Allow me to let you in on a dirty little secret about the Super Bowl: Attending the game sucks. Save the ticket money and get two high school teams to play inside a sterile movie theater with every cop within a 25-mile radius at the doors. The experience will be about the same.
I have been to the big game once. A pretty good one, too. I would be lying if I claimed many fond memories. It was a hectic, stressful blur. I cannot recall much of what I wrote, and I know none of it was worth being proud of. This was February 2017, remember. Sports journalism was still in its slideshow era. Takeaways and what it means. Editors would rather you slept with their wives than produce a game story. And reporting on the Super Bowl usually feels futile. You do your best to tell a unique story, only to realize the rest of the world is likely telling the exact same one.
I mention all this to get to the main point of this post: While Super Bowl Sunday disappoints, Super Bowl Monday through Friday does not if you are blessed enough to spend your time at the source of the true glory: Radio Row, one of our greatest American traditions.
Here's Papa John, Archie Manning and Deshaun Watson making pizza. #RadioRow #SuperBowl pic.twitter.com/SYHTljgnDz
— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) February 2, 2017
I was there. And it was everything you would think it was — and more.
First, it is somewhat amazing proof it happened remains on the internet. I would have thought the Mannings could have it wiped. This photo has aged only slightly better than the ones with Donald Trump and O.J. Simpson.
Papa John’s had a small army descend on Radio Row to build the temporary set, hours in advance. It was very involved. And the sound system still malfunctioned, if I recall correctly.
Archie Manning was playing hurt. He was moving slow and in clear discomfort (he would reveal he went through several serious surgeries due to playing injuries years later). Why would he bother? Because the Mannings always show up, especially when someone is going to give them a lot of money to do so.
John “Papa John” Schnatter was like 15 minutes late. And then the thing was delayed for another five minutes as Darren Rovell attempted to do a one-on-one live Periscope interview with him. They started playing music, trying to drone Rovell out like he was giving a long awards show speech, and he just would not budge.
And then they made pizza. I left once that started. I thought about sticking around and trying to force a “Could the Jets draft Deshaun Watson?” story, but I opted against it. Rovell had me outflanked anyway. And here we are six years later. Papa John is a disgraced racist and Watson is a disgraced sexual predator. And the pizza is still really bad, although the little garlic sauce cup is a clutch move in moderation.
The innovators. We all know Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo invented Radio Row. Do you know what it is like to watch Francesa walk onto Radio Row? I do. It was a borderline religious experience for me. As was watching Dog do a phone interview at 7 a.m., holding his iPhone in one hand and a banana from the snack table in the other, waving it whenever he was making an important point.
Your annual reminder that Mike and the Mad Dog invented #RadioRow. Here they are in New Orleans in 1990 prior to Super Bowl XXIV between the Broncos and 49ers.
1) Peter King
2) Bill Polian
3) Steve Beuerlein
4) Producer Bob Gelb pic.twitter.com/K55Cmq4QkM
— Funhouse (@BackAftaThis) February 2, 2021
The hierarchy. The faces in the Radio Row crowd serve as a sort of calendar. Did you just see Eagles legend Freddie “FredEx” Mitchell? It’s Monday. Chiefs superfan and “Modern Family” star Eric Stonestreet? Tuesday or maybe Wednesday. Paul Rudd is probably the Wednesday guy if you need a celebrity Chiefs fan, though. Although he might be Thursday. You definitely know it’s Thursday when Deron Cherry and Brian Dawkins are here. Brett Favre? It’s Friday. But don’t ask about the welfare fraud, please.
Coming together. There is something magical about Mississippi’s No. 1 sports talk station sitting next to WFAN while WIP is catty corner to a faith-focused football podcast based in Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin.
Always hustling. An ambitious beat writer barrels toward you, covered in sweat and panting for air while wearing a suit. Are you OK? Is the building on fire? Oh, you got 45 seconds of Steve Mariucci’s time? Nice.
Hey, is that Simone Biles? Yes, it is! Wait, is that the guy who played Ralph Malph? No, it is not.
Media mad libs. Talking head headlines from Radio Row are a guilty pleasure of mine. You’ll NEVER believe what John Stallworth just said about Stefon Diggs! Jim Mora Sr. says this is the KEY to the Chiefs beating the Eagles! Jeff Garcia is here and he has an OUTRAGEOUS Jalen Hurts take.
Roger Goodell. I’m a big fan of the commissioner press conference. Goodell’s astonishing lack of charisma. The time-honored questions about concussions and whoever needs a new stadium and international expansion. The deference demonstrated by the attending representatives of the scoop-industrial complex. The ease with which they find the NFL Play 60 kid to ask their rehearsed softball question after Goodell gets a fastball. It’s all great. And for my money the best one ever was at Super Bowl LI, the first post-Deflategate, post-Tom Brady suspension Super Bowl.
The Boston media was out for blood that week. WEEI showed up at the NFL Network media luncheon solely to start a fight with Marshall Faulk about the alleged taping of the Rams’ walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI. People were even engaging in whataboutism related to the Falcons using fake crowd noise at the Georgia Dome. So everyone knew it was going to get spicy at Goodell’s press conference. And then Robert and Jonathan Kraft walked into the room and took seats in the front row right before it began.
That’s when you knew it was one. The Patriots press corps was no longer there to interrogate Goodell. It was there to do that AND pay homage to Mr. Kraft. To the NFL’s credit, they kept handing the microphone to Beantowners. And they kept trying to one-up each other in an effort to impress the owner.
Roger, this is Sal Sullivan with WSPT in Worcester. I don’t have a question. I just wanted to tell you to go f–k yourself!
The hawking. The shameless quid pro quo between the radio shows and the interview subjects serving as walking, talking billboards always cracks me up. And it’s never top-tier stuff. Apple doesn’t hire Michael Strahan to pitch the new iPad. Instead we get Larry Csonka extolling the virtues of some arthritis cream. The late-interview segue is always the best.
Bruce Arians: (Some sort of football talk).
Host: OK, Bruce, tell us about what you’re doing with AutoZone …
Arians: Well, obviously these two teams, their motors never stop running. And that’s what AutoZone wants for your car, too. So …
Prior to the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, Mike Francesa promised us that he would not permit anyone on Radio Row in Atlanta to hawk products on his show. Well, I think you remember how that turned out.
Save two minutes of your valuable time for this one. pic.twitter.com/TAHNZCdXoK
— Funhouse (@BackAftaThis) May 27, 2020
The plugs don’t bother me. The pitchmen and pitchwomen repeating the same lines and giving the same answers during every appearance do. But that is also the fault of the various radio voices who ask the same questions.
This and that. I remember Terrell Owens doing laps at Radio Row (he was not elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame that year). But did not seem to want to talk to anyone. It was strange. It was like he wanted an entourage of Philadelphia sports writers around him at all times so he could tell them no. … It’s amazing how many news side folks manage to glom onto their network broadcasting the game. I know this because Jesse Watters was ahead of me in line to get coffee once in Houston. … What I would pay for the original Francesa M&Ms caricature.
James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jameskratch.