Super Bowl Week Flashback: Leading up to XLI in Miami

Re-living Super Bowl XLI Week in Miami

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    It all looked so good when Devin Hester returned the opening kick of Super Bowl XLI

    February 6, 2007 -- SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2007

    One of the ironies of our business is that when you’re covering a sporting event, you usually don’t end up seeing much of the event. And the bigger the game, the less you see. Such is the case with the Super Bowl. I tried to keep a running account of my day to give you an idea of what it’s like to actually be there game day…

    For most people covering the Super Bowl, the day of the game is actually the one day you don’t have to get up early and go. For us, however, the day started early with live shots from Paula Faris in our morning show (I elected to skip those) and Bears Gameday Live live from Dolphin Stadium (that I needed to get to.)

    So Ryan Baker and I jumped in his car at around 8:45 a.m. to head to Calder Race Track, about a mile from the stadium, where the media and stadium workers could park and then ride a shuttle to the game. It was drizzling a bit on our way but we didn’t really take any note of it. If we only knew…

    Even at 9:30 a.m., some nine hours before kickoff, the racetrack was already controlled chaos. Hundreds of people were already converging on the shuttle bus area and the rain had picked up. I stepped in a huge puddle on the way and then 15 minutes of waiting in the rain had me soaked from head to foot… and I hadn’t even gotten to the stadium yet! (It’s probably worth noting that the seven days of Miami weather had lulled me into a false sense of security… I was ill-prepared to deal with the rain.) Ryan was smart enough to bring an umbrella, but the two of us couldn’t really fit under it and it was significantly more important for the host in a suit to stay dry than me.

    The major benefit of arriving when we did was the security check-points weren’t crowded at all and we got through smoothly. Well, except for the fact umbrellas weren’t allowed inside the stadium. Which led to this exchange between Ryan and a security guy:

    Security: “Sir, no umbrellas allowed inside the stadium” Ryan: “So… what am I supposed to do with it?” Security: “You can leave it right there, sir” pointing to the fence where 20 or so umbrellas were already lined up Ryan: “Riight… and will it be there when I get back?” Security: (Shrugs his shoulders)

    After spending about an hour putting together some final work things, I left the compound in a golf cart to pick up Tom Thayer and Jeff Joniak at the security check point. Now the rain had become pretty steady and sadly our golf carts did not have roofs. I flagged down a security guy wearing a rain pancho and he was kind enough to hand me one of his.

    Unfortunately, neither Tom nor Jeff were any better prepared for the weather than I was… and the trip over had drenched the seats. They jumped on the back (Bears photographer Kevin Foy rode shotgun) and I whisked them back to the compound as quickly as I could.

    While the guys prepared to do the show, I fired off one last memo to Chicago outlining our post-game game plan. I had spent some time putting it together and writing it out one more time actually got me really excited for the post-game coverage. I kind of felt like a head coach drawing up the final game-plan for a big game. I knew we were going to be ready… all we had to do now was execute. You know, and not have it pour like crazy all night.

    Apparently my enthusiasm was starting to show because after Gameday Live (which went very well, probably our best edition of the year), Ryan Baker jabbed me a couple of times. “Someone’s a little fired up” he said to me with a smile as I babbled on about our plan. Hey, it’s not everyday you cover the Super Bowl.

    The people from NBC Newschannel who helped us in the compound all week set up live shots and send back tape were top-notch the whole way and they did not disappoint on the day of the game. Once the morning show live shots (and Bears Gameday Live) were complete, they busted out a grill and within 20 minutes we had our own Super Bowl party going, complete with brats, burgers, hot dogs, etc… we substituted Coke for beer, otherwise it was perfect. ;)

    As the afternoon wore on, the rest of the NBC-5 team began showing up at the compound. Each time a person or team of people would arrive, I would drag them over to the map of the interior and exterior of Dolphin stadium, point out the key spots and their roles in our coverage. The more I did it, the more sure I was this was going to go off perfectly. You know, as long as it didn’t pour like crazy all night.

    Speaking of which, at some point someone stole my rain pancho. It didn’t phase me at the time. I mean, you know, it’s south Florida… it’s wasn’t like it was going to rain like crazy all night, right?

    Perhaps my favorite moment of the entire Super Bowl week (and if you’ve been reading my blog all along, you know that’s saying something) happened around 3:00 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday. Photojournalist Matt Byrne and I were standing with a number of other producers and photographers waiting for the Bears busses to arrive at the stadium, when I realized in all my excitement, I hadn’t called my wife back home in Chicago. I grabbed my Blackberry, but before I could call up her number, I felt a tug on my elbow and a female voice say: “Is this where the Bears are coming in?”

    I turned around and answered: “Um, yes, yes it is Ms. Couric.”

    I spoke to the former Today show hostess for no more than 30 seconds before she walked away and I turned my attention back to calling my wife. As soon as she answered, Katie Couric re-appeared and started talking to me again.

    “I, um, honey? Hold on… “

    I handed my phone to Couric and said: “Here, would you mind talking to my wife?”

    Now I figured she might just grab the phone, say hi and hand it back. Instead, she sparked up a conversation with my wife and then laughed.

    “She doesn’t know who this is!” she smiled at me, and then said into the phone: “It’s Katie Couric.”

    The next thing I know Katie Couric is walking away from me, my phone-in-hand, gabbing away with my wife. At one point I said, “Um, can I have my phone back?”

    “Hold on, I’m talking here!” was the response I got!

    After about 3 minutes (during which NBC Sports producer, the incomparable Bobby V snapped a digital picture of me harassing Couric for my phone back), she handed me the phone back, saying: “Your wife says you’re a great producer and I should snatch you up while I can!”

    I laughed and thanked her for being so kind.

    “Um,” my wife began when I got back on the phone with her, “was that REALLY Katie Couric???”

    “Yep,” I laughed. “And I have the picture to prove it!”

    Right about then, the Bears buses pulled up so I said my goodbyes and watched as Lovie, Rex, Brian, Tank and company arrived. At this point fans had made their way into the concourses above and a “Let’s Go Bears!” chant immediately rose up upon Lovie Smith stepping off the team bus. Goose bumps.

    The next couple of hours were spent running around the crew to put a visual to the places we’d gone over on the map earlier. Finally, at about 5:00 p.m. (one-and-a-half hours before game time), Matt Byrne and I hit the field for pre-game festitivies. Every Bear that ran on the field was greeted with loud cheers and every Colt met a mixture of cheers and boos. It felt like Bears fans outnumbered Colts fans at least 5-to-1, although to be fair we were on the Bears side of the field.

    The Bears seemed VERY intense before the game… in some points almost TOO intense. I actually commented to someone on the field that they might need to be careful about burning out emotionally too early. While warming up on the field, Rex Grossman kept glancing up at the scoreboard jumbotron, seeing his image staring back at him. At one point, I thought I saw him suppress a smile… who could blame him. At that moment he was the center of the universe on sport’s biggest stage.

    A few notes from the field during warm-ups:

    *The woman who sold her pregnant belly for advertising was on the field. Very impressive piece of self-promoting by here, although it still seemed very odd

    *At one point, Bruce Willis Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore came rushing onto the field for a photo op. As photographers crushed around them I couldn’t help but think how strange that scene was. “Hey look, it’s Demi Moore, her ex-husband and the guy who replaced him!”

    *WFLD sports producer John Eskra busted my chops on the field by rushing up to the aforementioned Bobby V with his cellphone in hand and saying into it: “Hey honey, here, talk to Bobby V!,” mocking my earlier conversation with Katie Couric. Ha ha, John. Ha ha.

    I mentioned earlier in the week, how being in this business takes some of the magic out of being at sporting events. Well, the Super Bowl is still the exception to that rule. I never wanted to leave the field. Seeing the look in the players’ eyes before the game, hearing the pre-game huddle (“Champs on 3… 1, 2, 3 CHAMPS!”) and feeling the electricity is every bit as exciting as the game itself. I really wanted to stand there all night. Then Gloria Estefan and Cirque de Soleil took the field for the pre-game entertainment and I couldn’t get out of there quick enough.

    “This is definitely my cue to leave,” I told Matt, looking out at the bizarre costumes that had taken over the field. “This is insane.”

    In no time the game was upon us and we made our way to the media area next to the field for kick-off. We had just grabbed our pre-game meal and sat down when Devin Hester returned the opening kick. You know that whole thing about no cheering in the press box? Apparently it doesn’t apply to other media areas because the place went crazy.

    I grabbed my notebook and sat down to watch the first half and log big plays because I would be feeding Matt Byrne’s tape at halftime and I wanted to zip through to the key video for our producers back in Chicago. So for about an hour, I actually got to sit and watch the game like everyone else… then the fun began.

    With about 5 minutes to go in the first half I realized I had a major problem. It was POURING and we were halfway around the stadium from our compound where I would have to feed tape from. I spent the next 10 minutes or so frantically trying to find a pancho or other means of keeping me (and the tapes) somewhat dry. Eventually I ended up “borrowing” a pancho from one of the media tables. I asked the guy sitting next to it who’s it was and he said he didn’t know and it had been sitting there alone ever since he sat down. I took it. I’m sorry. I really am. Not really.

    So the half ends and Matt runs me his first half tape. I’ve never seen someone more drenched in my life. Head-to-toe. Just ridiculous. Of course, I was oh-so-sympathetic.

    “Um, where’s the Bears tape?” I asked him. He was supposed to meet up with Bears photographer Kevin Foy and get the sounds of the game tape so I could feed that as well. “I don’t have it,” he told me, water streaming down his face. “I couldn’t find him.”

    “Great,” I said, grabbing his tape from him. “Just great.”

    So now I’m trudging through the pouring rain towards the compound, a plastic bag with Matt’s tape in one hand and my Blackberry in the other, trying to call Jim Padgitt of the Bears. Miraculously, I got a hold of him and he agreed to meet me at Gate A (closer to our compound) and hand me those tapes. I met him, grabbed the tapes and began the slow walk (I was done running) to the compound feed point. As I’m walking, rain pouring down, drenching me with tapes in hand, Prince is knocking out “Baby I’m a Star” behind me at the stadium. That was good. I laughed. Yep, I’m a big star at this moment. ;)

    (By the way, several people have asked me about the Prince cover I was so excited about... it was "All Along the Watchtower..." but my understanding is he only did a few lines from it in the actual Super Bowl show. I could swear he did significantly more than that during the aircheck, but perhaps I was suffering a bit from my own exhaustion induced purple haze...)

    The second half was a complete blur from me. I’m feeding tape, trying to get Phil Rogers a hat so he can be live in the pouring rain outside the stadium when the game ends, coordinating a camera trade between Mike McGovern and Matt Byrne (who’s camera finally succumbed to the wet weather and melted down on the field) and making sure everyone else was ready for post-game.

    Because our plans changed so drastically depending on the result of the game, the one play I remember seeing is Kelvin Hayden’s interception and return to put the Colts up 29-17. There was time left, but at that point I launched into “Bears Lose” coverage.

    Just before the final gun, Phil Rogers and photojournalist Bud Stuchly hit the platform to anchor our live coverage outside. Once they made air, I sprinted inside to join our on-the-field team. Shortly thereafter they let us onto the field to begin pulling cables and setting up our live shots. It was mayhem. Absolutely pouring. Our technical people were unbelievable. As the coordinating producer, I kept an eye on our competition, hoping we’d get up before anyone else. I think we did. I don’t know that, but I think we did. Meanwhile, in the background, Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy are on the podium addressing the very happy and very wet Colts crowd.

    Anyway, from there it was just a matter of executing the plan we laid out and everyone did very well. In Chicago they did highlights and took podiums live. In Miami, we were grabbing Aaron (son of Emery) Moorehead for his candid thoughts right after the game. We hit the locker room where Peggy turned an exclusive one-on-one with Rex Grossman as he left the stadium. Paula/Matt/Amy/Mike and Phil/Bud (who had signed off from the platform and joined us inside) got to work in the locker room and media area.

    We were on the air for two hours straight, fighting the elements the whole time and it was just a great effort.

    When we finally signed off, we took a moment to take pictures and soak in the moment (no pun intended.) The NFL was celebrating the end of the week on the field and offered us a bottle (or two or three) of champagne to help us celebrate as well (I gave my bottle to the guys at the concierge desk at the hotel who came through for us quite a bit during the week.)

    Ryan and I drove back to the hotel and got in at 2:00 a.m. Shortly thereafter our crews and crews from other stations began streaming in… and an impromptu party began. There were coolers of, well, beverages and the 2nd floor bar overlooking the lobby agreed to stay open for us as late as we wanted. That was probably a mistake. For really the only time all week, I partied like a rock star.

    My head finally hit the pillow at 5:00 a.m., a mere 3 ½ hours before I had to be up in the morning to check-out and leave the hotel.

    And the thing about leaving is it’s so incredibly sad. For one week you are involved in the one of the greatest weeks of coverage you’ll experience. It’s hectic and crazy and not everything goes the way you wanted it too, but you get through it as a team. It’s tough when it’s over… but the memories are so awesome. I sure hope the Bears give us a chance to do it again next year.  

    SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2007 10:00pm

    Well so hear we are. The eve of Super Bowl XLI and there’s nothing left for anyone but the game itself. I’m trying to get a good night sleep for maybe the first time all week, but I wanted to at least post a couple of thoughts:  

    1. Bears fans out-number Colts fans down here at least 10-1. Either that or the Colts fans are just a very quiet group of people while Bears fans are jersey-wearing maniacs. You will see 20-30 Bears jerseys on South Beach before you see one Colts jersey.
    2. Miami is just a gorgeous city. Like everywhere else it’s got some seedy places, but at it’s most beautiful, it is REALLY beautiful. And with the exception of some pretty crazy sprawl between hotels and media centers and stadiums it’s a perfect place for the Super Bowl.  
    3. How do the players sleep tonight? I have a hard time sleeping the night before a big day at work. This is the freaking Super Bowl.
    4. While the general sentiment is the Colts are going to win this thing, there’s a smaller-but-growing contingent that thinks the Bears have some surprises up their sleeves. (I predict a special teams touchdown NOT scored by Devin Hester… or something)

    Me personally? I think the Bears are going to win this thing. They match-up well, they’re in the right frame of mind… and they’ve been told for two weeks straight that they have no chance. That’s a good thing.

    Bears 37 Colts 24. 

    See you back in Chicago on Monday.

    SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2007 2:07am

    Crazy day. Crazy, crazy day.

    It started with a bit of a unique moment as Bears head coach Lovie Smith and Colts head coach Tony Dungy posed together with the Vince Lombardi trophy after their final media sessions of the week. As one reporter astutely pointed out to Coach Smith, it's not something that happens very often (if ever) at the Super Bowl. But Lovie was correct when he pointed out that he and Tony were doing things a little differently this week. Indeed.

    Much like yesterday, I won't bore you with details of our crazy day (which included no place to edit when we arrived in our compound and an insanely crazy day for Amy Jacobson and photojournalist Mike McGovern.) What I will tell you about is our race across town at night.

    Because the NFL shuts down the stadium compound on friday night for a massive security sweep, all of us media types are forced to find a different location for our lives shots. Not a real problem for us as we've parked one of our satellite trucks on South Beach for the week. So as photojournalists Matt Byrne and Jeff Lauksmen and I are racing from the compound to South Beach, we get a frantic call from Amy Jacobson who's doing a story on the various parties in the area.

    "Tony, can you please have one of the guys shoot the Maxim party... we'll never get there in time."

    Me: "Um, okay... I'll even go field produce!"

    So with Matt as our reluctant driver, Jeff and I launched ourselves into the mission of getting into the Maxim party WITHOUT credentials (I hadn't credentialed us as I thought we'd never get there). After getting the runaround for a little while, we managed to finagle a couple of media wristbands and push our way in the front door. Well, once you're in with a camera, everyone in security pretty much assumes you're supposed to be there. The next thing I know we've been led to our own spot on the red carpet to shoot and interview the various celebrities coming in. I brushed shoulders with Tom Brady on the way and watched the guys from American Chopper roll by before Danica Patrick turned the corner. Bingo.

    "Ms. Patrick can I steal a few minutes of your time?"

    Indy Car's most dimunitive star was gracious enough to chat with me for awhile about a number of things (Despite her ties to both teams, she's cheering for the Bears... the Maxim party was her first party of the week... and she has no idea what she'd say if called upon to give the Bears a motivational speech.) After that, we roamed and Jeff shot a little bit more video for Amy while I sent messages to NBC 5 Sports producers Kevin Kehoe and Lawrence Benedetto to tell them where I was (Lawrence's response: "you're (expletive) killing me!" ... Kevin's: "I... Hate... You...")

    Sadly, because we still had to get the tape back to Amy and help set up live shots from South Beach for her, Phil Rogers and Ryan Baker, we had to leave the party far earlier than we would have hoped.

    "Whoa whoa whoa, you're LEAVING?!?!?!?" asked one of the Maxim reps. "You can't leave, we're just getting started! Why would you leave???"

    "My friend," I calmly explained (with tears in my eyes). "Do you really think if I had a choice I'd be leaving? Do you think this is what I WANT to do?"

    So sadly we pulled ourselves away from one of the hottest parties of the year to go to our jobs. Fortunately we did it very well, as we had yet another stellar night from Miami, complete with an entire first segment of the 10 pm news from South Beach. And a special shout-out to the Bears fans who joined us to watch Ryan Baker and company do their live shots (complete with a couple of young ladies who may be stalking Mr. Baker). They were respectful of what we had to do... and enthusiastic when we allowed them to join the fun.

    THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2007 9:45pm

    Super Bowl week is a real roller coaster of emotion. Everytime things are going well, you usually run into some major obstacles. And everytime you feel exhausted and frustrated, Super Bowl week usually finds a way to lift your spirits.

    I was running on fumes all day today after a rough night of non-sleep thanks to a dinner that didn’t sit well. I simply don’t have the energy or the focus to go through how the entire day went, but it included me going on a frantic car race through the streets of Miami Beach, racing against the clock to pick up a tape and return it to the Dolphin Stadium compound for Phil Rogers and his Mike Ditka story. Seriously, it felt like a warped mission from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I almost expected to receive $3,000 and a new apartment to buy when I arrived at the compound.

    But here’s the kicker: After really struggling throughout the day, our night ended with Prince’s soundcheck at the stadium (the artist formerly known as some weird symbol is doing the halftime show this year). Great stuff. I don’t want to spoil anything, but he’s doing at least one cover that caused me to rip my blackberry out of my pocket and call NBC-5’s Special Projects Executive Producer Lora LeSage and scream in her ear: “Prince just launched into a rendition of (edited for spoiler)!!!!”

    “Why, Tony?” Lora, a huge Prince fan whined. “Why would you possibly do this to me?”

    “I don’t think you heard me,” I teased her. “Freaking Prince is playing freaking (edited for spoiler)!!!!”

    She hung up on me. I got the message. When minutes later Prince started Purple Rain I didn’t call her… I just sent her a note to her Blackberry.

    Her three word response: “I Hate You”

    And that’s the thing about working Super Bowl week. It beats the hell out of you, exhausts you, even makes you wonder why you do what you do at all… but then Prince sings (edited for spoiler) as you walk by the stadium and it’s magic.

    Sorry Lora.

    WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 31, 2007 10:45pm

    Referring to Wednesday as “hump day” may never be more appropriate than during Super Bowl week. With Media Day in everyone’s rear view mirror, the attitude has changed significantly for both the teams and the media. The fluffy, cute stories are being kicked to the curb in favor of serious football issues and both the players and the media, quite frankly, are getting tired of each other.

    The Bears media session this morning began bright and early at 8:15 a.m. at the team hotel. On the way there, photojournalist Matt Byrne, Peggy Kusinski and I got to see the amazing way Miami folks handle a major accident on the highway. Just a few miles down I-95, we ran into a dead stop. Up ahead about a ¼ mile, the state police had shutdown ALL FOUR lanes of traffic due to an accident. I-95 became a parking lot… people (including me) were literally getting out of their cars and walking around talking to each other.

    “We’re screwed,” I said to Peggy. “We’re going to miss this whole thing.”

    But then something amazing happened. The clean-up crews moved everything off the side of the road, cleared up the scene and RE-OPENED ALL FOUR LANES OF TRAFFIC. Yes, the downside was for about 10 minutes we all sat there not moving at all. But when that was done, we were off and running again without incident. Every single time I’ve seen something like that in Chicago, they’ve left one lane open so cars could crawl through… but also significantly slowing down the clean-up/rescue effort. Here they just shut it all down, got it taken care of and everyone moved on. It was really quite impressive.

    So happily we got to the hotel in time for the beginning. As players began to straggle in (we later learned many of them did not even know they were being made available to the media until THAT MORNING), Lovie Smith took the podium. Things were going swimmingly until someone (clearly not from Chicago) asked Coach Smith if there was a scenario in which he would replace Rex Grossman with Brian Griese.

    Smith stared at the reporter for about three seconds and then chuckled.

    “Now, I wonder if you’d ask that question of Peyton Manning. No, I guess probably not. Rex shouldn’t have to answer that question, I shouldn’t have to answer that question. Rex is our quarterback. And I have no plans to remove Brian Urlacher or Olin Kreutz either.”

    Rex Grossman followed and honestly looked as comfortable as ever. I’m telling you the closer we get to the game, the more serene he seems. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing…

    Of course, the whole TEAM seems that way. Last night, Bears media relations guru Scott Hagel told us he thought this team was in a perfect place. Loose, but not too loose, truly feeling like they belong here and it’s where they expected to be all along. And you know what? He’s absolutely right. Even guys who normally don’t really enjoy talking to the media like Brian Urlacher seem completely comfortable in their own skin, smiling and laughing. Again, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. But being around this team, you can’t help but get the vibe Sunday is going to be their day. I was watching a recap of the Bears season a few minutes ago and saw another clip of Thomas Jones leading the team in a huddle that ended with “World Champs on three… 1, 2, 3 WORLD CHAMPS!” I used to roll my eyes when I saw them do that. Tonight I got goose bumps. But I digress…

    Despite the comfortable atmosphere, as the session wore on, it became obvious that there really isn’t much more to talk about. I mean, how many times can the players answer the same question??

    “Seriously, the same questions over and over, guys,” lamented Charles Tillman. “I’m going to start saying different stuff, lying to you guys just so I can say something else.”

    Things got so old, that the entire TV contingent ended up gathering around Thomas Jones’s orange Ferrari (you know, the one from Sunday night) to shoot video and hear Thomas talk about his cars.

    When the media session mercifully ended, the players sprinted back to the hotel and we took off to the media center at the Miami Convention Center. Among other things, the media center is home to radio row… where all the various radio stations set up to do their shows for the week. Peggy and Paula spent sometime with Mike North on the SCORE, while I floated around taking care of some final errands.

    The rest of our day was kind of a blur (have I said that before?) as we raced to our NBC compound at Dolphin Stadium to crank out our stories for 5, 6 and 10. For the second straight day we had editing issues and had to re-edit Peggy’s pieces. But I won’t bore you with the wonders of TV…

    I do, however, want to take a selfish second to say how proud I am of everything we’ve accomplished so far. Peggy, Paula, Ryan, Matt, Jeff, Amy, Phil, Bud, Mike, Mable, Chuck and everyone else helping out have come here with their A-game all week and it’s really showed. And if tomorrow’s game plan is any indication things are just going to keep getting better and better.

    And speaking of tomorrow, cruising the happenings at the media center for Thursday one comes across perhaps the most bizarre double billing in the history of press conferences. At 2:00 p.m. Billy Joel meets the media to discuss his role singing the national anthem on Sunday. At 2:30 p.m. he’s replaced on the dais by Prince, who will perform at halftime.

    I don’t know about you, but I never thought I’d see Billy Joel open for the Purple One. Only at the Super Bowl…. And probably only in Miami.

    TUESDAY, JANUARY 30, 2007 11:20pm

    South Beach is insane. Seriously, it’s crazy.

    After an incredibly hectic day that included security checks, two media day sessions, multiple edit deck crashes and, of course, four shows worth of stories, I was ready for a serious date with my pillow. Unfortunately (I think), tonight was the media party at Lummus Park on South Beach… and you can’t very well miss that, can you?

    As Ryan Baker would say, this party was off the hook. Multiple drink stations, multiple food spots, beach volleyball, live animals (including a white Bengal tiger, alligator, rock tortoise and parrots) and dancing models… oh, and did I mention it was outdoors on a sand-covered beach? Let’s just say this was not a party you could hold in Chicago right now.

    I actually got very close to having my picture taken with the baby white tiger, but right as I was about to hold it, the guy with the alligator came by and the white tiger lost it. Didn’t want anything to do with that ‘gator. Who can blame him?

    But probably the craziest thing happened after we left the party. Matt Byrne, Phil Rogers, Peggy Kusinski and I are walking down Ocean Drive (if you haven’t been, you must) when I heard Peggy yell: “Hi Mike!!”

    I turn and look. Walking down the block on the opposite side of the street, all by himself, without a soul so much as stopping to look twice at him, was “Da Coach” Mike Ditka. Now how in the heck is the man who guided the Bears to their only Super Bowl championship, the man who’s maybe most identified with the city of Chicago, walking down the street without so much as a second glance during Super Bowl week???

    “Hey sweetheart!” Ditka called back, waving at Peggy before continuing on his way.

    South Beach is insane. Seriously, it’s crazy.

    TUESDAY, JANUARY 30, 2007, 3:45pm

    There’s a little bit of irony involved in Super Bowl Media Day, held the Tuesday before the big game. The purpose is to make available all of the players and coaches participating (and in some cases, like that of Mike Brown, not participating) in the Super Bowl. At its core, it should be about gathering that crucial sound about the match-ups, game-plans, etc… that’s very rarely what it ends up being about.

    In fact, when I walked up to Chicago’s own Michael Wilbon, now a fantastic writer for the Washington Post and budding TV star, and told him I was moving on to interviewing the other journalists, he responded with: “What do you mean? You haven’t been doing that all day?” But I’ll get back to my chat with Mr. Wilbon in a bit.

    If you’re reading my diary that probably means you’re a big enough sports fan to have seen media day on TV somewhere. Trust me when I tell you it’s SOO much more massive in person. Thousands of journalists (and for some I use that term loosely) converge on one side of the stadium to do interviews. 12 select people (the head coach and eleven players) are placed on podiums… six or so others are given set spots in the stands… and everyone else is on their own. The media is held in the concourse until the players are situated… and then it’s like the running of the bulls. They open the gates and off we go!

    The Bears went first today at 10:00 a.m. local time and within three minutes there were 200+ people surrounding Rex Grossman’s podium. With Peggy Kusinski and photojournalist Matt Byrne working one end and Ryan Baker and photojournalist Jeff Lauksmen working the other, I was left to coordinate and scan for major happenings. I walked by Brian Urlacher who actually seemed happy to be playing a game AWAY from Soldier Field (“the field is so nice… nice field… we haven’t seen turf like this in awhile…”) and stopped at Devin Hester’s podium long enough to hear him win the “Biggest understatement of the day” award when he told a reporter that Sunday’s Super Bowl was “probably the biggest game of my career.” You think, Devin? I mean, I know you played at “The U” and all, but yeah, I’m guessing the Super Bowl might be the highlight of the Devin Hester reel so far.

    The highlight/lowlight of the morning session (and it really depends on how you view it) was supplied by a female reporter from Azteca who walked up to players and asked them to do things like hug her, lick her face and strip. Ah yes, media day… the hard-hitting sports angles…

    On the scoreboard clock there’s a countdown clock. When it hit 0:00 the Bears session was done and the media was once again herded, this time a bit more willingly, to the 200 level for brunch. First time most of us had eaten all day and probably life-saving. At noon, it was back into the bullpen while the Colts took the field. With Peggy off to our workspace in the TV compound to begin logging, I took the mic to do Colts interviews. Surprisingly, the best soundbite I got may have been from Peyton Manning (not necessarily known for his candor) who bristled at the idea that should the Colts lose, he will be once again remembered as the man who couldn’t win the big game.

    “You know, when we lose it’s 100% my fault and when we win, it’s the ‘Colts Win’…. It can’t be both ways. Either it’s 100% me or it’s 100% the team. But seriously, we win as a team and lose as a team… I care about this team.”

    I don’t know this for sure, but I have to believe the Colts are the first team in the history of the Super Bowl not to put a running back in the top 12 spots on the podiums. Joseph Addai was kicking it in the stands, as was tight end and son of former Bears tight end Emery Moorehead, Aaron Moorehead. There was a little more sound to gather from safety Bob Sanders (“we will try and rattle Rex early…”) and offensive lineman Ryan Diem (who grew up a Bears fan and played his college ball at NIU), when finally I turned to Wilbon to put the final touches on the day.

    He told me that he’s covered the last 20 Super Bowls live, the last one played without Michael Wilbon in attendance? The Bears 46-10 thrashing of the Patriots in Super Bowl XX.

    “And I’m not going to be at this one either. I’m getting out of here Friday… I don’t want to be here and end up being the jinx.”

    Now we’re slamming at the compound. We’ll see you at 5!

    MONDAY, JANUARY 29, 2007, 11:30pm

    I’m exhausted, but I wanted to make a quick entry. After a long, hectic day (we arrived at our compound at 5:55 p.m. locally for a 6:20 p.m. live sports show… and still had to edit the entire show), Peggy Kusinski, Matt Byrne and I got a chance to actually sit down and have dinner. We stopped at a fantastic Italian place on South Beach. Ridiculously good. And I’m Italian folks. The kicker to the story is that as we’re eating, a town car pulls up to the curb not 10 feet from us and out pops Tank Johnson. He turned down all interview requests and politely asked the cameras to give him a break… which they did.

    Peggy will be talking to him tomorrow at media day… I guarantee that conversation will play big tomorrow.

    I’m off to bed.

    10:20am

    Well, we’re less than 24 hours into our trip and I feel like my body has been put through the ringer. I was definitely prophetic when I referred to our plane ride as the “calm before the storm” in my previous entry (see below). Major kudos to the entire NBC5 team for pulling together last night in less than ideal circumstances to pull off five live shots and a half-hour Bears Game Night Live show, all within four hours of having landed.

    But no need to go through that, let’s hit some of what’s going on here in town. Flying into Miami is absolutely breathtaking. I’ve never been here before and cruising in over Miami Beach is truly amazing. Not to rub it in, but it’s not exactly snowing here. My hotel room has a balcony which overlooks the ocean, which is a very nice site in the morning.

    Last night was the players night to hit the town without curfew and most took the coaches up on that offer. One notable exception was Pro Bowl kicker Robbie Gould who elected instead to stay in and hang out with Jeff Joniak and Tom Thayer on Bears Gamenight Live. When asked if he was heading out afterward he simply said: “Nope, this is a business trip, I can always go out (next week) in Hawaii.”

    On the other side, Thomas Jones didn’t worry about keeping a low profile. He zoomed out of the team hotel in his orange Ferrari and was later seen parked out front of a Miami club (seen, that is, by me and photojournalist Matt Byrne when we made a late night run to Walgreen’s for some forgotten travel items.)

    Don’t forget to check back here at NBC5.com for the video blogs which will start rolling in from all of our talent today. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Phil Rogers is going to have a Super Bowl hotel package that’s going to blow your mind and Amy Jacobson is going to hit South Beach. They both sound like can’t misses to me!

    As for me, we have a little bit of time before media availability so I’m actually going to take a quick catnap in my room (did NOT sleep well last night after the hustle and bustle of our travel/work day) and then meet up with Peggy, Ryan and company to talk to the Bears!

    SUNDAY, JANUARY 28, 2007, 2:28pm

    The Friendly Skies – The flight to a major event like the Super Bowl is always the calm before the storm. Over the next eight days, we’re aiming to cover everything and anything going on in Miami from the Bears and the Colts to the parties and the security sweeps. From the moment we land just before 6:00 p.m. local time to the moment we take off Monday morning we’ll be either working or dreaming about working (while we try and catch what sleep we can.) But on the flight, there’s nothing to do but wait. And that’s given me a chance to reflect a little bit on what exactly it is we’re covering…

    To do that, I have to let you in on a little secret: covering sports for a living isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a hell of a way to earn a paycheck and I can’t imagine doing anything else, but it alters the way you feel about sports forever. The magic, the pure child-like joy goes away. I remember standing at U.S. Cellular Field this past summer, waiting for Ozzie Guillen to come out for his chat with the media. On the field there were a group of executive-looking types, still wearing their shirts and ties, getting a tour. And these 30-, 40- and 50-somethings were just absolutely enthralled by what was going on around them. Being on the field, watching Scott Podsednik lay down bunts in the cage just feet away from them, had them all giddier than my 4-year-old riding Thomas the Tank Engine. And it actually made me a little sad. I rarely feel that way anymore. I’m still a sports fan… but it simply doesn’t give me the same goose bumps it used to. It’s the trade off, I guess, when you’re blessed with the chance to make your passion your livelihood.

    I bring this up to make this point: this week will bring those goose bumps back. I’ve been fortunate enough to cover one other Super Bowl in my career, in January of 1998 when John Elway and the Broncos topped Brett Favre and the Packers. I actually remember very little of the game itself… but I remember virtually everything about the week that led up to it. Super Bowl week is an unbelievable ride and we’re going to do our best to take you along with us. Be sure you check out “The Bear Truth” video blogs here at NBC5.com and watch NBC 5 news at 5, 6 and 10. That’s more than a shameless plug, it’s a promise to bring you the sights and sounds surrounding this amazing experience.

    For us obviously the biggest story is the Bears themselves. It’s been 21 years since Da Coach led Da Bears to the franchise’s only Super Bowl title and the city has been starved for another title ever since. I’ve never seen a city that glorifies a former champion the way Chicago worships the ’85 Bears. In fact, I’ve heard on more than one occasion how this year’s edition of the Bears doesn’t have the same allure as the ’85 squad because they don’t have as much “personality.” I expect that notion to fly out the window this week. Stars are born on the field Super Bowl Sunday… but they’re also created in the days leading up to the game… and this edition of the Monsters of the Midway has personality galore. Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Muhsin Muhammad and others will have the national scribes laughing and writing furiously. There will be no lack of sound coming the Bears camp.

    I’m also interested to see how Rex Grossman handles the glare of the Super Bowl spotlight, which is brighter than any other on the planet. Grossman has shown a tendency to get testy with the media and this week he will be forced to answer the questions about his roller-coaster play over and over and over again. In a lot of ways, the intense pressure put on him throughout the season by writers and fans alike may be the best thing that could have happened to him. There’s no preparing for the week leading up to the Super Bowl… but if ever anyone’s had a good dry run, it’s Rex.

    Of course, the pressure on Peyton Manning will be even greater. Manning’s career numbers will not only put him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but will enter him into the exclusive group of quarterbacks in the “Best ever…” conversation. But on the older side of 30, Manning may be looking at his best chance to win his Super Bowl ring. Like Dan Marino before him, Manning will never admit to wanting to cement his legacy with a Super Bowl title, but I’ll bet you a Tennessee Volunteers National Championship video complete with commentary from Tee Martin that in his most honest moments he wants this as badly as he’s ever wanted anything… and not just because he’s one of the game’s great competitors.