Practice makes perfect
Getting into Falcons' workout takes a little bit of footwork
Posted: Thursday January 28, 1999 11:26 PM
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (CNN/SI) -- It seemed like such an innocuous little idea: To watch practice at the Super Bowl.
OK, OK. So Super Bowl practices are closed. To just about everyone, save for a "pool" reporter who dishes out meaningless drivel about the practice to the rest of the media, who duly report it.
But today was Wednesday, the most important day of practice before Super Bowl XXXIII.
What really goes on during the biggest practice of these guys' lives? How hard do they work at this time of year? What kind of trick plays are they planning?
And how hard could it be, really, to sneak a peek at a bunch of players going through their drills?
"I don't know," said an Atlanta Falcons PR guy, with a slight shaking of his head that said, "dumb idea," through and through.
"I don't know," an NFL source said to me, flipping the press pass that hung around my neck. "They could revoke this."
I decided on a couple rules. First, nothing illegal. No breaking and entering. No fake beards. No trespassing. Nothing that would result in me covering the game from my hotel room or the Miami-Dade County hoosegow.
Secondly, the only legitimate way to watch practice is up close -- close enough to see jersey numbers. No rooftops from a mile away with a high-powered lens, either.
So, notebook in my pocket and best walking shoes on, off I went to the University of Miami, where the Atlanta Falcons began their practice at 3 p.m. (I picked Atlanta over the Denver Broncos, figuring the Falcons are less sophisticated at the fine art of Super Bowl practice security.)
You can see where the Falcons are practicing from San Amaro Drive, one of the streets bordering the Hurricanes' sports complex. You can even see it from Ponce de Leon, the main drag on that end of campus. But the football fields are all fenced in, and all the fences sport a green mesh windscreen. About the only thing you can really see is the tops of some neon green uprights.
So I took off between the Isadore Hecht Athletics Center and the Tom Kearns Sports Hall of Fame, headed straight for the field -- and ran into a brick wall. I backtracked and hoofed it around left end, where I came up against four Falcons team buses, four Miami-Dade Police cars, a limousine longer than most of the Bengals' drives this season and a rather big bouncer-looking fellow in a yellow windbreaker.
Oh. And a Miami-Dade policeman who looked like he could have made a good NFL tight end.
Reverse field. Quickly.
I tried over by the Greentree Track and Field. Another yellow jacket across the stadium, and Miami's track team was warming up, so that was no good. I walked past Mark Light Stadium, home of Miami's baseball team. Too far away.
Around the corner, along Ponce de Leon at a three-story parking garage crawling with yellow jackets and members of the university police, I walked up to a kindly looking elderly gentleman with the confounded yellow jacket.
"Can I ask you a question?" I said, most innocently.
"One question," he said.
So much for that.
I continued my counterclockwise assault on the field and, finally, in a parking lot, I saw a gap in the green mesh and heard the familiar sounds of a blocking sled. And grunting.
They were close.
Problem was, there's a nasty, brackish looking river that runs between the parking lot and the fence. No way was I crossing that.
A hundred yards down or so, I took a bridge that led across the river to the George A. Smathers Student Wellness Center. Stealthily, along the outside wall, past windows filled with iron-pumping coeds, I worked my way back toward the practice field fence. There was a gap in the mesh there that even Keith Traylor couldn't fill.
There was also a yellow jacket with his eyes on me.
The Neil Schiff Tennis Center? No view. Stands aren't high enough.
And, suddenly, I'm back nose-to-nose with the tight end/policeman.
"Can I talk to someone with NFL security?" I ask. "I'm a reporter."
The TE talks into the microphone on his shoulder.
"They say they don't discuss that."
"Can they at least tell me ..."
"Uh," says the TE, with the nicest smile I've ever seen on anything that big. "Nice day, isn't it? Enjoying the sunshine?"
"Yeah, it's great. It's beautiful. You guys really have some nice weather down here ... Hey, but what about ...?"
"Nuh-uh," he says. "Have a nice day."
Now, maybe I could've found a way across the track, hunkered down in a spot security had missed. Maybe I could've sneaked up the stairwell in the parking garage while the elderly yellow jacket wasn't looking -- though there was more security up top.
And maybe I did.
Maybe I got up there and watched a good 10 minutes of practice, saw Jamal Anderson and Chris Chandler and Jessie Tuggle and all the guys. Maybe I saw what they had in mind for the Broncos come Super Sunday.
Maybe, just maybe, this is it.
They're going to run Anderson. They're going to throw to Tony Martin and Terance Mathis and O.J. Santiago. And they're going to work their damnedest on a way to stop Terrell Davis.
Need anything more than that?
You go. It can't be that hard.
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