What’s It Like to Cover the Super Bowl?
The chance for snow. The guarantee of a circus. Tracking down stories and the fight for access. We polled five NFL beat writers well-versed in the experience of the Super Bowl from the media side about what their week will be like when the madness descends upon New York
They will descend upon New York City and New Jersey over the next week, a mob of more than 5,300 media members assigned to cover Super Bowl XLVIII. It is a plum gig, but one featuring endless days, travel hassles, limited one-on-one access to players and coaches, and an army of self-promoters (including many media members) that would make Donald Trump blush. To provide insight into the assignment, I paneled five respected journalists with nearly 70 Super Bowls covered between them.
- Mike Klis, NFL/Broncos writer for the Denver Post. Klis has covered the Broncos since 2005. This will be his 10th Super Bowl.
- Shalise Manza Young, Patriots writer for the Boston Globe. She is covering her sixth Super Bowl.
- Jeff McLane, Eagles beat writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer. McLane has covered the NFL for six years. He is covering his sixth Super Bowl.
- Armando Salguero, NFL columnist for the Miami Herald. Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990. He is covering his 23rd Super Bowl.
- Ed Werder, ESPN NFL Insider. Werder has covered the NFL since 1984. He is covering his 28th Super Bowl.
(Editor’s note: The panel was asked to go as long or as short as they wanted with their answers. They were free to skip any questions. Some of the answers have been edited for clarity.)
How would you define your job during Super Bowl week?
Klis: When the team I cover is not in it, I do a little more takeout-type feature stories than beat work. Although Broncos show up for appearances and Radio Row so you do more beat work than you’d think. John Elway usually shows up one day and he always draws a crowd. Somebody wins an award. Maybe the team you cover has a Hall of Fame finalist. This year will be different with the Broncos in it.
Manza Young: Since I’m a Patriots beat writer, my approach to the week depends on whether or not the Patriots are playing in the game. This year, since they are not, I look at it as a chance to give Globe readers a chance to learn about players and coaches they probably don’t know much about. Though as beat writer I’m tasked with the day-to-day news of the team, my love is feature writing, and telling the often compelling/fascinating/improbable stories of these players. Though I’m not sure at the moment which team I’ll be with for the week (colleague Ben Volin and I will each take a team), I’m looking forward to the opportunity to share some new stories with our readers. When the Patriots are in it, the Globe sends at least a dozen reporters, and I don’t really get that opportunity.
McLane: My job, first and foremost, is always to be an information gatherer, but getting anything original will obviously be a difficult task with the overflow of media during Super Bowl week. I haven’t exactly fleshed out my story ideas for the week, but I’ll have to balance covering the actual teams that will be playing with my usual duties as the Eagles beat reporter for The Inquirer. Some of my stories will be obvious ones (Peyton Manning, of course) and some will take a Philly angle—for instance, why the Eagles traded away Chris Clemons.
Salguero: Please God, don’t let these fingers type the smart aleck answer I want to give. My job during Super Bowl week is to deliver the most interesting, hopefully original coverage of the game I can to a readership that largely doesn’t closely follow the two Super Bowl teams but is nonetheless interested in the coming game. So I have to find something different, something that touches the heart or hits a nerve. That can be done by localizing a theme or finding nuggets that just scream to be read. Or I can suck and follow the rest of the herd—a distinct possibility.
Werder: I’m being assigned to provide daily coverage of the Seahawks, and I want to do that with unique elements and insight from the people directly involved. I always want every live shot and team report to contain something viewers are not going to find someplace else, not just Super Bowl week but whenever I report throughout the season. At the Super Bowl, you want to provide fans a sense of how coaches and players are preparing for the biggest game of their lives, which is a process that evolves throughout the week. I want to chronicle the experience of the Seahawks and their week at the championship game. This is challenging when you’re only one reporter in a group of thousands, and access to players and coaches comes all at once and lasts less than an hour during three days of media availability Super Bowl week. I think there’s also an expectation that if there’s breaking news, I have the resources to be competitive in that regard—as was the case when I covered the Barrett Robbins situation with the Raiders and Eugene Robinson with the Falcons. You never know what might happen and you have to be prepared for the unexpected.
How many hours to you expect to work per day during Super Bowl week?
Klis: If I’m not sleeping, I’m working.
Manza Young: I’d say at least eight and probably more, particularly when the travel to and from team access is factored, since we’ll be bussed from Manhattan to either the Giants facility or the Jets facility. If the weather is bad, those could be some very long rides.
McLane: Generally, the days are long because of all the media availability. I’m not sure how much longer they’ll be because the teams are staying in New Jersey and media headquarters are in Manhattan and the extra travel that will be associated with that. But usually the work days are about 11-12 hours long.
Salguero: The days are longer early in Super Bowl week but they get progressively shorter as game day approaches. Understanding this Super Bowl does not involve the Dolphins (because, well, it hasn’t since 1984-85) and the game is not in Miami, the coverage will not be so voluminous for The Miami Herald. Translation: Less work.
Werder: However many it takes. Most people think you’re there and out at league or company-sponsored parties and events each week. I do not often have the time or stamina to socialize beyond dinner with colleagues and friends. The logistics of being in the greater NYC area will complicate the process and has the potential to significantly lengthen work days. We generally have 18 hours of live programming each day and my experience is on any typical day that nearly every show wants NFL segments. That will be amplified during the first, and perhaps, only Super Bowl hosted by the largest media center in the universe.
What is the most frustrating part of Super Bowl week?
Klis: A four-way tie:
1. The way-too-early press gatherings with the designated early-morning team.
2. A continuous overwhelming feeling that you have to be three places at once.
3. The dang interviewer who gets off four questions in a row before you can ask one.
4. The “handlers” for the celebrity guests on Radio Row. I wanted to get a quick celebrity prediction from Adam Sandler a couple years ago but his handlers told me he doesn’t do print. Doesn’t do print? Then Sandler goes on TV and puts on an act. Luckily, Adam Sandler is about five years removed from washed up, so the snub doesn’t bother me anymore.
Manza Young: There’s never a shortage of stories to write and information offered, so honestly for me it’s being away from my family that long. This was my eighth season as full-time beat writer covering the Patriots (first for the Providence Journal and now for the Globe for going on four years), and the in-season road trips have become routine for us, in large part because I’m gone for 60 hours, tops. But Super Bowl week is long and by the end of the week we all feel it. (I am married with an adopted college-age son, 11-year old daughter and one on the way.)
McLane: I’ve never had to cover a Super Bowl when the Eagles were in it, so I really haven’t had much to complain about. The constant security checks can be frustrating but that’s just the world we live in.
Salguero: Years ago I got very annoyed when I would ask players questions and other reporters would chime in with their questions about totally different subjects, thus breaking the flow. It’s impossible to establish a conversation, which I think lead to the best exchanges (answers). Now, I mostly accept it. It’s the Super Bowl. It’s not life and death.
Werder: For me, the most frustrating element of Super Bowl week is that while you have access to all the players and coaches for several days, there is almost no opportunity to speak with prominent players individually or in small groups, or to develop a logical line of questioning that’s usually necessary to extract something of value. It’s also unnerving to be responsible for covering a team at an event of this magnitude when the story of the day might exist anywhere in the room and be delivered at any time. Richard Sherman is going to be closely followed—especially after his remarks following Sunday’s game—but the quote everybody wants could come from any of his teammates from somewhere across the room in the presence of other reporters working for prominent newspapers, TV networks or websites without me knowing until after media access has been completed.
What is the most rewarding part?
Klis: Watching the game. We actually get to be at the Super Bowl when it’s played. The post-game interviews are pretty cool, too. And when you run into some old Packer greats like Jerry Kramer or David Robinson or Bart Starr or Willie Davis—and they’re happy to talk to you? That’s a buzz that stays with you for a while.
Manza Young: When the Patriots are playing in the Super Bowl, and really for anyone involved, it’s a chance to see them genuinely excited. Nearly to a man, that week is something they’ve dreamed of for years, and so many of them seem to revel in the experience. Covering the Patriots, where they’re taught to be so buttoned-down with media, that sense is magnified—they can’t really hide their excitement or downplay things that week because it’s the flipping Super Bowl. Even Bill Belichick is happy Super Bowl week, which is rare to see for those of us who cover him week-in and week-out.
McLane: After a week of a lot of hype, it’s nice when Sunday rolls around, the game kicks off and there’s actual football to write about.
Salguero: I don’t cover the World Cup. I’ve covered only one Olympics. This is the biggest event I cover. The Super Bowl is, well, my Super Bowl. And being among the 10,000 or so people in the world that get to cover it is special and very rewarding to me.
Werder: The sense of relief you feel when you finally walk out of the game venue to the postgame buffet knowing that the season is finally over—even though the next one begins the very next day!
How valuable is Media Day to your Assignment?
Klis: If you work it right, you can get all you need at Media Day and not have to get up early the rest of the week for all those team press conferences. That’s if the team you cover is not in the Super Bowl, of course. You can then spend the rest of week getting rejected by celeb handlers along Radio Row.
Manza Young: Ugh. I think its only value these days is to entertain reporters and people who want to try to promote themselves, whether reporters in costume (or in clothes that shouldn’t be worn outside of a nightclub) or maybe bottom-of-the-roster-type players who find a way to get some attention because they’re just wandering around and not at a podium. Otherwise, it’s just a circus. My least favorite day of Super Bowl week.
McLane: As far as getting anything newsworthy, it isn’t very valuable. But any access is valuable as long as you go into Media Day knowing who you need to talk to and what you plan on writing. There have been some years when the Eagles were still searching for coordinators or coaches and Media Day was the first chance you got to talk to the teams’ full coaching staffs. So it’s been helpful in that regard.
Salguero: Super Bowl Media Day is a wonderful way to observe to what degree of absurdity a person will go to in order to ask a question. Wearing wedding dresses? Gorilla suits? Puppets on the arm? How’d these people get a press pass?
Werder: It’s the worst, most useless and often embarrassing aspect, depending upon your opinion of other “media” members wearing costumes, wedding dresses and whatever else in attempting to steal attention. One of the things I like to do is have a list of storylines or other elements for which I need to collect sound or gather opinions and then find you can’t use the video later in the week because it’s the only time the venue is not the team hotel and so that day’s video is clearly dated and feels obsolete.