It looks like I missed one of the highlights of the week by about five minutes. After unsuccessfully cruising Radio Row looking for a pair of tickets to tonight's ESPN party in the Design District, a fight just about broke out right in the middle of everything. And when I say "fight," I couldn't be more serious.
Oscar De La Hoya has been working the room for a little while promoting his upcoming fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Shortly thereafter, Mayweather enters the Convention Center for the same reason. As De la Hoya is on the air with the St. Louis affiliate of ESPN Radio, Mayweather walks up to him and starts running his mouth. It got pretty heated for a while as the two of them are jawing back and forth, so much so that De la Hoya took off his headphones and stormed away right in the middle of the show. The two hosts just sat there in stunned silence.
When I first heard the story, I just assumed it was staged to hype up the fight some more. But the more I thought about it, why would they do such a thing on a show in St. Louis? It's no secret that De La Hoya and Mayweather don't like each other, but if they were going to spice up this bout with some underhanded trickeration, wouldn't they do it on Jim Rome or WFAN in New York?
Either way, it certainly got the building buzzing in a hurry. The whole world is here right now. Everyone from Giants defensive end Michael Strahan to lady pool shark Jeanette Lee to P. Diddy or whatever he's calling himself these days.
If I was ever going to film an audition tape for The Surreal Life, last night would have been the time to do it.
The second of two media parties thrown by the Super Bowl XLI Host Committee was Wednesday night at Gulfstream Park, a horseracing track in Ft. Lauderdale. I've never even been to a track before, but I must say, this one was pretty impressive. And you should have seen the reception we got at this place.
They quite literally rolled out the red carpet for us. A gang of photographers was taking pictures, and there was even a Joan Rivers impersonator right at the front entrance who was grabbing people and interviewing them on camera like it was the Oscars. I just hope she liked my outfit enough to nominate me for one of her prestigious Golden Hanger Awards.
As luck would have it, Jack Daniel's - Southern table wine, as I like to call it - is sponsoring the event, and there's more than enough to go around. The last shuttle back to the Miami Beach Convention Center is supposed to leave Gulfstream Park at 11:30, but as is usually the case when there's free whiskey involved, I decide to throw caution to the wind and take my chances finding a ride back to my hotel later. After chatting it up with Bob Page of Jets Confidential for a while, he introduces me to three Bears fans who are hanging at the track for the night and tells them that they're now in charge of getting me back alive.
I can make friends very quickly with any Bears fans because of what I do for a living, so the four of us decide to check out some of the action back in Miami. It is a Wednesday night, so the bars and clubs aren't exactly hopping, but we eventually fall into some local dive called Club Deuce that holds South Beach's longest-standing liquor license. This place was quite the spectacle, and that's even before we meet the evening's special guest.
Steve-O, the self-mutilating maniac of Jackass fame, is bellied up to the bar and drunk like Ted Kennedy on his birthday. Before long, the random Bears fans and I are having a drink with him. He's driving the entire place crazy, especially the bartender, but that doesn't stop girl after girl from coming over to tell him how much they love him.
I imagine this is not unusual for Steve-O, and he proceeds to tell me his rules for dealing with starstruck bar-hoppers. According to him, he refuses to be nice to people who claim to be his No. 1 fan. His reason, you ask? "Because I'm my own No. 1 fan, " Steve-O slurs to me. "So it's impossible for them to be my No. 1 fan. If they tell me they're my No. 2 fan, then I'll talk to them."
Makes perfect sense to me. I always take my celebrity tips from a guy who last I saw was jamming a fish hook through his cheek and using himself as bait in shark-infested waters. Now this is someone who's autobiography I'd like to edit.
And you thought Super Bowl week was about football.
This is the feeling during Super Bowl week that every sports writer dreads. Just about every question has been asked ad nauseum and just about every conceivable story angle has already been written, so most everyone's dying for material right now. When readers bash the media for inventing stories out of thin air, it's because of moments like these.
Newspapers need content. Radio waves need buzz. TV crews need packages. The trouble is, there just isn't much happening right now. The Miami Beach Convention Center is alive with current and ex-players, current and ex-coaches, and every media personality you've ever and never heard of, yet almost all of them are shooting blanks right about now.
A big reason why is the demeanor of these two head coaches. Neither Lovie Smith nor Tony Dungy is going to fill up a notebook with colorful commentary. They're both wonderful men and excellent football coaches, but neither would be what we refer to as "media friendly." And as you'd expect, their teams are a reflection of their laid-back personalities.
If you're waiting for Alex Brown to say that Peyton Manning is overrated, take a number. If you're waiting for Joseph Addai to say that he's a better fit for Indy's offense than Edgerrin James, don't hold your breath. There will be plenty of jawing on the field come Super Sunday, but right now, there isn't a lick of bulletin board material out there.
Sean Payton of the Saints was named the Motorola NFL Coach of the Year this afternoon. Eric Mangini of the Jets and Andy Reid of the Eagles were also nominated, but Payton was the only real choice in my opinion. New Orleans was 3-13 last season and almost off the NFL map completely, so to get that team to the NFC championship game in his first season is a herculean achievement.
As for the FedEx Air & Ground NFL Players of the Year, Drew Brees of the Saints and LaDainian Tomlinson of the Chargers were the runaway winners, respectively. Coming off shoulder surgery, Brees threw for a league-best 4,418 yards and 26 touchdowns in Payton's offense. Tomlinson rushed for 1,815 yards and scored an NFL-record 31 TDs in what may have been the single greatest fantasy football season in recorded history.
Both players received nearly three-quarters of the vote, and quite frankly, I'd like to know what the other 25% or so were thinking.
Radio Row at the Miami Beach Convention Center is starting to swirl with all kinds of NFL presonalities past and present. I cruise over to talk to Mike Dempsey, an old friend of mine who hosts the afternoon drive on ESPN Radio in Jacksonville, and can't go two steps without spying a familiar face. In the span of 30 seconds, I see Jimmy Johnson, Emmitt Smith, Cris Carter, Zach Thomas, Brandon Short, Chad Johnson, Joe Theismann, and Marshall Faulk on the air with various stations from all over the country.
There's also some poor schlub pushing his self-published book on anyone who'll make eye contact with him and begging to be put on the air by somebody.
I do several radio shows per week as a phone-in guest, but it's hard to tell exactly what direction the hosts are going and does me little good to actually prepare. They had me on in Clemson this morning and spent half the call chatting up Rod Wilson and Airese Currie, the two Bears from that neck of the woods. Wilson has been solid on special teams and Currie is on injured reserve a second consecutive year, so I've got maybe 45 seconds of material to contribute.
I'll be on in Des Moines again this afternoon, and Dempsey will have me on either today or tomorrow with someone from the Indianapolis Star. I assume we'll actually be talking about the Super Bowl matchup, as opposed to pitching a product or charity like most of the players and ex-players here today. Dempsey will go out of his way to talk about all the former Gators in Sunday's game because that's a good angle for a show in Jacksonville, plus he knows I'm an FSU grad and that will irritate me to no end.
I'm going to head over to Kids Day at the NFL Experience in about half an hour. That's always one of the highlights of Super Bowl week, plus the place is closed to the general public for a while so all the kids can tear the set-up apart. I had a pretty good showing kicking field goals from about 30 yards out at Super Bowl XXXIX two years ago, so let's see if I still have the leg.
And if you're curious about last night's media party at Lummus Park, as Brian the dog on Family Guy might say, "It was lamer than FDR's legs."
That was a bizarre day, no question about it. Media Day is just surreal with the ridiculous mass of people and crazy questions being thrown at the players. Even practice-squaders like Richard Angulo and Dwayne Slay - two guys who roam the locker room at Halas Hall almost anonymously - were flooded with microphones and cameras.
I heard some woman reporter ask Rex Grossman how it feels to be the worst quarterback in Super Bowl history. Somebody asked Ricky Manning Jr. which character from Gilligan's Island is he most like. Yet another asked Cedric Benson if this is the biggest football game of his life ... you know, because it's the Super Bowl and half the world will be watching.
Back at the Miami Beach Convention Center, everyone finds a nice comfortable spot to settle in and get some work done. Radio Row is quite a spectacle as it is every year. The Chicago contingent - WSCR, WMVP, WBBM - is well represented. I bump into Dan Bernstein from The Score and ask him if he'll be attending the media party tonight at Lummus Park on South Beach. Before I even have the full question out of my mouth, he's shaking his head no and telling me not a chance in hell.
One of the highlights of the day occurs when Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin drops in on the festivities. There are always a ton of NFL players in town for the Super Bowl to film commercials, promote their products, and attend every party they possibly can. I'm happy to see Boldin because he's an FSU boy like me, plus he's from nearby Pahokee.
You should have seen Boldin's watch. I swear, it was like a manhole cover with diamonds. I'm not even sure if it actually kept the time, but people could see the sparkle from Key Biscayne to Key Largo. That must be how he keeps his arms so strong. Even Flava Flav thought it was gaudy.
After scarfing an $8 "gourmet sandwich" from the Convention Center concession stand, I about passed out on the shuttle ride back to my hotel. I guess by "gourmet" they mean "extra tryptophan." By the time I actually open the door to my room, I feel like I washed that sandwich down with a frosty glass of NyQuil.
If I'm going to make that media party tonight on South Beach, I need a serious recharge.
It's difficult to describe just what Super Bowl Media Day is like. As Louis Winthorpe said to Billy Ray Valentine in Trading Places, "Nothing you have ever experienced will prepare you for the unbridled carnage you are about to witness." What a mess.
Everybody who is anybody in the national sporting press is here. Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post, Jon Saraceno of USA Today, and ESPN's Tom Jackson, who walks with a pretty pronounced limp, are celebrities just as much as they are members of the media in this crowd. Even the Raiders' Warren Sapp is doing some work for the NFL Network as a pseudo-reporter.
The big name players - Brian Urlacher, Rex Grossman, Lance Briggs, and the like - have individual booths set up on the sideline with microphones. Second-tier guys - Cedric Benson, Nathan Vasher, Desmond Clark, et al - are situated throughout the stadium seating area. Everybody else just finds a comfortable spot somewhere and awaits the inevitable media avalanche.
Most of the players are having fun with all the extra attention, plus the fact that it's a 70-degree day in Miami as opposed to single-digits back in Chicago is a welcome change. Jamar Williams and Brandon McGowan may have finished the year on injured reserve, but that doesn't stop them from making a home movie and busting Urlacher's chops with silly questions like what his favorite color is.
What's the stupidest question I heard today? Somebody asked baby-face kicker Robbie Gould if he still gets carded when he buys beer. I imagine he still gets carded when he goes to see an R-rated movie.
I spent a little time with ESPN's Chris Mortenson toward the end of the session, so I was curious what his thoughts were for the big game on Sunday and his keys to victory.
According to Mortenson, if the Colts end up beating the Bears, "Peyton Manning had one of his days to remember."
And if the Bears end up beating the Colts, "Brian Urlacher had a day to remember."
Care to make a prediction for all the BearReport.com readers out there?
"I don't know," he said. "I think it's going to be a lot closer than maybe most people would think. I would probably take the Colts by three or four points, 24-20 or something like that."
Way to go out on a limb there, Chris.
Needless to say, it's been an interesting day already. Monday is travel day for me, and although it was fairly smooth getting out of Midway back in Chicago, it didn't take very long or things to derail upon my arrival in the Sunshine State. The Super Bowl will be played here in six days, yet I don't think any of the locals are aware of that.
First of all, I was under the impression there would be some gigantic Super Bowl XLI Host Committe greeting party waiting for me at MIA. Quite the contrary, it is no more than one little table down by baggage claim area No. 21. I had to ask four different airport employees before I actually found it, so we're off to a lousy start.
To make matters worse, nobody's working the table when I get there. It's about 5:30 p.m. on Monday of Super Bowl week, so it's not like I had just rolled off a red-eye flight or anything. I'm greeted with a pile of generic programs, not the shuttle voucher I am supposed to have waiting for me to take me to my hotel.
So I shell out $25 that I'll never get back for a cab from the airport to my home for the next eight days - the River Park Hotel & Suites. Although this is one of the nine hotels that the NFL is using to house media personnel coming from all over the world, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Peter King isn't staying here.
Room 601 at the River Park is a shade nicer than Carl Spackler's place in Caddyshack, although I would like to borrow his leaf blower to straighten up a little bit. They must have a lot of stuff on order - you know, credit trouble.
So you say you want to be a sports writer, do you?
After taking a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood to familiarize myself with my surroundings, there is almost nothing open. Not the restaurants, not the retail shops, not even the convenience stores. The Super Bowl is in Miami this year, right?
I'm starving and really need something to eat, so I just head back to my hotel and belly up to the bar since I can't find anything else. Naturally, I order a Cuban sandwich which is almost as bland and unspectacular as Room 601. Although the parrot in the cage behind me decides to lighen up the mood by squawking at the top of its lungs and dancing to the beat of the ridiculously loud hip-hop music being played in the next room.
I only wish I was making this stuff up.
I'll be turning in nice and early this evening because tomorrow is the three-ring circus known as Media Day at Dolphin Stadium. And I'm not positive, but I think that parrot said something anti-semitic to me after I paid my check and walked back to the elevator. I feel like Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas right about now.
Make sure to come back on Tuesday for all the happenings from the site of Super Bowl XLI - same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.