A couple of New England Patriots fans hold up cartoon cutouts depicting… (Michael Heiman / Getty Images )
INDIANAPOLIS — Just how crazy are some football fans about the Super Bowl?
Some will even pay to watch reporters ask players about the game.
The NFL tried something new this year, for the first time selling tickets to media day. Fans paid $25 to sit in the lower section of Lucas Oil Stadium on Tuesday and watch the media circus from the stands. They received small radios with six channels, allowing them to eavesdrop on interviews of players and coaches at various podiums, and those interviews were simultaneously shown on the video board.
There were 7,300 fans at the event and 2,000 reporters doing interviews on the NFC sideline, first for an hour with the Patriots, then an hour with the Giants.
Judging by the number of Peyton Manning jerseys in the stands, it was largely a hometown crowd. And Giants quarterback Eli Manning drew a big cheer when he praised his older brother.
"Peyton has had an unbelievable career and in my opinion is the best I've ever seen play football," Eli Manning said. "My goal is to get to his level of play. That's something I've worked on."
The NFL is considering a similar arrangement for the scouting combine in late February.
"I think that's worthy of a discussion," said John Mara, co-owner of the Giants. "Our biggest struggle with the combine is trying to get as many of the players as possible to actually compete and do the drills and to run and everything.
"Whether this would encourage that, I don't know. I think there's a feeling that if it would encourage it, then maybe we'd consider doing it."
Rob Gronkowski, New England's All-Pro tight end, showed up without a boot on his injured left ankle but still limping slightly. He sounded optimistic that he'll be ready to go Sunday.
"I'm improving every day," he said. "The only reason it's getting so blown up is because it's the Super Bowl. It's just like any other injury during any other week."
Send in the clowns
There might have been slightly fewer silly characters at media day this year, "reporters" in strange or provocative outfits hoping to catch players' attention with inane questions.
There was the guy dancing the salsa near Giants receiver Victor Cruz under a disco ball dangling from a pole. There were the requisite supermodels in skintight outfits and absurdly high heels. Then there was Pick Boy, the fellow in the superhero tights and cape who was working for Nickelodeon, and who described his get-up as "part superhero, part awesome, and 100% good-looking."
Tom Brady has led the Patriots to five Super Bowls since the 2001 season and is a lock for Canton on the first ballot. Still, there's a part of him that's determined to hammer home the fact that so many teams blew it by letting him slip into the sixth round of the 2000 draft.
"I don't think it's just that 2000 NFL draft," Brady said. "What you're always trying to do as an athlete is prove it to yourself. You go through a college career and think you do a decent job -- not that you get overlooked, it's just that there are other guys who they feel can do a better job -- so you just keep working hard, you just keep believing in yourself and look- ing for your opportunity.
"Unfortunately, I got my opportunity through Drew [ Bledsoe] getting injured. At the same time, I wanted to take advantage of that opportunity. Life is about taking advantage of opportunities, and you never know when you're going to get them. You have to be prepared to take advantage when you get them. You try to go out there and be confident in yourself so you can inspire confidence in others.
"I always tell young players, 'How do you expect me to be confident in you when I look at you and see that you're not confident in yourself?' You're always bringing that level of confidence so guys look at you and say, 'I know he's going to get it done, so this is how I'm going to prepare myself.' "
Asked about the difference between the Super Bowl in early 2002 and this one, Brady said: "That was the 9/11 year, so there was only one week to prepare. We went down to New Orleans and there was so much happening. ... I had actually hurt my ankle in the previous game, so I spent a ton of time in the training room getting ready.
"From what I do remember, it was a pretty crazy week. There was a ton to do in a very short amount of time."