"Did you hear the report about Eddie DeBartolo's giving a champagne brunch at Brennan's for Manuel Noriega?"
"No, but the second cousin of an announcer I know said he saw John Elway dancing with a family of gypsy mimes in a bucket of squirming crawfish, squealing something about 'the real Doctor John.' "
"Yeah, well, a couple of writers I talked to swear Don Johnson crashed the Maddencruiser while he was drag-racing down Bourbon Street and broke Joe Montana's leg in four places."
"That figures. But what about the L.A. television station's videotape of a Charlotte writer interviewing a Jersey radio guy listening to a Phoenix consumer reporter repeating the claim of a Cleveland agent that he saw three white league commissioners roaring drunk at Tipitina's and trying to pick up Roseanne Barr?"
"I say we go with it immediately."
It wasn't quite that subdued on the media watch in New Orleans last week when that annual Hype-o-Drone of American life came thundering into view. Sure enough, Super Bowl XXIV did not disappoint as the nation waited to see what the cream of our sports communicators could curdle themselves into when given an entire week cooped up with nobody but each other.
Let's face it. This year, as always, the prelude to the quote contest unquote was infinitely more interesting than the quote contest unquote itself. And you can thank your own trusty neighborhood reporters for prying into the nether reaches of Super Bowl week with penetrating questions designed to elicit truth, fact and sometimes even an answer.
"To be honest with you, I haven't had a stupid question [asked] all week," Denver rookie Bobby Humphrey said incredulously one morning inside an enormous tent erected for the precise purpose of stupid question-asking.
"Why do you take your earring off for the game?" someone broke in, rudely ending the streak.
That thoughtful interrogation, however, was no match for the queries of Supes past: "If you were a tree, what tree would you be?" (asked of the Broncos' John Elway at Super Bowl XXII), or "How long have you been a black quarterback?" (asked of the Redskins' Doug Williams, also at XXII, a vintage year for Supe stupidity), or "Lemme get this straight, Jim. Is it blind mother, deaf father or the other way around?" (asked of the Raiders' Jim Plunkett at Super Bowl XV).
Humphrey carefully explained to his inquisitor that he went earringless into competition because he didn't want his diamond "to be pushed through my ear to the middle of my brain." It was a reply, at least, of some length—unlike those of the Cowboys' Duane Thomas in Super Bowls V and VI. One day on a Miami beach, Thomas was asked what he was thinking about as he peered across the water. "New Zealand," he replied. A year later, postgame in New Orleans, a TV interviewer babbled on about how great Thomas had played. "Evidently," said Thomas, ending the interview.
It was the same Duane Thomas who once inquired as to how the Super Bowl could be the "ultimate" game if they were playing it again next year. And yet, somehow, the event annually reaffirms itself. In 1980, several days before the Rams played the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, a man's closest friend died and the burial was scheduled for Super Sunday. "We had planned to attend the game together," the man recalled last week in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. "But now I would be a pallbearer and would have to tape the game. Instead, my friend's son insisted his dad would want me at the game. He reminded me how sacred Super Sunday was. He said: 'You go on to the game. I'll stay home and tape the funeral.' "
No tickee, no perspective.
In the early going this year in New Orleans, there was little for the fourth estate to rally round, other than the spectacle of the 49ers' 300-pound Bubba ("We will not rest on our morals") Paris making fun of the media with his video camera while they made fun of his avoirdupois. If you were CBS's Terry Bradshaw, you could always trash El-way during a press conference set up to promote animated-cartoon beer bottles. Or if you were NBC's Bill Walsh, you could always cover yourself. "It's real exciting here...I guess," Walsh reported from the insanely raucous French Quarter. "A lot of people seem to be wearing orange shirts and green."
So it was that the midweek Three-White-Quarterbacks-On-Drugs "scoop" by television station WJLA in Washington, D.C., came as such a godsend to a media starving for work. Each time the word "cocaine" was mentioned, a press conference broke out. Everybody but Paul Prudhomme was cooking up a prepared statement, including WJLA-TV sports director Frank Herzog, who said the Super Bowl timing of his station's report was "85 percent coincidental." It was the grandest phony controversy since Supe IV, when Len Dawson was accused of associating with a gambler and held three press conferences in one day. "A record that will live forever," said a man from the Washington Post, "except I've forgotten it already."
By sundown Sunday the only statistic that really mattered to the media was that Joe Montana had just combined with Kenny Stabler and Bradshaw for a historically terrific double-nine: nine Super Bowl rings/nine wives.
"Twenty-two bad Bowls, one good Bowl and now you're on another bad roll," said a man from the New York Daily News to NFL communications director Joe Browne. "At this rate the next good one will be Supe XLVI—in Caracas."
"And on pay-per-view," said Browne.
In the postgame locker rooms the interrogatory clichès were dripping as thick as filè gumbo.
Q.: What can you do to improve?
Bronco owner Pat Bowlen: "Send an assassin after Montana."
Q.: When did you know you had 'em?
The 49ers' Paris: "When they lined up for the extra point."
The 49ers' Matt Millen: "Feelings?"
Q.: Joe...Joe...did this game seem ridiculous after a while? Were you guys laughing about it? Did you want to close your eyes and throw some passes behind your back?
Joe just smiled.
"Hey, did you hear this wild stuff about Montana? Says he'll keep playing, try to win three Supes in a row. But right now wants to take Jennifer and the kids, hop in the van and get away from it all."
"Hold on. You crazy? We'll need another source to confirm."
With TV cameras whirring everywhere, "scoops" were in short supply.
When the "white quarterbacks controversy" arose, the thankful media had a whole new batch of questions to ask Montana.
At the press gatherings, a star like running back Roger Craig became a magnet for microphones...
...while a sub like Denver's Ken Bell caught up on his reading.