It is the sportswriting version of the Bataan Death March, The Longest Yard with the score still tied, the Bridge to Nowhere.
It’s always like this in the two weeks leading up the Super Bowl. Jack be Nimble Jack be Quick, stories about the Super Bowl are mostly shit.
Truth be told, you hit a dry gulch right off the bat. You know you don’t have an arrow in the quiver. You know the word bag is as empty as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard during a grocery strike. But a sportswriter has to do what a sportswriter has to do. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Writing isn’t everything; it’s the only thing. So you suck it up. You pull up your shorts (or is it socks?).
For 14 straight days, all of which ends Sunday in the Super Bowl Cathedral of Cardinal Jerry Jonsius the Clownish Maximus, there is no such thing as a cliché you don’t like. You never block a metaphor. You never stand up a simile.
You know it’s a can of worms. So you put on the jets. You strike up the band. You know you can knock out more stories than a Chinese assembly line making everything since America no longer makes it (cultural references are always smart).
And let’s be real, it isn’t like chewing gum and tying your shoe at the same time. One of the teams is holding a press conference every five minutes. Thanks to NFL rules, more players are trotted out to the media than vultures around Wile E. Coyote after one swan dive too many into the canyon. Just like Mussolini, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell knows how to make the Super Bowl trains run on time. And so do you, the sportswriter.
You make the reader think that Super Bowl XXXLLLVVVEEEWWWW is going to be the greatest game ever played. You never say it’s simply the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Green Bay Packers. When in doubt you hype. When in hype you never doubt.
Steeltown versus Titletown!
Hardhats versus Cheeseheads!
Lombardi! Starr! Taylor! Hornung! Nitschke!
Bradshaw! Lambert! Harris! Bleier! Mean Joe Greene!
Two legions of gridiron gladiatorial Gods with more history than Helen of Troy and Hector! Herodotus and Hercules! Henny Youngman and Buddy Hackett!
Trashmouth! Thrashmouth! Crashmouth! Smashmouth!
Fasten your seat belts it’s gonna be a bumpy night!
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!!!!!!!!!??????????
For 14 straight days, all of which ends Sunday in the Super Bowl, there is no such thing as a cliché you don’t like. You never block a metaphor. You never stand up a simile.
It’s not so hard once you get into the swing of things. Put on those blue suede shoes and you can dance all night.
You don’t touch with a 10-foot pole that neither team is really very good, the Packers a sixth-seed, who as God is my witness, should have lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the playoffs had kicker David Akers made two chip shots, the Steelers outplayed and outmuscled by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round until quarterback Joey Flacco became as a flaky as an Entenmanns’s coffee cake. You pit the just-get-it done Roethlisberger against surefire future Hall of Famer quarterback Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay, or at least that’s what you call him. You are Gone Like the Wind in letting go of the fact that Rodgers didn’t throw for a single touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the NFC championship and neither did Roethlisberger in the AFC championship against the New York Jets.
You handicap the coaches, Mike Tomlin of Pittsburgh and McCarthy of Green Bay, whose first name, like his personality, you don’t have the foggiest idea. You know in your bosom that a nation turns its lonely eyes to the Jets’ Rex Ryan, even if it’s just another round of footfetishball.
Underneath the game hype, you do have to hash out something. But hell, that’s about as hard as talking to an ant in an anthill (because the game is being played in the Big D, inane Western-style phrases are very excellent). You write about the ridiculously obvious as if you have just struck black gold (oil references are also very excellent). Then you write about the merely obvious. You find every past Super Bowl player you can get your little mitts on. You make sure you ask them “What was it like to be in a Super Bowl?” And when they say, “It was the greatest experience of my life to be in a Super Bowl,” you use the quote right near the top because it is such an interesting revelation. You make sure you get up to Green Bay to write about how every pore of life is influenced by the Packers (the story has already been done a million times, so a million and one is like a falling tree in the forest that no one hears).
When it comes to the players who are playing, you just pluck the low-hanging fruit. You grab hold of the Ben Roethlisberger redemption issue for dear life like a hot brand to a well-hung bull. You posit to the reader whether the Steelers’ quarterback, by winning his third Super Bowl in seven seasons, can be given absolution for a past more checkered than checkers, champ instead of chump, the immaculate redemption or the same old perception.
After the above possibilities are more exhausted than a Prius (there should be at least one hybrid car joke along the way to show a familiarity with current events), which roughly will take a day, you still have 13 left to go before the 6:30 p.m. kickoff. But you have nothing to fear but fear itself (gratuitous FDR quotes reflect knowledge of history). You don’t have a cow. You don’t flap around like a chicken with its head cut off. You look for buried treasure. You pan for a diamond in the rough. You find a story that doesn’t have squat to do with the Super Bowl, but you use your jumper cables to hook it up to the Super Bowl anyway, make a mountain out of a nohill, put lipstick on a pig. You make sure you go to Flower Mound in North Texas, where Steelers’ defensive tackle Mean Joe Greene was from and still lives. You get his opinion on the Steelers’ defense even though he hasn’t played for the team for 29 years.
You do all these things and the two weeks will have disappeared with more speed than a pack of wild horses. Then you sit back tomorrow in the press box. And even when the game seems like a lollapaloser, which it usually does, you always keep in your back pocket that it ain’t over 'till it’s over and the Fat Lady sings.
Buzz Bissinger is the author of Friday Night Lights and Three Nights in August. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a sports columnist for The Daily Beast.