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CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

Onion dip at a Super Bowl party? That's so cliche.

Seriously, the next interesting thing said by a player the week before the game will be the first interesting thing said.

February 03, 2012|Chris Erskine
  • Madonna speaks to reporters three days before she will be performing at halftime of the Super Bowl.
Madonna speaks to reporters three days before she will be performing at… (Larry W. Smith / EPA )

So I'm coming out of Staples the other night, and I look at the fan next to me on the street. "Katzenberg!!!" I yell, when it turns out to be just another one of those steely eyed bald dudes that L.A. produces like pigeons. I avert what could've been an embarrassing moment by skipping down the street shouting out famous names randomly. "Minnie Driver! Donald Duck!" as if suffering from some sort of celebrity-induced dementia. "Mel Gibson! Larry Hagman! Donna Reed!"

Which brings us, obviously, to the Super Bowl, where language is also a powerful tool when used correctly, or preferably incorrectly. Blunders are funny, as are the pregame declarations of war. The week leading up to a Super Bowl has precious few of either.

A Super Bowl is basically four hours of intense football, surrounding an hour of halftime songs, mostly about copulating.

Generally, I'm pro-copulating, but there is a time and a place, and America's most popular family event probably should steer clear of songs about virgins, pimps and one-night stands. Mercifully, they've hired Madonna, who rarely traffics in any such crud.

Way to go, NFL.

In the meantime, we have this insanely interesting week of media interviews, which so far has produced nothing. Gotta love the way reporters are treating this game like World War III, when obviously it is so much bigger than that. All those microphones ... someone could chip a tooth.

Really, all you care about is when it starts and who's bringing the onion dip. Well, my sources tell me 3:30 p.m. Pacific time, give or take. You're on your own on that dip, but I prefer Hidden Valley.

Far as verbal foreplay goes, still awaiting anything of any substance. This whole football festivus looked DOA till Tom Brady said something the other day, which was pureed into some sort of mini-controversy. Brady, who really can't be trusted on such a controversial issue, had the cookies to declare his team's fans the greatest.

No word yet from the New York side. They were too busy dancing like their Puerto Rican wide receiver, who had perhaps the best quote of the week. When asked about criticism from dance experts that his moves weren't authentic, Victor Cruz said: "This is my way. When those dance instructors get into the end zone, they can do it whatever way they want to."

As Super Bowl quips go, that is almost Eugene O'Neillian.

Seriously, anyone with an abiding interest in language — or its various offshoots — would do well to study what's going on in Indy right now. Two teams, the Patriots and the Giants, under the kind of scrutiny usually reserved for presidential surgeries or starlet arrests, are preparing to square off in Super Bowl XLVI (that's 46 to you non-Romans out there). Off the players' tongues roll the most-enlightened things.

"Our job is to come out and execute our plays and that is what we are going to try and do," says wide receiver Deion Branch.

"I have all the respect in the world for the Patriots," says long snapper Zak DeOssie. "I'm so excited to be here representing the Giants and with two great organizations battling it out again, it's just incredible."

See, I told you it was insanely interesting. In fact, I've been studying Super Bowl quotes all week and so far these are the verbal tendencies for both teams:

Favorite adjective: Great.

Favorite gerund: Executing.

Favorite deity: Their moms.

Second-favorite deity: God.

Favorite approach: Taking care of business.

On what makes an opponent tough: They do a lot of things very well.

That athletes talk in cliches may very well be a cliche in itself. Rewind to that great scene in "Bull Durham" where Crash Davis schools a teammate on how to respond to media questions, suggesting:

1) We gotta play 'em one day at a time.

2) I'm just happy to be here. Hope I can help the ballclub.

3) I just want to give it my best shot, and the good Lord willing, things will work out.

Director Ron Shelton, who wrote all that, insists such inanities are a matter of survival.

"They're being smart," he says by phone. "When I played ball in the Texas League in the late '60s and early '70s, I would talk about the war and civil rights.

"After a couple of interviews, the reporters asked, 'Hey, don't you hunt or fish?' No. But from then on, I started making up stories about hunting and fishing."

"And if you do talk about something controversial, you get killed for it. Cliches are your best friend."

So, don't just blame the jocks. It's hard to summon your inner Cicero in response to: "Talk a little about Kyle Arrington and his role in the Tampa 2."

"Talk a little about what it's like to come up with a unique question," might be the proper retort.

But every once in a while, if you try really, really hard and force yourself to pay attention, even though sleep is at bay and all you want to do is close your eyes for 20 sweet minutes, some player will blurt out something profoundly weird — the way I often do — which makes a Super Bowl media week worthwhile after all.

For example, when asked how he has managed to never fumble, Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, whose name sounds like a frozen yogurt, explained: "Like I said, I've just been blessed and fortunate. God has been watching over me to let me hang onto the football because nobody wants to fumble the ball. It's just something that happens. It's a part of the game and it's just something that happens."

To that, all I can say is: "Katzenberg!!!"

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

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