SI Vault
Bruce Newman
January 23, 1989
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January 23, 1989



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The extra week between the conference championship games and the Big One is always hardest on linemen, largely because the press rarely has even the vaguest notion who any of them are or what they do. But at the Super Bowl it doesn't really matter who you are or what you say, as long as you keep saying something. "It's like going to the dentist three times a week and having the same tooth filled," Dolphin defensive tackle Manny Fernandez once said.

When the 49ers played the Dolphins in the 1985 Super Bowl at Stanford Stadium, just 30 miles south of San Francisco, there occurred one of the great hype orgies of all time. "An amazing number of trees had to die to feed it," says Glenn Schwarz, sports editor of The San Francisco Examiner. "It bordered on the obscene." That border may have been crossed the following year when the Globe devoted massive coverage to the meaningless buildup to the game and then got caught in what sports editor Doria describes as "an extremely tough situation" involving a drug story the Globe had but didn't run. The Pats had discovered that several of their players were using cocaine, and although the Globe's Ron Borges caught wind of the story from sources on the team, he eventually agreed to hold it until after the season, which came when the Patriots lost the Super Bowl 46-10. "The one story that was there to be had that entire week didn't come out until two days after the Super Bowl," says L.A. sports editor Dwyre. Which is not to say that Dwyre—or anyone else, for that matter—invariably sees straight during the blizzard of Super Bowl hype. When the game was in Pasadena the following year, one of Dwyre's reporters spent her day covering the ladies' restroom.

GREAT MOMENTS IN HYPE #4: Before the first 1987 meeting between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, Seattle linebacker Brian Bosworth announced that he wanted to injure Denver quarterback John Elway. During that same week, thousands of Boz buster T-shirts were sold in Denver—T-shirts manufactured by 44 Boz Inc., a company owned by Brian Bosworth (who, out of the goodness of his heart, donated the profits to charity).

Major media events generate their own kind of hyper-reality, in which no question is so tasteless that it can't be asked. At the World Series one year, a winning pitcher was explaining to the press that his wife had been unable to come to the game because she was at home feeding their newborn baby. Without hesitating for even a moment, someone shouted out, "Breast or bottle?"

And players end up telling their life stories so often that a certain numbness finally sets in. When Oakland Raider quarterback Jim Plunkett made his first Super Bowl appearance, in 1981, one particularly earnest wire service reporter asked him, "For the record, Jim, is it blind mother, deaf father, or the other way around?"

The hunt for a "fresh" angle (defined at the Super Bowl as anything that hasn't already been the theme of a Geraldo! show) often leads to roommates of star players, as Cincinnati offensive lineman Dave Lapham found out before the 1982 Super Bowl. Lapham roomed with Ken Anderson, then the Bengals' quarterback, and he was eager to oblige when reporters inquired about Anderson's personal habits. Lapham told them what a meticulous person Anderson was, mentioning (apocryphally) how "he would even hang his socks on individual hangers in the closet." This news, of course, spread like wildfire, and before dawn the story was on doorsteps all over America. "All of a sudden we were the Odd Couple, Oscar and Felix," Lapham says. "He was the neat one, and I was the slob."

Quarterbacks are such obvious targets during Super Bowl week that John Elway spent almost his entire stay last year in San Diego hiding in his hotel room, running up a room-service bill of nearly $600, just to avoid the fans and press he knew would be in the lobby. When he did emerge for one of the mandatory interview sessions, Elway was immediately engulfed in a sticky sea of Minicams, microphones and mousse. From the moment he stepped onto the field at Jack Murphy Stadium, where the interviews were held, reporters followed him step for step as he strolled from one end zone to the other, pressing around him in a pitched battle for position, so that if he should suddenly repeat some witticism uttered by his room-service waiter, they could tell their editors they got it.

When Elway finally settled into a seat in the bleachers, the crowd around him expanded until its radius reached fully 40 feet. Then commenced a merciless grilling. "What do you think of this crowd?" asked one flinty-eyed interrogator. "How come we're all over here talking to you? Why are the defensive guys not worth talking to?" While this was going on, a radio reporter was flitting from player to player asking, "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you want to be?"

Rozelle evidently believes if that tree falls in the forest and there aren't at least 2,000 journalists there to hear, it can't possibly make a sound. "The Super Bowl, a few people say, 'Well, it's hype....' " Rozelle said at his annual pre-Super Bowl State of the Game press conference a few years ago. "But I think it's tremendous. I've often said if the American public didn't have an entertaining emotional outlet, we'd have trouble. We'd be a sick society."

GREAT MOMENTS IN HYPE #5: "I'd like to address myself to the five percent of you who are sick," said Evel Knievel, addressing himself, in fact, to the press. "I know who these people are, and after I make my jump, when I'm traveling around the country, I'm going to see those sick people, and they're going to look into my eyes and see my disgust for them, and they will get a lump in their throats and a knot in their stomachs, and their chutes will not open."

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