The media day crowd chanted "Deion! Deion!" as Deion Sanders walked in front of the stands at the SAP Center. Sanders walked right past and didn't acknowledge them. If it was a snub, the crowd didn't give a damn.
Super Bowl media day may be the stupidest thing that the NFL hypes up every year, which is saying a lot given its close proximity to the Pro Bowl. Players get shelled by too many people asking too many questions and often retreat behind bad soundbites. Or they talk to someone who's there just to have a goof, maybe a Mexican station using a hand puppet to host the interview. Much of it isn't substantive.
But media day is absolutely fun, especially because it's so un-NFL like. It's the one event that the league can't even try to control. Go to media day and you'll see reporters jockeying in front of other reporters to talk to a No. 4 receiver. You'll see players horsing around when no one's trying to talk to them. You'll see television personalities drop their smiles the moment cameras shut off and suddenly looking like the human in the middle of a work day that they are.
You'll actually see Deion Sanders look kind of grumpy for a second, which is more revealing than the hours you already know he can spend appearing upbeat and personable.
There are people who like to open things up and poke at the guts. They become watch makers and autopsy technicians. Those people paid $30 to sit in the stands at media day. They couldn't hear anything, but if they could it wouldn't have been the best part of their three hours. Players -- especially Panthers players -- would finish interviews then turn and twirl commemorative towels to hype up the crowd. Sometimes they'd run to the stands and sign photos and helmets above the head of an attendant using her wingspan to keep fans from stepping out onto the interview floor.
Fans came from the Bay Area, mostly. There were a lot of 49ers jerseys, perhaps more than Broncos jerseys, and way more than Panthers jerseys. They showed up to just ... gawk. They started chants apropos of nothing. They were occasionally successful in goading athletes to the stands. They said they'd come back if they could.
They're paying to peer into a fishbowl, but it's a nice fish bowl, and a nicer experience than paying, say, $100 to watch the Lions from the 120th row. It's an angle you can't get on TV, and an atmosphere untouched by PA announcers and NOISE chryons. It feels natural.
Not that the boardroom-approved fun hasn't crept in. There was a band playing pop covers before everything started and a pair of emcees who were mostly out of sight when players were actually talking. It's nice to think that the NFL can't completely ruin the fun unless it changes the essence of the event.
Hopefully it doesn't realize what a good thing it has, a few hours where everyone acknowledges how big and absurd the Super Bowl is. Players are usually stuck in rooms for MEDIA ONLY. Fans usually can't even watch from afar. When the two groups mingle in an environment where they're not necessarily supposed to mingle, it feels like something forbidden is happening, creating a backdraft of energy.
Later in the session, an Austrian sports reporter and former skier, Phillip Hajszan -- dressed in a skisuit -- asked a Broncos lineman to sing the lyrics to a traditional Austrian song about skiing in German. He's been a media day fixture for five years now.
"He was really good," Hajszan. "I think it's a really difficult language even if you are from Austria, so from what I heard that was just great."
Media day doesn't do anyone much good if "good" is defined as "productive." But it unwittingly helps a league that struggles to be personable, even if it's by letting the world see how impersonal it is behind the scenes. Sports are still silly and often a waste of time, something that's easily observed watching Very Serious media members do their jobs next to the Broncos' cheerleading leprechaun.
This was the season of bad refereeing, meh games and Greg Hardy still playing in the NFL. Through it all, we ended up with the two best teams, both with some of the most likable players in the league. This league can be a drag sometimes, especially when it chooses the lens through which we see it. Media day is the flaw, and humanity peeks out.