Dr Z
Sunday February 3rd, 2008

I know I'm tired because because when I typed Super Bowl Diary as the slug at the top of this thing, it came out Super owl Diary, and I was so wasted that I didn't catch the typo. I was made aware that something was up when I caught The Flaming Redhead tee-heeing.

"Oh yes, news from the Super Owl," she cackles. "Leave it that way. It's much better."

Actually this is a playoff diary because I want to do a slight inclusion of my Green Bay trip, so I can get a quick zinger in on the airlines, which one should attack at every opportunity. But more on that, Media Day and the Hall of Fame later.

This morning as Super Bowl Sunday dawned the whole landscape changed. The story that broke out of Boston, that the Patriots had taped the Rams' walkthrough before the 2002 Super Bowl, places the whole event under suspicion. Cheat in a Super Bowl? I mean, it's one thing to get caught cheating at the beginning of the regular season, but to take it to the biggest arena of all? Wow, this puts the whole thing under a cloud.

How shallow it makes the entire promotion seem, the parties, the endless hype, the reams of copy devoted to the magnificence of the unbeaten Patriots. Of course there might be nothing to the story, but still, suspicion hangs over this game like some deadly fog. It makes everything we've read all week, all the stories we've gathered ourselves, seem like the ultimate in hypocrisy. It puts the league itself under suspicion and brings the commissioner, Roger Goodell, into sharper focus for his failure to answer the question of why, indeed, he destroyed the Spygate tapes earlier this season. This was the major news angle that came out of his Friday presentation, which still left the matter unanswered, in my opinion.

If the Spygate II story is correct, then the Patriots have blinded a lot of people in their devious march to immortality.

Speaking of devious, the airline that used to be my favorite now practices the Evil Arts of lying along with the rest of them.

"Can't take off while it's snowing," was the cheery announcement accounting for our delay getting out of Newark en route to Green Bay for the Giants-Packers game. I saw a few raindrops. No snow. The delay set up a four-and-a-half hour major league delay when I blew my Milwaukee-to-Green Bay connection. The delay coming back, via the same route, was only three and a half hours because of heavy snow and two de-icing stops.

"Wow, a double lie," I thought, which came only six lies short of my all-time lying flight. They certainly could, and did, take off in snow, and it hadn't actually been snowing the first time. You always expect the worst and you're never disappointed. That's air travel. But you've got your own problems, right?

No such problems traveling to Phoenix, although Little Jake, our once-feral tabby, broke my heart by latching onto the inside of the suitcase, not letting me pack it, in a desperate effort to keep us from leaving. We are not inhuman. Jake has good company while we are gone. She gets brushed, fed, watered, although her beloved outdoors is denied her for the duration of the trip.

Our first meal in Phoenix, right off the plane, was in one of the Redhead's old hangouts, La Pinata. Now as for me, a New York City boy, a Mexican restaurant is a Mexican restaurant, but Linda grew up in Phoenix, see, and she explained to me the nuances and varieties of the cuisine in a numbing litany. There's Arizona Mex and Tex Mex and Mix Mex and Sex Mex and Messmex and I can say that La Piñata was delicious, leaning heavily toward the melted cheese in almost everything, plus Margaritas that actually presented the stirrings of something alcoholic. Usually these things strike me as mere fruit juice concoctions people try to con you into believing pack a real wallop.

Next day we did a quick tour of her old haunts. Central Ave., the main drag, was ripped down the seam for miles and miles, to make room for something called the Light Rail. You don't drive it. It's like negotiating a shallow crater. Phoenicians aren't happy about their city being presented in such chaotic fashion.

"It's like the lady you invited over for Thanksgiving dinner showing up with curlers in her hair," says the Redhead. You are fooled by the hype and the roster of parties and the forced hysteria, but between you and me, the people of Phoenix would be just as happy if this event never showed up. At least that's what was relayed to me by Linda's family and friends, who have to live here once the glitter has worn off.

Monday dawned fresh and clear. Fluffy clouds, a pleasant breeze, temperature in the mid-60's. "You get maybe four or five a days a year like this here," the Redhead says. Some people complain about the cold. "Can you imagine?" says Linda, who sweated through plenty of 115-degree days before I came to take her away.

At breakfast I meet some sports legends. The Celadrin Tigerettes of Livingston, La., whooping it up at the next table. They are the New England Patriots of Senior Women's Basketball. Nikki, Mavis and Wanda just returned from the triumphant Senior Olympics. Youngest Tigerette, 60. Haven't lost a game in three years. Record of 254-3 under the corporate sponsorship of Celadrin "for joint flexability and pain relief," the pain caused by the old gals laying a few hits on people.

"We're on our way to play the CBS anchors!" Wanda hollers at me. "Some kind of slow-moving local team?" I ask. "No, honey!" she hollers, and kapow! I get one on the back. "The anchormen from the TV station." I wish them luck.

The newspapers remind you that the hype has started for real. Dirty play is an early angle. New England LT Matt Light, strong safety Rodney Harrison, of course. Somebody on the Giants accused, can't remember who. Plaxico Burress predicting a 23-17 Giants victory. Oh, my. For God's sake, don't let 'em near each other right now or it'll be bloody.

Am I really getting too old for this? Who knows?

I run into Jerry Kramer in the press lounge. Instant Replay, Ice Bowl, the post-and-drive block, along with Kenny Bowman on Jethro Pugh, for the winning TD, Packers over Cowboys, in the '67 championship, remember? Hey, one question, podnah. If the Patriots win, my follow-up angle will be a historical look at dynasties, so can you tell me, please, which team in the Lombardi dynasty was the greatest? Got to be '62, right, with 11 Hall of Famers?

"Nope, '67's the one I always had a spot in my heart for," he said. "We didn't have the best personnel. Our guys were getting older, but we just had something special. We had to go 65 yards. Our last 10 possessions, 31 plays, had gained nine yards, and now we had to go 65 in four and a half minutes. What in the world would possess you to think you could go all that way when you hadn't done anything?

"One time we had a second-and-18. Chuck Mercein had missed a block on Willie Townes, and he threw Donnie Anderson for an eight-yard loss on a sweep. Then Mercein came back to the huddle and told Bart (Starr), 'When I swing out the linebacker's dropping back.' So Bart threw to him and picked up 19. That's the kind of drive it was.

"I knew we reached down for something ... I really didn't know what we were reaching for. A piece of Lombardi, I guess."

Press day at the stadium Tuesday. I arrive at the field just in time to catch the day's dramatic highlight. In the shadow of Tom Brady's podium a member of SAFE Security is tearing a soccer ball away from an anchorwoman from Mexico City's TV Azteca named Ines Sainz, who wanted to work some soccer-football gimmick with the Patriots. Ines Sainz ... Innocence ... get it? Is this a clever play on words or an accident? I never get to find out because the confiscation of the soccer ball, "for security reasons," has taken center stage.

"I feel so much safer now," I tell the security guy, whose name reads Ford and is as big as one.

"Where you from again?" he asks me. I tell him, "Soccer World." The look he gives me says, "Oh, brother, if only there weren't all these people around ..."

If Joseph Conrad were covering this event, his last scene would have the dying Kurtz muttering, through tortured lips, "The hype, The hype." The Arizona Republic is my favorite hype machine. First I've got to tell you this story of why I love the Republic so much, why it's so close to my heart.

A few years ago I attended a New York tasting of the new vintage wines, sponsored by the Interprofessional Council of Bordeaux. I had gotten Linda in as the photographer for the Republic. The PR ladies who made up the name tags all were French. They asked me where Linda was from and I said, "Arizona Republic." So they made up a tag and pinned it on her.

As we made the rounds, I noticed that people were looking at her and smiling. I hadn't bothered to look at her tag. Finally I did when we got home. It said, BAZUNA REPUBLIC. She had worn it all afternoon. Ah yes, that great emerging nation somewhere on the Ivory Coast. So now the Redhead and I always refer to the paper as The Bazuna.

It's packed with stuff. Every issue has its share of interview features called Five Minutes With. Fred Robbins. "What was it like at 0-2?" Donte Stallworth. "Tennessee offered more money but you went to New England anyway ... "

And then: BUNCH OF QUESTIONS FOR BRADY The Ankle (three questions). "It's feeling better every day." The Pains of Celebrity (five questions). "With everything in life there's a little bit of give and take."

Five Minutes With ... Napoleon ... Francis Scott Key ... Frankenstein. ("Drinking through a straw ain't easy.")

Tom Coughlin is at the podium during the Giants' press day.

"What do you before every game? Do you have any superstitions?"

"No, not really."

Oh, man, what he could have done with this kind of question, if only he had a sense of humor. Please, God, some day give me a shot at something like this.

"Oh, nothing much, except for that dead chicken I bury at the 50-yard line every week."

I'm not as a writer, supposed to root for a team. And I won't. Except ... except ... an awful lot of publications already have their Dynasty Edition ready to run, predicated on a Patriot victory. And wouldn't it just be hilarious if ... no, no rooting. Sorry I even brought it up.

I ran into Don Shula this morning. He was telling somebody about Dick Butkus. "He forced six turnovers in a game I coached against him. Tony Lorick carries the ball into the line, next thing I know Butkus is running the other way with the ball and scoring. Stole it right out of his hands."

He sees me and stops and points a finger. I know what he's going to say. I beat him to it.

"Bob Kuechenberg," I say. "I'll try, coach. I'll try again. As hard as can."

I've been trying to get Kooch into the Hall of Fame for the last 10 years or so. Speeches, charts, anything I could do. Nothing worked for the great left guard on Shula's unbeaten team. And now the Hall of Fame selection meeting was half an hour away.

I failed again. Kooch made it to the final 10 and then perished on the road to the remaining five. I had made a speech on his behalf. It met with the usual result. The day before, I had run into ex-Dolphins Larry Little and Garo Yepremian in the lobby of the hotel.

"You know the biggest thing Kooch has going against him?" Little said.

"Yeah," I said. "You."

"That's right, me." First Jim Langer, the center, had made the Hall of Fame, then Little, the right guard. There are selectors who would suffer the torments of Hell before they'd elect the entire middle three from a single team.

"It's killing me that I'm keeping Kooch out of there," Little said.

Aside from that, I wasn't too unhappy about the outcome of Saturday's balloting. As an old AFC man, I liked the fact that Andre Tippett got in. He had been the long shot. I figured they'd take only two out of the four edge rushers on the card, and that's what happened, but I thought Derrick Thomas certainly would be one of them. He wasn't. Neither was Richard Dent, whom I considered the second most likely. Instead they chose Fred Dean to accompany Tippett.

As an old Niner fan who rejoiced in their first Super Bowl triumph, I was excited that Dean made it. Screwed royally, financially, by the Chargers, he found a home in San Francisco, where Bill Walsh was intrigued by him. He was undersized as a 230-pound DE, but overgifted in the speed department, which timed out at 4.48.

"I've watched him carefully in games," the coach once told me. "All of a sudden it dawned on me what he was doing. 'He's playing cat and mouse.' Setting his guy up for the one big play. And then when he had him just right, whom! Here come the jets."

Darrell Green was a slam dunk first ballot choice. Gary Zimmerman, the tackle, generated a lot of late support. He was a great technician, a textbook left tackle. Personally, I prefer a tackle with more punch ... Zimmerman was a nifty-footed glider ... but I can't deny him his right to belong. Art Monk making it instead of fellow wideout Cris Carter surprised me, but for the first tine in nine years, I had been in Monk's corner.

My theory was that it was enough already. How many times could we carry on the same debate? How many times could we keep turning him down? I had broken. "Let's just put him in so we can get him out of the room and end the debate," was my brief speech, which you may think was the epitome of off-handedness, but maybe it helped swing the election.

It is now late in the pregame PM before Super Bowl XLII. The downtown area, where our hotel is located, is as dead as I've ever seen any fairly mainstream set of streets on the eve of the Super Bowl. All the action is in Scottsdale I am told, the endless round of parties. For $1500 to $2500 you can look through the glass outside the VIP room in Hugh Hefner's Playboy Party and "watch and gawk" while he courts celebrities inside.

For $350 you can stake out a patch of parking lot at the Fairgrounds, 10 miles away from the stadium, and have a tailgate party and then watch the game on TV in your RV. It's called Super Gate '08.

Anyone with a name you've remotely heard of in the last 50 years has been signed, tagged and rented, with a party affiliation attached. Some of then have been sublet.

Kindly tune in to someone else's web site to get up to date information. I am Joe Square, Dr. Nerd, when it comes to pre-game socializing. I am buggy about the game, itching to create new and better charts, strenuously trying to devoid myself of all extraneous baggage as I stand poised on the brink of this event. Adios and see you in 24 hours.

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