MIAMI — Super Bowl week is largely an exercise in excess, and no event drives that point home quite like the spectacle that is Opening Night.
Marlins Park got a rare taste of postseason activity Monday night, with the Chiefs’ and 49ers’ marquee players taking turns at podiums in the center of the field, swarmed by television cameras and iPhones held at full extension. The rest of the players milled about, taking questions and participating in various stunts around the perimeter. Fans in makeshift stands looked on from above and chanted for their favorite teams and players. Others stood around the outside begging for signatures on hats, balls and jerseys. Mascots gyrated and the University of Miami marching band performed. Classic stuff.
There were some important questions asked, as players and coaches from the NFL’s two Super Bowl teams faced an overstuffed media scrum. From the impact Kobe Bryant had on athletes, to the advancement of minority coaches, to Tyreek Hill’s past domestic violence incidents, to the rumors about a new CBA that may or may not expand the season to 17 games. Many worthy topics, deserving of thoughtful answers, were just sitting there.
It’s just that you never know when a serious question is going to be followed up by a question about Patrick Mahomes’s ketchup intake or a request to autograph ruby red slippers worn by someone dressed up as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. At this point, everyone pretty much accepts media night for what it is. Years after the event was moved to primetime television, after the concept of costumed media personalities jumped the shark, once most people in attendance realized the night makes a better forum for viral video opportunities than ways to fill columns after the game Sunday, it was too late to turn back.
Don’t get me wrong. There were real football conversations happening. Assistant coaches chat Xs and Os. If you pull a player aside for a one-on-one, you can get into a deeper conversation than you can in the scrum. Members of the media who can recognize players without having to check jersey numbers on the roster probably got the info they needed.
The Chiefs’ Dustin Colquitt had a lull in questions at his podium, so we had a brief chat about his dual roles as both punter and holder, and which job he would be thinking about as his head hit the pillow on Saturday. (Both, he told me.) We also talked about the very idea of a punter getting a podium, and he gave Pat McAfee a shout out and said it was a great day for the brand. Like I said, important conversations were had.
Live from New York…
Another serious question I asked a few players on both teams: With J.J. Watt hosting Saturday Night Live this week, who on your team do you think would do the best job hosting SNL?
Demarcus Robinson, WR, Chiefs: Tyrann Mathieu’s a good guy to host. He’s got a great face for the camera and he speaks well.
Morris Claiborne, CB, Chiefs: Either Travis Kelce or Tyrann Mathieu. Maybe the two of them together. They’d be awesome.
Harrison Butker, K, Chiefs: I feel like Chris Jones would be pretty funny if he did it. He’d be pretty good at it. I guess that’s another defensive lineman. But he’s just a goofy, funny guy.
Levine Toilolo, TE, 49ers: I think George Kittle. He has a great personality. He definitely brings a lot of energy. I think he can connect with people and make people comfortable. And he’s a funny guy, so I think he’d be awesome.
Laken Tomlinson, OL, 49ers: George Kittle. He’s probably the most interesting person I’ve ever met. [Everyone’s gonna pick him, who’s your second pick?] Joe Staley. I think I lied, he’s probably the most interesting person I’ve ever met.
Marcell Harris, S, 49ers: Me! [You?] Heck yeah. [Why are you the best one for the job?] Man, because if you all want somebody who’s got a nice smile, and who’s gonna always keep the energy, that’s me. I’ll make sure that I say everything right, and you know I’m just gonna have a good time on there. I’d love to be on SNL.
One of the highlights of this exercise was breaking the news to Laken Tomlinson that Watt is hosting on Saturday. He said he loves watching SNL and seemed genuinely excited about the news. But look out J.J., Marcell Harris is coming for your spot.
A few words with…
MG: What were you most excited about coming into this week?
NM: Just the game. You know, you hear about it as a kid. It’s the Super Bowl, it’s the biggest game you’re gonna play in, and I’m just gonna enjoy it.
MG: Do you have a favorite Super Bowl from when you were growing up?
NM: I don’t know about a favorite, but the first one I remember specifically watching was Rams-Patriots when Adam Vinatieri hit the game-winning field goal. That’s the first one that I really remember, and so that one’s kinda special to me.
MG: Last year you got to play more, and you won a few games. That stretch that you had [the 49ers started 1-7 and then Mullens became the starter and won three of the next six games, before losing his final two], how much do you feel that was a part of the team’s turnaround, to get to this point and have such a great year this year?
NM: Yeah, it’s cool. You know, you can only ask for an opportunity and you can only hope that you take advantage of your opportunities when you get them. So that’s what I tried to do to the best of my ability. And to watch us turn it around like we have this year, it’s been incredible. Everybody’s just committed to the vision, done their jobs and worked hard, and now we’re here.
MG: What can you say about the job Jimmy Garoppolo has done this year?
NM: It’s incredible. He’s so much fun to watch, so much fun to work with. He’s a great teammate, great person, great leader and a great player. So I can’t wait to watch him perform on Sunday.
MG: I remember three years ago on media night [in Houston for Super Bowl LI] I was talking to Jimmy G. just like this, when he was Tom Brady’s backup. And now seeing him, he’s at the podium with the biggest crowd of anyone. How does that make you feel, knowing what’s still possible for your career?
NM: Oh, it’s cool. You know, you don’t worry about the future. You just deal with what you can one day at a time. And I’m blessed to be on a team like this that gets to attend and participate and compete in a Super Bowl. So you just try to learn as much as you can every day, and appreciate the teammates and coaches that you’re around.
MG: Last one. Can you give me an under-the-radar guy on your team who you think is going to step up and have a huge game on Sunday?
NM: I don’t know about for this game, but Emmanuel Moseley is a guy that has just continued to work hard and do his job every day. And his opportunities are paying off for him. So that’s one guy that I’m really proud of on our team.
• Conor Orr wrote about Richard Sherman, who continues to be right.
• Michael Rosenberg wrote about Tyreek Hill, his abusive past and why he’s playing in the Super Bowl.
• Charlotte Wilder wrote about Kobe Bryant being on everyone’s mind down here in Miami.
• I have a second story going up later Tuesday with a bunch of celebrity Eagles fans talking about why Andy Reid’s old fan base is rooting so hard for him.
The Chiefs and the 49ers have team media availability Tuesday. So, why did I ask all my important questions on Monday night?
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