Super Bowl LVI: An Eerie Calm Before The Storm

LOS ANGELES — The last time this town hosted a Super Bowl, back in 1993, roughly a thousand members of the media gathered at Dodger Stadium and as we were waiting for the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills to stream onto the field for interviews, some woman in the upper deck randomly began singing “I Will Always Love You.”

And almost everyone on the field looked up and some wondered whether that was actually Whitney Houston up there because that lady had some major pipes and her song was echoing throughout the stadium even without a microphone.

Eventually the teams filed in and soon the guy in the ape suit, and the woman wearing a wedding dress and the dude dressed like a clown began carrying on with the players, asking probing questions such as what their favorite Boyz II Men song was.

That was Media Day 1993.

On Friday the NFL held Media Day 2022. And, yes, it was much different.

Because it was a sign of the times.

The NFL, you see, has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and all it has wrought just like everyone else. So the news cycle has often been about spikes in positive tests or, lately, a total disappearance in positive tests.

We’ve watched teams forced to take measures to protect themselves from the virus and many of those are counterproductive to the bonding that typically makes teams stronger — stuff like never gathering in their cafeterias but carrying out boxed lunches instead, stuff like meeting virtually instead of elbow to elbow with other teammates.

“It’s been crazy, it’s been two wild years,” Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “To think of what has become normal and all of that is just insane. Outside of football it’s been insane but inside football, too.”

Whitworth, smart, witty and the newly minted NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year, would typically be at a podium speaking in front of a throng of reporters at Media Day.

And, sure enough, on Friday he was at a podium. But there were maybe only 10 reporters listening to Whitworth, and we were separated (or socially distanced) by at least a first down from the podium.

This was actually the first time reporters were able to see some of Sunday’s players in person because all other media interviews this week, from Monday to Thursday, were done virtually.

And, oh yeah, Whitworth was one of only nine players, along with coach Sean McVay, to attend this Rams Media Day session at California Lutheran University. The rest of the team stayed back at the Rams’ training facility.

That’s some of the things COVID-19 has forced upon this Super Bowl almost two years after 15 days to slow the spread.

“It’s been tough,” Whitworth said. “I’m a guy that believes in culture. I believe in relationships, I believe in life, football, everything else, quality time together, quality time outside of work means a lot.

“And to have all the restrictions we’ve had and eliminated our time together, that’s been tough — especially in this game, because this game plays with your mind a lot.”

Professional football, perhaps as much of any job short of soldiering, demands both physical and mental performance and it comes with the highest ramifications. And unlike most other jobs, football makes these demands on national television where those that do not respond can be instantly judged wanting.

That kind of attention and expectation without proper support of teammates sharing advice or encouragement in person can take a toll.

“I think that’s why you’ve seen some of the things you’ve seen with guys struggling with mental stuff throughout the league,” Whitworth said. “It’s been a tough two years on our country and in the world. And football is not any different.”

But say this about professional football: Unlike many industries or businesses that struggled or succumbed during the pandemic, the NFL has plowed ahead.

The NBA in March 2020 temporarily suspended the season. The NFL went ahead with free agency and the draft.

Major League Baseball cancelled games during the pandemic. The NFL played 256 out of 256 regular-season games in 2020 and came back this year with 272 of 272 games played in the regular season.

In both seasons the postseason came off without a cancellation or even a postponement.

“Yeah, it’s definitely a blessing,” Jalen Ramsey said. “I guess you can say it’s impressive.”

It says something about the state of COVID within the NFL that during his state of the league address on Wednesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell took exactly zero questions about the pandemic.

Has there been stress? Changes or adaptations to the way of doing things?

Definitely.

But, ultimately, this Super Bowl will be played in front of a packed house at SoFi Stadium. Indeed, every game this year was played in packed stadiums.

And that happened only one season after stadiums were generally limited to 25 to 37 percent capacity in 2020.

So football has definitely survived the pandemic. There have been adjustments. But the NFL has endured even at the Super Bowl — despite the absence of reporters in the gorilla or clown costumes at Media Day.

Maybe next year.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

3 Comments

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  1. “That’s some of the things COVID-19 has forced upon this Super Bowl almost two years after 15 days to slow the spread.”

    I might argue that’s some of things dummies’, who have no business running a lemonade stand, chosen responses have forced upon this Super Bowl more so than Covid-19.

    “But say this about professional football: Unlike many industries or businesses that struggled or succumbed during the pandemic, the NFL has plowed ahead.”

    I guess, but when you’re judged the prettiest girl out of a bunch of girls with no teeth, is that really anything to brag about?

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