The week preceding the Super Bowl is a seven-day circus that celebrates excess, tolerates stupidity and floods city sidewalks with enough unsavory people to grind the nerves of a Trappist monk.
I miss it.
After making two trips in two years to chronicle Pete Carroll’s Seahawks — and three trips in 10, going back to the 2005 team Mike Holmgren took to Detroit — Super Bowl Week had become, as Henry Higgins sang, “rather like a habit one can break, and yet...”
The Super Bowl is the sports year’s version of New Year’s Eve. If you stay home in front of the TV and spare yourself the temptation of strapping on a paper hat and joining a midnight conga line, you must confront the horrifying reality somebody, somewhere — like, at this very second — is having a lot more fun than you are.
I miss mingling with the likes of Mick Jagger and Diana Ross during Super Bowl Week. OK, catching a glimpse of them in the hotel lobby, accompanied by a thicket of grim-faced bodyguards, is not exactly “mingling,” but you get the picture.
Celebrity-gawking has never been my thing because, at the end of the day (as well as at the beginning of the day, and throughout the day) they’re just ordinary people surrounded by bodyguards with grim faces. But I’d be lying if I insisted it wasn’t a thrill to ask Stevie Wonder a question at the press conference the NFL lined up before he performed at halftime of an otherwise forgotten Super Bowl.
At the end of that day, I talked to my wife on the phone.
“It’s been raining nonstop since Monday and the basement’s flooded again,” she informed. “The kids had to be picked up from school because they’ve got stomach flu and on the way there, I saw smoke coming out of the hood of the car. So what’s going on where you are? Anything interesting?”
“Aside from talking to Stevie Wonder,” I said, “not much.”
I don’t miss everything about the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh Steelers fans, for instance. They had fun in Detroit — and turning downtown Detroit into a week’s worth of New Year’s Eves is no easy task — but gathering at the bottom of a crowded escalator to exchange fist bumps is never a good idea.
Nor do I miss the scammers and thieves who see the Super Bowl as a chance to prey upon those most vulnerable to scammers and thieves.
After we got off the bus that transported us from the media party last year, some friends and I went to a downtown Phoenix tavern a few blocks from the hotel. I put my only sport coat on the back of a chair — department store value of the coat: $40 — before placing an order at the bar.
While doing this, I noticed a guy, maybe 30, near the door. He was studying me as if I were an adversary, and the cold stare was creepy.
When I returned to the table, the sport coat was gone and so was he. It took me about three seconds to realize I was victim of a con: The cold-stare was about making sure I didn’t see his accomplice pull off the heist.
What would be the motive for stealing that coat? They hoped it was the property of an agent or, even better, a scalper for a Super Bowl where tickets were selling for as much as $10,000. Five or 10 of those tickets posed a lucrative haul, but all they found in the coat of a rumpled sportswriter was a pen and two cheap cigars.
Given its square-block density of thieves, prostitutes and gamblers, Super Bowl Week can be the stuff of an Elmore Leonard crime novel. But there is a flip side: the smiles on the bit players thrilled to participate in the spectacle, if only on the fringe, and the glows on the faces of the pro football legends who routinely show up.
On the occasion of the 40th Super Bowl, that debacle in Detroit, the NFL invited every previous Super Bowl MVP to a midweek press conference. Availability with the likes of Joe Namath, Lynn Swann, Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith was scheduled for one hour.
My game plan was to work the room, go from one podium to another and collect tidbits. I started with the MVP of the first two Super Bowls, Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr.
Sixty minutes later, after his voice cracked and he dabbed tears from his eyes while recalling Vince Lombardi’s first team meeting with the Packers, I was still listening to Bart Starr.
If the Seahawks are able to return to the Super Bowl next year in Houston, the first week of February will feel normal again.
I’ll make a veteran move, too. I won’t leave my sport coat on the back of a chair.