttle buses full of journalists rolled down Highway 101 away from San Francisco with the support of a full police escort.
As rubberneckers in the cars being passed gawked and took cellphone photos (no doubt thinking these coaches had celebrity cargo), the phalanx of motorcycle cops efficiently cleared a 50-mile path to the San Jose Convention Center.
All this so hundreds of reporters won’t be late for a date with a bunch of extraordinarily talented NFL players, who are obligated by the league to obediently answer questions in a formal press conference format; or while seated on a raised platform next to other players on raised platforms; or informally in an almost speed-dating style.
For Panthers players, that meant fielding queries like: What kind of leader is Cam Newton? What kind of leader is Luke Kuechly? What stands out to you about the Denver Broncos’ offense? What would it mean to win the Super Bowl? What kind of leader is Cam Newton? What would it mean to win the Super Bowl? Yeah. You get the idea.
“It’s just tedious, because we know that we’ve got other things to do. We want to go out and play football, and not talk to the media all day long, you know what I mean?” Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert said as he strolled through the San Jose Convention Center, past dozens of teammates who also had tape recorders and TV cameras stuck in front of their faces.
You may not be able to picture this all in your head, so here’s a quick rundown of how Wednesday’s media access to the players went: Coach Ron Rivera held a press conference for 15 minutes in a room full of (mostly seated) reporters. Then Newton did 15 minutes, from the same podium.
In an adjacent area, clockwise from left, Panthers Ryan Kalil, Luke Kuechly, Charles Johnson, Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen, Thomas Davis, Roman Harper, Kawann Short, Robert McClain and Ted Ginn Jr. were seated at tables on risers. These things basically work like a cattle call. Any reporter can approach any player and ask any question, no matter how inane. Reporters will generally walk up, jockey for position, wait patiently (sometimes), then jump in with their question. Then they’ll bail as soon as they have their answers. So the next reporter that comes up might ask the very same question the player just answered.
Meanwhile, the remaining 40-odd other players lounged at tables in yet another adjacent area, made completely available to all reporters and all questions.
On Wednesday, these free-for-all sessions went on for 45 minutes. Tuesday was similar, just with different players on risers. The team will do the media dance all over again on Thursday.
“I think it’s only a distraction if you allow it,” said tight end Greg Olsen. “Everybody’s here because there’s a game on Sunday. ... That’s what our entire reason for being here is: to prepare ourselves to play as well as we can on Sunday, and let everybody else enjoy everything that goes on around it.”
As for how the players deal with the monotony of the questions being fired at them, there are a few different strategies.
One is to grin and bear it. “Yeah, it gets annoying,” defensive tackle Kawann Short said of the repetitiveness of the questions. “But we’ve got to get through it. It’s what we signed up for.”
Another is the Charles Johnson approach, which – like the defensive end’s job on the field – is about creating a little chaos. “I’ll try to switch up (my answers). I’ll kind of give a different answer, so I won’t sound too boring or anything like that.”
And finally, there’s center Ryan Kalil, who preaches the practice-makes-perfect philosophy.
“It actually makes it easier, because you start to streamline your answers,” he said. “And I’m kind of a long-winded talker, so then it helps me to keep them short and sweet and give you what you need. I’m just trying to make your job easier, man.”