One thing I believe to be true: I am a stupid man. I do stupid things when left to my own devices. I am a sports writer who works really hard to be half as smart as his colleagues. I'm sometimes scared to speak in case someone finds out how stupid I am. It can be overwhelming.
I got sent to the Super Bowl for the first time, and when I landed I assumed I had no business being there. I now also believe this: Anyone can cover the Super Bowl. This is a three step guide:
Step 1) Go through a security check that gets you into A Place.
Step 2) Have someone tell you you're having a good time regardless of if you are.
Step 2.5) Sometimes take free things from that person.
Step 3) Step back and take comfort in the fact that no one else knows what they're doing, either.
The media doesn't know what they're doing. And they try hard, but no entity struggles more with its identity during a week like this. Part cynic, part cheerleader, part mouthpiece -- there's so much to write, but almost none of it edifying. There are a lot of quotes -- a lot, I received 214 emails from NFL Communications since last Sunday -- all saying something more than nothing. There's always hope in asking a question, that it was phrased in such a way that the subject can only give an enlightening answer. Then it comes: "We've been working really hard ..."
The players don't know what they're doing. Preparing for the Super Bowl is not the same as preparing for a football game. Two key differences: 1) The wait, that amounts one extra stressful week of rest and 2) media availability. Here's how the latter works: Players sit at tables, waiting to be approached by writers or camera crews who will ask them questions that are the same or similar to questions that, by Thursday, they will have answered for four days straight.
Twenty-one of Sunday's players have played in a Super Bowl. The vast majority have not. The guys that hadn't were frayed by week's end. Cam Newton shuffled onto the stage for his Wednesday presser trying to delay the inevitable, was asked what it means to be leading a team to the Super Bowl and looked as if he'd like to weep. Josh Norman was forthright:
"That’ll be everything because this is definitely draining. It really is. I be ready just to play the game and if we played the game today, I’ll be like let’s go. Play it in the street really doesn’t matter. I’m just tired of sitting back and waiting, and talking every day and talking about the things that we’re gonna do."
The NFL doesn't know what it's doing. On Friday, commissioner Roger Goodell stated that the league's nebulous goal for the forthcoming year was to "get better," then when questioned about things people think are bad -- brain injuries, unequal pay for cheerleaders, the league's disciplinary process and marijuana policy, its treatment of domestic violence -- explained how the NFL is just fine in its current form. He ended his 45-minute presser with the galling response that "there's risk in sitting on the couch" when asked about the dangers of the sport he oversees.
Make no mistake, the NFL would love answers to all of these questions, even if only to reduce its hassle. It can't even properly deflect questions properly because its biggest spokesman is a terrible spokesman.
San Francisco doesn't know what it's doing. It took one of the busiest, most brilliant pieces of real estate in the world and turned it into a shitty bar. Super Bowl City is a roughly $6 million beer pen on the Embarcadero that lets you do fewer things in less space with more people for more money than if it didn't exist. To get in, you wait in a long line down Market St. while REPENT-ers tell you that Jesus loves you and mostly hates you. Inside, you can wait for One Direction to play with or without a Bud Light in your hand. You could also drink on the branded porches if you could access them. You can't access them, so they mostly block your view of the Ferry Building
Super Bowl City a free-to-play app with in-game purchase brought to life. Once fans leave, the city will be responsible for a very big bill.
Fans don't know what they're doing, because they enormously enjoyed themselves despite a lot of reasons not to. There was little to learn from the two weeks before Super Bowl 50, and almost nothing to do unless you had money. Yet it was enough for many just to be in the presence of the Super Bowl, taking pictures in front of anything that said "Super Bowl," jostling with antagonistic professional autograph seekers on Radio Row to glimpse athletes, and saying they were there.
I went to the Super Bowl for the first time to find out whether it's actually fun. It's easy to be cynical about the NFL so I wanted to give it an honest assessment from the perspective of an oblivious man, someone who could wade into the spectacle, parse out what it consists of and examine what the NFL thinks is fun.
Turns out, the spectacle is only itself. Fans show up to stare at themselves in the form of someone else. People parade around in team jersey happy to claim they're at the Super Bowl. San Francisco was a gawker's paradise.
And if you really want to be nice, you could say people found kinship, too, because other people were wearing the same jerseys or perhaps because everyone was enduring the same spectacle.
There is such a thing as knowing too much. Ignore Goodell's ugly corporate speak, the sometimes ersatz process by which media creates news and the fact that too much money was spent on all of this, and what's left is a curiosity that is difficult to disengage from.
That realization is simultaneously humbling and horrifying. As a stupid man, I'd say I had a good time.