Super Day

When I graduated from Flagler less than a year ago, I had pretty high aspirations for myself and I still do. I want to work for ESPN and host a radio show while also writing for the magazine and the website. I also want to write for USA Today and at some point, work in Dallas covering high school football on Friday nights, local college football on Saturdays and the Cowboys every other day of the week.

But despite all those aspirations, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that less than a year after getting my college degree, I would be bumping shoulders with the likes of Al Michaels, Chris Berman, Michael Wilbon, Jay Glazer and Chris Mortensen at the Super Bowl. But this past Tuesday, I got the opportunity of a lifetime to do just that.

The story begins with me taking a job at a small local paper in Sanford, Fla. Two friends from Flagler, one of which actually got me the job, made my candidacy for the position possible. The only downside was I wouldn’t just be writing sports. Sports would be my side job.

When I arrived at the paper, one of my first orders of business was to apply for media credentials for the Super Bowl in Tampa, because, why not? We’re a small paper, but we’re located just two hours from Tampa and the county that we cover (Seminole) has produced several professional players.

The outlook for my chances seemed bleak, but one night in December, a night when I was contemplating if my decision to even take the job in Sanford was the right one, I received an e-mail from the NFL that our organization had received three credentials for Media Week. The game was reserved for the large papers and media outlets, but we’d get to be a part of everything else.

Almost two months of anticipation came to a head when I, along with fellow ’08 grad and former Gargoyle editor, Glenn Judah, took off for Tampa on Tuesday morning. We left at 4:30 a.m., arriving in Tampa around 6:30, too early to pick up our passes. We walked around taking it all in and right before 8 a.m. when our credentials would be ready, we were set to walk in the building when Brady Quinn passed us, followed by an entourage of press, PR reps and autograph seekers. We were in the big time now.

We walked into the Super Bowl Media Center in awe of our surroundings and picked up our press passes, notepads and pens. We walked past radio row, which is actually a room that is guarded and only an R on your credential can get you in. My M and X were no good. We walked through the center to the Media Workroom a giant room with rows of tables and chairs for every media member to file their stories. I made my way to the information table and snatched up media guides the size of textbooks and quote sheets that could dwarf many a grad-school thesis statement.

There was a short time for relaxing before we boarded a bus for Raymond James Stadium. When we got off the bus, each reporter was patted down at the gate, then had to leave their bag for treatment from the bomb-sniffing dogs. Good thing I left my kibble at home.

Once inside it was obvious how big a deal this was. Hundreds of media members crowded the tunnels as we waited until 10 a.m. for Cardinals Media Hour to begin. We enjoyed Super Bowl muffins (the best kind) and free OJ as Chris Berman walked by in a hurry.

When we finally got into the stadium, I made a b-line for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. As a local paper, there was somewhat of a question as to how we would justify our presence when the Cards and Steelers had no players who had graduated from schools in our county. Our closest connection came with Rodgers-Cromartie whose father coached basketball at Seminole Community College while DRC attended school in Orlando. That was my story I’d work on.

I joined a group of reporters that surrounded Cromartie for 20 minutes before spotting fellow reporter Jenn Brown. If you don’t know who she is yet, you will. She grew up in the Sanford/Lake Mary area and I wrote a story for the Sanford Herald in September about her being cast as roving reporter on Inside the NFL. She’s worked on the X-Games and is a spokesmodel for Under Armour. I didn’t get to meet he for the story as she resides in LA, so meeting her for the first time was a treat. She’s on track to be the next Erin Andrews or Melissa Stark, if not more.

Of all the booths for the Cardinals, Kurt Warner’s and Larry Fitzgerald’s were the most crowded. I didn’t spend much time around Warner’s booth but I did get to the front of the crowd surrounding Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, a cross-dressing Hispanic man in red who simply came to Fitzgerald’s booth to profess his love for the Cardinals, not even to ask a question, flanked me. Fitzgerald met this thing with a frightened look and a shrug before answering my question about taking on DRC in practice.

I went to the seats of Ken Whisenhunt and Clancy Pendergast to ask about Cromartie’s quick rise and before I knew it, Cardinals time was over.

The Media brunch was good and another opportunity for celebrity reporter/analyst sightings: John Clayton, Mortensen, Wilbon, Tom Jackson and Deion Sanders to name a few. I also learned that Warren Sapp is indeed a character and if you decide to interview him and happen to ask a question he doesn’t like, he’s not the nicest guy in the world.

Steelers media day began at 1 p.m. and I visited the booths of Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin and Santonio Holmes. I was also passed several times by Access Hollywood’s Maria Menounos…wow. Each time I froze and drooled.

Steelers Media hour wrapped up and Glenn and I remained for several minutes so he could interview Brown about her experience.

We boarded a bus back to the media center where it was time for NBC’s media conference, possibly the highlight of the day. After almost literally running into Menounos (which would DEFINITELY have been the highlight of the day), I entered a room with placards representing a who’s who of the sports broadcasting business. Al Michaels, John Madden, Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Bob Costas, Tiki Barber, Jerome Bettis, Chris Collinsworth and Andrea Kramer. I set up shop at Costas’ table and sat and talked with the best anchor in the business for almost 45 minutes. I then joined Glenn at Olbermann’s table for a spirited discussion about sports that, you guessed it, ranged into politics. Olbermann brought up some great points and even gave me advice about how to succeed in the business. NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol then entered and presented Olbermann and Collinsworth with 50th birthday cakes. Yes, I sat at the table while Keith Olbermann blew out his 50th birthday cake.

With time to kill before the night’s media party, Glenn and I walked to downtown Tampa. We came to a crosswalk and who comes walking by but Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt from ESPN. I said “Hello Scott,” to which Van Pelt replied “Hello there. Wonderful day, isn’t it?” That it was.

When we returned the Media Center we played Madden 09 at one of the several X-Box 360’s set up by EA Sports until we took off for the all you can eat, all you can drink, Media Party. If only I didn’t have to drive home that night.

For me, Super Bowl Media Day was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The hoopla is everything it’s cracked up to be and the whole atmosphere makes me strive to get there in the future. Maybe next time I’ll get a hotel so I can really enjoy the fruits of the week.

It’s funny how things work out sometimes. If I’d taken a job at a different paper, even a much larger one, I probably wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity because the more experienced writers and columnists would have gotten first dibs. But despite having no sports related title, I’m the only person at the paper besides the sports editor who writes anything for the sports section, so the fit seemed perfect.

It’s just a reminder that everything happens for a reason and even though I might not be happy that I’m not just a sports writer right now, in no other place would I have gotten this chance.

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