Story and Photos By Brian Harris
On Jan 28, the seven-day media whirlwind known as Super Bowl week made its way to Newark’s Prudential Center for Media Day and for a first-timer like myself, it was both quite thrilling and quite intimidating at the same time.
Walking into the Prudential Center, you see the metal detectors and realize that this will not be your average trip to The Rock. Once we got past the metal detectors and walked towards the AstroTurf-covered rink where the actual Media Day session takes place, fellow Observer editor Nancy Elias and myself walked into the area, Hall-of-Fame cornerback and NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders sauntered past us. Between seeing that and also ESPN writer Rick Reilly glad handing with fellow media pals to “journalists” dressed up as Waldo and Mozart and the UFC’s Megan Olivi getting people to take picture with a UFC title, it felt like the proverbial calm before the storm and being a part of the media throng was going to be much different than seeing the highlights of past Media Days on SportsCenter.
Right as Denver was about to come out for the first media session while the Giants’ and Jets’ drumlines battled, the various media professionals, like worker bees, swarmed the various podiums where players like Peyton Manning, Wes Welker and Middletown NJ’s Knowshon Moreno, who along with Paterson’s Mike Adams, where the only Broncos with Jersey ties. Moreno received a surprise when he finally sat down at his assigned seat after some confusion; his coach at Middletown South, Steve Antonucci was there to catch up with his former player. At the begging of the session, Antonucci brought up to Moreno the story on how Moreno used to wear his grandmother’s gold slippers after every practice in high school.
You could see in Antonucci’s eyes just how proud he was of just how far his former prize running back has come since his days as an Eagle and how he has so much farther to go.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Antonucci said, adding, “It’s only the beginning and not the end of a long journey. He came in as a freshman and now he’s going to be playing in the biggest game of his life. “
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Antonucci concluded.
The moment wasn’t lost on the Bronco running back as he told the press crowded in front of him just hope important this game was for him.
“It’s awesome that I get to see my family, get to see some friends, coaches. So that’s awesome that they’re so close and get to come to the game,” Moreno said.
Denver’s other tie to the state of New Jersey was safety Mike Adams, who was born and raised in Paterson, and famously claimed that if the Broncos happened to have won the Super Bowl, he would’ve walked the from the stadium to his hometown while still in uniform. When Adams was asked about what it felt like to play in such a big game so close to his childhood home, he stressed the important of that while he was home, he was still focused on the task at hand.
“It’s good to be close to home and have my family available for me to go back to but they know my goals and my dreams and they support that. They know I’m here working and they support me,” Adams said.
Also soaking in the spectacle was Bronco wide receiver Eric Decker, who seemed to take the hour-long peppering of questions in stride.
“This is unbelievable. Everyone talks about media day but until you get to experience it – it’s hyped up to what it really is. All of you guys running around, asking the same questions, people taking pictures – it’s fun. It’s a blessing to be in this spot and to have the chance to be talking football and having to play one more game: the Super Bowl,” Decker said.
Since each team is only available for only an hour during media day, everyone is trying to get as many interviews and photos as possible and with the circular nature that everyone is going in, it quickly turns into a mosh pit of cameras, boom mikes and backpack with “Sorry’s” and ‘Excuse Me’s” being tossed around like Peyton Manning throws touchdowns. That being said, everyone was quite respect of everyone else’s space: it was like well-orchestrated chaos.
After the Broncos’ session everyone was directed over to the adjacent AmeriHealth Pavillion, where brunch was being served for the media gathers. It was your standard brunch fare with some Jersey flair thrown in with eggs and waffles and even pork roll (which was unfortunately called by its improper North Jersey name, Taylor Ham.) Also offered were “Jersey Tomato Soup” and black and white cookies that were donated by a local bakery. Much like out on the arena floor, the “well-orchestrated chaos” was in full effect, due in large part to the crack catering staff at the Prudential Center.
After scarfing down some killer food, the media horde made its way back into the Prudential Center for the Seattle Seahawks media session. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I was surprised to see that so many fans paid the $28.50 to sit in the seats and listen to the favorite players be interviewed. I don’t know if I would’ve have done that myself, but to be honest, as a Jets fan, I don’t see them going to the Super Bowl any time soon.
One other thing about the crowd that stood out for me was that all of the talk about how boisterous the Seahawk fan base, a.k.a “The 12th Man”, was and they totally backed up all of the hype. I’ve never seen so many people so pumped about just hearing the players that they root for being interviews about topics rangers form game strategy to something as archaic as “What is their favorite thing to eat before a game?” To best describe the crowd atmosphere, it was like having European soccer ultras watching a presidential debate. Compared to the Seahawks fans, the Denver fans were like mutes.
One of the other major talking points heading into the game was the post-game venting of Seahawk corner Richard Sherman after Seattle clinched their tickets to the swamps of Jersey after beating the 49ers in the NFC Championship game. As was expected, journalists, photographers and cameramen encapsulated the podium where Sherman would be fielding questions well before Seattle was expected to come out. To his credit, Sherman deftly answer each and every question about his comments about San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree but also all of the attention that on him that came from it. Sherman made sure to say that he regretted the fact his action post-game took away from the teams overall achievement of winning the NFC championship.
“I really think these cameras should go to my teammates, especially after Bobby Wagner’s 15-tackle game in the NFC Championship, Kam Chancellor’s interception and multiple pass deflections and his 11 tackles, or Earl’s 11 tackles. I think these cameras can be around anyone. I think that what happened after the game, the situation that occurred, forced them to be around me and forced everybody’s attention, but I think I have the best teammates in the world. Doug Baldwin had a heck of a game, and he’s a heck of a receiver, and has the stats to prove it. I think that these cameras could be anywhere. They could be on all my teammates, and they deserve it,” Sherman told the reporters gathered.
Another talking point during the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII was how New York City was getting all of the publicity, both Media Day as well as the actual Super Bowl game itself was being played in New Jersey, which stirred up the deep-rooted feeling that people that live in this state have, which is that no matter how hard New Jersey tries, it will always be the little brother to the megalopolis that is New York City.
When asked about how he was enjoyed his time in New Jersey, Seattle center Max Unger couldn’t be any more positive in how he was enjoying his time at The Rock.
“This is cool, man. This is obviously an awesome venue (the Prudential Center). I mean, it’s pretty first class in everything that we’ve been provided in the state so far,” Unger said.
Another Seahawk that was enjoying his time in the Garden State was offensive tackle Russell Okung, who when asked is if New Jersey was getting equal credit when it came to hosting the Super Bowl, “Jersey has been great to us so far. Don’t really know too much of it just because of the time we have, but it’s been great so far.”
Overall, I have to say that the Media Day experience was a good one. Never did I think that would ever be able to cover something as big as that and the fact that I was able to is pretty cool and something I’ll never trade for anything. The other thing that I took away from Media Day is that through the static of goofy costumes, Bronco-colored argyle blazers and all the other pomp and the endless parade of cameras is that the players are humanized in a way. Most of the time, NFL are put upon a pedestal of praise but while being on these podiums at Media Day surrounded by the blizzard of flashing lights, is when these players are at their most human and relatable, which makes them more likable to fans. Maybe that is the purpose of Media Day, instead of making the teams more accessible to the media, it makes the two teams more accessible to the fans.
Nancy Elias contributed reporting to this story.