INDIANAPOLIS -- Media day isn't for everybody. You need an open mind and a young spirit. You need a high tolerance for nonsense, and an ever higher dosage of Prozac. Even with all that, it's not for everybody.
But it was going to be for me on Tuesday. I went to Super Bowl XLVI's media day in a good mood, full of hope and tolerance and 40 mg of Prozac. I was ready for the nonsense. Ready? Hell, I wanted the nonsense. Bring me the nonsense. Show me the nonsense.
Um ... where's the nonsense?
There was no nonsense, at least not like in years past. Nobody showed up holding a puppet on his hand and using it to interview players. Nobody dressed in a wedding gown and proposed marriage to Tom Brady. And nobody dusted off a game of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots and challenged Justin Tuck to a duel.
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Years ago, the absence of such tomfoolery would have relieved me. Years ago I was 35 going on 60, and I wanted all those silly media posers with their grandiosity and gimmicks to stay off my lawn! But now I'm, um, older going on 30, and I see the silliness of Super Bowl media day for what it is. It's the last port in the storm before seriousness settles in and levity moves out. From here on out, it's all about Gronk's ankle and Eli's brother and Coughlin's legacy. It's all about the Giants defensive front and the Patriots offensive line. It's Wes Welker's contract and Lawrence Tynes' foot.
So Tuesday was our last day for fun -- and while there was fun to be had, it wasn't like in years past when media companies were flush with advertising money and could afford to fly a reporter to the Super Bowl with the sole purpose of wearing something ridiculous and asking something ridiculous and then beaming the ridiculous video to the folks back home, whether they wanted to see it or not.
As the economy tanked the last few years, the media day turnout shrunk. Serious outlets stayed away. Silly outlets stayed away. Two years ago it was vaguely noticeable. Last year it was less subtle. This year it was startling.
Five years ago, a fan with long hair and eye-black, wearing Tom Brady's No. 12 jersey over shoulder pads, wouldn't have grabbed my attention. This year, that fan leans over the railing and I'm snapping a picture of him.
From fake Tom Brady to fake Red Grange we went in our search for something fun, and we failed. Fake Red Grange? Not fun. A few years ago, someone would have wheeled out Grange's casket. That would have been fun. A living dude in a leather helmet? Not fun -- but I'll take it. It was about as good as Tuesday got.
Every year the best 15 or 20 players get their own booth, several feet above the media with speakers booming out their words, and every year the carnival takes place beyond that. The freaks like country singer Kellie Pickler, who terrorized these same two franchises at Media Day in 2008 by asking players to wear a Tom Brady wig or a pair of ruby-red slippers, make their hay on the perimeter. They can't get to the stars like Brady or Victor Cruz in their booths, so the freaks find the lesser players standing on the outside, starving for attention, and convince those poor saps to sing their college fight song or play a game of Twister.
Being the media day veteran that I am, I roamed the perimeter this year. But there were no Tom Brady wigs. No ruby-red slippers. No Kellie Pickler. No freaks at all, except for this guy in a Nicktoons costume, who posed for my picture. I asked his permission first, making sure he didn't mind, and the superhero told me, "You dress like this, you don't mind much."
That wacko was the exception that proves the rule, the rule being that Media Day has grown up. Pacing the perimeter, looking for freaks and finding none, forced me to make my own fun. So as I walked past booth after booth, gliding in and out of interview sessions, I noted the comments I was hearing completely out of context.
"If it was 24/7, I'd be doing it right now," said Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, maybe talking about the rehab on his sprained ankle. But maybe not.
"I'll play on an asteroid if I have to," said Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw.
"The nuns killed me," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin.
After a while it dawned on me that I should try listening to football players talking about actual football, seeing how they weren't being asked about much else. So I stood near Tom Brady -- the real one -- and listened as he gave insight into tackle Matt Light ("He can block fast defensive ends, and he can block strong ones, and not every tackle can handle both kinds") and running back Kevin Faulk ("Other than Randy Moss, he has the best hands of anyone I've ever played with"). But then Entertainment Tonight's Kevin Frazier had a question, and Brady pointed to him.
""What should be on Madonna's playlist at halftime?" Frazier wanted to know. "What's your favorite Madonna song?"
Responded Brady: "There's not a lot of Madonna in our house."
Silly, but not silly enough. As I left Brady's booth and made my way back to the perimeter, I saw Frazier's ET comrade, the singer Ciara, get approached by Patriots defensive back Sergio Brown. He asked Ciara, who was wearing a Brady jersey, "Think we can pose for a picture?"
Ciara smiled at him, probably melting the second-year safety's heart, before dousing it with cold water.
"Sure," Ciara told him. "After this, introduce me to Ochocinco."
Heartbreaking, this Media Day. Heartbreaking all around.