2003 Football Playoffs 2003 Football Playoffs

Keeping it real

The key for everybody in this wacky week is staying calm

Posted: Tuesday January 21, 2003 11:17 AM
  Bill Romanowski Bill Romanowski is among those greeting the masses during Media Day in San Diego. AP

By John Donovan,

SAN DIEGO -- A few years ago, a bunch of offensive linemen from the Denver Broncos got together and, in the name of a little unity among teammates, decided they weren't going to talk to the media. The theory being that those who clammed up together would, theoretically, stand up together. Or something like that.

When it came time for the Super Bowl, though, the Broncos' front crumbled. Confronted with the prospect of facing thousands of media members from all over the world -- and a threatened $10,000 fine from the NFL if they didn't speak up -- the players gave in and submitted themselves to several hard days of questions like "If you were a tree ..." and "How do you plan to stop so-and-so ..."

Ahhhh, the beauty of Super Bowl week. These guys couldn't shut up if they wanted to.

The XXXVIIth running of the Super Bowl is on, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders the featured players. The game could be a beauty -- the top offense in the league, the Raiders, against the Bucs' top-ranked defense -- but the game, dang it, is not until Sunday.

Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2003 -- 5 days to kickoff
"We'll hear a lot from [Warren] Sapp and some of their other guys, but in the end, it's what we do on Sunday. Our offense can move the ball. They stop teams. Something will have to give."
-- Oakland safety Rod Woodson
27.1 -- Average points scored by Tampa Bay in the last eight games with Brad Johnson at quarterback.
The hype kicks into high gear Tuesday with Media Day at Qualcomm Stadium. That's just the start. Then there's a snore-off, sponsored by that nasal-strip company, that will crown the league's loudest snorer. A Chunky Soup media extravaganza with a few NFL players and their real moms. We could go on. But we're trying to pace ourselves. It's a long, long week.
How long until Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden just simply stops answering questions about leaving the Raiders and all that?

Until then, we get all the breakdown and the buildup, the silly and the downright stupid. We get the stories of quarterbacks mooning news helicopters (Jim McMahon in New Orleans in 1986), of players soliciting hookers (or undercover cops, as Eugene Robinson did in Miami in '99), of poolside guarantees (Joe Namath, '69), of mountains made of molehills.

And, like it or not, we get the players talking. And talking. And talking. It's part of the standard NFL player's contract. They have to talk. Good, bad or in-between, they have to.

"When you get overwhelmed," Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice said upon arriving Monday in San Diego, "you start buying into all the hype."

The key for everyone this week is to try to keep from getting overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the media and all the attention, by the enormity of the game, by the millions of dollars being poured into it by corporate sponsors, advertisers and the NFL itself.

Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden decided to stay in Tampa on Monday to get in some relatively uninterrupted work time before stepping into the maelstrom of Super Bowl week. It's something both teams will try to do until kickoff Sunday afternoon: Stay sane amid the madness of the biggest sporting event in the nation.

That and concentrate on business.

"We aren't here for a vacation. I live on the only peninsula in the United States of America and if I want vacation time, I live it every day of my life," Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp said. "I'm not here for a vacation.

All of this is easier said than done. As McMahon found out, as the Broncos' offensive linemen did, as Atlanta's Robinson surely did, there are trip-ups waiting for the flat-footed. If it's not some undercover cop, it's friends looking for tickets or another reporter wanting one more answer or family members without a hotel room.

For the Buccaneers, talk-loving guys like Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson will be especially hard-pressed to keep things from getting out of hand. Or out of mouth, as it were.

"All the other stuff -- the hoopla, the microphones, the tape recorders and the cameras ... " Rice said. "It's entertaining, but the real truth of the game is our team vs. their team."

Yes, the game is it. The week is long and filled with endless questions and endless answers and a whole lot of nonsense. But at the end, there is always the game.

Best we all keep our eyes on it.

Related information
John Donovan: Raiders-Bucs -- a sexy Super Bowl
Statitudes: Conference Title Games -- By the Numbers
Don Banks: Trestman is Raiders' man behind the curtain
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