HOUSTON – So that's that. Game over. Watch the Vegas line move. TThe Carolina Panthers are going to win the Super Bowl and the New England Patriots are going to have no answer for Stephen Davis.
At least, that is according to the NFL GameDay 2004 "Game Before The Game." For the last eight years – in a twist of brilliant public relations – the people at 989 Sports and PlayStation 2 have paid one player on each Super Bowl team to square off in the video game. All eight years the winner has gone on to win the Super Bowl.
There are a million ways to predict the winner of the big game, but you can't be more accurate than this one.
On Wednesday, in the swank, brand new Icon Hotel in downtown Houston, the Panthers' Steve Smith beat the Patriots' Troy Brown 29-21 with Pat O'Brien and Deion Sanders calling the action in front of about 50 television cameras.
"My game plan was to run the ball," said Smith, a receiver. As a result Davis went for 217 yards and four TDs on just 19 carries.
Brown, who won two years ago tipping everyone off to the eventual Patriots upset of the Rams, wouldn't concede anything on Sunday. "We can't let a video game decide the outcome of the game."
In terms of absurd staged media events, this is about as good as it gets. The Super Bowl attracts 3,200 members of the media and about 10,000 public relations types trying to find a way to get their clients, most of which have nothing to do with football, on television, the Internet or in print.
So all over town there are these sorts of "media opportunities," everything from the righteous – the "Habitat for Humanity Super Bowl Blitz Build" – to the ridiculous – the "Breathe Right Super Bowl Snore-Off."
Because of a coincidence that keeps on happening – the video game champ wins on Super Sunday – the 989 Sports guys are riding high right now. The reality is the only reason Carolina won on Wednesday is because Smith is better at video games.
"I'm no good at it," Brown said. "I play a little in the offseason, but during [the season] I don't touch it."
But with such a great track record, who could resist covering this? The lobby of the hotel was so jammed I swear I had more room in the womb. There was almost a fistfight between reporters trying to get at Smith. Security came over but the smart PR guys made sure no one was thrown out until they got their interview.
You had all the national "fun sports shows" such as "Cold Pizza" and "The Best Damn Sports Show Period." Then there were local TV crews from three markets (Boston, Charlotte, Houston) who simply can't live without a one-on-one with their guy.
You even had Bonnie Bernstein, who plays a real journalist during the day with CBS, playing a fake journalist at night for the "989 Sports Network." Which, of course, doesn't really exist.
And you wonder why America has lost faith in the media.
Fortunately there was an open bar, which generally is taboo for journalists when covering a game. But what if the game is just a video game? This was such a philosophically challenging question that we figured we needed to knock a couple back while contemplating it.
Meanwhile we concluded:
That Smith and Brown were much more interested in talking to Leeann Tweeden than anyone else.
That the most comical part of the evening was not the relentless one-liners from the Deion Sanders but Pat O'Brien wearing a black Kangol cap, apparently unaware that he is too old to pull it off.
That we are incredibly jealous that we haven't figured out a way to swing a highly paid side job as a fake columnist for the 989 Sports Daily News.
That when all was said and done, the good folks at the Bragman, Nyman & Cafarelli Public Relations & Marketing Co. of Beverly Hills, Calif. just made their clients a bunch of money. Or at least will bill them as such.
He hate me
The most memorable aspect of the XFL – other than it was a colossal failure – was the player who, rather than having his real name on the back of his jersey, went with the moniker "He Hate Me."
Everybody loved it.
The guy's real name is Rod Smart and he plays running back and special teams for the Carolina Panthers, making him the third XFL alum (but easily the most famous) to reach the Super Bowl. Because of the colorful name, reporters crowded Smart at media day on Tuesday, most likely breaking the record for interview requests for a reserve player.
It also tells you something about the lack of star power at this Super Bowl.
Smart chose the name "He Hate Me" as a motivational ploy. As a star at Division I-AA Western Kentucky, he always figured "he" – or the system – was against him. When he stitched it on his XFL uniform (the league prided itself in having a fun, irreverent style) it turned out to be one of the great sports marketing ploys of all time.
"I was just having fun [with the name]," Smart says. "It came right from the heart. I was in college; it was a saying I use to say. I didn't notice it blew up until after the first game we played. After that I got famous."
He's trademarked the name and now is hoping to make some money off of it.
"I've got some stuff, some great ideas, but we'll talk about it after the Super Bowl. I'm going to have all type of stuff going on."
Panther QB Jake Delhomme even named a racehorse after him. Well, sort of. The filly is called She Hate Me.
"I've been to the Kentucky Derby a couple of times, so maybe I need to get a horse," Smart said.
What would he name it?
"He Hate Me Part 2."
Hall of fame
Earlier in the week we were tipped of to the existence of the Bar-B-Q Hall of Fame, which is owned by Jim Goode, who also runs a bunch of barbecue joints around town (Jan. 27: Media day musings). Well, it is actually called the Hall of Flame but unfortunately it is not the cheesy, loveable museum of meat that we were hoping for.
Not that there wasn't some humor. The front of the building is modeled after the Alamo.
Mainly, however, it is just a retail store for the Goode Company Barbeque. You can get sauces, shirts, grills, cook books and nearly anything else barbecue related. You can even mail order a Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie or, for $74.95, purchase a figurine called the "Javelina Cantina" which has a hog riding a chopped hog (a doll that looks a pig on the back of a chopper motorcycle.)
It even offers a bridal registry.
Now, let's just say you are one lucky man if you can find a woman willing to register at the Hall of Flame. ...
But despite all of this, at least to our knowledge, Texas remains devoid of a true Hall of Fame honoring the greats of Lone Star State BBQ. A place where no one cares if Pete Rose fixed the games as long as he could fix some baked beans on the side.
Valued reader email of the day
I couldn't agree more with you regarding the pregame show hosts acting out the most straightforward parts of the game on a 15' x 15' field.
We know they used to play professional football. These guys have to have more confidence in our ability to remember, plus it's not like they don't remind us thousands of times during the remainder of the show.
No questions – just a "howdy" from a Texan living and working in Shekou, China (just across from Hong Kong). We are planning a Super Bowl party with a few other oilfield trash-like people.
We hope that they carry the game live on TV, ya never know till the last moment. If they don't, we will be drunk by 9 a.m. anyway ... hey any excuse to party! With a 14-hour time difference we will be watching early Monday morning.
With no head coaching jobs open, the Patriots' two excellent coordinators – Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis – will likely be back with the team next season. They were victims of their own success. As long as the Patriots won, the two were unable to go full-throttle after a head job. As much as many in New England feel bad about that, cornerback Tyrone Poole summed up what a lot of Pat fans think. "For me personally being greedy, I would rather see these guys stay here with us because it is just like a dynasty. You can build a dynasty with players. You can also build a dynasty with coaches. If you start breaking up, then you have to bring in someone else and someone has to step in to try and fit those shoes."
The crowds just started to trickle into the city on Wednesday. The combination of this being a very expansive city and the fact that very few fans arrive early in the week has given the sense that this may not be a big event. On Tuesday night at the excellent Brennan's Restaurant, more than half the tables were empty during what should have been the dinner rush hour. But by Wednesday there was some traffic down Main Street downtown and some of the trendier bars were starting to fill up.
The River-City Relay – the Saints' 75-yard, last second touchdown in Week 16 against the Jaguars – was named the Levitra NFL Play of the Year Wednesday. It was a good choice. The play was so exciting that afterwards no one in New Orleans needed any Levitra.
The worst part of being in the Super Bowl? How about missing the commercials? "I have TiVo," said Carolina's Brentson Buckner. "I don't want to miss the commercials. That's the best time of the Super Bowl. The one I don't want to miss is the Leon commercial (Budweiser). I know they'll have something special. I like the commercial where some (reporter) says, 'There ain't no I in team,' and (Leon) looks up and says, 'Hell, there ain't no WE, either.'"
We mentioned this yesterday but on behalf of the media, I would once again like to thank Brentson Buckner.