HOUSTON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) -The man heavily responsible for this quasi-madness, the late NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, who was there at the creation, used to preach that the Super Bowl was nothing more than entertainment. Of course, and so is camel racing. It is not easy to describe the annual Opening Night, nee Media Day, as entertaining. Not in the sporting sense, that is. Unless you get a few laughs out of athletes sitting in booths and advising that Super Bowl LI (thank heavens we are back to the Roman numerals) “is just another football game.”
Media Day used to be on Tuesday, in the morning at the place the game will be held, in this instance NRG Stadium. Now, in the Super Bowl’s second half-century, it takes place on Monday and at night, prime time, if you will, with fans paying to watch and listen.
The New England Patriots know the drill well. They’ve been through it a million times or so — it seems like that, doesn’t it? For their opponents, the Atlanta Falcons, while it is not unique, it is hardly familiar territory, the Falcons having been in the Super Bowl just once previously.
That, however, did not explain Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, soon to be head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, almost losing his backpack containing the game plan. Or more accurately, having it filched by a sporting journalist (blush). If accidentally.
Media Night for the biggest football game of the season was held, naturally, in a baseball stadium, the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park. While the Falcons’ big guns, Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, had their sanctuary from where they could gaze out over masses and respond to questions, poor, young Mr. Shanahan (poor in the figurative sense) had to sit on the edge of the wall separating the seats from right field foul territory. No reason to tote one’s backpack while at rest and in conversation, so Shanahan put his down. So did the journalist, next to Shanahan’s. And then everyone left. The Falcons in semi-panic. Those game plans. Yikes.
The writer wouldn’t have known how to decipher them if he even knew he had them, which he didn’t. His semi-panic was in thinking his laptop, with years of stories, notes and phone numbers, were gone with the — wind or win? We learn as much Sunday evening.
Over the years, players have called Media Day/Night ridiculous and stupid. Wonder how they really felt? The problem is that the teams involved have gone through 18 or 19 games during the season to reach this point. Tom Brady is pleasant enough. Bill Belichick is never pleasant — well, almost never. But they are not going to tell us anything we really want to know.
What reporters, being reporters, wanted to know was how players on either team viewed this whole immigration ban instituted by President Donald Trump.
Does it have anything to do with football? Not at all, but neither does Media Night.
Smartly, the players stayed non-committal. Smartly, where they are concerned. There have been very few real controversies over the history of the Super Bowl, despite writers and broadcasters doing their best to create one.
These are college-educated athletes, certainly, but they are coached to avoid trouble.
“I’ve been doing a lot of reading on it,” Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder said about the Trump decrees regarding immigration. “I think that there are a lot of tough things going on in the world tougher than football, but I’m still a football player and stay focused on what I do.”
And on this evening at beginning of Super Bowl week, that was the best thing possible. Next to getting back a game plan gone astray.