MINNEAPOLIS – I’ve been doing this a long time now. 16 years, all over the country, covering events big and small…I thought I’d seen it all. On the smaller end, I’ve worked minor league and college events with a few dozen people in the stands. At the bigger end of the spectrum? I’ve got the last five World Series, last six Stanley Cup Finals, the Daytona 500, a bunch of big UFC events and a lot of other big games under my belt since I started this career at the ripe old age of 20. It’s hard for me to find new experiences, it’s simply now working hard to get to repeat the old ones in a new setting. So, I’m not sure I was quite prepared for this week, when I flew into Minneapolis to work my second Super Bowl, and discovered that the media center was set up in a shopping mall. Of course, it isn’t just any mall, it’s the Mall of America, a 4.2 million square foot retail palace that takes the better part of a day to walk through. But still, seeing “radio row” set up in the middle of the food court was a bit jarring to say the least. For example, last year, the media center in Houston was in a convention center, and it made for a far more intimate setting even if there were still plenty of fans around. Here? Between the crush of people shopping at the mall who don’t care about football and the thousands of media who have descended into town for the event, it’s been difficult to make your away around sometimes. With that said, this has been an amazing week. Growing up back home in New Jersey, I never thought I’d go to a Super Bowl. When I started my career, I never thought I’d get to cover one. So, to now be working my second straight means a lot…in my opinion, with the possible exception of the Olympics, there’s nothing bigger you can do in this profession than work this game – and the week leading up to it, of course – and it’s all a nice reminder that all of the hard work it took to get here was worth it.
Celebrity sightings? I’ve heard about far more than I’ve actually seen myself. My Uber driver met Kevin Hart. I’ll have to settle for waiting outside the mall next to Cleveland Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas. While there are plenty of events and parties that go with the game itself, I’ve kept myself focused on work; I covered the Minnesota Wild game Friday night and will work the Minnesota Timberwolves game on Saturday night. There’s certainly plenty of fun to be had – I made it a point to find the original “Jucy Lucy” burger while I was up here – but this isn’t the time of year where work should just stop.
Keeping your eyes on the prize is important for everyone involved. Of course, the grind continues for the two teams here, the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles made it to Minnesota in somewhat improbable fashion, recovering from the devastating loss of Carson Wentz to rally behind Nick Foles in getting to the big game; they defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, preventing the first ever “home game” at the Super Bowl…so much for a “purple reign,” although there are rumors of halftime performer Justin Timberlake having a Prince hologram next to him on stage. As for New England…well, of course they made it. Tom Brady led the Patriots to the AFC Championship Game for an incredible seventh straight season, and they came back to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars to advance to the Super Bowl for the 8th time in the “Brady Era” and tenth appearance overall. The Patriots have been here before, and it shows. From the demands of the week with media requests, tickets and the extra week of preparation to the actual game itself, New England showed a cool, calm and collected approach throughout the week. While much has been made of the Eagles defense, it’s hard to bet against TB12 and company this time of year, with their first-hand knowledge of what it takes to succeed. I expect a close game, but I’ll take Brady and the Patriots in a 27-17 win over the Eagles on Sunday.