INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Quick, Wes Welker, spell Bill Belichick. Hey, Osi Umenyiora, know any other Elis besides that Manning guy? Rob Gronkowski, what’s your favorite song by Madonna?
Not exactly challenging questions about Sunday’s Super Bowl between the New York Giants and New England Patriots. But that’s media day, the NFL’s annual version of the circus, minus the ringmaster.
With players and coaches penned into cubicles, mainstream reporters were joined Tuesday by a guy in a superhero costume, another in an old-time football uniform, kids with microphones and some women who wore dresses that left little to the imagination. They asked the Patriots and Giants anything that crossed their minds.
And we do mean anything.
“This is crazy, man. It’s crazy,” said Patriots safety Patrick Chung. “I’ve never seen anything like this ever.”
Actually, none of the players had. For the first time, the NFL let fans in on the act, too. For $25 — or more, for those who waited until the last minute to buy their tickets — fans could sit in the stands at the stadium and listen to the interviews over a headset.
“We can’t hear all of the questions, so we have to guess,” said Lee Clifford, who brought his sons, 10-year-old Ben and 8-year-old Nick. “I guess lots of people can get a pass to a media event.”
Even people who carry their own disco ball, as the camera crew from Telemundo did.
Media day has never been the stuff of Woodward and Bernstein.
But it’s gone from off-the-wall to downright goofy in recent years, the tipping point coming four years ago when a reporter from Mexico’s TV Azteca showed up in a wedding dress from a slasher movie in hopes of winning Tom Brady’s heart.
Imagine asking Vince Lombardi if he could name three Kardashians. Gronkowski actually did pretty well — he got Kim and Khloe right away, but needed a few more seconds to come up with Kourtney. Or getting John Elway to salsa dance, as New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz did with singer Ciara.
There were no brides or proposals for Brady this year, although the fashion-conscious QB did talk about having his nails painted.
“They were pretty easy on me,” Brady said when asked what it was like to grow up with three older sisters. “They dressed me up a few times in their clothes and painted my nails once, but it was nice.”
Most of the players were good sports about the whole thing, knowing what they were in for when they arrived at Lucas Oil Stadium. Even the normally dour Belichick managed a chuckle or two.
“It’s kind of catching me off guard,” Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore said. “I definitely thought he’d be a little more strict in his interviews.”
He might have been a little more cranky if he’d heard Welker when the receiver was asked if he knew how to spell Belichick’s last name.
“Tough one. B-E-L-I-C-H-I,” Welker said, and then paused. “K. Wait, that right? Is it CK?”
Told Belichick’s name ended in “CK,” Welker smacked his head.
Umenyiora fared better with the other Elis, naming Plaxico Burress’ little boy, Elijah. As for Gronkowski and Madonna, he wasn’t crazy for that question.
Silly stuff, to be sure. But the fans loved every minute of it. Parents let their kids skip school — Zane Bishop, a high school senior, had his head buried in a book during the break, cramming for his AP Government exam Wednesday — and the tickets were in such high demand people were actually scalping them.
“It’s such an intimate experience,” said Nick Lowery, a Patriots fan who drove from Columbia, Mo. “This is really cool.”
Unlike the NFL draft, when rowdy New Yorkers waste no opportunity to heckle picks and boo players, the fans were on their best behavior. Most in the crowd of 7,300 were Colts fans, with many sporting Peyton Manning’s No. 18 jersey. But the fans greeted both teams with applause when they came in, and cheered when Eli Manning, Brady and Welker talked about how much they were enjoying Indianapolis and praised Colts fans.
They even set aside their hatred for the Patriots, the Colts’ biggest rival.
“Our philosophy has been `Fans first.’ It’s all about Hoosier hospitality,” said Toni Meyer of Indianapolis.
Added Bill Burns, “The Patriots, we really don’t like `em here. But there hasn’t been any animosity.”
The only complaint was that fans wanted more. Though they could hear interviews with the head coach and four players on the headset, they were restricted to the stands. No autographs, no photographs with their favorite players.
“I kind of wish we’d been on the field, but I understand,” said Burns, who wore a hat with a “Press” card on the side and carried a toy purple microphone. “It probably would have been a bit of a madhouse.”
Too late. It passed that threshold years ago.