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How Super Bowl media got to be so annoying

And a taxonomy of what a Super Bowl interview looks like.

New England Patriots Media Availability Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

A little more than a year ago, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton shuffled up to the podium on the Wednesday before Super Bowl 50, fielded a question that was some variation of “What does it mean to you to be playing in the Super Bowl?” sighed a deep, deep sigh, and said:

You know what’s confusing? How can I reword questions I’ve been asked so many times? Golly. Nothing pretty much has changed since I’ve seen you guys 24 hours ago. I had an unbelievable sleep, but yet I’m up here again. It’s cool. It’s like I don’t know how you want to say it. I sound like a broken record ...

Now, perhaps Newton should have seemed more grateful. After all, the only reason why he was giving a press conference for a third straight day was because he was about to star in one of the biggest sporting events on the planet. But bear in mind that fatigue is cumulative, and this wasn’t just about Super Bowl week. Newton also answered questions the week prior for local media, and before that every week during the regular season and playoffs because in 2015 he was simultaneously a) the NFL’s best player, and b) the NFL’s most controversial.

“At some point, man, you just get tired of the same questions, you're tired of talking about the other team,” safety Roman Harper, Newton’s teammate last season, told me. “For me, like the first year [with the New Orleans Saints], I was overhearing about who the Indianapolis Colts were, and how great their offense was, and Peyton Manning, and Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne ... and that's all we talked about.

“You talk about these guys in a positive manner, because they definitely deserve to be there, but at some point you're just fed up.”

It’s OK not to like a player. Love and hate is sort of central to being a sports fan. No one should ever base that opinion on what players say during Super Bowl week, however.

In past years, if a player was gruff or refused to talk to media, the news cycle became a referendum on his character — or worse, a referendum on a generation of players and their sense of entitlement.

Which is weird: Who isn’t wary of giving away their thoughts to people they don’t know to be used out of their control?

This isn’t just my opinion, by the way. Jerry Green is one of three reporters to have attended all 50 Super Bowls as a sports writer. He remembers the kerfuffle that Marshawn Lynch created when he showed up to media day so he wouldn’t get fined. It was nothing new for Green.

“I think if he doesn't want to talk, he doesn't have to,” Green told SB Nation. “It made me remember [1970-71 Dallas Cowboys running back] Duane Thomas, who had the same kind of situation.

“Thomas would be sitting on a bleacher seat wherever the Cowboys were training, and a bunch of us sat around him and tried to talk to him, and he remained stoically silent. Then he'd ask what time was it, and he'd find out and he could leave.”

The NFL mandates four set time periods when players have to face media during Super Bowl week — Opening Night on Monday and an availability session each day on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Things were much less regimented for Super Bowl I. Rather than meet players at tables in hotel ball rooms for a prescribed 45 minutes, reporters went to players’ individual hotel rooms whenever players had down time. Sometimes players didn’t want to talk, but when they did, their conversations with reporters tended to be more substantive than they are now.

The Super Bowl was much, much smaller then. Green remembers covering the game at a time when he wasn’t sure it would be popular enough to be played the following year. Since, he has watched the Super Bowl’s intimacy gradually erode.

“If you wanted to talk to [former commissioner] Pete Rozelle, you could call up and get one of the PR guys, and he gets you through,” Green said. “You see Rozelle, he knows who you are, he talks to you. He took a bunch of us out to dinner at a championship game in Washington. Things like that.

“Roger Goodell, I don't even know if he eats dinner.”

* * *

INTERLUDE: A taxonomy of the questions that reporters asked Patriots safety Patrick Chung on Wednesday

(paraphrased, and with variations)*

Questions about Atlanta’s offense (12)

What’s the best way to stop Atlanta’s offense? (4)

How do you contain Atlanta’s explosive receivers and running backs? (3)

What about Atlanta’s speed on offense? (1)

What did you learn about Matt Ryan this week? (1)

Does prepping against the Patriots’ two running backs every week help you prepare to play two running backs this week? (1)

What’s the hardest things about stopping Julio Jones? (1)

Is Julio Jones the best receiver you will play this season? (1)

Questions about Tom Brady (7)

How good is Tom Brady? (3)

How often did Tom Brady get picked off in practice? (1)

How do you think Tom Brady will be remembered? (1)

I heard Tom Brady say that it was nice to be on the practice field? (1)

How does playing against Tom Brady make you better? (1)

Questions about Bill Belichick (6)

What will be Bill Belichick’s biggest legacy? (2)

How is Bill Belichick such a consistent coach? (1)

How does Belichick separate intensity and relaxation during Super Bowl week? (1)

What is Steve Belichick like compared to his dad? (1)

What is the strangest thing you’ve seen Bill Belichick do in a game plan? (1)

Questions about non-Brady teammates (6)

What did it mean to hear Chris Long talk about making the playoffs? (1)

What were your impressions of Malcolm Butler today? (1)

What changed for Malcolm Butler after he made that Super Bowl interception? (1)

Are you sick of the whole Rutgers thing yet? (1)

What did you tell Eric Rowe when he got to New England? (1)

What was it like watching LeGarrette Blount’s rugby-style run? (1)

How are the Patriots a family as a team? (1)

Questions about the Patriots defense (6)

What is it about the Pats system that you can thrive in it? (1)

The Patriots defense is so multiple, how is that an advantage? (1)

What kind of player are you? What's your role? (1)

How would you describe your defense? (1)

How often are adjustments happening snap to snap? (1)

The Patriots do unconventional things in the secondary. How aware do you have to be? (1)

Questions about how Patrick Chung feels about this Super Bowl (5)

What makes this Super Bowl different? (1)

How is the training different here compared to Boston? (1)

What has been the highlight of your trip to the Super Bow? (1)

What is your biggest life lesson from making the Super Bowl? (1)

Is being at the NFL Super Bowl a dream come true? (1)

Questions about Mexico (4)

Are you excited there’s going to be a game in Mexico? (3)

Do you know some words in Spanish? (1)

Questions about how Patrick Chung is feeling (4)

Are you tired? (1)

What has this week felt like? (1)

Did it feel good to get on the field today? (1) [Answer: “Yeah, I actually got to play some football and not answer a bunch of questions.”]

How’s the week going so far? (1)

Are you having fun? (1)

Questions about Thailand (4)

Can you say hi to our fans in Thailand? (1)

Have you ever had Thai food? (1)

Have you ever been to Thailand? (1)

Do you want to go to Thailand? (1)

Questions about winning the Super Bowl (3)

When celebrating in the locker room, how does Bob Kraft decide who gets a hug or hand shake? (1)

What would you do with your $100,000 for winning? (1)

What will it take to win on Sunday? (1)

Questions about Patrick Chung as a person (3)

What has been the influence of your parents? (1)

How have you matured from when you left the Patriots and came back? (1)

Who has impacted you most on this journey? (1)

My dumb questions for this story (1)

How do you deal with the frustration of answering the same questions all the time? (1)

Do you get bored and play games in your head? (1)

Do you like doing this in the morning or the evening better? (1)

*Note on methodology: If one reporter asked multiple questions that were all probing for the same answer, I counted it as one question. For example, “How good is Tom Brady? What makes Tom Brady so good? Is there anybody as good as Tom Brady?” all count once for “How good is Tom Brady?” Chung was asked more questions than are tallied here. This is not a peer reviewed study.

* * *

When I asked Green why it all changed, he blamed me.

“The difference is you. There was no such thing as blogging and internet and all that, and very little television,” Green said. “We had time to get to know players personally. Especially during the season with the beat writers. I could go into the locker room whenever I wanted during the season, except the one time [1965-66 Detroit Lions head coach] Harry Gilmer got angry at me and threw me out.”

Gilmer got mad at Green for publishing comments by defensive tackle Alex Karras that disparaged the head coach. But despite the dust-up, Green was eventually allowed back in the locker room, and more. Reporters used to go to and from road games in the team plane, where they had even more one-on-one time with players and coaches.

It’s difficult to imagine reporters ever having the same candid interactions that Green had with players and coaches. He is one of the men in the famous photo of Joe Namath being interviewed poolside at his hotel before Super Bowl III. One of Green’s favorite stories is about a chance run-in with Vince Lombardi at the LA Coliseum after the NFL-champion Green Bay Packers had beaten the AFL-champion Kansas City Chiefs.

“Lombardi was flipping a football and he was asked if it was an NFL football. And he didn't answer,” Green recalled. “Then he flipped it again and he caught it, and the same question was asked. And it was asked a third time, and he caught it and looked at us and said: 'Yes, it's an NFL ball. And it runs better, it catches better, and it throws better, and damn it you made me say it.'”

Green has been a distinguished sports writer his entire he career. His experience and depth of historical knowledge makes him stand out even more today at a time when it is especially difficult to get substance out of simply interviewing people at the Super Bowl. Everything started going downhill beginning with Super Bowl III, according to Green, when the NFL introduced availability periods that reporters had to ride buses to attend.

Over the years, more and more reporters have shown up to the Super Bowl to spend less and less time with players who don’t have a choice whether they want to show up. The setup is bad for reporters, bad for players, and bad for anyone who wants to learn something meaningful about some of the best athletes in the world.

* * *

Asides from Patrick Chung’s last few minutes at the podium

5:07 p.m. CT

Chung: Yo, what time is it right now.

Me: 5:07

Chung: Oh my god.

Me: I’m cataloging all of these questions.

Chung: So we’ve got 8 minutes left? Jesus.

5:08 p.m. CT

Patriots Staffer: What’s going on, Patrick?

Chung: What up.

Staffer: Not much, I think we're almost out of here.

Chung: Thank god, I want to go to sleep, man.

Staffer: Long day?

Chung: Oh my god, I'm so tired. I went straight from practice, straight here, I had two drum stick chicken wings. And that's it.

Staffer: That's not enough.

Chung: After this I'm going to get myself a big ass meal.

5:11 p.m. CT

Staffer: What are you going to have?

Chung: Anything that's good, I'm going to eat it.

Staffer: I want some tacos.

Chung: I would love some tacos. Is there Mexican food around here?

Staffer: I don't know, I haven't had tacos yet since I've been here.

Chung: They have a lot of good Spanish places around here.

Me: What do they usually get you?

Chung: Like regular hotel food, like steak and chicken.

Staffer: You want some tacos, some barbecue.

Chung: I want some enchiladas.

Staffer: Yeah, are you an enchiladas guy?

Chung: I love enchiladas. They've got to be good, though. They can't be like —

Staffer: — Yeah, anything that's sort of messy it has to be really good.

Chung: Yeah, the meat has to be good.

5:14 p.m. CT

Chung: Is it 5:15 yet?

Me: 5:14.

Chung: Fuck it, I'm out.