Thursday, February 08, 2007

Super Bowl XLI - Full House

McHenry, MD -- 2/4/07

Bob Saget knows what he's talking about. Seriously.

For those of you who don't watch How I Met Your Mother on Monday's, and if you don't have DVR, I don't blame you (24, Prison Break, Heroes, Studio 60 - that lineup is tough to crack). There are some valuable lessons to learn, and not just from the former Doogie Howser. The end of each episode includes a moral-of-the-story narrative from the former Danny Tanner, and this week, his prose seemed apropos for my Super Sunday blog:

"I don't remember who won. Hell, I don't even remember who played. What I do remember is that we drank beer, we ate wings, and we watched the Super Bowl together."

See. Bob Saget knows what he's talking about. Save for the people of Indiana, Ill., the crowd at the Mandalay Bay sports book, Reggie Wayne's geometry teacher and one proud relative of Adewale Ogunleye from Staten Island, the Super Bowl is not just about the game. It's about good friends, five-layer nacho dip and an unparalleled anticipation for commercial breaks.

For the fourth year in a row, I made the trek to the far reaches of Western Maryland, in what could technically be called 'Steeler Country', and spent Super Bowl weekend in a cabin at Wisp Mountain. A weekend full of frigid wind chills, poker chips, potato chips and potato wedges. Homemade potato wedges, I might add. My friend Cantor (I'll use last names since there were two Jason's in the house) and I pulled up chairs to the table and started cutting potatoes around 4:00 in a scene reminiscent of the back room at Satriale's in The Sopranos.

By 6:00 the afore mentioned nacho dip was gone, the SalesGenie.Com Pre-Game Show came to an end (seriously,, our three-quarter pound old-bay infused burgers were on the grill and we were ready for some football! Or at least another 35 minutes of pre-game. The opening segment was impressive, with vignettes from around the country showing friends and family of Bears and Colts players offering their support, with the top performance going to Julius Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. The brother of Bears running back, Thomas Jones, did sport a Bears jersey in the video, however, when the list of all time great Bear 'backs was being recited, he chimed in nicely with a salute to his Cowboy predecessor, Emmitt Smith. Coincidently, Emmitt also made a brief appearance on How I Met Your Mother, but his appeal seemed to be equal parts football and dance.

The pre-game festivities continued in Miami with Gloria Estefan, an obvious choice. Not so obvious - the Ostrich dancers from Cirque De Soleil. Even more surprising, Solomon Wilcots interviewing Brain Urlacher on the field moments before kickoff. Something tells me Urlacher wasn't pleased with that press request.

As it came time for Sherman (Jason No. 2) to flip the burgers, the first of the real Super Bowl commercials came on - a party at Chad Johnson's house for the NFL Network. Apparently Chad has friends in high places with the likes of Martha Stewart, LL Cool J, Reggie Bush, Janet Reno, Jimmy Fallon, and the kid from Two and Half Men all enjoying the game. My favorite line, however, was delivered by the guy talking to David Beckham, who upon learning that Becks was using the 'I play football in LA' gimmick at the party, tells him that it might be tough in this crowd, but "I like the angle." Speaking of which, the second-best line of the day was the tagline for the Combos commercial, "What your mom would feed you if your mom was a man." How do you sell that to a client?

Time for the kickoff. Two words - Devin Hester. One more word - peak. As in the game, my weekend, the NFL season and Jim Nantz all peaked as Hester ran past Adam Vinateri on his way to scoring the first-ever opening kick for a touchdown in Super Bowl history. Of course it was the second such accomplishment in a month in a championship football game as Ted Ginn Jr. preempted Hester in the BCS title game in January. Unfortunately for both speedsters, their ultimate highlight will simply serve as a dramatic opening to their opponents' Championship DVDs.

The rest of the game felt soggy, mostly because the rain drops on the cameras never seemed to go away. I know I'm still a television production novice, but even I carry lens cleaner on the field. I don't know if HD cameras are impervious to aloe, but a Kleenex might have been useful. Of course the stormy weather played havoc with the action on the field as well with six turnovers in the first half. But, the biggest turnover was yet to come.

And I'm not talking about Oprah deciding to appear in a commercial with David Letterman, although that was weird. I am of course describing the Rex Grossman interception returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. And now here comes my Ravens reference for the day. Tell me that didn't look exactly like the pick Peyton through to Ed Reed when No. 20 was ruled out of bounds before beginning his run-back. How come CBS, Tony Corrente, and the rest of the football-watching world gave Kelvin Hayden a chance to return it for a touchdown? The only clean camera in the stadium managed to get a close up of his feet tip toeing around the sideline before taking off for the score. The play stood as called, but at least it was called that way. If only.

As I mentioned before, the game loses some of its luster when surrounded by the pageantry of Super Bowl Sunday. The halftime show and commercial onslaught tend to overpower the senses during the game and this year provided a few key memorable moments.

I don't know what it means that my favorite part of the Prince performance was his 30-second Foo Fighters cover, but I think it has something to do with not liking Prince and really liking Foo Fighters. My recommendation to the NFL is to actually get Dave Grohl and the boys to play in Arizona next year. But that's just me.

This year was also the year of consumer generated content. CGC for those in the know. Two Doritos commercials, one for Chevy, and a highly touted spot for the NFL were all written way off Madison Avenue, and pretty far away from O'Donnell Street as well. The results were surprisingly good and the Doritos 'Cheesy' spot even made a few top ten lists.

Of course the 'trained professionals' still had their say and featured such 'stars' as Kevin Federline (for Nationwide), Mapasaurus (for Garmin), and some poor soul labeled Turkey Neck (for FedEx). Special effects experts also shared the stage with some spectacular graphics for Coke's Grand Theft Auto reincarnation and Don Shula and Jay-Z's 21st century game of magnetic football. That was pretty cool and would look great next to those Ravens recliners we saw for sale in Miami.

As the fourth quarter wore down, the poker chips came out, and my friends awoke from their burger-induced coma. Although the game was coming to an end, the weekend still had a few hours left and I had to seek revenge on Marc, our host for the weekend, who pulled an 'eight' on the river the previous night to knock me out of our game. And even though we expected the Colts to win on Sunday, we were committed to the immortal words of Mr. Saget:

"Because sometimes, even if you know how something is going to end, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy the ride."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Super Bowl Week - Experience Necessary

Miami, FL -- 1/29/07.

Just when the scars of our playoff loss had started to heal, extenuating circumstances brought Lauryn and I to Miami, home of Super Bowl XLI, to rub a little sea salt in our wounds.

Unfortunately our Super Bowl experience was not exactly what we had hoped for all season. For starters, we found ourselves in South Florida a week before the football world converged on the Sunshine State. And on this trip there was no team plane. No police escorts. No lobster tail (I know – you feel real bad for us). All we had this week was a rented Chevy Cobalt and Google Maps to guide our way.

Despite the early arrival, the city and its surroundings were already bathed in aqua and orange. Airport signs, billboards on the highway, street banners along Collins Avenue, and Dolphins Stadium was covered in freshly minted Super Bowl signage. Not quite ‘a site for sore eyes’ but a scene sure to make any Ravens fans’ eyes sore.

As I mentioned, we were not in town for the game or the gorgeous weather. Although when I saw that MSNBC awarded Miami the distinction of ‘Best Weather in America’ on Saturday, I made sure to walk through the surf for at least a few minutes. Now Lauryn was attending an Editors Conference in Miami Beach and I followed her south after learning that my grandmother needed surgery (thankfully all is well so far). As you might imagine, my grandma doesn’t hit the clubs of South Beach the way she used to and spends her time strolling the shady walkways of her seniors-only community in Coconut Creek, which sits about 20 miles to the north of Fort Lauderdale. So as I wore a path in the Florida Turnpike each day and night, I had to pass by the epicenter of the NFL and the exit for ‘Stadium Parking’ way too often. A reoccurring reminder of ‘what-if’.

Of course the first thing I did when I received the keys to my shiny black Cobalt was find the ESPN affiliate on the radio. Colin Cowherd, Chris Mortensen, and a local duo dubbed ‘Dos Amigos’ filled me in on all things Super Bowl. The player’s schedules for the following week. The key match-ups to look for during the game. The current betting lines in Vegas for just about any Super statistic including, and I couldn’t make this up if I tried, the odds of the Colts scoring more points next Sunday than LeBron James. And if I heard correctly, I think LeBron was giving 3 points.

But the best bites on 790 The Ticket were the on-air promotions for the hottest tickets in town – to the Super Bowl parties. By the sounds of it, I think the faces of hip-hop will outnumber Players Inc. by the time the week is up. Listen to this line-up of party hosts and headliners:

Snoop Dogg and Kid Capri at the appropriately titled, Mansion, with admission rumored at $1,000 per person. Hootie & the Blowfish and a pre-game tune up from Prince at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Jenny McCarthy and Carmen Electra will be hosting a party together. Seriously, both of them. Shaquille O’Neal, who promised white tigers at his event to try to top the camels he invited to his last soiree. Hugh Hefner, whose extra extravagant extravaganzas are typically billed as the most exclusive ticket during Super Bowl week – and that includes the little game they play on Sunday. Although Hef may have truly outdone himself with a mid-week promotion that allows lucky fans to challenge a playmate on Playstation 3. A Super Sunday brunch with Dick Butkus. And the party to top all parties, a South Beach bash featuring two of the town’s titanic couples, Beyonce and Jay-Z, with J-Lo and Marc Anthony.

However, the nightlife won’t be the only event on the beach this week as Lummus Park plays host to the NFL Network and ESPN’s tent city, so you can be sure to catch SportsCenter live from Ocean Drive all week, not to mention Mike & Mike, PTI, probably Bassmasters and the Denny’s PBA Bowling Tour as well. I mean if you work at ESPN, you have to find a way to get to the Super Bowl, right? The grand stage was already set up as of Sunday morning, but none of the on-air talent was in sight just yet. I’ll have to catch up with Rachel Nichols another time.

From the world of marketing, Motorola is apparently sponsoring the entire beach as there were more promotional stands featuring the big ‘M’ along the shores than foot showers. Each stand highlighted an NFL star from the season including one of our own, Steve McNair. Obviously Steve would have liked to stroll under the palms in person, but at least his presence will be felt on the corner of 10th and Deco all week long.

The famous drive was also the sight of the 5th Annual Miami Marathon and Half Marathon this weekend. For reasons I’ve yet to understand, Lauryn enjoys the thrill of running for hours at a time and her friend Katie joined her for an early morning jog around the city. They decided 13 miles was enough for one day, but they picked the right path as the trail took them over the bay, along Ocean, and back around to American Airlines Arena. Of course I was in charge of the driving and photography, but luckily the clubs of South Beach finally calm down around 6AM so parking was easy.

Our last trip up the Turnpike was stopped short as we were finally pulled in by the force field surrounding the Stadium. The parking lots served as the site for The NFL Experience and with a few hours before our flights, we thought we would complete the ultimate tease weekend with a walk around the NFL’s playland.

The NFL Experience is geared towards two distinct target audiences: kids and the kids inside their parents. Children can attempt field goals, throw passes, catch passes, run the 40, pose with the Super Bowl trophy, take photos with shoulder pads on, meet players, get autographs, learn the history of the league, and even learn to cheer like a pro. Parents, well, they seemed to be doing the same exact things, along with another event just for adults that I like to call merchandise madness. Between the NFL Shop and the Topps Football Card Show, the souvenir supply showed no signs of running low. Now I’ve been accused of buying sports memorabilia simply manufactured to appear special, but everything inside the NFL Shop could have been considered commemorative as all products sported an official Super Bowl logo. The winner for most unnecessary commemorate piece of clothing – the Super Bowl XLI bikini. The most tempting item on the floor – the team couches and recliners that you thought only existed in the NFL Shop commercials. How cool would it be to have a Ravens couch with two Ravens recliners in your basement? We were tempted.

Of course just about everything else came with a Bears and/or Colts logo embedded on it. I can’t imagine the scene inside the printing presses of the NFL’s suppliers last Sunday. As soon as Tom Brady was intercepted with a minute to go, the factories must have loaded the coal for a long week of working the line.

As we left the tents to head back to the airport, we were definitely ready to leave, but also felt like we were leaving so much behind. A chance to party with Snoop, beat Miss December in Madden, our purple and black couch, and the opportunity to bare witness to one of the 41 most important sporiting events in history. The Super Bowl truly is a spectacle and now the wait till next year drags on even longer. We’ve had a taste for the Experience and it taste likes salt.