If you had to ask me when The Event Formerly Known As Super Bowl Media Day detached from its last infinitesimal strands of irony and floated off into an orbit of outright tedium, I’d probably say it was the moment I watched Miss Universe attempt to interview a human being marooned inside a giant inflatable football costume.
This was a thing that really happened on Monday, and to be honest with you, it wasn’t particularly funny or clever, not on any level. And that’s when I started to yearn for the drugs to take hold, except that I’d neglected either to bring any or to purchase some from the dude openly smoking a blunt outside the Super Bowl Media Center in front of a small army of police officers in downtown San Francisco that afternoon, which was starting to feel like the only honest act I’d witnessed all day long.
So allow me to issue an apology to my editor. This was supposed to be a fun-filled and cheeky account of the rampant clusterfuck which was once Super Bowl Media Day, but which is now known as “Super Bowl Opening Night,” and was held Monday evening in prime time (and also with Prime Time) inside a hockey arena in San Jose (because what the hell else would you expect from a Super Bowl that has as much to do with the character of San Francisco as a box of Rice-A-Roni)? But here’s my problem, boss: I’m not sure if such a thing is possible anymore. I think the change of name was a full-on recognition by the National Football League that media day is no longer about the media at all, that it is purely an exhibitionistic display of pseudo-absurdist stunts that have as much in common with an authentic journalistic transaction as a hard-hitting interview with a particularly charismatic head of cabbage.
And this is the problem. Because it’s hard to be ironic when you’re not really subverting anything.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, there were literally hundreds of earnest, hard-working sportswriters in dad jeans pacing the floor of the SAP Center, but none of them had come to expect any sort of actual productivity out of this evening. This was a night that had long ago been ceded to the cranks and the kooks, to the guy from some Spanish-language channel dressed in clown makeup, to the dude from some other Spanish-language broadcast who was holding a conversation with identical sock puppets that looked vaguely like Tony Romo, to the guy dressed in the head-to-toe bright orange jumpsuit who appeared to be slowly suffocating and to the Broncos-themed leprechaun who called himself Rocky and handed out business cards to everyone in attendance.
And maybe there was a time when this whole thing used to feel like a clever parody of the often-tedious task of gathering information for journalistic purposes, and maybe there was a time when a beautiful weirdo like Biff Henderson could make something out of nothing on a night like this. But those days are gone. I know this for certain now, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. At one point, Miss Universe, apparently on assignment for Inside Edition, was confronted by a gang of reporters from Entertainment Tonight, and it felt like either; A) The worst remake of The Warriors I could imagine, or B) The apogee of the tabloid television news-magazine business. I think they did a little dance after that, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch, because it felt like it might suck my soul straight out of the building.
This is, of course, the 50th Super Bowl, which is a long enough stretch that we’ve now moved beyond roman numerals. Much is being made of this golden anniversary, because there is nothing the NFL does better than celebrate itself. But it’s starting to feel like we’ve reached the point where there’s nothing left to say about the spectacle, and particularly the spectacle of media day. It’s starting to feel like the Super Bowl has now completed its evolution from novelty to sensation to overhyped metaphor for American excess. The party’s dead, man; it’s all post-empire these days. All that’s left now is some guy interviewing people while wearing a ski outfit, and a dude in an American flag dress wearing a blonde wig and a hyperactive dipshit from Nickelodeon Sports wearing a gold superhero costume. And other than that, there is just an overarching sense of aphasia.
You want to know the craziest part? Thousands of people actually paid money to watch this, to sit in the stands and scream for autographs from the ESPN and NFL Network anchors, and to watch Peyton Manning’s mouth move on the big screen, and to watch a cover band in multihued satin suits make Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” sound even worse than the original, if such a thing is possible. Maybe it would have been kind of sad. But by then, the stimulation had lost all meaning. By then, it was just a room replete of goofballs vying for attention, and isn’t that what the actual Internet is for?
In the midst of this, I went up to the closest thing ESPN has to a resident sporting ironist, the SportsCenter anchor Kenny Mayne. I asked him if there was even the smallest trace of irony remaining in this event.
“No,” he said.
I asked him what happened.
“There was a time where you could do something a little obscure, and it would stand out,” he said, pointing out the time he’d asked Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski to answer questions in Polish, and then hadn’t bothered to add subtitles. “But it’s no longer unusual to be unusual. I don’t want to say this is as passé as the Pro Bowl. But it’s getting there.”
If you ask me, it’s already there. Super Bowl Media Day is dead, both in name and in purpose. In what way would you like to die, I heard someone ask a player on the Carolina Panthers, and I looked over at Miss Universe and the inflatable football and I thought to myself, We’re already dead.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games, now out in paperback. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb