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Fourth (estate) and long

Rams, Titans meet the press

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Posted: Wednesday January 26, 2000 07:37 AM


Who says one week isn't enough time to prepare for the Super Bowl?

Don't look for any complaints from St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans players. For them, the hardest part is over.

Taking the field against each other will be much easier than taking the field against the media. Armed with pens, pads, microphones, video cameras and all sorts of modern technology aimed to capture everything from the lowest of whispered syllables to the wettest of Dick Vermeil's tears, anyone who's anyone -- in the world of electronic or print -- descended on the Georgia Dome.

An impending gathering as important as the Super Bowl meant that every network needed representation.

The usual suspects, as well as the unusual ones -- Comedy Central, which sent hip Daily Show correspondent and intentional football novice Beth Littleford and MTV, which sent beautiful, unintentional hip-hop football novice, VJ Ananda Lewis, along with "International R&B and Rap Sensation" Tyrese -- were present.

Among the foreign countries sending reporters were Mexico, Japan and Germany.

So far, there have been no "stupid question" sightings, but stay tuned.

Answering "the dumbest question in Super Bowl history"

The mere mention of the question causes uproarious laughter every year around Super Bowl media day. It's the kind of question all reporters go to great pains to never ask. "So, Doug (Williams) how long have you been a black quarterback?"

Well, you can stop laughing. According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the question was never asked.

The asker of the alleged question, Butch John, now a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, who at the time was a sportswriter for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., remembers exactly what happened.

"For about 20 minutes, Doug's getting all these questions about the significance (of Williams' race)," said John, who had covered Williams' brother, Mike, at Grambling, where Doug also starred. "All these questions, blah-de-blah-de-blah. Never let up. Being from the South, having covered Grambling and his brother, Mike, Doug being a black quarterback was no big deal to me.

"This is what I said, verbatim: 'Doug, it's obvious you've been a black quarterback all your life. When did it start to matter?' Everybody got a pretty good laugh out of it. His answer was that it didn't matter till he got to the NFL. "That answer was used in the wire services. Also, there was a little blurb -- no more than a paragraph -- in the San Diego paper the next day, about 'A question from a well-meaning writer.' From there, things just kind of shot out of control. By the end of the week, it was the question."

Williams, who threw four touchdown passes to lead Washington to a 42-10 victory and win the MVP trophy, empathized with John..

"What happened to you is basically what happens to us," Williams told him, referring to athletes being misquoted and being taken out of context..

"I've been nailed pretty good," said John, 46. "What bothers me is people will repeat it without checking their facts. It's not embarrassing," he concluded. "It just bothers me that someone would take something fifth-, sixth-, seventh-hand and turn it into something else. It's like one of those urban legends. But I'd rather it never happened."

The ratings game

What if they held a Super Bowl and nobody came? With small-market teams Tennessee and St. Louis, Super Bowl XXXIV could provide the greatest test of that theory. But ABC officials are unfazed by that prospect.

St. Louis ranks 21st among the nation's markets, while Nashville comes in at 30. Not since the first Super Bowl, when Green Bay played Kansas City, have the teams hailed from smaller markets.

But ABC is banking on the tradition of big ratings. ''With so many fresh faces and stories, this Super Bowl could be one of the most interesting in recent memory,'' said ABC spokesman Mark Mandel told The Boston Globe. ''The fact that the two teams are not marquee names won't be a factor at all.''

CBS Sports president Sean McManus agreed with Mandel.

''The Super Bowl is relatively immune from big swings in ratings,'' McManus said. ''Without national marquee teams in the game, the ratings will be much more subject to the quality of the game. It could mean a ratings point or two, but that won't make or break the Super Bowl. It'll still be in the upper 40s.''

The highest-rated Super Bowl was in 1982 when San Francisco beat Cincinnati 26-21. The game, on CBS, earned a 49.1 rating and staggering 73 share. The lowest-rated game was the first Super Bowl, which earned a 23.

Super Bowl roomers

Planning on making it to Atlanta to see the Super Bowl? According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, unless you've already made reservations, you'd better have a contingency plan ... or a sleeping bag.

Reservation operators for Marriott's hotel system, which includes the Courtyard and Fairfield chains, said there were no available rooms within a 50-mile radius of downtown Atlanta.

Fans who can't get a room, or a ticket, can still see the Rams and Titans -- just not in pads and not necessarily together. The NFC champions are spending the week at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia Hotel in Dunwoody. The AFC champion Tennessee Titans are bunking in Buckhead.

Is there an edge to be had in the choice of lodging? Well, the Titans lead in nightlife options, while the Rams are counting on an edge in karma.

''We're the only hotel in the area to house a Super Bowl champion, Dallas, the last time the game was in Atlanta,'' sales Crowne Plaza Ravinia manager Fred Kleisner said.

Bad experience is its own reward

It's taken almost 20 years, but, according to Bill Pennington of the New York Times, a much different and much wiser Dick Vermeil is preparing to coach in this Super Bowl.

Vermeil knows the enduring image he left behind when he last coached in the Super Bowl nearly two decades ago. Half wet blanket, half drill sergeant, Vermeil wound his Philadelphia Eagles so tight in the week before Super Bowl XV in 1981 that they played panicky and tense in losing to the Oakland Raiders 27-10.

But in his first news conference, he announced: "I don't have any curfews scheduled."

Vermeil's coaching staff did not even accompany the team to Atlanta for the beginning of the Super Bowl festivities. The coaches are back in St. Louis preparing the Rams' game plan for Sunday's game with the Tennessee Titans.

Vermeil's staff will arrive in Atlanta late Tuesday night, hours before they deliver the game plan on Wednesday morning.

There's just no pleasing some people

The St. Louis Rams did little to quiet the national press corps' skepticism about just how good they are. In fact, their season-low 11 points against Tampa Bay added some fuel to the argument.

The Rams' 309 yards of offense was the second-lowest total this season --regular-season and playoff games included.

The Rams have posted their two lowest rushing totals of the season in the playoffs, with 31 yards against Minnesota and 51 against Tampa Bay. Marshall Faulk had 21 yards rushing against the Vikings on 11 carries, but the Rams really didn't need a ground game because they scorched the Minnesota pass defense for 391 yards and five touchdowns.

"In this business, you win ballgames," Faulk, who managed 44 yards on 17 carries on Sunday, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It doesn't matter how you win them, you win them. If we win 3-0 this Sunday, I'll take it."

Titans defense Buc-kles down

Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher won't be talking to Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy this week about how to slow down the St. Louis offense. He won't have to. They're already on the same wavelength. Both Tennessee and Tampa Bay were able to put enough pressure on Kurt Warner -- and keep Marshall Faulk from running wild -- by rushing only four or three linemen and dropping seven or eight defenders in pass coverage.

The only difference is that Tennessee handled its pass coverage with six, seven, even eight defensive backs. Tampa Bay used a combination of linebackers and defensive backs to do the trick. True, the Bucs didn't sack Warner, but they got enough pressure on him to force him to get rid of the ball early on several occasions.

The Titans have the 17th-ranked defense in the league but held the Rams to 21 points -- their second-lowest total of the season -- on Oct. 31 in 24-21 victory.

Dick's Happy (Ver-)Meal

When asked by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch about how he celebrated Sunday night St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil responded, "I had a bowl of chili and three glasses of champagne. That's a hell of a mix, isn't it?"

The Tight-ans

It's only Tuesday and already some Titans are feeling the pressure. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean got reactions from several players.

"To be honest, there's nothing that can prepare you for the hype and the media and everything that goes with Super Bowl week. It's overwhelming," said defensive lineman Mike Jones, who played in Super Bowl XXXI with the New England Patriots.

"You have to watch everything you say and everything you do. It's not something where you can joke around with the guys about something because somebody is going to hear it," said Titans punter Craig Hentrich, who played in two Super Bowls with the Green Bay Packers.

Added Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson: "Family members will be calling wanting their tickets and people I don't even know will probably be calling wanting tickets. But I know it's all going to be all worth it. I'm willing to put up with anything. It's the Super Bowl."

Can I quote you on that?

According to The Tennessean, one Titan who will be a sure hit on media day is left tackle Brad Hopkins.

"Hoppy, he's going to be the next Nate Newton," said teammate Bruce Matthews. "As long as there's an audience, Hoppy has a quote."

"I love Nate Newton, he's a great guy," responded Hopkins. "I don't have the comic material he has. He has that quick wit and his delivery is the best. I'm more geekish. This proper English sometimes throws people off, but I try and be funny too."

Here's some of his past hits courtesy of The Tennessean.

On the smell of the bottom of a pile when players are trying to dig for a fumble: "I'm sure somebody's got some chronic halitosis, but that's not something I'm paying attention to. It doesn't make a difference what a guy smells like because there's a lot of funky guys out there. But you don't even notice until after the game. Then you say, 'Wow, his deodorant really did break down.' "

On NFL teams spying on each other and how insider knowledge could hurt his performance: "What's the worst thing they can find out about me? That I eat too much McDonald's? Because I'm sure that if I saw a Big Mac sitting in my locker before the game and it said, 'Miss a couple blocks and 10 of these are yours,' I might have to fall into line, I don't know."

Hopkins hopes to find a job in the broadcasting world when his playing career is over. This week's visibility should help him when he puts together a resume.

There's a flag down

Jesse Jackson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday that he will not lead an economic boycott of the Super Bowl because of the design of the Georgia state flag.

But Jackson, president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, is trying to persuade the Rams and Titans players to wear tiny American flags on their helmets during the Super Bowl, to protest Georgia's flag.

NFL spokesman Joe Browne said the display would not happen. "While we understand the concerns raised by this issue, we are not a political advocacy group. We are a football league in Atlanta to play our championship game and our rules prohibit the wearing of any item on game day related to political causes or activities.''

Ticket talk

David Climer of The Tennessean points out that scalping is illegal in Georgia. All of which makes it very interesting when you see $4,000 change hands on a street corner for a ticket on the 40-yard line.

Just in case you were wondering just how many tickets a player can get, Frank Wycheck told The Tennessean: "We're only allowed to get 13 tickets to buy and two comps, 15 tickets total, that's the league rule. They're $325 a pop, for family and friends."

Welcome to Hot-lanta!

The high today will be 42 degrees!

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