“Jimmy Garoppolo, podium 10.”
When those four words boomed from the speakers inside the darkly-draped Super Bowl media interview tent outside of Hard Rock Stadium, there was an instant stampede.
Over a dozen men shouldering bulky television cameras swung their equipment around (injury to innocent bystanders be damned) and ran the 10 or so feet from wherever they were standing to podium 10. Long camera wires were unfurled on the ground in every direction behind them. Reporters-- some carrying smaller cameras, some with selfie sticks, others with iPhones waving in their hand-- followed suit.
Elbows were thrown. Feet were stepped on. Disparaging remarks were muttered. Arms were used as wedges to get closer to the podium.
Within 10 seconds, over 70 media members surrounded the makeshift podium that was about three feet in width. Everyone simultaneously started yelling questions at Garoppolo.
It was utter, unapologetic, entertaining chaos, which pretty much encapsulates what covering the Super Bowl media experience.
I want to preface the rest of this story by saying the NFL media relations department does an exceptional job handling the masses on Super Bowl Sunday. There are over a thousand credentialed media there. Everyone has their own agenda. Almost everyone is out for themselves and their organization. That’s not a indictment. It’s the reality of working in news these days. Crumbs matter, and everyone is fighting for them.
Somehow, the NFL is able to handle this competition while also executing a far more important competition on the field. But make no mistake, the media is just as intent on winning.
The first time I saw it was in the parking lot. Media parking was on the north end of the stadium alongside a creek. The lot was long and narrow. When I stopped my miniature rental car to ask a parking attendant if I was in the right area, two SUVs with TV antennas on the roof passed me on the left.
“Kinda rude, but whatever. No biggie," I thought to myself.
I followed the SUVs down the parking lot until they pulled into an area designated “VIP parking”. Knowing I wasn’t a VIP, I continued on. Soon after, I saw those SUVs that cut me off following in my rear-view mirror. A parking attendant had waved them on.
I parked. They pulled in the spots on the left of me. I looked at them and smiled. I was elated. I won. I got the better parking spot by a few feet.
As I walked the mile or so to the media entry point, it occurred to me how stupid this is, that I think I won. But still, I was happy.
There are two areas where the media is seated during the game. One is the main press box, which at Hard Rock Stadium is on the same level as the club box seats where all the rich people sit. The other is outside in seating usually reserved for fans. To get to either, you need to use one of two elevators, which fit about 15 people (10 if cameras are involved) and take over a minute to get from the field level to the auxiliary press area. With hundreds of people using these elevators at different points during the game, plus random vendors, you can guess how easy it was moving up and down.
At one point, while waiting for an elevator after the halftime show finished, two photographers (one male, one female) got into an argument with a security guard, who wouldn’t let them onto the elevator because it was at capacity. The male photographer tried to push his way onto the elevator. The security guard pushed him back from entry. For safety reasons, I sided with the security guard.
After the game, when the media was being brought downstairs for interviews, rules flew out the window. Media members were squeezed into the elevators like hotdogs into airtight packaging. Only these hotdogs moved, and the jostling for positioning and entry was more akin to hungry lions fighting for a place at the dinner table.
It seemed everyone felt their right to get to the locker room and interview area first superseded those around them. Ironically, when we got downstairs, there was about a 30-minute wait for anything to happen. The people who had just fought for elevator space now stood shoulder to shoulder in line, engaging in friendly conversation.
Only “working media members” were allowed access to the locker rooms following the game. As I was designated “auxiliary media”, I didn’t have access and therefore am unsure what that was like. But I did have access to the media interview tent, which is located about 100 feet from the stadium. It's also where the “stars” and coaches spoke to the media, so most with an agenda went there anyway.
There were three sections. The first and third, separated by the second, were for the winning and losing teams, respectively. They were draped in black curtains with eight or so podiums set up in an oval around the tightly-packed room. Players were brought in and a PA alerted media members who was sitting where. For big-name players, like Garoppolo, there was a rush (mentioned above) of media members fighting for positioning and to ask questions.
Everyone yelled over each other. People didn’t care about your question, only their own. Personal space didn’t exist in these rooms. Neither did manners.
One cameraman’s assistant, whose job it was to unfurl, pick up, and again unfurl the camera wire every time their cameraman moved, stepped on my foot. When we made eye contact, the look I received told me, “Can you please remove your foot out from under mine?” All I could do was smile.
The middle room was where Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid spoke. This was rectangular, perhaps 50 percent larger than the other two rooms, with the same black curtains hanging around it and a stage in front. While battling for position wasn’t quite as important here because of the extra room and 100 or so chairs facing the podium, getting a question out was nothing short of a miracle.
As soon as Mahomes finished answering one question, 70-80 media members yelled, at the top of their lungs, to try and get his attention. “Patrick, what did…” “Patrick, what was the…” “Patrick, do you think…” All of the questions drowned out each other to start. Then Mahomes looked squarely at one person and that person continued to yell their question(s) while the others began to slowly fade.
Dirty looks, rolling eyes, and clicking tongues from media members followed; their all-important agenda pushed to the side for another’s.
Of course, all of this paints the sports media world covering the Super Bowl in a pretty negative light. For those mad, hey, this was my experience in these three elements of covering the game. But there were also plenty of positives and great people.
I made friendly connections with virtually all of the people sitting in my area (shoutout section 301, row 19). While eating, I made friendly banter about the food with media members I never met before and likely never will connect with again. John Clayton, who was an aspirational figure in my journalistic development, took 10 minutes to do an interview with me despite the fact that he was just about to bite into a sandwich. In general, all of the media members I met were extremely friendly, outgoing, and interesting to speak with in times when their agenda was not being compromised.
When the lights turned on and player access was granted for a limited time period, however, those fluffy Pomeranians turned into vicious Rottweilers. It was every man, woman, and child for themselves as every scrap on the table was fought over until the final crumbs were devoured. Then, when the last podium was vacated and the lights were turned off, we all walked back to the media section with a smile on our faces, though a few toes still pulsed with pain.