Media's bizarre feast: Take it with a grain of salt

January 21, 2001|By John Eisenberg

FOR THE RAVENS, who are about to descend into the Roman circus that is Super Bowl week, the game won't be the hard part.

Getting to the game will be the hard part.

Surviving a dance with 2,000 reporters and a week of the kind of unrelenting worldwide scrutiny normally reserved for heads of state.

A week of hype, absurdity and a 30-second version of your life story served up on a platter for an elephantine media horde, including everything from shock jocks to barn animals.

I have followed a donkey wearing press credentials up an escalator on my way to a Super Bowl interview session.

I have watched an ESPN anchor try to ask a player a question while being interviewed by a German television crew that was being filmed by a Japanese television crew.

I have listened, with my own ears, as Doug Williams was asked, "Have you always been a black quarterback?"

I have watched, with my own eyes, as a reporter asked Jim Plunkett, "Is it [your] mother dead, father blind, or the other way around?"

The game itself is easy. It's just football. Getting to the game is the trick for teams that reach the Super Bowl. Getting through a week of lights-in-your-face interrogation that's mostly harmless, but not for the squeamish, surly, defensive or anyone with anything in their past they would rather not bring up.

Such as Ray Lewis.

As everyone knows, the Ravens' All-Pro linebacker was up on a double-murder charge last year and ultimately pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.

Anyone who believes the league is pleased that he is in the Super Bowl just months after that ordeal is delusional. So is anyone who thinks Lewis can get through the coming week without hearing far tougher and more personal questions than he has fielded on the matter so far.

Typical question Lewis is liable to hear this week: "Come on, Ray, didn't you get off easy?"

Art Modell might not care for the tone of his interview sessions, either. The Ravens' owner loves a stage and can't wait to get on it, but an ambush awaits in those who still vilify him for moving the Browns out of Cleveland.

Typical question Modell is liable to hear: "Art, how can you sleep knowing you make people in Cleveland physically ill?"

And what about Trent Dilfer? The Ravens' quarterback is this year's Super personality everyone loves to diss.

Typical question Dilfer is liable to hear: "Trent, you stink. Any thoughts about that?"

Actually, what is written and said after the interviews probably will be rougher than what is asked in person. That's often the case.

And make no mistake, the Ravens have just as many folks who should shine in the spotlight. A week of his fat-guy "Sopranos" schtick could land Tony Siragusa a network TV job. Shannon Sharpe will fill enough notebooks to save a forest. Insiders are betting that outspoken Chris McAlister will guarantee a win by Wednesday and make the back pages of the New York tabloids with some outrageous pronouncement by Friday.

And of course, a week at the lectern in front of a captive audience is Brian Billick's vision of heaven.

But it could be a long week for Lewis, Modell and Dilfer, and also for the Ravens' fans, who might just spontaneously combust out of mounting frustration if they hear and read enough of the boilerplate, smart-aleck comments circulating in the national media about this being a "boring" Super Bowl between undeserving teams.

For what it's worth, here's some advice for everyone, from the fans to the players, before the madness begins: Don't take it seriously. Just remember the vision of a donkey wearing press credentials riding up an escalator. That's the essence of Super Bowl week, which has become a parody of itself, the world's largest hot air festival more than a place for anything resembling serious sports journalism.

Try to remember that for Baltimore, the Ravens and the fans, the memories of the events of the coming week will last a lifetime, but for many of those asking the questions and issuing the opinions, the memories will last, oh, at least until the next time they get to go out of town on an expense account.

It's far more important to you than to them, in other words. This is your life. They're just passing though. So try not to take it all personally. Try to remember that the Super Bowl is a cartoon that begs for belittlement no matter who is playing, as outsized and ridiculous as it has become.

Try to remember what Dilfer, more than anyone, seems to have figured out. Somehow, while taking grief for six years in Tampa, he has learned to handle it. The guy should teach a class on how to field tough questions with grace and humor. Did you hear him talking about Billick's coaching skills after the AFC title game? "It's easy to scheme [offensively] with Randy Moss and Cris Carter on your team," Dilfer said, "but it's hard to scheme with Trent Dilfer as your quarterback." Ba-dum-bum!

Lewis can't joke in the same way about what he has experienced in the past year, of course. There's nothing funny about it. And he shouldn't be surprised to hear a reprise of the kind of detailed questions that came up during the trial.

"The key is to keep Ray from getting frustrated," said Sharpe, a two-time Super Bowl champ who knows what's coming.

Typical question Lewis might hear: "Ray, didn't you know those guys had bought knives?"

But then that will be followed by: "Ray, would you like to say a word of greeting to all the football fans in Pakistan?"

That's Super Bowl week. Lunacy. Sensory overload. A two-second attention span. A big goof before the big game.

You don't beat it. You just survive it. The football at the end is recess by comparison.

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