Coaches do this
all the time, of course. Before he retired this month, Georgia football coach
Vince Dooley used his weekly press conferences to practice a form of hypespeak
known as "poor-mouthin'." Dooley rhapsodized so poetically about the
obscure strengths of upcoming opponents that after a while you began to feel
sorry for any of the Bulldogs brave enough to take on such juggernauts. Dooley
once warned the press, "We've never seen a team kick off quite like
Vanderbilt. It has the greatest variety of kickoffs I've ever seen." In
Dooley's final years at Georgia, he was often referred to in the press as Poor
Mouth of the South. Herewith, some of his choicest licks.
opponent Texas A & M: "This is a real good football team. Mike Mosley
is the best quarterback we've faced since Archie Manning was at Ole Miss."
Game result: Mosley passed for 62 yards as Georgia won 42-0.
opponent Memphis State: "Their offense can break a big play at any time.
They have tremendous speed. If we don't play well, we'll get beat." Game
result: Georgia handed the Tigers their 15th straight defeat, 34-3.
opponent Temple: "Temple has quality personnel. We've noticed on film that
they have one of the finest snappers in the country." Game result: Georgia
beat Temple and its fine snapper, 31-14.
GREAT MOMENTS IN
HYPE #3: It was June 24, 1980, and the idea was to celebrate the 50th
anniversary of the opening of a Cleveland skyscraper called Terminal Tower. The
stunt was a reenactment of one performed by the Cleveland Indians years
earlier, in which they dropped baseballs off the top of the building. Ted
Stepien, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers at the time, participated
(presumably as part of his ongoing effort to promote his NBA franchise, not to
mention his newly established slo-pitch Softball league). Now, Stepien's
stewardship of the Cavaliers, the team that care forgot, was marked by repeated
public relations gaffes, but none matched his willingness to drop softballs off
Terminal Tower and have six members of his softball team, the Competitors, on
the ground trying to catch them. With an expectant crowd gathered below, gazing
at the rooftop, Stepien stood proudly at the precipice of disaster and threw
the first pitch out a 52nd-floor window. That ball smashed into a car 708 feet
below. The second pitch hit a bystander, badly bruising his shoulder. Stepien
fired another ball earthward, this time breaking the wrist of a pedestrian. The
next pitch hit the street below the tower and bounced 40 feet in the air
(calculations showed that the ball was traveling at 144 mph). At that point,
bystanders began to flee for their lives, leaving a scene of twisted metal and
No other event
generates the intensity of hype that the Super Bowl does every year, despite
the fact that with a few notable exceptions, the games themselves have been
either badly played or dull. Last year more than 2,200 media credentials were
issued for Super Bowl XXII, which meant that for each of the men on the field
for the kickoff, there were 100 media people there to record his every thought
and hiccup. The two weeks of interrogation that precede the Super Bowl can
create a fairly apocalyptic atmosphere, which is how it came to pass in 1971
that Dallas Cowboy running back Duane Thomas made his classic pronouncement
about the Super Bowl. Thomas did not speak often, but it was sometimes worth
the wait. When asked if this was the ultimate game, he replied "Well,
they're playing it next year, aren't they?"
Thomas was on the
right track there, but he may have missed the larger point. "Here is the
truth of it," wrote Chicago Tribune columnist Bernie Lincicome a few years
later. "The Super Bowl is the ultimate game because the press says it is.
And the Super Bowl belongs to the press like no other sporting event."
None of this
happened by accident. When the Super Bowl came into existence in 1967, former
public relations man and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was the unchallenged
czar of pro football. Rozelle's two top assistants, Jim Kensil and Don Weiss,
were also p.r. men. Though the first Super Bowl was not a sellout and got
relatively minimal press coverage, by 1973, when the unbeaten Dolphins met the
Redskins in Los Angeles, The Washington Post sent 13 staffers to cover the
game. This was a watershed event in the history of hype, the point at which
editorial overkill became the rule, not the exception. Because of the resulting
press bloat, the following year—and every year since—the players have been
required to sit behind little tables with their names on them for interview
sessions several times in the week before the game. "The press conference
used to be kind of an informal thing," says Dolphin coach Don Shula,
recalling a kinder, gentler America. "You'd sit around in the hotel lobby
and that would be the press conference."
Three years ago,
the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe set a new standard for wretched excess
when they were granted a combined total of 52 working press credentials for the
Patriots-Bears Super Bowl in New Orleans. The Tribune, a paper that at no time
had more than three reporters in Vietnam, sent a crew of 28 to that game. The
Super Bowl obviously isn't as important to the commonweal as war and peace, but
it is the only event in American life besides the world wars upon which Roman
numerals have been bestowed. Fred Dryer, then a defensive end with the Los
Angeles Rams, got it about right when someone asked him in 1980 if the Super
Bowl was as big as death. "Bigger," Dryer said. "At least it comes
in a bigger box."
"I find it
hard to believe anything is more overblown than the Super Bowl," says San
Francisco 49er center Randy Cross, who expects to play in his third one this
year. "It's a lot like a feeding frenzy with sharks."