FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- One of the things about getting older is you get used to things. I'm not saying jaded. I'm a big believer that you have to try very hard in life to not get jaded. But you do get used to things. Take the Super Bowl. This is my 13th Super Bowl. I've had one more Super Bowl than wedding anniversary. Whatever that means.
Well, one thing it means is I've seen all this before. Many times. And after a while, it all just begins to feel ... normal. The hype. The absurdity. The ridiculous questions. The cliché answers. Normal. At my first Super Bowl, one of the big questions to players was this: "How are you dealing with the Super Bowl hype?" As time went on, the question turned on itself: "How are you dealing with all the questions about the Super Bowl hype?" And now, the question has added another layer: "How will you be dealing with the hype of media day where people will ask you about how you are dealing with the hype of the Super Bowl?"
It's only a matter of time before people ask how players are dealing with the questions about the questions about the questions about the questions.
That's OK to me, though. It seems to me that when you name a game "Super Bowl" and place Roman Numerals after it and bring back The Who from the crypt to play halftime, you are pretty much letting everyone know in advance that you consider this a pretty big game. Hype is part of the Super Bowl just like sensory overload is part of a trip to Las Vegas and the "It's a Small World" song is part of the "It's a Small World" ride at Disney World. If you're going to write about the Super Bowl, you better embrace the hype.
What's not OK to me, though, is that after being at a few of these Super Bowls, it's easy to lose the thrill of it all. You can't help it. Media day loses its weirdness. The back and forth banter loses its charm. The hype loses its hype. I remember the first time I went to a Super Bowl banquet hall press conference. You probably know that every Wednesday and Thursday of Super Bowl week, they will rent out these giant banquet halls and they will get every player from each team and put them at a table somewhere in the hall. And then -- seriously -- they will give reporters treasure maps* so they will know where to find the players we want. It's like journalism and an Easter Egg hunt all at once.*
*I have always thought they should make these maps really complicated so we have to solve Da Vinci Code type puzzles in order to figure out where, say, Jeff Saturday is sitting. So far, they haven't done it that way, but I hope.
Anyway, the first time I went into one of these banquet halls, I thought it was just about the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Here were all the players and all the coaches, each one with his own story, his own journey, his own feelings about playing in the biggest game in American sports. I was just blown away.
And, to be honest, I don't get the same feelings walking into that banquet hall now. This is probably because I have been in the Super Bowl banquet hall so many times I understand that, yes, they all HAVE their own stories and journeys and feelings. But they mostly SAY the same things, which includes how:
1. It's a dream come true.2. They have to treat this like any other game.3. They have a lot of friends who want tickets.4. They will take it one play at a time.5. They will find time to enjoy the moment.6. They have the ultimate respect for their opponent.7. They think they will win.
Virtually everything said in the banquet hall will fall under one of those seven categories. And so, yes, it's so easy to get used to the banquet hall press conferences, to grow deaf to the same quotes, to get exhausted by Super Bowl week. But, I think that's dangerously close to becoming jaded. And that's not good.
So, this year, I am taking the quotes very seriously. I am writing down every single thing I hear, whether I think it's interesting or not. I am reading every single quote sheet.* I am going to try to see this game with the same wonder I felt when I went to my first Super Bowl.
*There have been 103 ... and counting.
And so this is the plan: Friday, I will write a Super Bowl XLIV column with XLIV quotes in it. And today, in honor of The Nails' classic song "88 Lines about 44 Women," I am offering LXXXVIII lines about XLIV Super Bowl.
If nothing else, this should give all the people too busy to follow the Super Bowl something to talk about at the office on Friday.
1. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning always looks like he's changing plays at the line.
2. Many people think he's bluffing.
3. The Colts teammates insist he's not bluffing.
4. But those Colts teammates could be bluffing.
5. People in New Orleans have been inspired by the Saints.
6. The Saints insist it's the people of New Orleans who have inspired them.
7. It's like a big inspiration circle.
8. Saints coach Sean Payton is a mastermind at creating matchup problems.
9. This leads to the inevitable comparison between coaching football and playing chess.
10. In chess, though, it doesn't really help if you yell at your bishop.
11. Colts receiver Pierre Garcon is from Haitian descent.
12. This has led to many questions about the devastation and suffering in Haiti.
13. This is a very difficult line to walk. On the one hand, Garcon's heart obviously aches for Haiti and he hopes his Super Bowl performance can bring just a little bit of light into the terrible darkness. On the other hand, he's a football player playing a game; what can he say that will sound right when dealing with this sort of tragedy?
14. Still, the question keeps coming at him.
15. Colts coach Jim Caldwell seems like a very nice and very boring guy.
16. Colts tight end Dallas Clark went to Iowa as a walk-on linebacker.
17. As a junior, he won the John Mackey Award as America's best college tight end.
18. He then left for the NFL.
19. Dallas Clark has to be the only player in college football history to start as a walk-on and then leave school early to join the NFL.
20. The Saints want to cause turnovers.
21. The Colts want to cause turnovers.
22. You get the feeling neither team feels too confident in their ability to actually STOP the other teams offense. They need fumbles and interceptions.
23. The Super Bowl media center is only a couple of miles away from where Chris Evert learned how to play tennis.
24. People have underestimated Drew Brees all his life.
25. People are still underestimating him and this Saints team.
26. Brees likes being underestimated.
27. Special teams will play an important part in the game.
28. The offensive lines will play an important part in the game.
29. Defensive intensity will play an important part in the game.
30. Luck will play an important part in the game.
31. But good teams make their own luck.
32. Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney might not play because of a bad ankle.
33. Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney might surprise people and play even with the bad ankle.
34. The next 3,497 questions heard at the Super Bowl will revolve around Nos. 32 and 33.
35. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow did an anti-abortion commercial that will appear during the Super Bowl.
36. Many think Tebow will be flop in the NFL because of his flaws as a quarterback.
37. Many think Tebow will be an NFL star because of his competitiveness and athletic ability.
38. After the Freeney questions, the next 1,734 questions will revolve around Tebow.
39. Brees says that nobody ever came into the NFL with the expectations of Saints running back Reggie Bush.
40. Bush has not yet rushed for 600 yards in an NFL season.
41. Bush admits it's disappointing that he has not yet achieved stardom.
42. But after playoff run -- three touchdowns in two games -- he thinks he is on the brink.
43. The Who is playing at halftime.
44. Nobody seems to know if Pete Townshend will smash his guitar after the performance.
45. The guess seems to be that, yes, he will smash his guitar.
46. Townshend smashing his guitar at halftime of the Super Bowl will show you just how much of a cliche that tired bit of music rebellion has become.
47. The Colts cannot run the ball at all. They finished dead last in the NFL in rushing yards.
48. The Colts DO NOT run the ball. They were second-last in rushing attempts.
49. The Colts insist they will try to run the ball in the Super Bowl.
50. A few people suggest that the Saints defense "plays dirty."
51. The Saints' defenders insist that they do not play dirty at all.
52. The Saints prefer to call it "playing hard."
53. The Super Bowl Media Center is about three miles from the Swimming Hall of Fame.
54. Does Michael Phelps have to wait five years after his last Olympics to be eligible?
55. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said that his players need to hit Peyton Manning early and often.
56. Of course, EVERY defensive coordinator says that before the team plays the Colts.
57. Manning was sacked 10 times all year. He was sacked 14 times last year.
58. The Saints are probably not going to hit Peyton Manning a whole lot.
59. Colts coach Jim Caldwell seems like a very nice and very boring guy.
60. Oh, wait, I already said that.
61. Matt Stover at age 41 will kick for the Colts.
62. Matt Stover has never led the league in scoring.
63. But Matt Stover, over his career, is fourth all-time in the league in scoring.
64. The Saints offensive line won the Madden Most Valuable Protectors Award as the best offensive line in football.
65. The award was accepted by Saints great Archie Manning, which is striking on two counts.
66. One, Manning is, of course, the father of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
67. Two, Manning never got much offensive line protection in his Saints career.
68. Archie Manning was sacked 49 times in 13 Saints games in 1975.
69. Peyton Manning has been sacked 45 times the past three seasons. Combined.
70. This looks to be the last game for Colts legendary offensive line coach Howard Mudd.
71. Mudd was at the first Super Bowl as a fan.
72. Mudd has coached offensive lines for six NFL teams (seven if you count the Seahawks twice) going back 36 years.
73. He's been around so long, his official Colts' title is "Senior Offensive Line Coach."
74. This is the first time since 1993 that the No. 1 seed in both conferences will face each other in the Super Bowl.
75. People recite this stat mechanically. But doesn't it mean something? Doesn't it mean that being a No. 1 seed -- being the best team in your conference -- does not provide enough of an advantage come playoff time?
76. Saints receiver Marques Colston, at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, is expected to cause matchup headaches for the Colts.
77. Colston went to Hofstra and, perhaps because of that, was a seventh-round draft pick. He was chosen 252nd overall.
78. Don't you wonder: How do NFL teams who spend countless hours and millions of dollars scouting players -- and all desperately need big receivers who cause matchup problems -- miss players like Marques Colston?
79. The Saints players embrace that they're the underdog.
80. The Saints players insist that they're not the underdog.
81. The Colts players embrace that they're the favorite.
82. The Cols players insist that they're not the favorite.
83. Neither of these teams have played outdoors since the beginning of January.
84. Because of this, there has been way too much talk about the weather.
85. The weather right now looks like it will be 71 and sunny.
86. The highest-scoring Super Bowl was in 1994, when San Francisco beat San Diego 49-26.
87. The highest-scoring COMPETITIVE Super Bowl was 1978, when Pittsburgh beat Dallas 35-31.
88. There's every reason to believe and hope this will be the highest scoring competitive game in Super Bowl history.