SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — What happens when you put Peyton Manning, Miss Universe, an orange-and-blue leprechaun and 200 TV cameras into the same room?
Answer: Super Bowl Opening Night.
The NFL took a good idea gone surreal — what used to be known as “Media Day” — gave it a new name, added a live band and moved it to prime time Monday night to kick off Super Bowl week between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers.
This new and amped-up interview-fest came complete with a guy walking around inside an inflatable football and a newly choreographed players’ introduction that involved all 60 players from each team coming out on a four-story-high catwalk.
“I had no idea that was a bridge we were standing on,” Manning said.
Suffice to say, the five-time MVP, who built a career on his impeccable preparation, couldn’t have predicted a lot of what came his way on this night.
Who would play him in a movie? “Maybe a young Robert Redford,” Manning said.
Manning did speak highly of his counterpart on the Panthers.
“He’s just had this incredible year. I mean, no doubt in my mind he’s going to be the MVP on Saturday night [at NFL Honors],” said Manning. “What he’s done in the short time being an NFL quarterback he’s been awesome. It’s the best word I can think of. He’s been a great passer, he’s been a great runner, he’s been a great leader. You don’t go 17-1 as a starting quarterback without being awesome and that’s what he’s been this year without a doubt.”
Another reporter — or make that, person with a credential — asked him to look into the camera and wish a Happy Chinese New Year to all his friends in that part of the world.
And then, there was a long debate over whether Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras are this week, or next? (Answer: Next week. We think.)
All of this thoughtfully brought to prime time by the NFL for the first time in the 50-year history of the Super Bowl.
For decades, Media Day was a Tuesday-morning affair — set early in the day, early in the week, so as not to interrupt the teams’ schedules too much and to give writers the rest of the week to craft the stories out of the questions they’d asked.
But this year, the NFL moved it to Monday night, where minor details like dress code, off-color banter and 8-year-olds asking football players questions after bedtime barely raise an eyebrow anymore.
NFL spokesman Michael Signora described the scheduling change as one that allows “more fans (to) experience what has grown to become a very unique, popular Super Bowl event.”
Surprising they didn’t do this earlier. It’s a nod to the reality that “Media Day” has long been a “journalism-free zone” — one in which fans have willingly, for the last five years, paid money for tickets that allow them to sit in the stands and watch the hilarity unfold.
Speaking of which …
Late in the Broncos media session, Rocky the Leprechaun — a regular at Broncos games over the years — laid a dollar bill out on the blue carpeting of SAP Center and waited to see if someone would pick it up. Several minutes passed. Nobody did.
“Crazy to see that,” he said.
The social experiment complete, he waited for a TV crew that needed him for a live shot.
In the meantime, he answered one question: What makes this week so great?
“There’s a lot of happiness,” he said. “This world needs all the happiness it can get.”
Only one team will be happy come Sunday night. The Panthers are favored. Manning is a sentimental favorite; at 39, many people expect he’ll retire after this one.
That was one of the few actual news angles to cover during Denver’s hour of fun behind the mic.
“I haven’t made up my mind and I don’t see myself knowing until the season’s over,” Manning said.
Also, the Broncos were involved in a minor bus crash after practice. There were no injuries. “Just adds to the intrigue of what we’ve had all year,” Manning said.
But enough of that serious stuff.
Miss Universe, one of the 5,500 “reporters” with credentials for Super Bowl-week festivities, answered more questions than she asked. Most had to do with Steve Harvey. “Yes, I am the real Miss Universe,” she said, referencing Harvey’s embarrassing gaffe during that prime-time show a few weeks back.
Harvey was a no-show at this one.
No one missed him.
From the costumes, to the beauty queens, to the guys dressed up like Sesame Street’s Swedish Chef, this prime-time special had pretty much everything — except for Donald Trump, who was waiting on caucus results in Iowa.
At one point, though, a reporter reminded Manning that Trump was picking the Broncos on Sunday because he knew Peyton, “and he’s a very, very good guy.”
Would Manning return the endorsement?
“I’m a football player,” he said.
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