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Scott Ostler

More Moonstruck Than Starstruck

January 24, 1986|Scott Ostler

NEW ORLEANS — On the scene at Super Bowl XX, minus III days, slowly losing touch with reality, not an uncommon occurrence in this city. . . .

"Attention media!" the hotel loudspeaker voice booms. "Jim McMahon is now available in the Versailles Room."

Available for what? Mooning? Being admired? Taking orders for his new "I Am the World" video?

Let's go find out. A Jim McMahon press conference is like the Grand Canyon. Maybe it is an overrated and touristy spectacle, but everyone should see it once.

Turns out what McMahon is available for is interrogation on his latest furor--his alleged putdown of the city of New Orleans as being populated entirely by loose women and dumb men.

McMahon, the pride of Roy, Utah--the city without a last name--is going paint-to-paint with the media hordes.

"Jim," pleads a reporter in back, "could you please repeat your denial? A lot of us got here late."

McMahon, after giving it a moment's deliberation: "That's too bad."

Jimbo at first denies mooning a helicopter that hovered over the Bear practice field the day before, but then a news photo in the local paper clearly shows McMahon bending over and lowering his drawers to half-mast.

Because of the photographer's angle, we are unable to see if McMahon's lunar surface is tattooed with an Adidas logo.

What a guy. What a town. The Big Easy, they call it. The town, not the women.

Up until now, the city has been playing it cool, pretending that it hardly notices the Super Bowl. A cabbie tells me he's glad things have quieted down after last week's big TV producers' convention.

This is the town that lives to party and parties to live. Slipping into the Mardi Gras spirit a couple of weeks early, several local folk respond to news of McMahon's alleged putdown by phoning the hotel with bomb threats.

There are reports that a women's protest march will be held in front of the hotel.

"Just what this city needs," someone grouses. "More streetwalkers."

Super Bowl fever is running high. Everyone is getting a little punchy. For the media, this is the third day of two-a-days, daily interview sessions with each team.

It's a jungle. Herded into holding pens, then released into the interview rooms, we scramble and fan out like kids at an Easter egg hunt, seeking gems of insight and enlightenment.

Brian Holloway of the Patriots compliments Richard Dent of the Bears, saying Dent is "smart as a cat."

Morris or Sylvester?

The Bears are working hard on their image as a team of excess. It is becoming obvious that William (The Refrigerator) Perry will eat anything, Jim (Moonman) McMahon will drink and deny anything, and Otis (The Elevator) Wilson will say anything.

Bear defensive end Dent is talking about his frustrating salary negotiations situation, saying: "To me, it's pretty much like slavery. You work for (the Bears), or you don't work for anybody."

So that's how slavery worked. Historians might find that interesting.

Dent has called off his threatened Super Bowl boycott. Or has he?

Dent: "I couldn't pass up this opportunity to miss out on a Super Bowl."

Wednesday, Mike Ditka reports that McMahon's bruised rear end is "100% better than yesterday," after acupuncture treatment. Thursday, McMahon says his rear end is "100% better than yesterday."

Proving that acupuncture works mathematical miracles. Maybe the fresh air helped, too.

The media representatives seem destined to become part of the big story. An escalator crammed with reporters on the way to a mass press conference jams and jerks to a halt.

"Seventeen Die in Escalator Mishap," a scribe cries out.

"World Mourns Loss of Journalistic Giants," says another headline writer.

Perspective becomes blurred. Stop the presses. Headline in national newspaper: "Costas: He's Nervous but Full of Confidence."

Story is about Bob Costas, host for the two-hour NBC pregame show. Costas says he doesn't want to get into a cheap-shot war with CBS rival Brent Musburger.

"I'd just like this to be a Mantle and Mays thing," Costas says.

Maybe, in the spirit of the city, Costas and Musburger could just exchange bomb threats. Or moons.

The "Super Bowl Shuffle" backlash picks up steam.

"The playoffs haven't even started when they made the damn thing, and they're talking about the Super Bowl," snarls a player. "Get the hell out of here."

One angry Patriot, no?

No. It is Bear defensive tackle Steve McMichael, a nonshuffler.

McMichael continues on, in a different vain, analyzing the game and mixing up his pronouns, or is it just my own paranoia?

"You can't turn the ball over this game," he warns reporters. "If you do, they'll beat us."

Great. Now, I not only have to worry about writing a decent story Sunday, but about fumbling the ball and costing the Bears the game.

Too much pressure, too much weirdness. Who can explain? Must be a full moon over the Crescent City.

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