I landed last night from the Twin Cities wondering how I would answer a frequently asked question:
“What’s it like covering the Super Bowl?”
I never know how to answer, because a week at the Super Bowl brings experiences that seem so detached from each other.
Covering the Super Bowl means arriving in Minneapolis, stopping at the hotel, and driving immediately to the Mall of America. As a tourist I had never felt compelled to visit this seven-stadium-sized monstrosity. On this trip it hosted the main media workspace, so it became a hub of press conferences, interviews, and live shots. I ate six meals there in eight days.
Covering the Super Bowl means developing on-the-fly routines to keep track of equipment. At home I lean on muscle memory; on the road I quickly formed mental checklists so I didn’t lose any of the cameras, microphones, and accessories that filled two checked bags and a carry-on. (I did lose a pair of a headphones, but I have made peace with that.)
Covering the Super Bowl means using public spaces for critical business. I sought shelter at a nearby Starbucks between sub-zero live shots outside US Bank Stadium. I interviewed a major Atlanta official in the lobby of a Doubletree in Minneapolis. Two days later I used the dining room of a Doubletree in St. Paul. And I wrote and edited several stories from the comfort of my hotel bed.
Covering the Super Bowl means having in-the-room access to company heads, billionaires, and even the NFL commissioner … and noticing the force field of PR reps and media relations workers surrounding each one.
Covering the Super Bowl means attending the press conference for Justin Timberlake’s halftime show and realizing the loose definition of “press”. One entertainment reporter led the room in singing “Happy Birthday”. An ensuing entertainment reporter regretted she couldn’t top such a performance. Timberlake took ten questions, none of which posed controversy and all of which seemed pre-screened to prevent it.
Covering the Super Bowl means setting up on the “red carpet” of a Taste of the NFL Event and receiving a guide for noteworthy figures expected to pass through. They ranged from entertainment anchor Maria Menounos to one-time NSYNCer Joey Fatone to travel host Andrew Zimmern. Menounos and Fatone never showed up, but the Pillsbury doughboy did, and virtually every other red carpet reporter decided to get a picture with him.
Covering the Super Bowl means absorbing the NFL experience while remaining objective about it. I watched Minnesotans revel in the cold-themed activities of Super Bowl Live downtown. I stood amidst thousands of out-of-towners who flocked to the Minneapolis Convention Center for the NFL Experience. But I have followed too many controversies about the league to cover it like a fan. I know people who didn’t watch the Super Bowl because they feel Colin Kaepernick got blackballed. I know others who didn’t watch because they felt offended by his protest. I spent the week surrounded by NFL propaganda but avoided getting seduced by it.
Covering the Super Bowl means, in many cases, not actually covering the Super Bowl. Because of the overwhelming demand for press passes, the NFL cannot accommodate everyone. Most of our crew in the Twin Cities watched the game from the “domestic compound” (actual name) across the street from the stadium. They saw the same commercials and halftime show as the 140 million people who watched in bars and homes.
In the end, covering the Super Bowl means wading into a delightful, disturbing, jubilant, and stressful amount of absurdity as a journalist. It means working to maintain impartiality and objectivity in the middle of corporate mayhem. It means debating the value of those qualities when so many others seem to discard them. And it means trying to find a middle ground in a sport that engenders so much passion in so many different ways.