Super Bowl Media Day: the circus is back in town
New Orleans • Miss Alabama USA, like so many reporters before her, struggled to get a quote out of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on Tuesday.
The problem was that Katherine Webb was too quiet. So a producer finally leaned over and whispered the eight most important words in modern sports journalism: "Be loud and stick your microphone in there."
And that, folks, is Super Bowl Media Day in a nutshell. Aside from shouting her question over the masses, Webb could have also considered dressing as a samurai warrior (as a Los Angeles TV reporter did), a clown (TV Azteca), a superhero (Nickelodeon), a referee (VH1), or a paunchy middle-aged man (hundreds of newspapers).
In all, more than 2,000 reporters swarmed upon the Baltimore Ravens and 49ers during their media sessions at the Superdome. Someone of them even asked about Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII.
"It's like Mardi Gras with cameras instead of liquor,'' 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald said.
This was the annual Media Day drill part news conference, part circus in which players and coaches get penned into cubicles for an hour while fielding questions that range from the ridiculous to the ... well, no, they're pretty much all ridiculous.
One radio reporter asked 49ers running back Frank Gore if he'd seen Manti Te'o's girlfriend. Because the girlfriend was a hoax, as everyone knows, Gore just stared blankly back at his questioner.
"Look! She's there right now!" the radio man said, pointing to a vacant patch of ground.
Gore stared until the radio man walked away.
A few podiums over, Pick Boy, the Nickleodeon superhero, was strutting around in a black tights and an orange cape. With Las Vegas oddsmakers listing the 49ers as 31/2-point favorites, did Pick Boy have ...
"A pick? No, I'm taking the year off,'' said Pick Boy, aka 35-year-old actor Jeff Sutphen. "It's not because I don't know I'm a superhero, after all but I've come under a lot of heat lately for spoiling the ending. So I won't ruin it. I'm a giver. I've got a heart of gold."
Most of the 49ers laughed along with the shenanigans. Free safety Donte Whitner was asked what scared him most, to which he replied: "Maybe put me in a fast car with a blind person?"
Michael Crabtree dutifully "Kaepernicked" upon request for VH1, smooching his flexed biceps, just like quarterback Colin Kaepernick does after touchdowns. (Crabtree said the key is to be gentle with the kiss.)
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs opened his session by singing Meat Loaf's, "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)."
49ers lineman Joe Staley thought the whole session was a hoot and rolled with any premise that came his way, even playing the role of wisecracking sidekick for the caped crusader.
Pick Boy: "I don't like to brag, but I can bench-press 100 pounds."
Staley: "100 pounds? That's about what I can do, too."
Pick Boy: "What can you do, really?"
Staley: "About 450."
Pick Boy: "POUNDS?"
Justin Smith, the 49ers' grizzly bear of a defensive lineman, was asked about the matchup between the Harbaugh brothers. Jim is squaring off against big brother John, the Ravens head coach. Would Smith let his brother win?
"First of all, I don't have a brother. I have a sister,'' Smith said. "And I'll tell you right now I wouldn't let her win. I probably wouldn't talk to her all week."
Laughter all around.
And then there was Jim Harbaugh.
Even the sight of one notebook can send the coach into convulsions, so the goofball hordes of Media Day presented, as football people might say, some tough matchups.
Predictably, there were breakdowns in coverage. Aaron Sanchez of the Food Network tried asking Harbaugh to list some of his favorite guilty-pleasure foods in the offseason. It went nowhere, so Sanchez tried again. And again.
No matter the food question, Harbaugh wouldn't bite.
"I fail to see the relevance of that to what we're trying to accomplish this week,'' the coach sniffed.
In a similar vein, Kaepernick had no desire to launch into stand-up. Among his early snappy answers to stupid questions: "I play to win"; "No"; "I'm not really sure"; and "Time will tell." Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, noting how the QB was able to communicate his messages in 140 characters or less, marveled: "He talks in tweets."
Some players really did talk in tweets, because a reporter asked them to answer only in hash tags. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker played along, capping several of his responses with "hash tag, awesome."
(Harbaugh resisted that game, too. "I don't know the hash tag world. I don't have a tweeter," he said.)
Webb, the Miss Alabama USA, rebounded from her brush with Harbaugh and did just fine as a correspondent for "Inside Edition." She became an overnight celebrity earlier this month when ESPN broadcaster Brent Musburger saluted the beauty queen while her boyfriend, quarterback A.J. McCarron, was leading Alabama to victory in the BCS Championship game. Webb said Tuesday she got plenty of media training during her pageant preparation, so being on the other side of the camera was "not a problem at all."
Off to the side, 79-year-old Gil Brandt watched the day's activity with an air of amusement. A longtime top executive for the Cowboys, Brandt recalled how things looked when Dallas made its big-stage debut in Super Bowl V in 1971.
"Let me tell you about how Media Day used to be: We stayed in Miami at an old hotel called Pier 66,'' Brandt said. "Media Day was on a Tuesday, just like it is now and we had 20 writers show up.
"They all gathered in the pool area of the hotel. A writer would say 'I want to talk to Chuck Howley.' And somebody would look at the ledger and say, 'OK, he's in Room 765. Go on up.' "
And now? NFL spokesman Randall Liu said this was just a warm-up. While there were 2,000 participants in Media Day, there were a total of 5,205 credentials distributed in advance of Super Bowl XLVII and related events in New Orleans.
Coach Harbaugh, consider yourself warned.
Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter @mercbrownie.
Mark Emmons and Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group contributed to this report.