Not counting the first XVII or so games, I've covered every Super Bowl ever played. Pete Rozelle develop jowls? Seen it. John Riggins lumber up to the podium wearing full fatigue wear? Seen it. Lyle Alzado stumble into an interview session after an all-nighter at the beverage distributor of your choice? Was told about it.
Once, Jim McMahon almost heard a question of mine during a Super Bowl news conference. Then a boom mike slammed against the side of my face, followed by a minicam to the upper spine. McMahon, his eyes hidden by mirrored sunglasses, paused for a moment and then directed his attention elsewhere.
My last recollection before doubling over in pain: "Uh, Jim, how 'bout spelling the name of that acupuncturist again?"
Another time I asked Joe Theismann about the Raider defensive backs. Theismann leaned back in his wicker chair, glanced about the hotel lobby, and then delivered the longest speech I've heard since Jimmy Stewart's filibuster in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." By answer's end, my tape recorder was a whimpering mess of microchips.
Now comes Super Bowl XXII. The Denver Broncos vs. the Washington Redskins. John Elway vs. Our Nation's Capital. Broncomania vs. Three Overweight Guys With 4-Day-Old Beards Who Wear Hog Noses, Dresses and Hats and Who Daintily Twirl Parasols While Singing "Hail to the Redskins."
With this in mind, I thought it only right to offer my considerable services (if you don't count those XVII or so games) as your behind-the-scenes Super Bowl tour guide. Shall we begin?
SUNDAY: The Redskins arrive in San Diego! Big whoop.
If you want, we can drive to the airport and see the United charter touch down. There will be about a jillion Redskin fans, hog noses pressed against the terminal windows, just waiting for a chance to hum a bar or two of "Hail to the Redskins," sort of the "It's a Small World" of fight songs.
The Redskins will probably step from the plane, wave warily toward the crowd and then step inside their waiting charter bus. And we'll have spent about $3 in gas money and who knows what in short-term parking to see it.
Later, Coach Joe Gibbs will be available "briefly" at the team hotel for a news conference. Skip it. He'll say how nice the weather is, how nice it is to be here, how nice the flight was, how nice the mints they left on his hotel room pillow are. Conserve your energy for . . .
MONDAY: The first round of honest-to-goodness news conferences, where the Darwinian theory is proven true once more. Gibbs and several Redskin players will go first. I recommend soft, fluffy clothing, the better to absorb the blows administered by assorted video cameramen. Another tip: Stake out a front-row seat for player interviews. Otherwise, you'll spend the entire Doug Williams session whispering, "What'd he say?"
Bronco Coach Dan Reeves and another batch of players will follow. Reeves will repeat what Gibbs said the night before. Bronco players, Elway included, will be asked, "Well, John, how does it feel?" This is where you roll your eyes in amusement to the reporter next to you, knowing full well you were about to ask the very same question.
TUESDAY: Our official schedule calls for Bronco photos and interviews at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. Redskin photos and interviews at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium will come later in the day.
What a treat. All the players will be there, as will the assistant coaches. Problem is, no one really wants to talk to all the players or the assistant coaches. They want to talk to Elway. You will be there, of course, left arm pinned against someone's battery pack, right arm groping hopelessly toward your note pad. And then you will hear the voice of the reporter who sat next to you a day earlier. "Well, John, how does it feel?"
Then you eat and wait for the Redskins. You have this great idea: I'll talk to the 45th man on the 45-man roster. Sort of The Forgotten One kind of story.
The Redskins will arrive, you'll look at your official Washington roster, rush over to No. So-and-So and find about 30 other writers there, all with the same idea. You spend the next 15 minutes staring at your shoes.
WEDNESDAY and THURSDAY: Reeves and Gibbs take turns talking about their coaching philosophies. Reeves will compliment Gibbs. Gibbs will compliment Reeves. Meanwhile, you'll sit there wondering if they buy their eyeglasses at the same vision center.
Some can't-miss questions:
--"Joe, can you talk about how the NFL strike affected your team?" (Reporters love to say, "Can you talk about . . . ")
--"Dan, can you talk about how you've changed as a coach?"
This is also your last chance to talk to players. By now, there really isn't much left to ask. You've grilled Dave Butz about his duck decoy carving hobby, Dexter Manley about his speaking hobby, Vance Johnson about his orange hair, Rulon Jones about his love for Western art. I mean, you've asked the tough questions.
You've also fallen for the old switch-the-namecard trick, which means that wasn't Charles Mann you were talking to about the Redskin pass rush, but third-team halfback Keith Griffin. No wonder he didn't know what a stunt was.
FRIDAY: Our last crack at the coaches. Just so they know we're here, we'll ask something safe, like, "What's your sign?"
Rozelle gives his State of the NFL Address today. Bring a pillow.
SUNDAY: The Game. You ask yourself one final question before boarding the charter bus to the stadium: "How does it feel?"
Your answer: "Oh, about 35-31, the Redskins."